Techcrunch has a fascinating article about Zynga’s recent customer service snafus in Mafia Wars. Here’s the scoop: Zynga is closing the game on Tagged and offered a coupon for free virtual currency to move to the game on Facebook. Problem is, it was an open-ended coupon that got spread around to tens of thousands of users. When Zynga found out, instead of ending the coupon and moving on (the right move), they deleted the currency and rolled back any actions taken during that time. That was the wrong move.

Now, you got tens of thousands of players role playing as mafia characters and criminals who are virtually angry, threatening boycotts, protests, and quitting the game outright. Zynga continued to incest the players by deleting all their posts on their forums and saying that this action was for the integrity of game. Of course, if you really cared about the fairness and integrity of the game, you wouldn’t give free currency to certain players who happen to be on Tagged that you want on Facebook in the first place.

This will probably blow over but it’s significant for two reasons.

One, Zynga has had a lot of business victories in the past month (new 5 year deal with Facebook, loads of cash raised, deal with 7-11 and Yahoo) but a bunch of game disappointments (huge losses of players in key games, this Mafia Wars customer service snafu). All by themselves, these small disappointments will not tip the scales against Zynga. But there is a danger of “death by a thousand cuts” as the old saying goes.

Two, this episode is indicative of a problem facing all social and Facebook games, that being, their customer service generally sucks. There are community managers who do a great job to foster community but I can’t tell you how many emails I get from disgruntled players who write Gamezebo for help because the social game company will respond to them.

Maybe it’s because these games get so many players, it’s impossible to write everyone back. Maybe it’s because the games are free so you can’t service every non-paying customer. Or, maybe its that a lot of social game companies just don’t care.

There is an opportunity for a social game company to thrive by offering good customer service. And social game companies that don’t care about customer service (or that don’t have an actual customer care department which I bet, most of these companies do not) are going to get burnt more and more with situations like this until it does impact the bottom line and gamers leave in droves.