Rights, Profit, Drama

The recent Blizzard add-on mess has brought up – in my mind anyway, as well as some others – some age-old questions about player rights in games through exposing a pretty core dichotomy in how people look at online games.

On the one side, you have the people who take Blizzard’s side, and if anything, think they don’t go far enough. World of Warcraft is Blizzard’s game, they added the ability to script the client, they can just easily take it away, and you people whine so much about it now they probably should. On the other side, you have people who see this as a software rights issue – the addons I write for World of Warcraft are mine, Blizzard has no right to tell me what I can and can’t write, and if I make some cash from my work it’s none of their business. Which, not surprisingly, segues into the rights of players versus the responsibilities of game developers – not exactly a new discussion.

My views on the subject, also unsurprisingly, have been shaded by almost a decade on the other side of the development fence, and a few decades of cynicism about basic human nature before that. Succinctly put, the governance of online games and worlds exist in a triangle of rights, profit, and drama.

Here, I can illustrate this triangle quite easily by using a snippet from this recent article.

Virtual world technology is intentionally designed to make humans act as though the virtual world is, at least in some respects, real. Thus, as a normative matter, when corporations choose to use technology intended to entice humans into acting as though they were safe in their own homes, or privately communicating with friends, the law ought to respect those expectations as it does in real life. I therefore argue that U.S. persons in virtual worlds possess a reasonable expectation of privacy, such that a search of their virtual homes and property should be subject to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

Your reaction to that paragraph depends on how you feel about rights vs. profit vs. drama.

Rights: Well, of course. He’s stating the obvious. Does your landlord in the real world, even though he owns your house and the land it’s on, have any right whatsoever to read your mail and pop in unexpectedly when you have a date? Why should virtual landlords have more rights than realspace landlords?

Profit: I can’t believe we’re even having this discussion. If I’m going to be threatened with lawsuits because of constitutional rights you have to my server, I’d have to be retarded to ever open my company up to such liability by making a server.  These are entertainment products, and we are being paid to create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone. There is no such thing as virtual civil rights, only EULAs. And if you somehow get the courts to disagree, we’ll take our balls and go make console games.

Drama: I KNEW IT I KNEW IT I WAS RIGHT I KNEW IT the company needs to give me my account back now.

When it comes to MMOs, a dark and bitter part of me doesn’t believe any of you should have any rights, because, well, drama. The people who complain about “rights” almost always, without fail, do so because drama happened. They did something to run afoul of the game administrators – usually, 0ne of the many thousands of ways people have crafted to be a raging dickhead to one another online – and then they turn into cyber civil libertarians, decrying the omnipotence of the “game gods” (note: any time you use the phrase “game gods” without irony, I’m going to assume you’re Prokofy Neva) and demanding their fundamental civil right to be online in your game where they can continue to be a raging dickhead.

The best example of civil libertarianism trumping customer service is the case of Peter Ludlow, who when banned from the Sims Online, supposedly for advertising his website ingame, promptly used his status as a member in good standing of academia to appeal his banning to the New York Times. (He then moved on to writing a Second Life tabloid. I’m not kidding.) You’ll note that EA, who ran Sims Online at the time, didn’t have a lot to say in response. This may be because they felt embarassed over banning someone for maintaining a website that made them look bad (not that I’d know anything about that). Or it may be because there was an actual reason to ban him and they were constrained due to privacy issues from actually saying anything about it, even when it made the New Frickin York Times, thus having Ludlow’s account of his banning being the only one on the record.

That’s not to say that online gaming companies are immune from banning people for squirrelly reasons (and even for supposedly open-and-shut cases of administrative abuse, there’s usually another side of the story). But gaming companies in general are in business to make a profit. This drives an obvious factor and one that isn’t as obvious at first glance to outside observers. The obvious factor is that banning players hurts a company’s profits because, well, one less customer. However, the collorary, which is somewhat unique to online games, is that there are players who by their presence drive off more income than they themselves bring in. Thus, the Profit motive trumps Rights and Drama – ban early and often, the “oderint dum metuant” school of customer service.

It’s not all a dystopic wasteland of corporate oppression, though. Game developers have been discussing the ethical implications of what rights players should have for quite a while now. Raph Koster’s “Declaration of the Rights of the Avatar” makes a pretty clear and reasoned argument for enabling as many rights for players as possible while still allowing developers to maintain their own games. And since most developers are also MMO users themselves, they’ve had enough encounters with the ‘oderint dum metuant’ game mastering school to know that it can be toxic to the long term health of the game by itself.

Which is good, because there’s not a lot of willingness to compromise between the proponents of Rights, Profit and Drama. The Rights advocates are usually dismissive of the fears Profit has, while being sniggeringly dismissive or blithly unaware (depending on their actual experience with virtual worlds) of the corrosive effects of Drama. Profit fears Rights – and more importantly, the possible governmental/legal intervention based on it – while its day to day frontline struggle with Drama fills its veterans with a distaste for the everyman veterans of police departments would envy. And Drama? Drama only cares about Drama, girlfriend.

Yet all three of these need to be balanced – and in fact, I’d even argue that without Drama you don’t have the community development necessary for an MMO to grow. And if nothing else, it might be an interesting thought experiment to look at contentious issues (such as the Blizzard addon foo-frah) through prisms of the triangle other than ones you might be used to.

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69 Responses to Rights, Profit, Drama

  1. isildur says:

    I feel like this argument begins and ends at the clause in the user agreement that allows the company to terminate your account at any time without notice for any cause (or no cause).

    “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” is, to my mind, a legitimate right. “I want the right to stand on your front lawn and shout at you” isn’t.

    The only way in which this isn’t completely obvious is that MMO companies maintain a fiction that you ‘own’ some part of their front lawn. That sense of ownership isn’t the same as actual ownership, though, and mistaking one for the other is the error at the heart of this conflict.

  2. Gx1080 says:

    Nice read (first). I, personaly, believe that is the games industry game and is their servers and that needs to be clear. Or else every stupid that gets banned for doing something against the rules could sue the company and the servers become an anarchy. On the other hand without good and transparent leadership, the servers become a painful bureocratic and corrup experience (and i dont need to tell you how that is).

  3. Moorgard says:

    I believe I have the right to profit from drama.

  4. EpicSquirt says:

    Things to consider:

    Legal situation in Germany (and other countries)

    When I buy a WoW box in a retail shop as a private customer, the EULA is void. As long as it is NOT signed before the sale it is not a integral part of the contract.

    So yes, Blizzard and many other companies can go and you know what. There are ways to enforce EULAs, but then you have to say good bye to the retail box business.

    I don’t read the EULA in the shop and I don’t sign it, I don’t sign any Code of Conduct either. My rights and the rights of the seller/manufacturer are covered by German/European Union law only. One of my rights is that nothing can bend/dictate the terms for that WoW box after I bought it. It’s just a generic piece of software.

    Author dictates distribution terms

    Since at least in Germany I am not bound to any of the crap in the EULA of WoW, as author of such an add-on I am free to decide how it’s going to be distributed. The only way for Blizzard to ensure that the add-ons are distributed at no costs would be to use some kind of an SDK with a special license for development of add-ons (maybe that’s the case already, I don’t know) and distribute it apart from WoW .

    3rd party tools are benefiting for Blizzard

    In the best case, an add-on makes the game better and keeps the players happy, which subscribe to the game more often and for longer.

    The whole discussion is really laughable: imagine Microsoft trying to enforce the same stance on Windows. Why should people give a damn if it’s an Windows or MMORPG API. It’s there to be used and enhance the original product and if someone has a good idea and puts effort to realize it, then monetary reward should be possible.

  5. wowpanda says:

    Nice read. The companies, although looking for their own interest, they sometimes are driven by short time profitability instead of the long term. Blizzard’s restricting add on dev could be one such thing, because they will miss the chance of learning the best invocations from the motivated add on developers (i.e. QuestHelper and other must haves).

  6. Iconic says:

    @isildur

    I think that in the long run people are going to find out that you actually DO have rights in MMOs.

  7. Amaranthar says:

    The rented house reference is a good one. You can apply that to restaurants too, where the restaurant does not have the right to refuse service due to race or creed, etc. However, they do have the right to refuse service for not wearing shoes, but only because of local zoning laws, I believe.

    Maybe MMOs, and the internet in general, needs zoning laws?

  8. isildur says:

    Iconic: I doubt it. To extend my terrible, terrible lawn example: I might put up a poll on my website asking you to vote on my lawn ornament choices, and even allow you to vote on how they should be positioned.

    One day I might shut that poll down, and remove all my lawn ornaments. Because it’s my lawn. And you will have no recourse.

    Or, to put it another way: the moment any legal body starts granting recognition of ownership of virtual goods that exist only on my game’s servers, and only as a consequence of my choice to provide you with access to my game’s servers, will be the moment every major MMO company will get out of the business of making MMOs.

  9. isildur says:

    Amaranthar: No, a restaurant can refuse you service just because they want to. The only caveat is that federal anti-discrimination laws forbid them from refusing you service on certain grounds that we, as a society, have decided aren’t acceptable.

    But it turns out that ‘he was being a douchebag’ is always an acceptable reason to refuse someone service.

    If you don’t believe me, try being a douchebag in your favorite restaurant and, when they tell you that you have to leave, tell them you’re wearing shoes and a shirt and therefore they can’t kick you out.

  10. Kayn says:

    Squirt: The End User License Agreement can still apply to the continuing service you recieve from Blizzard. The EULA for installing the software client may be void, but the one you sign for the service is one you agree to before partaking the service.

    Might be that you can play on private servers through that agreement since you’re not held to that EULA, but you’re certainly agreeing to thier terms when you want to connect to thier servers…

  11. Sanya says:

    The triad of horror is complicated by the other perennial argument around MMOs – are we paying for a product, or a service?

  12. Raelyf says:

    I generally support EULAs – I also pay my subscriptions by the month. I do agree, however, that there should be some sort of agreement signed BEFORE you purchase the game. I really believe game makers should have complete control in dictating the terms of playing their game. If they stipulate that all players must wear their underpants on their head while playing or be perma-banned, well, that should be their right. My right is to vote with my wallet and not buy the game in the first place.
    Of course, I don’t think EULAs should be able to be changed without notice or agreement, like many state they can be – but then again, the solution is to not buy games which have a such a clause.

  13. Freakazoid says:

    I’m trying to see how I fit in that triangle. I believe in actions more than the debate within rights, profits and drama.

    To take epicsquirt’s example: as a german man, the law may say I am not beholden to an EULA, but the EULA will be enforced. Blizzard has proven they will do it, regardless of my legal stance. I have only one method to reverse any course of action, and that is the german court. However, the german court is nowhere near a guaranteed reversal. Blizzard’s control over my account is far more real than my control, therefore I must approach this EULA as if it did bind to me if I wish to maintain what control I have.

    There are probably other, more consequence-laiden ways to gain control of my account. But the fact that no one in the history of MMOs has ever challenged an MMO developer in court over an unfair banning, and the fact that no one has chosen other methods to regain control of their account, speaks loudly of the hypocritical nature of these debates.

  14. Adam says:

    @EpicSquirt

    “One of my rights is that nothing can bend/dictate the terms for that WoW box after I bought it.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t believe that is true. Under German law they have to give you 30 days from the time the EULA is changed to when it actually takes effect. And if you don’t agree to it, you have the right ask for a refund, same as if you buy the game and don’t initially agree to the EULA.

  15. Boanerges says:

    @isildur
    The lawn comment WAS terrible. People pay to eat at restaurants. There is no contract, implicit or otherwise, between you, the homeowner, and the ranting guy on your lawn.

    A better example would be an amusement park. Everything is fine so long as people stand in line, pay for their food in the park and enjoy themselves. The problem comes when you have the people who think that they have a right to bring food into the park, or a right to cut in line. Therein lies your conundrum: the people doing that are violating your terms and you have the right to eject them and take away their fun. But ejecting people is no small task. People being ejected seldom go quietly and, if they scuffle with your security, things go downhill quickly because it’s hard to have fun when you’re watching a group of armed security subdue an angry soon-to-be-former patron. Less fun means less money. There’s a reason why they advertise one as “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

    I think Scott is absolutely right on Peter Ludlow: even acknowledging that you banned someone means you’re inciting a scuffle, a scuffle you as an MMO company can only lose. It’s all hearsay anyways.

    The flipside is if you have ban-happy admins then you get egg on your face when they go too far. It’s always a better policy to give people enough rope to hang themselves and then move than to move too early and suddenly find yourself having to apologize. For instance, I remember when, I think it was Legacy of Steel, got banned as a guild for an “exploit” that turned out to be more of a bug in how EQ worked. Caused excessive drama and SOE has to apologize and un-ban them all when there was an uproar over a bug every major guild knew existed (in fact, it would wipe the uninitiated to the zone).

    As to WoW’s now rules on addons… they need to exercise care. The whole “No donation solicitation” thing erodes their moral authority to do this. On top of it, it’s not good for the community long run. I remember when Magelo became the first online gear tool. Now WoW offers it as part of your paid subscription (Armory) but Magelo blazed the trail first and they made money doing it. Eliminating the legit paid sources of external development (except in-game ad generators) means that you limit some of the incentive to make the more innovative tools. I think that Blizzard should at least make the two-tier (free and premium) systems have some legitimacy, provided they share their code with Blizzard.

    Remember, the ones with stuff to hide (i.e. ShowEQ) will always go free (money = blood in the water for attorneys) while those who offer real value will try to monetize.

  16. Daniel says:

    I think there is an missing element of political history in that post. Namely, that the 5th amendment to the US Constitution did not come out of the blue. There is a good reason why you cannot take “property without just compensation.” Because it balances the needs of both the government (the developers) and the citizens (the players).

    “The only way in which this isn’t completely obvious is that MMO companies maintain a fiction that you ‘own’ some part of their front lawn.”

    Exactly, in the same why we maintain the fiction in this country of private property. There is no such thing in reality for the state can take what it wants when it wants and all you get from it is some money for it, money that was printed by the state that just took your property. The whole thing is a fiction that we all choose to believe in.

    The MMO fiction is no different than the fiction the federal government maintains on daily basis with its citizens. And the solution should be the same. The developers can take your virtual property whenever they want, they just have to compensate you for it. The tricky part is figuring out what that compensation should be. A refund of subscription fees, paying you for the time you spent in-game, what your account would have been worth if you could have sold it on Craig’s List, etc. And by the way, there is many legal cases that address the real world (5th amendment) issues.

    No need to reinvent the wheel here.

  17. TPRJones says:

    The basis of this dichotomy is the business model of most MMOGs, and as long as this model is used it will not be solved. Simply, it’s this: if I shell out $60 for the software, it’s mine and I can do with it as I please. On the other hand, if I’m paying you a monthly subscription to use a service, it’s yours and I use it your way until I decide I don’t like your way enough to stop paying for it. These two views are both completely legitimate and fundamentally irreconcilable.

    I know that recovering development costs with box sales is essential to the current model, but as long as this is the way it’s done this problem will never go away. The only way to avoid it is to stop selling boxes and just sell the service itself.

  18. Jeff says:

    TPRJones :. The only way to avoid it is to stop selling boxes and just sell the service itself.

    Couldn’t they accomplish this using a variation of selling PSLs to season ticket holders in football?

    Instead of buying the game you are paying $50 as a one time start up fee for your account.

  19. Sullee says:

    I have a hard time accepting any rights of addon authors as presented so far and don’t see any validity in any arguements they’ve put forth. I’m not biassed towards blizzard either… I’d rather like someone to kick them in the jimmy for starting this whole addon mess to begin with. In other words they should have the balls to make the tough design decisions up front and implement a modern, flexible, and deeply customizable stock UI to support those design decisions.

    But addon author rights? Give me a break and get a real job. You want to go after blizzard then by all means bring legal action. Otherwise just shut-up because nobody is going to be hurt by you stopping dev on your addon, closing your website, or otherwise taking your ball and going home. If any of that is overly valuable to the community it and you will be replaced in a heartbeat by someone else who has no problems complying with the rules.

  20. Triforcer says:

    TPR Jones: “I know that recovering development costs with box sales is essential to the current model, but as long as this is the way it’s done this problem will never go away. The only way to avoid it is to stop selling boxes and just sell the service itself.”

    People here seem to be overestimating the nature of the “problem” Blizzard has to overcome. The “problem” whenever they crack down on something is a week or two of irrelevant whining on Internet forums. Call me crazy, but I don’t think Blizzard or anyone else is going to forgo box sales because a few, as Lum put it, sudden-libertarian dickheads are dusting off their third grade social studies book and quoting random snippets of the Constitution in a threatening manner.

  21. D-0ne says:

    My biggest problem with software licenses is the totality of property rights for the vendor. When you buy your right to access World of Warcraft all you’ve acquired is a very thin slice of access, access that is non-transferable, access that is post contract entirely owned by and wholly determined by the vendor, bluntly, when you exchange money with the vendor you get in return, based on the contracts agreed to via purchase, nothing.

    I’m sure there will be a lot of people claiming otherwise but the truth is, when you license a copy of World of Warcraft, all you get in return contractually is Blizzard’s consideration to allow you to access the game. Even the 30 day return policy is peppered with loop-poles that allow Blizzard to not return your money.

    I dare say, the contracts are so one sided they boarder on non-binding and in my opinion (which is worth less than a Coke, when talking online games.) are non-binding.

  22. yunk says:

    I think one big problem that influences the actors is our wacked out tort system and propensity of people to sue. If companies didn’t have to fear lawyers trying to extort money out of them, they could be more open with their products, and we’d have more innovation. If a contract could be drawn up saying “sure you can accept money as long as you agree to not advertise in game and not sue us if we change the code breaking your addon, or incorporate your ideas” and if people would actually stick to that contract, then it would be fine.

    The problem in my not-a-lawyer view is contracts have become weaker over the past few decades, are nullified or thrown out, until they are not worth much. As that happens more and more, people will trust less and less and be unwilling to enter into contracts with others. Thus synergy between parties is lessened, innovation happens less often, and consumers ultimately suffer.

    Blizzard UI innovation has done pretty well due to it being fans creating it who only want donations or not even that. But that works only up to a certain point as we have seen this past week.

  23. Gx1080 says:

    The reason for doing this are:
    *The fact that they want to implement the ideas o0f the addon makers in the game without having to pay money to said addon makers or crushing them in court a la Microsoft.

    *My argument that they dont want anybody making money of their game that they work hard to do (and anybody that says that making a addon is just as or more difficult than making a game is full of it).

    *The actual “sue for everything” policy that rules and make companies need strict rules that cannot have loopholes, hence the lawyers idiom.

    In short, the company needs to have a shield of rules and contracts for being able to protect themselves for the leeches with lawyers (and its hard to protect themselves for the big leeches like Worlds.com)

    I dont agree with their decision, but i see why they needed to do it.

  24. Prokofy Neva says:

    I have been summoned to this thread.

    You’re always setting progress back hundreds of years, Lum, like your medieval games you love. Meanwhile, evolution marches on, and even Zuckerberg has to back down and fix his TOS when many of the 180 million customers rebel when the game gods’ grab too much.

    You’re behind the times. P.S. I’m unbanned from the Linden blogs at least, although still banned from the resident forums. The Lindens have grown up and are ready to tolerate my incisive and critical comments. The residents have not. My banning was unjust. It’s not about whining on a game. Where did you think the First Amendment rights were to take place, anyway?

  25. Mercury says:

    The thing that strikes me in all of this mess is the presumption of some kind of rights owned by Blizzard in this case. Do you think the open market is something that allows you to dictate the rules? Can you release a piece of software and then protect it after the sale, so it’s only *used* in the way you want? Do you think any manufacturer of a real-world product can sell it and then dictate all these terms on what you can do with it or what other things you can use near it?

    This is an open market. Your product is not some dainty, pristine little flower that you can shield from the threats of capitalism. Companies find demand for all kinds of add-ons, whether they be aftermarket car parts, software components, MP3 player attachments, or anything else. When there is demand, a company will create a product to supply the demand and make money. This is how our entire economic engine works.

    So if I fire up notepad and create “MikesAwesomeMod.lua” and save it to disk, somehow it’s illegal for me to sell that? Worse yet, what if I simply write the mod down on a piece of paper with a “please donate” link. Are you saying I can’t write that on a piece of paper? Does it only become “illegal” when I post it on a web site? How’s that work?

    It only “works” with software because of the incidental copy to RAM that allows a company to bootstrap copyright infringement onto what should be a meaningless breach of contract. That gets you up to secondary and that’s how you chill anyone from considering saying (creating software is recognized as free speech) something that’s in breach of terms.

    Where would be today if Windows 3.1 came with a clause in the EULA saying it was a breach to replace the login processor? Novell had established a dominant position in early server products and they came into Windows with that already in place, releasing their client plug-in as a serious hack at the time without help from Microsoft. If Novell tried to pull that off in today’s “if we don’t like it, it must be copyright infringement” environment, all it would take is one letter and there would be no competing network client for Windows. And while Novell didn’t win that battle, they sure made Microsoft work a lot harder to build software that benefits all of us today.

    Copyright holders dictacting terms of *use* under threat of copyright infringement leads to a very bleak future. It’s fine if Blizzard wants to lay down those terms and then take steps within their game to prevent people from using such add-ons. They can ban them, they can ban the authors, fine. But everyone knows they’ll go to the courts, and that’s bullshit.

    And, yes, I am that Mercury.

  26. Bugz says:

    Prokofy Neva :It’s not about whining on a game. Where did you think the First Amendment rights were to take place, anyway?

    Wow! The US Government took action to limit your speech regarding a game? That’s terrible. That is, after all, what the 1st Amendment prohibits, stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

    Or was it just that Linden blogs banned you, and your 1st Amendment whine is not applicable?

    Just wondering…

  27. Bugz says:

    cut and paste error on previous post. Caught the part dealing with religion rather than free speech, but the main point remains. It’s not a 1st Amendment free speech issue of someone bans you from their blog forums.

  28. tannenburg says:

    Waitaminute, who cast “Summon Prokofy Neva”? Didn’t they nerf that spell in the last release? OMG the devs hate us! (drama drama drama)

  29. Gx1080 says:

    Summon Provoky Neva: Summon an emo-kid who is still pissed for being banned of the SL forums. The emo-kid will use 1st Amendment attaks against all people who hide from reality in SL (the entire player base) in a Internet blog-post range.

  30. IainC says:

    Mercury :
    This is an open market. Your product is not some dainty, pristine little flower that you can shield from the threats of capitalism.

    It isn’t a product, it’s a service so yes, they can dictate how you use that service. Think of it like a gym membership where the gym can insist that you where clothes while working out and that you don’t install cameras in the locker-rooms.

    Automakers are not selling you a ‘vehicle usage service’ so your analogies to other types of business don’t really apply.

  31. hitnrun says:

    I think there is an missing element of political history in that post. Namely, that the 5th amendment to the US Constitution did not come out of the blue. There is a good reason why you cannot take “property without just compensation.”

    This is getting out of hand. The “property” in WoW is fake. It’s make-believe. You have the same legal rights to it as you do to the dream your friend told you about, or the girl whose picture you last jerked off while looking at. No, real property is not “the same.” Real property is real. Intellectual property is conceptual. Your WoW account is Blizzard’s. It is a method by which Blizzard keeps track of your progress while you’re playing their game.

    “They can ban them, they can ban the authors, fine. But everyone knows they’ll go to the courts, and that’s bullshit.”

    That’s really the only problem I have with this, otherwise my mockery of these half-understood high school con law analogies would be unrelenting. Blizzard should just say “cry more” and ban them. Then put a line in Warden that pretends to read Google searches just to make them go into conniptions. Unfortunately, everything has to be settled by lawyers these days.

  32. Adam says:

    “So if I fire up notepad and create “MikesAwesomeMod.lua” and save it to disk, somehow it’s illegal for me to sell that?”

    No. It’s a free market.

    “Worse yet, what if I simply write the mod down on a piece of paper with a “please donate” link. Are you saying I can’t write that on a piece of paper?”

    You can write whatever you like.

    “Does it only become “illegal” when I post it on a web site? How’s that work?”

    No. None of those are illegal. You cannot be (successfully) sued, or charged with a crime, or anything else.

    What Blizzard does have are people who are paying a monthly access fee for use of Blizzard’s game servers, and agreeing to Blizzard’s EULA in the process. And just as you have the right to do whatever you like with the addons you make, Blizzard has the right to do whatever they like with their servers. Including, for instance, not allowing anyone on their servers who use your addons if they don’t like your addons.

    Now, if WoW were an offline game, then obviously anyone could use your addons and there isn’t anything Blizzard could do about it unless they built in restrictions on their boxed disc. And indeed your addons would presumably work on private WoW servers. But you don’t get the right to tell Blizzard under what conditions they have to allow people to access their servers (because there are no such conditions).

  33. […] has sparked off the community rather fiercely, with various pontificators besides me posting their thoughts on the matter.  One of the interesting points which comes up in this discussion is talk of […]

  34. Heartless_ says:

    My take on all of this is simple. Virtual space is still real. It exists on a hard drive somewhere. Thou who controls the physical media, owns the virtual goodies within. End of story. We don’t own it and we don’t have rights to it. We pay to access the service.

    You can’t walk into a U-Haul rental store and slap a GPS in their trucks, demanding the customers pay for its use. Mostly because the U-Haul employees would slap the shit out of you for trying.

    Blizzard is simply doing the same.

  35. Raelyf says:

    Heartless_ :
    My take on all of this is simple. Virtual space is still real. It exists on a hard drive somewhere. Thou who controls the physical media, owns the virtual goodies within. End of story. We don’t own it and we don’t have rights to it. We pay to access the service.
    You can’t walk into a U-Haul rental store and slap a GPS in their trucks, demanding the customers pay for its use. Mostly because the U-Haul employees would slap the shit out of you for trying.
    Blizzard is simply doing the same.

    No, but you can set up a kiosk on the other side of the road renting GPS systems to U-Haul customers.
    I don’t think Blizzard has the right to stop addon writers from making their addons, or charging for them. What they DO have the right to do is ban anyone who uses them.

  36. pharniel says:

    Heartless_ :
    You can’t walk into a U-Haul rental store and slap a GPS in their trucks, demanding the customers pay for its use. Mostly because the U-Haul employees would slap the shit out of you for trying.
    Blizzard is simply doing the same.

    wrong analogy. you are perfectly free to create a gps device and then ensure that it fits most types of u-haul trucks, and advertise as such as long as you respect the trademarks of u-haul.

  37. Mercury says:

    Adam :
    What Blizzard does have are people who are paying a monthly access fee for use of Blizzard’s game servers, and agreeing to Blizzard’s EULA in the process. And just as you have the right to do whatever you like with the addons you make, Blizzard has the right to do whatever they like with their servers. Including, for instance, not allowing anyone on their servers who use your addons if they don’t like your addons.
    Now, if WoW were an offline game, then obviously anyone could use your addons and there isn’t anything Blizzard could do about it unless they built in restrictions on their boxed disc. And indeed your addons would presumably work on private WoW servers. But you don’t get the right to tell Blizzard under what conditions they have to allow people to access their servers (because there are no such conditions).

    I still don’t see how it reaches the level of being illegal. Blizzard cannot tell me what I can and cannot say, whether they are selling a service, a game in a box, or a fern. Maybe I missed something in the definition of the market, but I’m pretty sure there is no magical protection from integration because you are selling a service.

    Now, if you want to say Blizzard is within their rights to control how their service is used, I’m fine with that. If you don’t play by their rules, they have every right to kick you out. If they don’t like your mods, they can ban your customers, they can ban you, they can tell you not to solicit donations, etc. They’re within their rights and the impact of those decisions is quite an interesting debate, but it’s certainly something they can do.

    However, I really have a problem with this:

    1) You made something Blizzard doesn’t like.
    2) Blizzard sells a service.
    3) Your product is against the law to sell.

    I think the recent changes to the add-on policy are a bit heavy, but they probably won’t hurt the game. And it’s not that likely that someone will continue to sell an add-on in defiance of those policies… but if they do, it shouldn’t be illegal. That’s all I’m saying.

  38. Baredil says:

    Mercury :

    I think the recent changes to the add-on policy are a bit heavy, but they probably won’t hurt the game. And it’s not that likely that someone will continue to sell an add-on in defiance of those policies… but if they do, it shouldn’t be illegal. That’s all I’m saying.

    Well, since Blizzard isn’t a real-world government, they can’t really make things illegal. Contract/EULA violations are civil, not criminal law.

    Also, unless my reading comprehension is worse than I think, the policy doesn’t say you can’t sell add-ons, you just can’t have add-ons that ask for money in game or advertise in game in any other way.

  39. EpicSquirt says:

    @Adam
    EULA doesn’t equal to AGB (General Terms and Conditions Act), what you meant applies to AGB. In Germany, the AGB have also to hang out in a visible place when you buy something (or they’re void) and if they get changed or introduced for the first time you’ve indeed a right to cancel your contract and demand a refund if you paid in advance (unless you can continue to use the services with the old conditions).

    Anyway, you guys are applying too much theory to it all, there is a clear legal situation in some countries in which WoW is being sold and some practical cases which are almost identical (e.g. Microsft going against parties which reverse engineered the SAMBA protocol (MS lost)).

    It’s really ridiculous, the way you argument some car manufacturer would have the right to prevent Sony or whoever of selling car audio equipment.

    That’s just distortion of competition, you can’t provide an quasi standard (WoW for MMORPGs) with an open API (LUA UI Interface) and then stomp on the people (add-ons programmers) using it and selling 3rd party tools.

    I don’t have the money or energy to hire a lawyer to make this a precedence, but if I’d be an add-on maker for WoW with a business running I’d move my enterpirse to a country like Germany and make Blizzard run for it.

    What’s the problem anyway? Blizzard controls the API, this is more than enough.

  40. Mist says:

    If these games are a service and not a product, they need to stop charging 50 dollars for a box.

  41. D-0ne says:

    You can’t sue Blizzard. The EULA clearly states that. If you’ve ever logged on to WoW you can’t sue. You can go for arbitration and that arbitration is controlled by a company paid by Blizzard.

  42. IainC says:

    Mist :
    If these games are a service and not a product, they need to stop charging 50 dollars for a box.

    That 50$ box is a product, you can do what you like to the physical contents of that box.

    As soon as you log into WoW however you aren’t using their product, you’re using their service.

    EpicSquirt :
    Anyway, you guys are applying too much theory to it all, there is a clear legal situation in some countries in which WoW is being sold and some practical cases which are almost identical (e.g. Microsft going against parties which reverse engineered the SAMBA protocol (MS lost)).

    It’s not identical. Windows is a product. You don’t (yet) pay MS for a time limited licence to use the Windows service.

  43. EpicSquirt says:

    @IainC
    The time limited license to use WoW is void if the box has been bought in a retail shop in a country like Germany! When I buy a phone with a subscription I have to sign off a special contract and I also need to sign that I’ve read the General Terms and Conditions Act. None of this happened when I bought my 2 WoW copies, therefor the rights (and the responsibilities) to the software and the service are only covered by directly applicable/enforceable law.

    Read the above a couple of times please. Verify it and come back to the discussion then.

    I remember you changing the Code of Conduct for (European) DAoC in a similar knee-jerk mannner, so actually I am not sure if you should be in this discussion at all :P.

  44. IainC says:

    You’re still confusing the product and the service.

    Before you subscribe to WoW, you do have to read and agree to the terms and conditions before you give them any money or activate your account. You do have the protection you describe on the retail box but the retail box is not the WoW service any more than a mobile phone is a phone service.

    You agree to each part separately and before you pay for it. In the phone store they are selling you both parts of the package at once (phone and service) so they can deal with the agreements at the same time (having just bought a German mobile phone I was astonished at the amount of paperwork).

    Presumably it would be possible to buy a mobile phone without agreeing to the terms of service but then you wouldn’t have a contract – in exactly the same way as it’s possible to buy the WoW box, not agree to the EULA and not have an account.

  45. EpicSquirt says:

    The subscription service is part of the overall product, I am not confusing anything. Please buy the phone without the subscprition and pay twice or triple for it then, or refinance your MMORPG when no one subscribed to it.

    The additional contract terms found in a EULA or CoC are NOT part of the overall product. Buying a pig in a poke isn’t exactly consumer protection.

    I am quite sure that in almost all subscription based games you have to click yes on a EULA and/or CoC before you can even subscribe/log in and that those games auto-subscribe you with a monthly fee when you open an account. Some of them will even bullshit you with a EULA or some kind of a license when you install the game.

    For example, Warhammer Online has actually a note in the manual (which is in the closed retail box) which says something along “To get access to the online functions you have to register yourself. You can find the business conditions and function-updates at http://www.war-europe.com” at the section “my account”.” – I don’t have my WoW boxes anylonger, but it’s safe to assume that something similar was written there too, as all those pettifoggers are plagiarists :O.

    Again, as a retail customer who buys this in Germany in a retail store I don’t read this and I don’t sign this before buying the box, therefor it is not valid. The EULA and what you’re trying to make out of it wouldn’t even be a good toilet paper as it’s full of shit already.

    As I’ve said it, the only way for Blizzard to put a stop to 3rd party add-ons with costs in all of their markets would be to either to stop selling retail boxes or distribute some kind of SDK with a special license (which requires open source for the addons and forbids charging) which the developers need to sign off. But even then someone could make a classical reverse-engineered clean room implementation which is compatible with that SDK and distribute add-ons regardless of Blizzard.

    A possible scenario is that someone opens a limited liablity company in Germany and develops and sells add-ons for WoW, Blizzard would need to sue that company then. The worst that can happen is that the API for add-ons gets removed and that some people loose their accounts and others stop buying add-ons.

    I had to deal professionally with DVD Forum and DVD Copy Control Association standards and licenses in the past, the contracts had threats of punishment in the millions (USD) – so I think I know a bit about (software/computer) licenses and when they apply and when not; different countries / unions have different laws.

    I don’t have any sources for you in English, but http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/EULA is accurate (German text).

  46. IainC says:

    EpicSquirt :
    The subscription service is part of the overall product,

    This. There is your point of error right there.

  47. Makaze says:

    EpicSquirt :
    The subscription service is part of the overall product, I am not confusing anything. Please buy the phone without the subscprition and pay twice or triple for it then, or refinance your MMORPG when no one subscribed to it.

    The phone is the product, the ability to use a cell providers towers is the service. 2 completely separate things and concepts. You’re only confusing them due to the fact that the same company sells them, offers you a discount for buying both, and they are largely useless when seperate. While it’s may be abysmally stupid for you to buy a phone and not also purchase cell service you are perfectly capable of doing so.

    The same is true with MMOs. In the retail store you buy a disc containing executable code, art assets, etc in other words the product. Then at home, through a completely separate transaction you purchase a subscription to use their servers in other words the service. The fact that you can’t use the game without the service is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion.

    And you are right in that you are not bound by an in box EULA for your purchase of the boxed software. You are free to violate that EULA to your hearts content. However you are bound by the EULA you agree to when purchasing the subscription, and every time thereafter when entering the game (insofar as EULAs are binding at all). It just so happens that they are identical.

    Whether you purchased the game at a retail store, via Steam, or space aliens beamed it onto your hard drive is completely irrelevant as that’s the product and not the service.

  48. EpicSquirt says:

    @IainC
    It’s written on the boxes: internet access required, first 30 days are free. Since you can’t play your first 30 days w/o accepting the EULA/making an account I don’t see how this is seperate.

    Basicly you buy something which is advertised as: you can play me online for 30 days for “free” and then you go home, install the game and find out that you need to accept an EULA which falls under General Terms and Conditions Act in Germany and general terms and conditions have to been provided in advance.

    We all know that the first 30 days are part of an overall subscription plan, if you want to make out of every subscription PAYMENT or even a login a seperate contract with new terms, be free to do is, but it’s laughable.

    @Makaze
    The phone without a subscription is a completely different product. No one sells WoW boxes which can be used with other MMORPG providers. You don’t buy binary code, you buy a game which can be played online ONLY.

  49. Makaze says:

    Not all phones can be used on alternate providers, the iPhone for example needs to go through an unlock procedure and SIM swap well beyond your average consumer to be able to use it on another network.

    It is still an irrelevant argument though. The only difference between the cell phone example and MMO example is the degree of uselessness when not together. Conceptually they are still the same. And you do buy binary code, binary code that in this case CAN be used as a game when combined with a service. You could also use it as a coaster if you don’t make the separate purchase of a subscription, totally your call.

  50. Prokofy Neva says:

    >It’s not a 1st Amendment free speech issue of someone bans you from their blog forums.

    That’s a matter of opinion, and while freedom of association, i.e. to ban or create codes in your club of any kind you like, usually trumps freedom of speech here, it’s not over and it’s evolving. It depends on whether they style themselves as a common carrier or not, or whether their service constitutes a public commons. These very issues are fought in court cases, i.e. with malls. As more and more public conversations move online, these issues can and should be litigated and interpreted and your fanboyz loyalty to your oppressive little game devs will count as nought.

    I’m no longer banned from the Linden blog, as soon as a certain Linden who banned me lost power and new Lindens came (that’s how it works), I’m still banned on the forums. And wrongfully banned because I didn’t do anything wrong even under the Linden TOS.

    My question here wasn’t “why can’t we get to have the First Amendment in games” but *where do you think the First Amendment will take place if it can’t take place in all the places where people are all their waking hours*.

  51. Prokofy;

    Do you believe people have a constitutional right to comment freely as they wish on your blog, without any moderation?

    If not, why do you assign yourself rights that you demand others do not?

  52. greglas says:

    I get that Drama is probably a passionate user and Profit is probably a dev, but I’m not exactly sure who this Rights is? That seems to shift a bit in the OP.
    In any event, I think it’s worth stating that folks do have *some* rights. They might not be all the rights these cyber civil libertarians or Raph Koster would like to see, but they’re more than the rights that Profit would want, right?
    And Profit, truth be told, operates in the thing called the Market, and the Market is an institution as dependent on Rights as anything else is. So Profit actually wants Rights as much as anyone else — just different rights. At least that’s my impression.
    But anyway, I agree with you that to figure out the correct rules in this area, you need to take into account business realities and not be overcome with irrational passions… totally on board with that bit.

  53. Bugz says:

    *where do you think the First Amendment will take place if it can’t take place in all the places where people are all their waking hours*

    Again, the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that you will have freedom of speech in all places, at all times. It just doesn’t. All it guarantees is that Congress will make no laws infringing the freedom of speech, among other things. It isn’t a matter of misplaced devotion to games devs, or some other such nonsense, it’s a matter of not allowing nonsense to diseminated unchallenged. If you want to go out on a street corner and stand on a soap box, and preach at the top of your lungs on the topic of your choice, go for it. But regardless of whether you violated the Lindon TOS, the fact of the matter is that anyone with admin rights can boot you anytime they want, for any reason they want, and it still isn’t a First Amendment issue. You may not like it, and by all means, you can blow a legal-babble smoke screen regarding ‘public carriers’ or ‘public commons’, but it still won’t make it so.

    I presume that any time he wants, Lum can decide to block your IP, or mine, thus preventing either of us from making our views known here, but that isn’t a First Amendment issue either. That would just be Lum not wanting to put up with either of us, which from his point of view is probably to his advantage. It’s not a freedom of association thing either, because maybe he’d just rather not have to associate with either of us, so who are you to try to force the issue, either here or at Lindon? Have they no rights to want to have nothing the Hell to do with you? Sounds like that’s exactly what they are doing, like it or not.

    No shirt, no shoes, no (whatever it was you did to piss them off), no service. It may suck, but I don’t see how it’s a Constitutional issue.

  54. […] been following (and sticking my oar into) a debate on Broken Toys about the rights of players ingame. It didn’t start out that way but somehow the to-ing and […]

  55. Andrew Crystall says:

    What really amuses me is the people throwing their toys out the pram because their favorite addon authors, many of whome are not even directly affected, have chosen to quit making addons.

    The further whining because WoWMatrix – which deeplinks directly to addon authors website downloads – can’t handle removed files and corrupts the addon is downright hillarious.

  56. Bugz says:

    Prokofy Neva, “And wrongfully banned because I didn’t do anything wrong even under the Linden TOS.”

    Being unfamiliar with the Linden TOS, I decided to look it up, and found this:

    2.6 Linden Lab may suspend or terminate your account at any time, without refund or obligation to you.

    Linden Lab has the right at any time for any reason or no reason to suspend or terminate your Account, terminate this Agreement, and/or refuse any and all current or future use of the Service without notice or liability to you. In the event that Linden Lab suspends or terminates your Account or this Agreement, you understand and agree that you shall receive no refund or exchange for any unused time on a subscription, any license or subscription fees, any content or data associated with your Account, or for anything else.

    You agreed to this, I presume. What is your complaint, then, and how is this possibly a 1st Amendment issue?

    You may well have been screwed on this, I don’t know. My guess is you are just shit out of luck. Either way, the 1st Amendment has nothing to do it at all, and insisting that it does won’t win you much sympathy.

  57. robusticus says:

    I think for this whole deal it is just their pride is hurt by the fact that among their 11 million community others could do it beter.

    And they are being incredibly shortshighted at peril of the game industry at large, but that’s a separate thread. It is in their shareholders’ best interest to support the mod community, end of story.

  58. Mancilicious says:

    Iconic :
    @isildur
    I think that in the long run people are going to find out that you actually DO have rights in MMOs.

    Yeah, I have the right to your loot. Uhhhhnnnn – see that shadow? Uh Huh Uh Huh Uh Huh thats me dancing over your corpse! See you at the Iron Wood inn noobler! Yeah! =D

  59. Mancilicious says:

    robusticus :
    It is in their shareholders’ best interest to support the mod community, end of story.

    Only when it makes them money each quarter.

    It’s debatable whether the mod community does that or not. It could be argued, that supporting the mod community actually costs them more money in support costs than they would ever earn from it.

    Personally, mods made me play Wow far longer than I normally would have. But its hard to equate my 2 months of extra retention against the cost of 6 support calls (assuming $5 dollars per call) for those same tools.

  60. […] It’s been fascinating watching the reaction. My main sources for public opinion are the discussion thread on the LiveJournal WoW community and the comments to a terrific, thought-provoking post by veteran game designer and commentator Scott Jennings, “Rights, Profit, Drama.” […]

  61. Rog says:

    In the representation of this triangle, it seems as though Drama is illustrated merely as a more extreme version of Rights.

    I’d say there’s also the extreme version of Profit, where it’s deemed that maximizing profit is the utmost value of all. In fact, I’d argue that Profit tends to be more totalitarian by default, because it’s more direct and focused, it’s only complexities seem to be when it butts up against Rights.

    Now, you could say I’m skewed, that I’m clearly in the Rights category, but in all honesty I’d like more balance. The presentation of this triangle is such that the balance leans more toward Rights because Rights really has two points on the triangle together with Drama. I’d posit that the weight, culturally speaking (Western / Our culture) is far heavier on Profit, because even those on the side of Rights respect Profit to such a large degree.

    Whatever happened to game developers with passion for games, fun and social experiments? Rather than a means to and ends at a dollar? I do like the reference to Raph Koster’s attempt at balance.

    Profit’s biggest problem is the lack of respect for the longterm and bigger industry-wide picture. Cashing in constantly is detrimental to almost everything.

  62. Eolirin says:

    I dunno, I think that while somewhat illustrative, the privacy stuff is probably not the best example, since the things being called for would be relatively easy to implement without any undue burden on the profits end of things; phone companies are not hurt by their inability to collect detailed data on the conversations that go over their phone lines, but there are still avenues to selectively monitor people that may be abusing said systems. Basically, what’s being called for is for Virtual Worlds to be held to the same standards that other comparative industries (like cell providers) already are; so tells and chatlogs are off limits without cause, and the government can’t decide it wants get at that information without reaching the same standard of probable cause that is demanded in other areas.

    Basically, getting data on electronic communications should have the same restrictions as getting a wiretap, and it currently isn’t. The only way the people running MMOGs can get in trouble is if they’re abusive in the way that they collect and use information streaming over their services, and it’s really not hard to make the changes to the service to avoid that; purge chat logs after a given (short) interval, make it illegal to access them without consent or for clearly defined service related issues, and then only to the extent that is necessary and everything’ll be fine.

    The more important thing is to protect this data from government and law enforcement in the same way that other priveledged communications are; otherwise you bypass all privacy protections as more people start using the net related services for communication instead of the telephone.

  63. Prokofy Neva says:

    @robusticus
    This is silly fanboy stuff. We live in a changing world where massive rebellions against the unconscionable Facebook TOS take place. There is no need to stay frozen in time imagining that massive common carriers like social media or virtual worlds are somehow immune from First Amendment protections. More and more this will get challenged as it has in the Mall of America and other court cases. Imagining that this is somehow legitimate to boot a paying customer for “any reason or no reason” is to endorse the oppression that may come for you some day.

    IN fact, I didn’t do anything wrong. Lindens at the time said I didn’t violate the TOS. What happened is their NDA players rebelled and jammed their little fanboyz fingers on the AR button so many times that the Lindens felt they “had to act” because “thecommmuuuuunity” wanted it. They said they did this “for business reasons” and they’re right. I criticized the very top selling feted inner core residents who brought them the most publicity, press, and income and with whom in some cases they had pet projects, private deals, NDAs. So, they were right, by their lights, to act against their own TOS for “business reasons”.

    Interestingly, I am now allowed back on the Linden blogs and new threaded comments. They overhauled the web page and dropped the old bans deliberately. I don’t change anything about how I post. I may not last long, who knows. It’s funny to think about how the mighty have fallen, some of the people the Lindens so fiercely protected from my legitimate criticism over the favouritism shown to them are long out of SL or not visible anymore or has-beens. One of the is a founder of OpenSim, the SL competitor.

  64. Prokofy Neva says:

    Re: Scott Jennings. Nobody has a constitutional right to post on another’s blog. I myself have a simple rule for posting on my blog which isn’t about whether you want to “hate on me” or not. You may, but only if you post with your RL or SL name. You also can’t incite damages to me in SL or RL, i.e. call for me to be subject to a libel lawsuit or call for people to crash my SL sims or harass me by calling me at home and stalking me.

    But massive social media services like Twitter? Second Life? etc.? They serve as a public commons, as a common carrier, and it is really of grave concern that these public commons where more and more people spend their time because they’re not in RL public commons have more restrictions than their town halls would have.

  65. IainC says:

    Prokofy, you need to take into consideration what it is that the First Amendment does, and not what you think it does.

    You do not have a constitutional right to free speech. Your government (local and federal) is simply prohibited from making laws that would make your speech less free. Anyone who isn’t your government can set what rules they like in their own demesne.

    ‘Common carriers’ are not the US government and no amount of handwaving or bloviating will make the First Amendment apply to them.

  66. Bugz says:

    IainC, this is the danger presented by people who believe in a Living Constitution, who believe that the Constitution says they want it to say, instead of what it actually says, what the founders intended it to say when it was written. If the Constution doesn’t meet the needs of the 21st Century, the founders provided an effective remedy. Get an Amendment approved.

    Amendments are hard, so how much easier is it to get judges to invent ‘rights’ out of thin air, and make rulings according the their consciences instead of according to the law?

    When you start going down that road, and we are well down that road already, you may as well not have a Constitution at all.

  67. Viz says:

    @Rog
    Uh? If you say so, but “Profits” is the only faction with a vested interest in the long-term.

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