I’m sure you’re right about store integration Richard, but there’s much more to this place than the store, especially as Daz relies on the community to provide 95% of its support. Without good forum software (and this software is not good, nor is it even adequate) the community will struggle. People who are needed here for their contribution will get sick of the uphill struggle and drift away. It seems that some of the main inconveniences of the new forums aren’t just “current problems - please bear with us” but software limitations that are here to stay. I’m thinking about things like notifications linking to the first page of a thread, rather than to the first unseen post. This is basic forum functionality, as are plenty of other things that are just plain missing. Not broken, waiting to be fixed - missing. That’s different and it’s worse. The forums are more than the playpen that just hangs onto the bottom of the store, they are what supports the store. It looks increasingly like Daz forgot that.
The other dimension of this that concerns me is the timing. Within three months of opening up DS for free and bringing masses of new people into 3D, Daz trashes its own store and forums, replacing them with something that works much less well. Think how much quicker all those new folk will drift away, not having had time to form any attachment to the place. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and think about the message they’ve been given:
“Here’s this cool software for free. It’s complicated and you have to learn a completely new language but don’t worry - now you’re an artist. And because you’re an artist, you’ll need to buy all this content. No, the software doesn’t have a manual but hey, it’s free. We have this great community they’ll will give you all the help you need. BANG. Well, that’s the community gone but bear with us while we get the store working so you can buy more content. Yeah, yeah, the community’s around here somewhere, and they’ll answer your question. Go bother them. We’re busy fixing the store.”
It just looks like hucksterism. Now, I know that the store pays for the community. But it works the other way around too: the community pays for the store. And what pays for everything, after all, is customer good will. That’s the vital capital that underpins the whole operation and it feels like Daz has vastly overspent it recently. There has been a desperate lack of strategy, obvious to anyone with even a little business knowledge. Worst of all, Daz has failed to address the two problems that it knows to be its biggest weaknesses: poor customer communications and habitual failure to deliver on its promises. They needed to be fixed before throwing the whole organisation into turmoil with a total infrastructure replacement. You had time to plan this and work out most of these problems before launch. Instead, you’re building all the old problems back into the new structure, and I’m not talking about ropy store code. It’s looking like Daz has just thrown away its best opportunity to fix Daz.
From a customer point of view, Daz looks like a company that spends all its time firefighting, existing in an unstable, hand-to-mouth state of panic. If there is a strategy behind the last twelve months or so, it’s not translating into customer satisfaction. Obviously there are a lot of people who will claim they’re delighted whatever Daz does. I can hear the phrase ‘30 day refund’ being loaded into a defensive cannon and pointed at me, even as I type this. But there’s so much more to good customer service than a good refund policy (it is a good policy - all credit to Daz for sticking with it) and the rest of it is suffering. Daz still seems frightened of having an honest relationship with its customers, which is a pity. The corporatism, unconvincing as it is, leaves a lot of people feeling like we’re being farmed: we get given a little pen to stand in and get milked for our money and expertise. If Daz plans to rely on its customers to support each other, it needs to remember how that model works. It’s entirely based on relationships, and Daz is getting to be bad at relationships because it’s frightened to be honest, it fails to communicate, and it fails at keeping promises. Daz is proving to be the flaw in its own model, the least likely to meet its own principles.
Because I know the yes-people will tell me I should leave if I hate it so much here, I’ll say why I stay. It’s simply that I want a place to buy cool stuff, and hang out sometimes, learn stuff and help people, and make friends. This used to be the best candidate for that. Now, not so much. And having to fight the forum software just to maintain a conversation is one more inhospitality among a list of other recent ones. The most telling aspect of this, though, is something that’s dawned on me over the last few days. I’m not especially disappointed that the forums are such a train-wreck because, this time around, I hadn’t bothered to hope for better.