MSN Gaming Zone Troubleshooter Earns Prestigious Award from Society for Technical Communication

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 29, 2001 — For hours, youve been methodically placing rune against rune, matching colors and shapes to turn row after row into golden squares that bring you closer to your goal: winning the game and becoming a Grand Alchemical Emperor. Youve avoided the overflowing forge and arranged your exploding skulls with care. Now, youre about to place the final rune on the board, the rune that will bring you success, when suddenly the screen goes blank. Youve been accidentally disconnected from the MSN Gaming Zone, where youve been playing Alchemy, the popular online game.

In the past, solving a problem like this meant contacting a Microsoft support professional over the Web and waiting up to a day for a response. But now, most MSN Gaming Zone players can get answers to the most common problems with just a few mouse clicks, solving their issues almost immediately, by using the online MSN Gaming Zone Troubleshooter. Last week, the Troubleshooter won a prestigious Excellence Award from the Society of Technical Communication (STC), Puget Sound Chapter — the only such award given to an online user support tool by that organization. Hundreds of entries from six states and Canada participated in the STCs

26 th Annual Competition for Technical Publications, Art, and Online Communications.

The STC chapter also honored Microsoft for its Microsoft Windows Millenium Edition Online Help and Support, and for its Microsoft Project Online Help. The Society for Technical Communication is a professional association whose 25,000 members include technical writers, editors, graphic designers, multimedia artists, Web and intranet designers, translators and others who make technical information understandable and available to those who need it.

“Were delighted to receive the STC Award of Excellence for the MSN Gaming Zone Troubleshooter, because it confirms the positive response were getting from game players, who use the tool more than 20,000 times each month to solve common issues that often come up while online,”
says Alan Rosenthal, a content editor at Microsoft who, along with support engineer Greg Frankovic and content developer Scott Simmons, created and now maintains the Troubleshooter.
“We created the Troubleshooter to give gamers an almost immediate, easy and highly effective way to solve the vast majority of their questions. The STC award means that our peers in the industry agree with our customers that weve met our goal.”

Web-based Troubleshooter Supports All Gaming Zone Areas

Like the MSN Gaming Zone itself, the Troubleshooter, at , is completely Web-based, so it works like the Web pages with which gamers — who range from grade-schoolers to grandmothers — are already familiar. The Troubleshooter supports all games and areas on the MSN Gaming Zone. Users choose any of four categories that might describe their issues; each category takes them to a list of the 10 most frequent problems or issues under that topic. Unlike an FAQ, clicking on a Troubleshooter issue takes the user through a series of interactive steps to resolve the issue.

The Troubleshooter first proposes what Microsoft experts consider to be the easiest and most likely solution. If that doesnt work — based on the users response to the Troubleshooter after trying it — the Troubleshooter offers another suggestion. It repeats the process, as needed, with a series of suggestions made in declining order of ease and effectiveness. For those relatively few gamers whose issues arent resolved by this process, the tool invites them to submit a Web-response question to support professionals at Microsoft.

One Troubleshooter issue, for example, responds to people who cant connect to the MSN Gaming Zone through a corporate or institutional firewall; the most common solution helps the user change some settings to keep the necessary ports open. Another Troubleshooter issue helps adult users whose attempts to start a game are met with an unwelcome, if flattering, response that the Zone wont let them play because theyre not at least 13 years of age. The most likely cause is that they omitted a key response when they registered for the Zone; the Troubleshooter takes them to the appropriate place to correct their registration.

Keeping it Simple to Keep it Effective

To create the Troubleshooter, Rosenthal and his colleagues poured through data from Microsofts Product Support Services group, including direct customer feedback and a review of the most frequently requested Knowledge Base articles, to identify the top issues and their solutions. But they deliberately avoided putting every possible solution — and sometimes, even the most effective solutions — into the Troubleshooter.

“We know that most of our users arent computer jocks, and we want the Troubleshooter to be a friendly, non-intimidating tool,”
Frankovic says.
“That means we dont include highly technical solutions that we know will work — such as editing a system or registry file — but that will make things worse if users make mistakes while implementing them. Users dont have to worry when they use the Troubleshooter. On the other hand, we also include shortcuts for expert users, so the Troubleshooter can be an effective tool for the broadest range of people.”

The Troubleshooter was designed to Microsofts standard
specifications — including lots of graphics and topics broken down to single-screen chunks to minimize the need for scrolling — then tested on an internal Microsoft site before being offered to gamers. The Troubleshooter team continually updates the content and organization of the tool to reflect the ongoing updates made to the MSN Gaming Zone itself. The Troubleshooter first appeared in 1999, received several revisions since then, and is due for another update later this year.

“The Zone undergoes changes on a frequent basis; new games appear, new interfaces appear, and we have to make sure the Troubleshooter reflects that,”
Simmons says.
“Because we have a direct line to the Zone developers, we know what changes are in the works, so we can stay ahead of the curve, updating the Troubleshooter before it becomes outdated.”

The MSN Gaming Zone Troubleshooter isnt the first troubleshooter tool from Microsoft, but in some ways its the most advanced. Microsoft issued its first troubleshooter in 1997, for the ActiMates Barney toy, and followed it with troubleshooters for Windows 98 and Microsoft Office. But the Gaming Zone Troubleshooter is the first to operate completely over the Web and to be written in HTML, the Webs native language. Other teams at Microsoft — such as the Office team — are now following that model in updating their own troubleshooters.

Getting Connected

If youre that would-be Grand Alchemical Emperor and you’re disconnected from the Zone, you could go to the Troubleshooter and click on the category
“Playing Games on the Zone.”
Reading down the list of 10 choices, youd recognize your problem in the entry that reads,
“When I am playing a game on the Zone, my computer disconnects unexpectedly from the Internet.”

After you selected that item, the Troubleshooter would first suggest that your modem connections might be configured to automatically disconnect from the Internet, and it would show you how to go to the Modem Properties control to change them. If that didnt work, follow-up suggestions would include changing your Internet Explorer connection settings, closing other programs that might be interfering with the Zone connection, reconnecting to the Internet to eliminate a noisy connection, and updating or replacing some software and hardware components.

“When youre busy turning runes into gold, you want to minimize distractions,”
Rosenthal says.
“The Troubleshooter isnt magic, but it lets you get back to using your magic as quickly as possible.”

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