Nexon Isn't Worst Company In America, Yet

When we began polling readers about companies they thought should be on this year’s Worst Company in America ballot, we started noticing quite a few nominations for a certain company: No, not AIG, last year’s Golden Poo recipient. Not perennial bad boys Bank of America, Comcast or Best Buy. Not even Toyota, this year’s wild child. What company earned the opprobrium of voters, and still didn’t make the cut? Korean gaming company Nexon, that’s who. Nexon? Yeah, we were surprised, too.

Nexon (and its U.S. subsidiary, Nexon America) is best known for its MapleStory multiplayer game — and for raking in big bucks selling prepaid cards to gamers who want to buy virtual gear to use with the free game. What’s so bad about that? According to gamers who contacted us, Nexon’s games are rife with security holes and other glitches, and responding to customer complaints hasn’t exactly been a priority. As reader Sarah put it:

…Three months ago people began losing access to their accounts in Nexon’s largest game, MapleStory.They would log on to find that their PIN had been changed (a secondary form of weak security, there are easily available PIN crackers by searching google) or that their characters were stripped of all items, money and NX. It seemed to start small; some of the fan-sites would see threads about being “hacked” which were typically dismissed by the player-base as the account owners having downloaded a keylogger or having lost their accounts to social engineering. After a while, it grew to an unusually large number of people claiming to have lost their accounts. …

Our personal and virtual identities are at risk every second of every day and Nexon is doing nothing to protect us. They are far more concerned about protecting their reputation (insisting there was no database breach and that they’ve done nothing wrong) and continuing to make money, which is why it’s so important that this be brought to light of the public. Those of us who are working day and night to try and get answers and to protect ourselves are no loud enough to make anyone hear.

Nexon has had problems with hackers — including one who stole $325,000 worth of virtual cash because he wanted to get his hands on a princess dress used in a game. In a 2007 interview, Nexon America’s Min Kim discussed the security issues:

When Nexon America opened in September of 2006, the company quickly found itself plagued by credit card fraud and hacking. Fraud isn’t easily predictable, Kim said; it grows, and with the inevitable delays involved in credit card transactions, it’s hard to know when it’s happening. On top of that, the added revenue clouds your ability to even identify it – on the surface, it just looks positive; more money coming in.

But each fraudulent transaction costs Nexon a fee – $20, plus the loss of whatever revenue would’ve been gained from the transaction. “Increased fraud levels can expel you from credit card transactions,” he warned. “Companies that I know of have been dealt fines in six figures.”

The other major hurdle was hacking. “If there’s any value in your business,” said Kim, “somebody else is going to find value and try to take some of that. The U.S. is a hacking hotbed, and it hadn’t really happened to us in Korea yet. Hacking is like a drug – they keep doing it, it’s a fun challenge for them, and once players start using a hacking tool, it’s hard for them to stop.”

The developers in South Korea finally realized hacking wasn’t just a U.S. thing, and had to ramp up their GM staff and extend their coverage. “We couldn’t have our guys go against these hackers head to head, we had to build it into our client,” Kim recalled.

According to at least some customers, the anti-hacking efforts haven’t succeeded, but have resulted in legitimate accounts being shut down due to “suspicious” activity, after which the company refuses to reinstate them. In general, Nexon cites security or terms of service violations as justification for such bans.

So, why isn’t Nexon on the WCIA bracket?

Based on reader feedback, we included Nexon in our March 18th poll. The company got very few votes, until posts started showing up on Nexon forums encouraging frustrated customers to flood our poll with votes. That sort of thing is not really in the spirit of the contest, but we heard their customers loud and clear — they’re upset with Nexon and they want us to write about it. So we have, and will continue to.

Trouble is, we haven’t actually had that many complaints about the company, so if you’ve had problems, we want to know about it. Send your thoughts to tips@consumerist.com.

Nexon’s Min Kim On The Power Of Microtransactions [Gamasutra]