ED Magedson – Founder
Big Fish GamesSeattle, Washington United States of America
This rip-off is so complicated, I advise people to go to the Chit-Chat Corner Forum at Big Fish Games and read the thread devoted to the issue. It is called "Message to Overseas Customers buying from our US site" and starts at http://forums.bigfishgames.com/posts/list/128346.page
The thread is long. The first few pages are responding to the Director of Customer Service, who opened this thread after all others complaining about mysterious price raises had been closed, and the last several are mostly holiday greetings.
You can skip the first and last few pages and still get to the real issues.
Although only 5% of Big Fish customers ever read the forums (as acknowledged by Paul Thelen, aka "Picman", owner of this privately held company), this thread is the ONLY source of information forconsumers about this rip-off.
There are several issues here. For one thing, without notification, Big Fish began overcharging overseas customersin two ways: first, by making them payin their own currency, and thenby rounding up prices to be "more visually normal-looking", according to Paul Thelen.
Actually,Mr. Thelen at first denied that there were any price changes at all. Then he admitted that VATwas now includedwith thecost ofa game, and if that sum looked odd it was rounded up.
For example, if the game price + VAT was8.21 pounds (or yen, kroner, etc.), it was rounded up to 9.99 pounds. (Previously, VAT had been broken out and listed separately, as required by law, and the customer was charged that amount, whether it ended in .99 or not.)
To compare, imagine that you went to a store and bought a candy bar. The price was 99 cents, but when tax was added itbecame $1.07. The clerk then told you "This price looks weird. Let's round it up to $1.99 so it makes more sense to you."
How would you react to that? And imagine the clerk doing it with every purchase. Itadds up to quite a bit of money going into the clerk's pocket (because the "rounding" doesn't go to tax authorities).
With a company like Big Fish, HALF of whose revenues come from overseas customers, the potential for scamming profit is enormous.
One excuse being given is that Big Fish recently opened several overseas sites: in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Japan, France, and others, at allegedly great expense.
The prices for games on these sites are significantly higher than on the US site, although customers are still allowed to use the US site, and prices have currently been reduced at the overseas sites too.
However, not very many people use these sites, even though whenever an overseas customer with alocalBig Fish gamesitetries to visit the US site there is a cookie which pops up asking the customer if he or she wouldn't REALLY prefer to visit the UK, German, Swedish, etc. website.
Overseas customers who ignored this note and proceeded to the US site were then designated to pay in their own currency, whichmade their cost the same as if they had gone to their local site-- much higher.
The way this is done is that the cookie which locates the customerchangedthe currency from US dollars to UK pounds, Euros, Swedish kroner, Japanese yen, etc. Then the addition of VAT or other tax and rounding up took place.
Customers unaware of this fact (and recall that no one was notified, although the company's terms of service promise that any price changes will notified by email) would therefore wind up paying in their own currency, again significantly more than the US price.
When people began complaining about this in the little-used forums, the threads were quickly locked by the company, and soon disappeared. The company did respond, first with lies ("no prices have been raised") and then with absurdities like "visually appealing prices".
Customers who read these theads (andplease recall thatonly a tiny fraction of customers ever go to the forums) were even told that it was a problem with their computers!
When it became clear that this was another lie, they were finally told to contact customer service.Most were given a coupon for a free game but told that no refunds would be issued for the overcharges.
Many of us asked if this problem couldn't simply be reversed and things put back to the way they had been. We were told this was impossible -- given a gibberish explanation about computer scalability and intertwined software issues which would take months to change (another lie, as it turned out).
There is more. At the moment, the company has put a temporary solution in place, in which all overseas (and Canadian) customers can choose to pay in US dollars on the US site and are charged the correct price + UK VAT, even for countries which pay a different VAT or no VAT at all. (In other words, the "impossible" suggestion from customers was immediately applied.)
To give an example, a New Zealand customer does not pay VAT or any other tax for electronically downloaded products like computer games. Yet, a NZ customer who does not constantly edit his or her account preferences will be charged $19.99NZ dollars for a game which costs $13.99 in US dollars.
This is because the UK VAT of 17.5% (which New Zealanders do not pay) is added, and the result is then rounded up to the "visually pleasing" $19.99 NZ, or about $18.00 US dollars.
A New Zealand customer can edit his account to pay with US dollars -- at least theoretically, and each time he makes another purchase.
Supposedly, a permanent solution will be communicated no later than "the first week in January" according to the Director of Customer Service. We are holding our breath as we count down the days.
The temporary solution still forces customers to edit their accounts every time they buy a game to specify US dollars as the currency they wish to use. It is easy for a customer to change this parameter once and think it's done with -- but every time, the cookie surreptiously changes the currency back again.
Many customers have complained about having to watch their purchase pages "like a hawk" to be sure that they are being charged correctly, in US dollars. Sometimes on the very last page the cookie changes the currency back to the customer's own denomination rather than US dollars.
The cherry on top is that at the moment, regardless of a customer's stated currency preference, his final invoice now shows the price in his local currency. Then he receives an email saying that he was correctly charged in US dollars (plus UK VAT).
Customers arethus having to check their bank, credit card, and PayPal accounts to see what they were really charged. Some have been charged correctly and some have been overcharged.
The problems are so extensive that many people have canceled their accounts. No notification -- lies to the Better Business Bureau and to customers -- no refunds for overcharges -- blaming customers -- forcing overseas customers to pay for the poor marketing decision to open costly, unpopular overseas sites -- and more.
Please go to the forum and read the only thread that is still allowed to stay open to get a more complete idea. The thread is over 60 pages long and packed with information -- much too much for me to repeat here.
Suffice to say that there is a very interesting story here. This multi-million or perhaps billion-dollar company, privately held, makes50 per centof its revenue fromoverseas customers and is ripping them off.
Contact Paul Thelen, the owner, and Jeremy Lewis, CEO, at Big Fish Games, 333 Elliott Ave W Ste 200, Seattle, WA 98119.
This report was posted on Ripoff Report on 01/03/2011 11:41 PM and is a permanent record located here: http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/Big-Fish-Games/Seattle-Washington-/Big-Fish-Games-Overcharging-overseas-customers-possibly-illegally-no-notification-no-r-678328. The posting time indicated is Arizona local time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings so the post time may be Mountain or Pacific depending on the time of year.
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