Sierra Extends Hint Hotlines for Holiday Season

In preparation for Christmas 1988 and beyond, Sierra On-Line, Inc. is proud to announce extended hours for Customer Support. Starting November 1, 1988, Sierra is keeping customer support lines open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. (PST). Sierra game players on the east coast will be able to call for hints until midnight each night.

According to Sierra Marketing Director John Williams, these extended customer service policies are unmatched in the entertainment software industry. "To my knowledge, we are the only producer of computer adventure games that offers a 'hint hotline' to its customers. I'm sure that we're the only ones who will take calls 13 hours a day."

Sierra's decision to add a second shift to its customer service department was largely based on experiences the company had last holiday season.

Last year, Sierra sold over 1/4 million adventure games during the Christmas season, almost all of them gifts. Hundreds of thousands of people started playing new Sierra games and found themselves stuck in Sarien-infested spacehips or turned into snails by an evil wizard. On the 26th of December, most of them called Sierra's Hint Hotline for help.

The impact of all this telephone traffic was amazing. Thousands of calls came into the company each day, jamming telephone exhcnages all over the state. It was a situation that the local telephone company could not believe.

"It was incredible." says Ed Lacey of the Sierra Telephone Company. "During peak times, we were turning away thousands of calls an hour at the local exchange. They (calls to Sierra) were causing traffic problems as far away as Modesto and Sacramento."

By the end of March last year, Sierra had answered over 60,000 hint requests from as far away as Europe and the Middle East. "We had everyone available on the phones," stated Sierra support representative Carla Jones, "including the president, his wife, and kids."

A second group of employees had to be set up to handle bad disk replacement and compatibility calls. Despite Sierra's reputation of having the most compatible software in the industry, new Christmas hardware presented some real problems.

"Each Christmas, all the major hardware vendors introduce a new computer which doesn't seem to be 100% compatibile with the software out there. Since Sierra's software pushes computers pretty hard, we usually have compatibility problems first." said John Williams

Owners of IBM PS/2 Model 80's, those owning high speed 80386 machines, and owners of Macintosh II's found odd surprises in the gtraphics of their Sierra adventure games. On one machine, when the main character walked across the screen, his image was left behind every time he took a step. "My screen looks like the Rockettes dresed as Leisure Suit Larry." quipped one disgruntled customer. (Those problems have since been remedied.)

This year, Sierra Customer Service people are better prepared for the holiday season, with a larger, highly trained staff, more phone lines, and alternate hint sources available - but problems can still be expected. "There's a limited numbr of telephone lines that come into Coarsegold, California, and once those are filled, we'll still have jams — and this Christmas, Sierra will sell twice as many adventure games." stated Williams.

To avoid the telephone traffic jam, Sierra has prepared a bulletin on "How to Avoid the Holiday Hint Crush," and will distribute over 400,000 copies of the bulletin before Christmas day. According to Williams, "We don't see any way possible to keep up with the hint demand after Christmas. It's really a matter of limited resources. I could hire an army and not get this job done, it's just too much at once. I hope the bulletin helps prevent frustration because I don't know what else we can do." The text of this bulletin is included in the following article.

To those stuck in the post-Christmas telephone traffic jam (including our mountain neighbors that will experience restricted telephone service), Sierra apologizes in advance. We are doing everything possible to relieve pressure on the system and we appreciate your patience.

Sierra's Telephone Hint Line Number is (209) 683-6858.

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