Among many of the most thankless, but essential jobs in gaming is that of the humble tech support. Always there to lend a hand, no matter how bizarre, frustrating or (sometimes) stupid your problem is.
Unless you're one of the people yelling into the replies of a peripheral manufacturer's tweets about your problem, there's a chance you've dealt with one of these unsung heroes, and possibly had your bacon saved by them. The job is a mix of people skills and highly technical knowledge, making it a strange but, as we find out, rewarding position.
We talked to a tech support agent at Kingston Technology (parent company of PC peripheral manufacturer HyperX) about some of the strangest stories they've ever heard in the line of duty, and what it takes to solve them.
Diagnosing and troubleshooting tech problems is all too common for the dedicated PC gamer. From building your own PC to modding games, those inclined to enjoy their hobby on computers rather than consoles often find themselves paying the price of knowledge. But there are some times when you just can't get something to work, so calling tech support is the only remaining option. But how do they help out when they're not even in the same room?
"For discovering what the source of the problem is, I usually ask some general questions to get a better idea what the customer is experiencing," our tech support source tells us about their process. "For example, if they are saying their microphone does not work I’ll ask if it has ever worked for them? If they say no then it's probably some user error or setting. If it has worked before, most likely there is something wrong with the headset. If it’s just a setting or user error those are pretty easy to resolve, but if it’s the headset we generally have to look into replacements."
When you handle tech support for a company like Kingston and HyperX, with peripherals across a wide range of systems, it's not always hardware issues you need to diagnose either. The way devices interact with each other in the home can be different for every single person, thanks to the huge number of different TVs, speakers and other home entertainment systems people have.
One particularly tough solve for our agent came in the form of a customer's headset appearing to turn off their TV whenever they plugged it into their PS4 controller. While this sounds like ghostly pranks to start with, after a while going through every possible part of the setup that could be causing it, they concluded that the TV's soundbar was turning it off after the sound input switched to the PS4 controller output.
On top of this myriad of devices, firmware updates and patches can all play a part in the troubleshooting process, causing small waves of similar problems across certain groups of users which need solving.
"Recently we have been getting a lot of customers where their microphone will not work with Xbox, but all they have to do is update their controller to fix it," the tech support agent says. "We also get a lot of customers who don't plug in our Cloud Alpha’s cable all the way or will sometimes even plug it in backwards. Or as simple as having the volume adjustments turned all the way down."
It's intensely frustrating when things that seem out of your control get in the way of you enjoying your hobby, and sometimes you just want someone to make it work for you. This can result in some unique encounters with customers, and for tech support that means a mix of problems, from the genuine head-scratchers to the sorts of stories most people can only laugh at. But even for those, they still have a job to do.
"I diagnose those in a similar way," the agent says. "I’ll ask them if the headset has had this issue since they got it. Or sometimes while they are explaining what they are experiencing that will give it away. For example they will say something like “I can’t hear anything but my mic works” 90% of the time they have the volume turned down. We get some pretty good reactions out of people when it’s such an easy fix as well. Sometimes they will just hang up the phone without saying anything or they will just say 'I had no idea that was there' or 'wow, I feel like an idiot'."
The idea of a seething customer getting all the way through the tech support process before finding out they'd left the volume down and then hanging up without a word is intensely funny to us. However we'd be lying if we said we hadn't made mistakes just as simple before. But not everyone phoning up has received faulty devices, or simply forgotten to turn a dial on their headphones. Some of the stories in our source's tech support tale hall of fame are real world-beaters.
"We have had customers say they ran their microphone through the washing machine...and then the dryer," they say. "We've also had a customer paint their keyboard with nail polish, then they tried to clean it off with alcohol which destroyed it. Another customer complained about their mic being too loud when sneezing into it, and someone else complained the mic wasn't working at all after they put the mic in their mouth."
All handled professionally, of course, which is more than we'd have been able to manage. Tech support really are the true heroes of the gaming industry. If you'd like to find out more about other jobs inside the games industry, check out our Skill Build series where we talk to developers and other employees about what their job is like.