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Dec 18, 2004

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Comments

1.

"unless IGE signed the contract they can't be bound."

Independent contractors.

2.

How are Gamersloot obliged to conform to Blizzard's Terms of Use and End-User License Agreement when they may not even have agreed to them in the first place? That is patent nonsense.

I already refuse to purchase any future Blizzard games due to their handling of bnetd, this isn't making them look any better. Just because you make good games, doesn't mean you can act like an ass.

Chris

3.

IANAL (just about every post here ought to begin that way, I suspect), but it seems like Blizzard is going to have a tough time demonstrating any actual infringements on its copyrights and trademarks (even if they are as broadly protectable as Blizzard is asserting, which is itself ludicrous -- any characters named "Frodo" in WoW?). Their property never left their system; no dilution of their trademarks or non-fair-use instances of their copyrights are in play here.

This seems to come down to an over-abundant sense of umbrage that someone else would have the gall to make money within a system defined by Blizzard. Someone -- some exec or lawyer -- at Vivedi is thinking with his (almost certainly his) wallet, and not his brain.

4.

I'd bet money that this wasn't *Blizzard's* doing, but Vivendi's specifically...ditto for Steam, the delivery mechanism for Half Life 2.

People need to remember that game coders and game publishers are two different groups of people. Coders are generally a lot more intelligent, broad minded, and less single-mindedly greedy in my perception. Game *publishers* on the other hand are companies like Vivendi and EA. From what I've seen, they only really do two things:-

a) Provide capital and manufacturing facilities (i.e., large scale CD burning, or paying for an MMORPG's bandwidth and hardware bills) and

b) Make life extremely miserable for as many people as possible.

It is of course only a) which justifies their existence...Unfortunately they are able to use a) as leverage to perform b). The main reason why b) happens is because for some reason that I haven't been able to work out yet, these companies insist on engaging in scorched-earth economics, i.e. they will profit from a given game/process but then whether inadvertently or otherwise will either destroy said process or alienate their userbase, on the grounds that they are of sufficient size/monetary worth that they can get away with doing so without it hurting them financially.

Unfortunately what these companies seem to lack is long term vision. As I pointed out in my post about Ultima Online, the signs of a given entity's demise are often initially very subtle, and to all outward appearances it can continue to be very healthy for a long time...then when it suddenly collapses, people stand around scratching their heads and wondering what happened.

EA and Vivendi (EA in particular) need to begin implementing more sustainable policies if they want to survive long term. By that I mean that they need to stop ruthlessly exploiting their employee base on the one hand, and viewing the consumer as the enemy or as someone to be very precisely controlled on the other. Above all however, they need to stop seeing themselves as invincible, because it is that mentality which fuels the above behaviour. They are not invincible, and if they do not stop behaving in this manner, it will eventually bring about their downfall. Because they are worth hundreds of millions (often billions) of dollars, it is true that it will take a while. But those hundreds of millions (or billions) of dollars are hundreds of millions of *consumer* dollars. Eventually consumers will grow tired of their attitude and buy games from someone else, the market being what it is. Employees (as noted by the EA_spouse) also eventually grow tired of sweatshop environments and tend to seek opportunities elsewhere.

It doesn't need to be this way. EA and Vivendi's behaviour suggest that the one thing they are primarily devoid of currently at the managerial level is creativity...Coming up with new revenue models, and ways to support existing customer behaviour and preferences and make a profit *from* these dynamics, rather than attempting to subvert them. If these two companies can become creative, (rather than simply acquiring other companies consisting of genuinely creative individuals and parasitically bleeding them dry) and learn to do this, they can turn it around. But they need, more than anything else, to recognise that it is necessary for them to do so.

5.

Eeenteresting. Veddy eeenteresting. The first thing that jumps out at me is that the first paragraph claims that Gamersloot is "violating" the EULA as a freestanding cause of action, but that the second paragraph in fact seems to back off from that claim. I could see Blizzard trying to raise an intentional interference with contractual relations tort suit, or, (if Gamersloot is directly playing the game as part of its services) straight breach of contract.

But the second paragraph doesn't seem to go there; instead, it seems to be an an effort to say that "of course our IP rights are good, just look at the EULA." That's neither here nor there. If it's a copyright/trademark infringement claim, then the EULA should figure only as a defense, since that's the only license by which the use might be authorized. The EULA isn't a separate offensive tactic.

I can see some Vivendi lawyer thinking "well, the EULA says all these things are our IP rights, so we'd better list it, too." But that's muddled thinking: the point of those terms legally is first to put players on notice that Blizzard makes these claims, and second to estop players from trying to dispute them. But that kind of notice+estoppel won't reach anyone who doesn't actually play the game and agree to the EULA. It also won't turn something that isn't infringement into something that is.

Nota bene: this kind of a lawsuit raises different issues than the Marvel/City of Heroes one does. In particular, it raises quite sharply the question of whether making a game server display content constitutes copyright infringement just because you have breached a term in the EULA by which you accessed the server. This is an extremely delicate legal question: resolve it too strongly in one direction ('no') and you've just gutted the GPL, resolve it too strongly in the other direction ('yes') and the degree of control it gives games over players' out-of-game actions is breathtakingly scary.

The possible copyright/trademark actions that relate to infringements made outside of the game itself strike me as fairly weak. The trademarks are a good case for nominative fair use; the copyrights on many of those things are, as you say, quite thin. Interesting that there's not a dilution claim annexed; it's not noticable more of a stretch than some of the other things they allege. Perhaps it'll be added if this one reaches the level of a complaint.

Fred, as we know, is trying to get CoH players in as intervenors in the Marvel suit; by a similar logic, the contributory copyright infringement claim in this C&D suggests that some WoW players -- the putative primary infringers -- would make for some nice intervenors.

6.

I certainly don't know the relationship between Blizzard/Vivendi and Gamer's Loot, but letters like this are pretty common in any dispute.

It'd be interesting to see the entire letter to see the full range of specific complaints. From what I gather from the excerpt, I can think of a handful of reasons why something like this would be sent, all of which are significantly less insidious on Blizzard's part than it initially would seem.

7.

Will - ask and ye shall receive:

" It has recently come to the attention of Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Vivendi Universal Games, Inc. (“Blizzard”) that you are selling and/or distributing World of Warcraft™ (the “Game”) virtual property, such as gold, through “xxx.xxx.com”.

This letter is to notify you that you are violating the World of Warcraft End User License Agreement (EULA) and Terms of Use (TOU), infringing Blizzard’s copyrights and trademarks, and contributing to the copyright infringement of others. Specifically, Blizzard is the owner of the trademarks and copyrights for the computer game World of Warcraft and all related content, including but not limited to all game characters, objects, and artifacts. Section 3 of the EULA specifically provides that “all title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the Game and all copies thereof (including, but not limited to, any titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialog, catch phrases, locations, concepts, artwork, character inventories, structural or landscape designs, animations, sounds, musical compositions, audio-visual effects, storylines, character likenesses, methods of operation, moral rights, any related documentation, and "applets" incorporated into the Game) are owned or expressly licensed by Licensor.” Similar language is contained in Section 10 of the TOU.

I do not believe that it is in the best interest of either party to become embroiled in litigation in connection with this matter. Accordingly, I urge you to contact me at your earliest convenience to confirm that you will: (1) immediately cease and desist from any further production, promotion, sale or distribution of any products or services bearing WORLD OF WARCRAFT on print, broadcast or electronic media, including but not limited to the World Wide Web, or any other product or service using the same or similar trademarks; (2) confirm in writing that you will cease using WORLD OF WARCRAFT or any similar trademarks on this or other products or services; (3) cease and desist from any further production, promotion, sale, or distribution of WORLD OF WARCRAFT virtual property; (4) cease developing and/or marketing any products or services that infringe any Blizzard’ intellectual property, including but not limited Blizzard’ copyrights, or otherwise violate Blizzard’ rights or the fair trade laws; and (5) forward to my attention an accounting of and all monies received from the sale and/or distribution of such WORLD OF WARCRAFT virtual property or any other Blizzard Entertainment intellectual property.

Nothing contained herein is intended to be or shall be construed as a waiver of any of Blizzard’ rights or remedies, and all such rights and remedies are expressly reserved.

This letter is extended to you as a courtesy. However, unless we receive your written assurances by either fax or mail that you will comply with the above within five days of your receipt of this letter, we will have not other alternative but to review all legal remedies available to us including taking formal legal action to protect our rights. I look forward to your quick reply."

Rod A. Rigole
Senior Counsel


Vivendi Universal Games- http://www.vugames.com : The information transmitted is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain confidential and/or privileged material of Vivendi Universal Games which is for the exclusive use of the individual designated above as the recipient. Any review, retransmission, dissemination or other use of, or taking of any action in reliance upon, this information by persons or entities other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you received this in error, please contact immediately the sender by returning e-mail and delete the material from any computer. If you are not the specified recipient, you are hereby notified that all disclosure, reproduction, distribution or action taken on the basis of this message is prohibited.

8.

"we will have not other alternative but to review all legal remedies available to us including taking formal legal action to protect our rights."

You'd think they would've already reviewed the legal remedies available to them before sending the letter. I do believe that this is more legal bullying by Vivendi and am most interested in seeing how IGE handles this as they've most certainly received a similar letter.

Is it possible that Vivendi is setting up companies to pay a percentage of their revenues for trading their virtual property? This may be an agreeable compromise for both parties.

9.

"If you are not the specified recipient, you are hereby notified that all disclosure, reproduction, distribution or action taken on the basis of this message is prohibited."


I daresay that Anonymous Helpful Person will soon be another target of Vivendi legal bullying for distribution of the cease&desist letter :) Thank God I dont live in the US. Good luck, people, dont give in.

10.

Petrus wrote:
I'd bet money that this wasn't *Blizzard's* doing, but Vivendi's specifically...ditto for Steam, the delivery mechanism for Half Life 2.

You would be wrong as regards Steam, at least. Valve makes way more per copy they sell over Steam than via retail, and Vivendi gets nothing for copies sold via Steam.

--matt

11.

C&Ds are probably not a deterrent, but it is a cheap way to slow the erosion of IP territory, built public awareness and then perhaps raise the political priority to the level that lobbying would be cost effective.

12.

"If you are not the specified recipient, you are hereby notified that all disclosure, reproduction, distribution or action taken on the basis of this message is prohibited."

Prohibited by whom? IANAL, but my understanding of the law is no matter how secret such a letter may be, once an outside party gets ahold of it, it's fair game.

Oh no, by posting I just took an action on the basis of that message. So I guess I should edit my post -- but wouldn't that also be taking an action on the basis of that message?

Bruce

13.

So Vivendi are taking the copyright/IP route. This is SO not how I'd have done it...

There are basically 4 approaches to stopping people from trading in virtual goods:

1) Copyright/IP. This collapses if it's recognised that what is being sold are not virtual goods but a virtual service. "I will pay you $400 for your hat of wizardry" is merely a shorthand for "I will pay you $400 to transfer the hat of wizardy in the inventory of the character controlled by you to the inventory of the character controlled by me". If Blizzard/Vivendi win the IP argument and their rights to ownership of virtual goods are recognised, all it will lead to is a change of words in the eBay auction proposal. If they lose the IP argument, it's open season on all virtual worlds...

2) EULA/ToS. This collapses if the people making the money are not signatories of the EULA/ToS. I guess some argument could be made about their having "agents" doing their work for them, but this doesn't even hold up well for mafia dons ordering hoods to kill people on their behalf, so I don't expect it would frighten off an auction house. What Vivendi could do is take a zero tolerance policy and go after every single person whom they can show to be breaking the EULA. This will mean a lot of bannings, but they'd eventually win.

3) Alter the code. Cap the amount of gold that characters can give away per month. Cap the number of objects that can have their ownership transferred from a character per month. Don't perform account or avatar transfers unless 3 from name, address and credit card details match. This would drive a gaping hole in the commodifiers' activities. However, Blizzard shouldn't have to do that. Creating virtual worlds is, at its heart, an artistic endeavour. Why should an artist who's doing nothing wrong have to change their art because people spoil it?

4) "It's just a game". The traditional way, as practiced in small-scale virtual worlds for 25 years. No EULA, no ToS, you can do whatever you like in the virtual world. So, however, can the developers, and they have access to the code. Thus, if they don't like what you're doing they can eliminate your goods, character, account - anything the code allows. It may be that this approach can't be scaled up, and it may be that consumer protection laws designed for non-game activities interfere if there's no EULA. In the end, though, it comes down to "it's my ball and if I don't want you to play with it then you can't". If that ability were ever successfully challenged, few companies would ever want to run a virtual world - their hands would be tied too tightly.

Given that having no EULA is probably not an option for a large-scale commercial virtual world at the moment, I'd have recommended Blizzard to go for 3) using data mining to find a reasonable capping level, backed up with a zero-tolerance attitude to put petty traders off scaling up their activities. The IP question does need answering, but I don't believe the answers are going to affect the outcome.

Richard

14.

Obvious point, but there is no lawsuit here. There is just a letter that talks about a possible lawsuit unless an action is taken. Such letters are not required to initiate a lawsuit. Like Will noted, the sending of letters making demands and talking about potential lawsuits based on eBaying is not without precedent in the industry, and such a letter might be sent for various reasons.

15.

Richard: Copyright/IP. This collapses if it's recognised that what is being sold are not virtual goods but a virtual service.

I should spell out in more detail some ways in which the IP claims could shape up. There are a bunch, and the disinctions are subtle.

First, there's the scenario Richard is thinking of. I, the designer, have a copyright in the way my virtual sword looks and acts. Therefore, it's copyright infringement for you to sell it outside the game without my permission. This is, as Richard points out by making the goods/service distinction, a very tenuous claim. Gamersloot just isn't making copies, so they don't even have to worry about authorization or other defenses. Note also that if you take the "goods" metaphor too serious, first sale will work to shield Gamersloot: any state-law claim for third-party interference with the EULA will be preempted by copyright.

First-and-a-half, there's the same scenario with a trademark claim, instead. This one also falls apart for similar reasons.

Second, there's the copyright claim I sketched in my comment above (come on guys, you've got permalinks in the HTML source, why not expose them?): because someone who eBays is in violation of the EULA, their gameplay causes copyright infringement. Thus, someone who commercially benefits from causing them to violate the EULA and assists them in doing it is a contributory and vicarious infringer. This is a tough one to deal with: it's legally a little novel, and it raises ugly implications no matter which way it comes down. People have started to think more about the problem, but no one has come up with a really convincing analysis yet.

Second-and-a-half, there's the similar claim for trademarks. This one is much harder to make, because few players in the game are even arguably "in commerce." Unusually for trademark disputes, the dilution claim is almost impossible to make; there is possibly a tarnishment way to spin it, but my sense is that it woudl tough. In any event, you'd still need to establish secondary liability, which is itself, I'm guessing, an uphill fight.

Third, you could say that the names of the items, the name of the game, the pictures of the items, and so on and so forth as displayed on Gamersloot are themselves direct copyright infringement. This claim is, as Dan pointed out in the original story, laughably weak because the copyrights are so thin. Pictures might well be copyrightable, but then the fair use analysis actually looks pretty good for Gamersloot.

Third and a half, you could say the same thing with trademarks. I have my skepticism about this one, as I noted in my comment. On the analogy that it's typically not trademark infringement to resell name-brand handbags at a flea market, it shouldn't be trademark infringement to resell virtual swords at a virtual flea market. But then again, if the sales cross borders, there might actually be a crazy importation without permission trademark claim that could turn into one of those classic "where is cyberspace?" arguments. I think a tarnishment / dilution lawsuit might be plausible, but I'd want to see someone work through the logic.

I don't doubt that there are other ways one could run an IP suit to try to shut down a trading site; these are just the ones that have occurred to me.

16.

Here's a hypothetical scenario...feel free of course to tell me I'm wrong/clueless/whatever as needs be. ;)

Vivendi succeed at intimidating Ebay, Tradespot, and Gamersloot into screening their sites and preventing WoW-related trades. Then, less than 24 hours later, some bright spark takes it into his head to set up a Markee Dragon equivalent, (probably already been done) however he knows he'll have to keep it quiet in order to avoid Vivendi's legal goon squad. To make it less traceable, rather than primarily on the Web, he bases it in an IRC channel, at least in terms of initial negotiations and so on. He'll probably have a small, low-key and obscure web page somewhere. (say an .nl domain, or on Freenet if he has broadband and is really clever)

Because the group is more clandestine, it takes a few weeks/months to build up a reasonable amount of business. They still use PayPal for transactions, they just don't list an accurate reason for the transaction. If PayPal are paying attention, all they'll notice is a small surge in unspecified "donations" between individuals. Wow, the gift culture is really taking off, eh?

Fraud would not be an issue within the group because the self-regulating meritocracy paradigm would apply, i.e., if too many people were defrauded while dealing with this particular group, their reputation would suffer, someone else could/would start a new group which was more honest, and people would use that...thus also meaning that the new group would make money.

Therefore, within probably 4-6 months after stepping on the major sites, Vivendi would find itself faced with an operation that it wouldn't be able to *find*, much less shut down.

17.

Petrus>Therefore, within probably 4-6 months after stepping on the major sites, Vivendi would find itself faced with an operation that it wouldn't be able to *find*, much less shut down.

And of course Vivendi won't have any of its own people playing WoW undercover, because this is something that used to happen in textual worlds and they haven't thought of it yet?

Richard

18.

Ah... I am pretty amazed at all the suppositions and wild conclusions people are drawing.

Some points to consider:

a. I would be willing to bet the copyright violations to which Vivendi is referring in this letter (it's not a "lawsuit". Doesn't anyone edit these headlines?) are actually on the websites that advertise "WoW stuff for sale". If there are logos or artwork on those sites, it's likely they are there without permission. :-) Take a look at the IGE website and tell me how many copyrighted logos you find on the top page alone. (hint: I found more than a dozen without looking hard) -- Take a quick peek and check my math: dub dub dub dot IGE dot komm.

b. If professional trafficking companies keep game accounts for the purpose of, or to faciliate stashing items or currency for unauthorized sale, then they *are* violating their EULA. As someone who makes a living as professional MMO datamining consultant, I can tell you that MMO operators *do* know where all the transferred stuff is stashed, and what accounts they moved through. Yes, even the currency.
Professional traffickers go to a lot of ridiculous efforts to hide how they transfer stuff after it leaves the hands of players; they keep dozens of free demo accounts using dummy names, they quickly spread items and currency piles out into their mule networks, they move stuff around all the time like drug couriers in "The French Connection"... and all so they can claim EULA innocence.

They are wasting their time; none of that misdirection ever stands up to a concerted effort to uncover it. You can't hide transactions from people who control the physical laws of the world; it's all in the logs. (also, see my notes about ebay below)

c. This letter is the type of legal vehicle that generally gets sent *after* having warnings or discussions with the company/people involved and after they have they thumbed their noses at you. As an industry insider, I have followed the discussions between MMO companies and various traffickers for over a year now. The "Well you can't stop us, so you had better cut a deal with us" and the "Offer you can't refuse" techniques are clearly not winning the traffickers any friends with MMO developers.

d. It is doubtful this letter is part of some effort to 'get in on the action'. Indeed the margins are too thin for that to make much sense given the current business model being used in North America. Nor is it about controlling the actions of players. This is about Vivendi and Blizzard (yes, you can be assured the Developers were in the decision-making process too) keeping control of the *entertainment experience* that they sweated blood to create and that they are selling to their customers. These services are *not* an experiment in free-market economics or in player democracy (despite what fan site flame boards may think). Rather, they are a carefully crafted, delicately balanced (ideally), subscription entertainment service. Anything that threatens that balance, or lets some players get ahead of other players (and here's the important part, kids) outside of the carefully designed, in-game mechanisms will likely be dealt with by the companies that risked tens of millions of dollars developing and operating them.

e. Most of these games were *not* designed to support a large inter-game goods/currency exchange. If these existing games had been designed like some of the popular Asian services that support/encourage/depend on micropayments, then this would probably be a non-issue. But these existing North American MMOs are NOT designed for this kind of thing, and while most players don't mind occasionally buying/selling an item on ebay, exit-poll after exit-poll and countless focus groups have told us that North American players are highly put off by real-world wealth upsetting the 'fair play' balance they expect in our virtual worlds. Again, this is contrary to the vocal ranting seen on player boards, but it's been well demonstrated that such boards are the soapboxes of an *amazingly* small minority of players who hold unrepresentative opinions anyway.

f. You can also bet eBay is completely on-board with this legal letter, certainly in principle, if not in active collaboration on this instance. As eBay's entire business depends on their sterling reputation, they work very hard to make sure there is *never* going to be a news story saying "eBay abets the transfer of stolen goods". As a professional MMO operator, if I were to call eBay's Safety & Trust manager and say that "Joe Player" is selling virtual game goods on ebay inappropriately, you can bet that Joe Player's ebay account will not work the next morning. Strictly on my say-so. And eBay would also furnish information to me about *everything* Joe Player has ever sold on eBay, and all Joe's personal information would be at the top of that email. This is not a matter of MMO publishers bullying ebay; eBay proactively goes to them and offered to do this. Read the fine print on your eBay EULA, folks; eBay cooperates willingly, happily and enthusiastically with all of its security partners (such as every big MMO operator) and with all law enforcement agencies. They have a business to protect too. The fact that Joe Player has sold a few spare EQ swords on eBay in the past and not been banned by eBay does not mean these sales are safely anonymous. It only means Verant (et al) is not *really* working hard at punishing individual players for doing this once in a while. They know they can't stop occasional sales, and don't really care about them. It's the impression that widespread trafficking ('cheating') is wrecking the game balance that the publishers care about.

g. It's also wryly amusing to see all the protestations of innocence by the traffickers about the EULA. Players and professional traffickers alike are fooling themselves if they think Sony, Mythic, NCSoft, Blizzard and Microsoft don't easily track where everything goes... and then watch and record every account used for such tranfers, and then look at every account ever opened with the same credit card number, or the same name, address, phone number or IP block and every variant thereof. They are all cross-referenced, examined, logged and annotated for a judge/jury. Additionally, everything ever sold on eBay to any of those ID's (name, credit-cards, addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, etc.) is also flagged and put into the 'look at me carefully pile'. This is one of the few subjects on which most MMO operators put aside their traditional rivalries and share too. The logfiles go waaay back too.

h. Finally; it is personally distressing for me to see articles and comments on TerraNova about "MMO companies bullying players" and all the "power-to-the-players" flame posts. This is an academic site dedicated to the study of virtual worlds. Please take "I'm a disgruntled player and The Man is oppressing me!" rants to a fan site and let the professionals and serious students get on with the business of making better virtual worlds.

Bottomline: In my professional opinion, cross-game trafficking of items and currency in virtual worlds that were not designed to handle it is just bad. Professional parasites who are just trying to make a pile of bucks while no one is looking seems too much like the real-world for my taste. As Ted Castronova said in his AGC keynote this year; "This is not part of the dream".


19.

Not knowing anything about the law, in any country, I am curious about one point. Would Blizzard allowing others to claim ownership of their swords infringe their right to modify them? That would make a big difference to the designers freedom of action. Suppose one day Blizzard flips the Unique bit on the Sword of Uberness. That wouldn’t effect the average player, with one sword. If anything, their sword is now worth more. But for the trader, who’s mule suddenly has one sword rather than twenty, it’s a big hit. Could the trader sue?

One thing that strikes me about a MMOG like Blizzard’s, is the value of an item comes almost entirely from the context provided by Blizzard. Player effort and skill in obtaining it has no intrinsic relationship to its value. If Blizzard changes the drop rate of the item, or the usefulness of the effect it procs, then the value of the item changes. In the next patch, anything proccing Fear is going to take a value hit on PvP servers. The effect of Fear on players is being reduced. What would happen in this scenario if Blizzard approved item sales? Would some consumer protectin laws kick in?

In Second Life, as I understand it, much of the market value of items comes from the effort of the player designer. So it makes sense to me that Linden Labs would allow item sales, and Blizzard not.

20.

There was more than just one letter that went out, other websites recieved this same letter yesterday/ today. I have also heard that there was over 10,000 accounts banned in china for farming in the past few days. Looks like blizzard is not playing any games! However I seriously challenge them to follow through with their litigation. If a company has the money behind them as well as a solid legal council blizzard may end opening pandoras box. Whats happens when blizzards ruling does not stand up in court? I dont think Blizzard, or any other game company for that matter want that to be the situation. We will see!

21.

Michael Steele> exit-poll after exit-poll and countless focus groups have told us that North American players are highly put off by real-world wealth upsetting the 'fair play' balance they expect in our virtual worlds.

How do you get this information without asking a leading question? I.e. how do you know that this is the factor that puts them off and that it isn't a scape-goat?

22.

>>
Players and professional traffickers alike are fooling themselves if they think Sony, Mythic, NCSoft, Blizzard and Microsoft don't easily track where everything goes... and then watch and record every account used for such tranfers, and then look at every account ever opened with the same credit card number, or the same name, address, phone number or IP block and every variant thereof. They are all cross-referenced, examined, logged and annotated for a judge/jury. Additionally, everything ever sold on eBay to any of those ID's (name, credit-cards, addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, etc.) is also flagged and put into the 'look at me carefully pile'. This is one of the few subjects on which most MMO operators put aside their traditional rivalries and share too. The logfiles go waaay back too.
>>

Well, this certainly sounds impressive. Forgive me though if I don't believe a word of it. Thats a lot of effort to keep those kinds of records and I fail to see how it would be financially viable to go to those lengths.

Also, tracking all this, and especially sharing it without the customer's consent would raise some serious privacy issues and would likely result in more than a few counter lawsuits were it to be used. Just because the customer agrees to a EULA does not mean the company can strip the individuals of all their rights (and for the record, I don't believe any MMORPG EULA has ever stood up in the court of law - so we have no legal precedent to say these agreements actually mean anything).

Lastly, if they are going through so much effort to record anything, why havn't they done anything about it? Shutting down a few high trafficing accounts here and there would cause major inventory losses to the companies that use these accounts (resellers invest thousands of dollars every day in inventory). The margins for these resellers are not that huge that a few sting operations would seriously cause them to reconsider if it is worth operating in a given game. This is honestly my biggest point of confusion in this matter - even without such excessive data mining, these gaming companies have to know who the big reseller accounts are. And yet they do nothing to stop the IGEs of the world from continuing operations - in fact shutting down Ebay auctions simply benefits these private companies even more by funnelling business to them.

23.

Michael Steel> This is about Vivendi and Blizzard (yes, you can be assured the Developers were in the decision-making process too) keeping control of the *entertainment experience* that they sweated blood to create and that they are selling to their customers.

I can't tell you how encouraged I was by this post. This issue, when discussed in public, seems to get commentary from almost everyone except the Protectors of the Grove, the people who are doing the building/operating. There are some exceptions, but generally, I've been wanting to hear someone lay out the case just as you have.

I agree that the most serious damage here is to the entertainment experience. It is calculable, and certainly non-trivial.

24.

Steele, Blizzard, and others, I would challenge you to see this legal rambling actually put forth into a court case to have it decided one way or another. Quite obviously you despise those people who are so obviously "ranting" so much that you would take actual legal action against them, and I would love to see the outcome of such a court case.

On another note, I would love to see a rather fair and level playing field, so I would also invite IGE and Playerauctions to financially back whoever you would bring this +10 Hammer Of Legal Righteousness down upon. It's all well and good to make threats and instill the fear of death into the poor little college students or small time start up web host but quite another to go toe to toe with an equal...or someone as legally versed as you.

I would also venture to say the "law" is on neither side currently no matter how many potential examples you show one way or another. And if I remember correctly, law is never set in stone as a good lawyer should know and deals mostly in inconsistancies and interpretations of events.

Good luck.

P.S. I hardly think calling your oponents the equivalent of children or crybabies gives you good PR which you may need in the very near future in case you fail to bring your legal case to light before someone brings one to you first.

25.

Michael Steele wrote:
Professional parasites who are just trying to make a pile of bucks while no one is looking seems too much like the real-world for my taste.

While I agree with you on the "professional parasite" bit (and most of what you wrote), I don't see how you can claim MMOGs are not part of the real world. They are no matter how nice it might be to pretend they're not.

--matt

26.

Michael Steele> Players and professional traffickers alike are fooling themselves if they think Sony, Mythic, NCSoft, Blizzard and Microsoft don't easily track where everything goes... and then watch and record every account used for such transfers, and then look at every account ever opened with the same credit card number, or the same name, address, phone number or IP block and every variant thereof. They are all cross-referenced, examined, logged and annotated for a judge/jury. Additionally, everything ever sold on eBay to any of those ID's (name, credit-cards, addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, etc.) is also flagged and put into the 'look at me carefully pile'.

This is basically what we do with accounts that we link to fraud in There.com.

Michael Steele> This is one of the few subjects on which most MMO operators put aside their traditional rivalries and share too.

Besides being illegal to share a customer's credit card info with 3rd parties (outside our bank, the card issuing bank, the card issuer, credit card processor and law enforcement), I think that 'sharing data' would actually violate the basic tenants of our TOS and our commitment to customer privacy. That said, I think its pretty common practice to 'go above and beyond the call of duty' when working with any of the above groups to link individuals to patterns of fraudulent activity.

-bruce

27.

Edward said, I agree that the most serious damage here is to the entertainment experience. It is calculable, and certainly non-trivial.

Once again we're back to assertions rather than supported statements. We've been over this in some detail in the "Blizzard goes to war" thread that you started. Despite many such assertions there, no one has demonstrated in the least the damage that you say is "calculable" and "non-trivial."

This entire issue still reduces to hard-core players used to one play style, and who have more time than money, being upset at a different type of player with more money than time. Buying items that someone else legitimately obtained in-game isn't cheating, and it's not damaging the game. There is no demonstrable harm to anyone else's gameplay experience. There is no damage to the in-game economy from out-of-game sales (outside of duped-sales, which are in a completely different class).

These objections are all illusory, and appear designed to dress up the underlying antipathy for those who "buy their way in" to a game and those who facilitate such sales. I understand the antipathy from the POV of a hard-core gamer, but I think it's misplaced. Outside of a de minimus trademark violation (for the use of the names of in-game assets on other sites) there is no crime here, no fraud, no cheating, no ruining of an experience. There is a foundational change in who is playing MMOGs and the expectations they have, and that's not going to sit well with the current core crowd (and more than the success of graphical MMOGs has sat well with those who prefer text).

28.

I keep seeing the defense of IGE, etc... defined by such statements as-

1)The devs should design with out of game transactions in mind...

Some games do but the ones that don't should not have to put up with this extra overhead.

2)Out of game selling does not affect the players...

It does affect the players when parts of the world are occupied 24/7 by farmers working for IGE. So should the devs design part of their world just for IGE? "Welcome to the zone of uber-farming! Unless you are employed to farm, do not enter." Commercial farming GREATLY affects pricing and availability of items and access to certain areas of any game.

3)Out of gaming selling is what the player base wants...

He said, she said. I have been in a number of large guilds in EQ1 and EQ2 and can count on one hand the number of people that bought stuff off of ebay or IGE or came into a sudden influx of plat or items mysteriously. From my perspective there is a vocal minority that have a vested interest in keeping places like IGE open. Most arguments I have seen in forums are between a few very, very vocal and strident supporters of item selling and a large number of casual posters that are against it.

4)The EULA will not stand up in a court of law...

Maybe it can, maybe it can't, but the real issue is the design of the game, unless it is feasible to fit in item selling, why should a game have it designed in if it does not fit? And should devs spend all the extra time and money developing that instead of developing content?

I can see the interest in item buying in selling but I wish it was gone. The only people that benefit are the item sellers and people that cannot spend as much time as they like playing the games so the buy their advancement. And if the games are so bad without item buying and selling the games will either be redesigned better or fade away from lack of interest.

29.

This is basically what we do with accounts that we link to fraud in There.com

Would it be fair to ask how exactly you figure out which accounts are linked to fraud? Most games just ignore the difference between fradulent and mutual consenting transactions because it is too dificult to distinguish the difference. Mike talking about tracking every IP of each transaction and data mining the heck out of it to track and build cases against EULA breakers is a world apart from tracking fraudsters in an attempt to shut them down. IGE may break every EULA in the book, but they are not ripping off their customers.

I think everyone would like to see more action taken against fraudsters, but with no in-game property rights, there is very little recourse people have to fight against this fraud. Its easy to sit there and say that out of game transactions ruin the entertainment experience and should not be allowed, but banning Ebay sales is just an easy target and really is turning your back on the bigger issues. In game theives, scammers and fraudsters run rampant and they are not punishable because it is "just a game". Customers have no recourse because they essentially have to sign away all their rights to play the game and the gaming companies make minimal efforts to protect those rights in return. When you play these games, its every man for himself where the strongest win - and of course the biggest and baddest of them all are the gaming companies themselves who can adjust the rules as they go to always come out on top.

I think the reason this site exists is because a lot of people realize that virtual worlds often go beyond simple entertainment value. The gaming companies don't seem to want to admit this though, which is kind of ironic since they are the ones who benefit most from the stickiness and longevity of a virtual world that continues to draw people in long after the "game" looses its luster. In the end, it is hard to tell what these companies are really working towards - if they truly succeed in getting their lawyers to reduce their MMORPG into "just a game" - they will mostly succeed in just killing off the world they worked so hard to build.

30.

Hellinar: Would Blizzard allowing others to claim ownership of their swords infringe their right to modify them?

No. There is a contract between Blizzard and its players: the EULA. Blizzard could easily write a EULA that says "While we will not ordinarily stop you from trading swords or using eBay, we reserve the right to change the properties of items or delete them at any time." I am quite confident that most courts would be willing to enforce such a term against any player who tried to sue Blizzard for nerfing the swords.

"Ownership" and "property" are misleading terms when it comes to virtual worlds. They imply that ownership is an all-or-nothing affair. Either Blizzard owns the sword or a player owns it. That is not the case. Under the EULA term above, the player would have some rights relating to the sword, and Blizzard would have some rights relating the sword. Those rights would coexist quite easily. If I, the player, had the sword taken f
rom me by someone who stole my password and logged into my account, I would have a perfectly good lawsuit against the thief. But I would not have a lawsuit against Blizzard if a game admin deleted the sword.

The above is a very standard lawyerly way of looking at property. We do things like this all the time with property in the real world: if I rent an apartment, both I and the landlord have certain rights that relate to the apartment. As the tenant, I have very strong rights against everyone else in the world to keep them out of the apartment, but much more limited rights against the landlord. And the question of what rights I have there will be answered, typically, by looking at the contract between the two of us.

I think that Dan and Greg probably had this kind of analysis -- the Hohfeldian "bundle of sticks" -- when they talked about the recognition of "virtual property" in their article. Giving players rights against game designers is one way that virtual property could be recognized, but it's not the only way, and indeed, it's one of the less likely.

31.


Mike, I don't know you, but I couldn't respectfully disagree more. Not necessarily with the whole statement, but only one part in particular..."it's not damaging the game. There is not demonstratable harm to anyone else's gameplay experience."

I'm a player of games, not an industry professional, I have no axe to grind or agenda to promote other than making my gaming experience more enjoyable. Bear that in mind when I say the following.

From my point of view, the purpose of a virtual world (call it what you will), is to reward those who invest time in that virtual world. Or even simplify this...the purpose of a game is to reward those who spend time playing the game.

If you play Monopoly, you suspend disbelief for some period of time, you...for lack of a better word...game. You work towards the end goal of that game, building monopolies, using only the resources within the game system and your mind. Only in Vegas would you find people playing with real money, and you won't find them buying properties for in-game through out of game means, once the game has begun.

The next step up in complexity...video games...example is any RPG. Time invested gives returns. In order to reach those end bosses, you're forced to spend time playing the game. If you can't invest the time, you don't beat that boss, don't see the ending, and don't save the princess. If you can't beat Aqua Weapon at level 70, you wait until level 80 and try again. You don't find gamers whining about not being able to buy the Exalibur 3000 sword with RL cash, its accepted that in order to get those rewards, you must spend time playing.

Next step in complexity...virtual worlds. Same premise. As a gamer, I realize that time invested gives rewards. Its not a matter of "I have more time than I have money", its a matter of knowing that if I work for something within the ruleset/world/system given by developers, I will eventually be rewarded. My limitations are my ability to understand the system, my patience, and yes, the amount of time I have available.

When you introduce out of game resources into in-game play, you no longer have an equal playing field, unbalanced only by interpretation and time. You ARE doing harm to the game itself, because the game was designed to level the out of game playing field, save those qualities that the game requires to win. In allowing out-of-game purchase of in-game items, you expand the scope of the game, giving priority to those who have the monthly fee and 40 extra dollars per month over those who just have the monthly fee. Except then it becomes 80 extra dollars, or 120 extra dollars.

Plain and simple, as a gamer, I have no desire to see out of game purchasing of in-game items, whether through players, companies, clearinghouses, unless the game is specifically designed for it. Going back to my simplification, when you allow out of game purchasing, you are no longer keeping a fair and equitable system of rewards for those who spend time playing the game, rather you hijack the rewards system, removing all credibility that it might have. And if there isn't a rewards system...why exactly am I playing again?

When you play The Bloody Kasserine, you use the game system/rules to your maximum advantage in order to win. Likewise in Risk, Parchessi, or World in Flames. Is it too much to ask that we limit in-game actions to in-game resources?

While I may disapprove of the legal precedents that these game companies may be setting by attempting to enforce this EULA's and ToU's, I applaud their actions in attempting to keep hard boundaries on the amount and type of resources that may be applied in getting ahead.

Just the opinion of someone who plays, and enjoys games...

32.

John> Would it be fair to ask how exactly you figure out which accounts are linked to fraud? Most games just ignore the difference between fraudulent and mutual consenting transactions because it is too difficult to distinguish the difference.

So two quick notes:

1) I agree that There.com has very different problems than your classic MMORPG would have. Even so, I think the basic methodology behind highlighting the cases may be similar. I wont get into the methodology, but datamining is a big part of the solution.

2) Just a personal opinion that I think too many people are looking for a silver bullet here. As far as I can see, in business there is never a silver bullet, and you have to keep using the ammo that you have available.

From what I know about people, there are obvious cases that will stick out in any community of more than 1,000 members. Take the WoW speed hack, my guess is that its possible to look and see the average time that it takes to travel from point a to point b. Or the average time that it takes to do quest A or quest B. If 95% of the players finish in 12-20 mins, and you have a few people doing it in 5 mins, you have an obvious problem.

There is just so much data that is available if the databases are configured correctly. As far as a basic approach, any hack that gives a tactical advantage should show up in a report.

Going forward, my guess is that most games like WoW will (most likely) go with a 'fix the broken windows' style of law enforcement, which is actually a pretty good approach for all non-Prohibition scale issues.
(see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_Windows) .

That said, in my mind, currency sales are really a design issue (first), and WoW is, if anything, encouraging this type of activity with their current design. I.e. it gets exponentially easier to amass currency as you go up in levels, and, if anything, twinking is encouraged through a number of systems that they have.

-bruce

33.

Carl said, the purpose of a game is to reward those who spend time playing the game.

Carl, that's a valid POV. As I've been saying, this is the particular POV of the core-gamer, and one that has reigned supreme in computer games thus far.

But as I've also said, things are changing. The market is changing. It's more accurate to say that the purpose of a commercial game is to reward those who pay for it. Regardless of how much time they spend it in. (And note that from the commercial operator's POV, the perfect customer is one who pays but rarely if ever logs in!)

There are many more people who have more money than time, relatively speaking, than those who have time to spend hours and hours playing games. These people with only an hour every few days to play haven't been big into MMOGs for the most part up to now, but that's changing. And as it changes, cries of "cheater! fraud! you're ruining my play because you haven't been here as long as I have!" just aren't going to carry much weight with either game operators or players (other than the die-hard more-time-than-money crowd as we have here -- and apparently at Blizzard).

So I understand your POV. And it seems to be the one underlying all this sturm and drang about out-of-game sales. People keep repeating the same old charges as a way of dressing up their distaste for these new players and how they want to play the game. That's fine; maybe there will be a market segmentation into hard-core time-intensive and everyone else. But threatening legal action over something like this just plain ludicrous. It would be like text game operators threatening to sue anyone who draws a picture of what happened in-game because it "ruins the experience" for everyone else.

34.

LMC> "1)The devs should design with out of game transactions in mind...

Some games do but the ones that don't should not have to put up with this extra overhead."

I would like to design a rocket ship without taking gravity into account. However, I shouldn't be surprised if the rocket ship doesn't work very well in the real world.

Human nature is human nature. As a designer, it is your *responsibility* to take human nature into consideration in your game design. Early MMORPGs may have underestimated the human nature to trade time for money, so accidently set up the stage for farming, etc.

Modern MMORPG game designers have no such excuse. They have seen EQ. They have seen the harm that Farming can do to certain game designs. It saddens me that they believe the right response is to try and fight human nature.

The question isn't "Can Ebay harm in game experience?" but "Why would we make a game which will be harmed by Ebay?". We know players will ebay for the same reason that we know they will exploit any other loopholes.

My personal hope is that WoW has designed their system so that IGE style gold farms would not cause any gameplay problems, but has gone on this legal rampage for the good PR it seems to generate around disgruntled EQ players.

I would hope the same applies to the speedhack. That is such a well known hack, one would hope they had already thought of it, but intentionally left it open to be able to ban the initial round of users.

- Brask Mumei

35.

To Mike Steele,

>It's also wryly amusing to see all the protestations of
>innocence by the traffickers about the EULA. Players
>and professional traffickers alike are fooling
>themselves if they think Sony, Mythic, NCSoft,Blizzard
>and Microsoft don't easily track where everything
>goes... and

If this is true, how come trading got as big as it did on UO in particular? Are you honestly going to tell us that that only happened because EA *allowed* it? These companies are people who as you say, do *not* want this type of thing to happen in games that are not designed for it...so I see two possibilities here. Either

1) Although everything is logged as you say, it becomes a manpower problem...the number of people "trafficking" is greater than the number of people a company has to enforce the rules, or

2) The above is not true, not everything IS known about, and at least the operators of early games were blindsided by this activity.

Personally I'm going with a combination of both ideas here. Yes, of course there are syslogs, and yes, of course certain things are known...but personal information can be faked, among other things. As I've stated before, given the nature of the Internet it is *always* going to be possible for people to run trading operations in which all of the details can be known by the company involved, even if they are able to trace the fact that virtual inventory is changing hands from person A to person B. In a lot of cases, I'm guessing that's just about *all* they know about it.

I agree with you that there are certain people who play MMOGs whose purpose in life seems to be to try and ruin things for everyone else as much as possible. These people exist in a number of different contexts, and engage in a number of different activities. Trading is not the only one among them. I believe however that rather then relying on enforcement alone, the way to deal with such people is to create game environments that are sufficiently robust where their stability is not threatened by these activities. I notice that you mentioned that the Asians seem to have come up with a system for coping with this kind of thing...would it be possible that in future games they develop, American operators themselves could possibly integrate this model as well?

I do not believe that it is appropriate that game companies rely on enforcement/jackbooted behaviour *alone* in order to attempt to deal with these problems, but rather focus as I said on incorporating tolerance for things like trading into the economy of the target game. There are times however when enforcement is called for, undoubtedly...as in the case of people like the obscene Evangeline, a user of The Sims Online I was reading about a bit back who set up a virtual brothel. The Sims is a game with a teen rating; I would not be opposed to the idea of the establishment of adult games for such things, but the problem is that I suspect that with people like Evangeline, the entire point of the exercise is to set up such places within environments where it is as inappropriate as possible relative to the context. I do understand and sympathise with the fact that MMOG operators are forced to contend with such people.

You seem to be somewhat more astute than what we expect from the stereotypical corporate suit these days, and it is accepted that operators have as valid a perspective in this argument at times as the players themselves do. However, I wholeheartedly reject the notion that operator companies see all and know all with regards to trading, and that it is for them really in any way possible for them to stop it at all *via legal or enforcement means*. I understand also that it is in your vested economic interest for the player community and outsiders to see operator companies as omniscient, in the way that you have attempted to portray them here. The only problem is that this assertion does not enjoy the support either of logic or MMOG history.

36.

LMC: Commercial farming GREATLY affects pricing and availability of items and access to certain areas of any game. [...] I have been in a number of large guilds in EQ1 and EQ2 and can count on one hand the number of people that bought stuff off of ebay or IGE or came into a sudden influx of plat or items mysteriously.

So, you are basically saying that tiny minority has a great impact on pricing. That seems to be a bit up in the blue. The following scenario seems reasonable based on what you say:

a) 1% of the playerbase buy 1 mill gold each month
b) the top 9% of the playerbase make 1 mill gold each month on average

How can the additional 10% greatly affect pricing if they are all going for the same goods?

Furthermore, how is selling expansions which provide new and better game-stats different from e-baying? Surely, the main difference is in the wrapping? And if we take it one step further, when a game maker make their core game free, does that mean that the players who bought the game with all expansions suddenly become "e-bay cheaters"? There is a certain lack of consistency in the arguments. Mike Sellers is basically spot on.¨

As a player I am all against games charging for gameplay and buying of items, but that doesn't mean it actually bothers me in-game. Similarily, I find it distasteful that the people in the leader-culture award themselves insanely high salleries, but it doesn't bother me in my everyday life...

37.

Carl> the purpose of a game is to reward those who spend time playing the game.

What about WoW's system of rest experience where you can store up "double" xp while not in the game itself? By spending time doing something other than playing the game, you gain IN GAME benefits. Just something to think about in that aspect.

As for farming hurting a game (and farming being directly linked to out of game trading), what makes you think people aren't still going to want to be the richest person on a server? What makes you think that people don't want to hold a monopoly on a certain type of item or a rare sword? What makes you think that this must be the only driving goal of every single individual killing a mob repeatedly for their loot?

Farming is NOT going to end with the destruction of third party game sales I'm sorry to inform you. Might it decrease for a short period of time? Sure. Will it pick right back up? Yup. Farming is linked to third party trading, I'm not denying that, but third party trades are NOT the parent of farming. Didn't you play MUDs way back in the day? When people would go to the super elite zone with all the good drops or the high gold drop monsters? I certainly don't remember an industrial real money for game money trade market back then...

I believe farming and a number of other things that contribute to third party sales are a problem in amoungst themselves, a core game mechanic gone wrong, or perhaps right in some cases. Believe it or not, players do crazy stuff sometimes. Feasibly, it might be faster for the player to hit level 60 and then go on raids for money, but for some players they take an alternate route and work up tradeskills instead...or farm a mob...or scam other players...or make a stock market out of the auction house.

In the end, you can't really link any in game occurances, even duping, as a direct cause of third party trading. It all existed before it started, and it will continue to exist even if third party trading is stopped.

38.

Ola: "So, you are basically saying that tiny minority has a great impact on pricing. That seems to be a bit up in the blue. The following scenario seems reasonable based on what you say:

a) 1% of the playerbase buy 1 mill gold each month
b) the top 9% of the playerbase make 1 mill gold each month on average

How can the additional 10% greatly affect pricing if they are all going for the same goods?"

It does have a great effect because if Uber sowrd A is going for 1,000 plat on average but someone just bought 1,000,000 plat off ebay and what the sword quick they have know qualms about spending 100,000 plat on it. Suddenly the going price for the sword is 100,000 plat and out of the reach of most players that do not buy play from ebay.

"Furthermore, how is selling expansions which provide new and better game-stats different from e-baying? Surely, the main difference is in the wrapping"

That is comparing apples to say coconuts! All players have the opportunity to buy the same expansion for the same price and receive the same benefits. Not even in the same league kind of issue. Also it is something the devs have planned for and taken into account unlike the wide variables involved in item selling.

As for farming, will the cessation of 3rd party sales stop it? of course not, but it will stop 24/7 commercial farming. If they are not getting paid real world money do you thing IGE will have 3 characters farming the same zone on 20+ servers 24/7 like they did in EQ?

39.

"Carl, that's a valid POV. As I've been saying, this is the particular POV of the core-gamer, and one that has reigned supreme in computer games thus far.

But as I've also said, things are changing. The market is changing. It's more accurate to say that the purpose of a commercial game is to reward those who pay for it."

Ok, lets say that's so, and the market should supply the opportunity to spend RL cash to get an advantage. Question: Is there also room for a game in which that IS NOT the case, and Carl's POV is true? After all, there's apparently a market for it!

The answer from the MMORPG industry is invariably "yes, and we are trying to provide that." The answer from those who buy and sell plat & other virtual items is always "no, that's absurd, it's not in human nature." i.e.: what are you, some kind of FREAK for wanting to play an escapist fantasy? I assure you it is not absurd.

It's not the buyers that are the problem insofar as game play... it's the sellers. The ones that go out and farm endlessly. Need a drop for your quest? Kinda hard to get it when some farmer has taken over the camp and unleashes language at you that would make his mommy get out the mouth soap. Want to go grab a nice money-making camp? Sorry, it's camped 24/7 by the professionals (cough, cough, Seblis, pre-nerf). You're in the way of their business--and some will even tell you that.

I don't really have a big issue with buying and selling virtual items--but when it begins to distort the game, when farming plat and items becomes a *profit motive*, then the game experience will suffer. And that, I as a player, take issue with.

40.

LMC: Suddenly the going price for the sword is 100,000 plat and out of the reach of most players that do not buy play from ebay.

This is only true if the 1% get more money off e-bay than the top N% of the hardcore do AND if the said resource is in really low supply, but if the resource is in such low supply that only 1% can get hold of it, it also implies that 99% of the population was never meant to have it. BY design. IMHO: blame the designers, not e-bay.

LMC: That is comparing apples to say coconuts! All players have the opportunity to buy the same expansion for the same price and receive the same benefits.

Not at all. It is exactly the same issue, and it is from a social/moral point of view MUCH WORSE exactly because a majority DO buy it. What about the poor/unemployed/... players who cannot afford it? They see all their friends move on and past them? They are excluded or have to lower their real life living standard. MMOs basically have a lock-in-and-milk-the-players strategy. How is that different from IGE doing the milking? Is the game provider some kind of neutral innocent entity? Far from it. Players may accept it because it is pervasive in society, not because it is more ethical than farming creds and selling them on e-bay.

LMC: Also it is something the devs have planned for and taken into account unlike the wide variables involved in item selling.

Like there haven't been enough expansions that have upset game balance...

Developers are no saints.

LMC: If they are not getting paid real world money do you thing IGE will have 3 characters farming the same zone on 20+ servers 24/7 like they did in EQ?

Well, if there are 3 farmers for each buyer, then that still only account for 3% according to the "minority buys" theory. You can easily compensate for this by a minor increase in the spawn rate, 1-item-per-character etc.

41.

I believe some of the arguements here may have been misunderstood (you tell me after reading this). I don't think any of us, one side or the other actively support macroing, botting, or "commercial" farming. These are things we'd ALL like to see removed from the game. What I DO believe (back to the 3rd party side) is that I support the player who spends his/her time to aquire an item, money or character and resell it at his or her leisure.

Farming, macroing, botting will continue regardless of the existance of a third party system, but I don't feign ignorance as to the fact that it contributes HIGHLY to the external market. I DO say that these are flaws inherent in game design rather than effects from a third party system existing.

42.

Hi Lee, I think some of us are saying that we are seeing symptoms of developers stretching content beyond the expiration date. To some extent bad design, but not only that, also an overall bad approach... Tedious experiences rather than meaningful experiences... Some actors then blame the symptoms rather than the actual design.

For the mass market I think a better and more fun strategy would be to sell a larger set of fun games with better pacing as a subscription package. Then you don't have to stretch the content so much, and you can focus on retention by content rather than treadmilling. Not many have the resources to do this though... :-/ And nobody has the guts to do it :-(.

It works for cable-TV, I think it will come in this market if it reaches the masses...

43.

While the context of a gaming experience- such as the integrity of the reward system- has an enormous impact on the individual and the community, and while I'm a purist in terms of creating satisfying, whole, and immersive gaming experience, I don't see these commercial dynamics as easily dismissed. Some, at least, of the reasons we enjoy leaving the prevalent commercialism of our modern cultures certainly have to do with how much commercialism affects so many of our experiences and decisions. But by the same token, these dynamics are clearly very virulent, and keeping them totally outside of a virtual world is problematic at best.
And, truth be told, the explorer in me would enjoy periodic access to experiences I'll never have the time or dedication to "earn" in-world.
One solution, to me, would be to create separate servers. Keep the pure experience unsullied, on one set of servers, but provide monetized experience on others. One side benefit would be the establishment of new communities- Second Life and There (and others, I believe) have shown that genuine satisfying experience can certainly take place for some in a commodified online world.
Might make the whole thing easier to police also, and create more financial success to keep our worlds, and our dreams, alive.

44.

Brask wrote:
Modern MMORPG game designers have no such excuse. They have seen EQ. They have seen the harm that Farming can do to certain game designs. It saddens me that they believe the right response is to try and fight human nature.

Designers of modern legal systems have seen past legal systems. They have seen that it is impossible to try and stop people from, say, committing murder. I firmly believe the right response is to continue to fight human nature, which dictates that some people are going to be murderers. I'm not morally equating murder with buying things out-of-game, of course, but the argument that "People are going to do it, so we shouldn't try to prevent it." strikes me as an exceptionally weak one.

--matt

45.

Ola:"This is only true if the 1% get more money off e-bay than the top N% of the hardcore do AND if the said resource is in really low supply, but if the resource is in such low supply that only 1% can get hold of it, it also implies that 99% of the population was never meant to have it. BY design. IMHO: blame the designers, not e-bay."

Your numbers are meaningless, resources are created by design to be limited as part of the game experience. Even if an item is designed to accessible to only 1% of the player base it is good because it was designed that way for balance. So why the bias against devs? They designed a game to be playable without outside economic influences. I know if I was them I would want to control as many variables as possible instead of throwing money away trying to anticipate the external market forces. Should they code for the possiblity of war and terrorist attacks as well?


"Ola:Well, if there are 3 farmers for each buyer, then that still only account for 3% according to the "minority buys" theory. You can easily compensate for this by a minor increase in the spawn rate, 1-item-per-character etc"

I never said anything about 3 farmers for each buyer. What I described is a very common occurrence where commercial farmers take over a spawn or an area and take it out of play for the rest of the player community. Then they hold a monopoly on items from that area and charge several times more than the pre-farmed going price. Increasing the spawn rate will do little to affect the price in most cases and only increase the profits for the commercial farmers.

46.

So... some quick responses.

First, thanks for all the feedback. While I obviously don't agree with everyones opinions on things, I'm impressed by the intelligent dialogue. It's much better than all "the Man is out to screw the player" stuff that this was devolving into earlier.

The various comments about datamining:
> Well, this certainly sounds impressive. Forgive me though if I don't believe a word of it.
> Thats a lot of effort to keep those kinds of records and I fail
> to see how it would be financially viable to go to those lengths.

ROFLMAO! I hope Gordon, Raph and Mark are reading this. The shortest answer: Dude, disk space is $1/Gig.

This is not an "excessive" amount of datamining. This is "remedial" datamining. (It's also all pretty automatic too)

"Why didn't UO do this"; UO and EQ didn't do much professional-level datamining back in the early days. Yes, they were probably caught by surprise. We were all still learning about the difference between designing-a-game versus designing-a-professional-internet-subscription-service. I think we've come a long way in 9 years though.

A side note: When I state things I haven't done myself or seen with my own eyes, I try to put the words "In my opinion..." or "I would be surprised to discover..." or some other indication that I'm not completely confident of my facts.

> I don't see how you can claim MMOGs are not part
> of the real world.

Heh. You are right; I'm one of the last people to argue this point, Matt :-). Of course MMOs are a tangible part of society and of my real life. Not only do they help pay my rent as a dev, but I'm as much an MMO addict as any of us. Let me point out that I simply meant the immersive story of many MMOs is not always congruent with some of aspects of the real world. In an immersive story I can choose to pretend some of the ugliness of the 'real world' doesn't exist, and I (and hopefully other people) try to behave in a manner consistent with the ideals/goals/ambience of the story world. Thus, I can act the role of a noble Jedi or medieval knight without having to worry about things like napalm or discussions on Bush vs Kerry while I'm playing. If we were discussing bringing real-world ugliness into a "Grand Theft Auto" MMO, I'd probably have a different opinion. :-)

> Would it be fair to ask how exactly you figure out which accounts are linked to fraud?

It would be fair to ask, but unwise to answer with any real details. Suffice to say that modern fraud detection is pretty sophisticated and very very tech-savvy. It was certainly a learning experience for me.

We're getting off topic though. This is not about fraud, it's about trafficking in currency/items. I don't consider trafficking in items/currency to be "fraud". I think it's a bad idea for games that weren't designed for it. I think it's a violation of current EULAs. I don't think it's fraud. "Fraud" is the guy in the Ukraine who tried to create a game account using stolen credit card numbers given to him by a hacker in Denmark. (Our suspicions were raised when his card was declined 1,200 times, all using different numbers). The phone number for the FBI's Internet Crime Unit is still near the top of my celphone's rapid dial list.

> Besides being illegal to share a customer's credit
> card info with 3rd parties...

Heh, didn't I speak at AGC about this topic two years ago? My presentation/slides should be on the net someplace.

It is a violation of FTC regulations (worse than violating the law, I assure you) to share certain classes of personal information which you have required from your customers, but those regulations clearly state exceptions for the purpose of credit checks, security, fraud detection or misuse of services. Again, go read the fine print on the eBay EULA. Sharing limited amounts of information for the purposes of preventing misuse of services is not a violation under certain, carefully defined circumstances. Besides, no one casually gives competitors information about their customers.

Here's one that's sure to start a fun thread: For the last several years, MMO operators have discussed putting an entry into the credit reports (TRW, et al) of subscribers who they ban. Credit reports can have 'misuse of services' entries. This would allow other operators to deny a person access to their service if they are a known troublemaker. In the end, nothing came of it because, like filmakers, most MMO developers are really storyteller who *want* people to experience their worlds. Despite all the posts about how they are all just out to screw the players, most MMO devs are waaay too busy to bother addressing any but the most aggrevious problems with legal actions.

Why is trafficking unbalancing? Simple: Because the developers spend lots of time/money creating game systems and content. *Which* content/code they choose to spend their money creating depends on how rapidly the game design intends people to gain wealth/experience. Messing with that rate (by letting many players get far ahead of others out of sequence) changes the way the entertainment is supposed to unfold. Game developers find themselves forced to respond to changes in their virtual world that have been wrought or magnified by an outside company. Small amounts of trafficking by individuals; fine. Large changes to the economy and to the levelling curve; not fine.

Finally, there is the ethical question about why should MMO operators try to stop trafficking in their games? Simple: Because the designers want to.

They spent millions making the world, and they sweated blood to launch it, and they are crafting a particular set of entertainment experiences, for which people (hopefully) pay them. They get the ONLY say-so about what is permissible and what is not.
Sure, they can design for a wide set (almost infinite perhaps) of player interactions, but they get the right to set limits if they so choose. Should there be games where trafficking is allowed and encouraged? Absolutely! I'm working on one now! I hope others are too. But should an outside company decide when to screw with a game just so they can make more money? Should MMO developers have to spend time and money to change to their games to prevent this meddling? My opinion is still 'no'.

...and if you were to ask an outside company to stop meddling, and they refuse and then blatantly use your logos to advertise their business? And when they continue effecting the way *your* world unfolds just to suit *their* business needs? Is sending out a nasty legal note really an overreaction? If that tactic is not successful, then the alternatives generally involve limiting what the players can do in the worlds, to the detriment of all. Large scale trafficking operations should *ask* permission, and only operate in worlds where they are welcome.

47.

Michael,

"MMO operators *do* know where all the transferred stuff is stashed, and what accounts they moved through."

So some know (which is more than likely), some other publicly state their opposing position, yet -paradoxically- the set that intersects the means and the motives doesn't seem to have stopped the largest sites.

The only conclusion I can draw is that either the sets are not comprised of the major players, the means are not tuned well enough, or the motives are not that clear-cut; Otherwise decisive action based on clear motives using near-perfect information would have yielded an immediate end to the activity in that gamepsace.

48.

Mike said, For the last several years, MMO operators have discussed putting an entry into the credit reports (TRW, et al) of subscribers who they ban. Credit reports can have 'misuse of services' entries. This would allow other operators to deny a person access to their service if they are a known troublemaker.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this seems like a great idea. At least one worth exploring in detail in terms of the overhead and legal ramifications. MMOGs are becoming sufficiently integrated into pop culture that this could be a real service -- and more to the point, a major deterrant to serial griefers.

Regarding item sales: Messing with that rate (by letting many players get far ahead of others out of sequence) changes the way the entertainment is supposed to unfold.

If the rate at which items or gold are acquired is a serious balance issue then the items should be un-tradeable in game at all. If there are level or class restrictions and those are met in a trade, then the item is by definition not unbalancing the game as intended. Further, it's not like those selling items -- even item farmers -- are finding or creating them faster than the designers intended. So there's really no rate or sequence or other form of game unbalancing going on here, or at least none that's outside of the balancing control of the designers. Again, this really seems to come back to the player perception problem of "hey you got that without spending a hundred hours grinding for it like I did."

49.

Michael, I'm honestly confused then. How do all of these trading companies continue to operate if the gaming companies have so much information about them. Why are they just not shut down? Cancel the accounts, ban IPs and CC#s - report these people to the authorities and kick them out of your games. When they try to start up again, repeat the process. My skepticism does not come from doubts about whether tracking such things is technically possible, it comes from the lack of results from game companies in dealing with them. A quick look around will find that all the usual sites still are stocking Warcraft gold across all 88 servers, and of course they are buying it too in case you have extra. Since Blizzard announced so publicly that they were going to shut down Ebay auctions the listings there have approximately doubled - there are now 2900+ listings. These types of threatening letters and the condemning press releases are not going to change anything if the gaming companies are not committed to follow through on them.

I understand your point about not wanting devs to have to code and design games around outside markets, but in order to do that they have to be diligent about policing their games and keeping these people out.

You claim that game companies have come a long way in the past few years, and yet the new big budget blockbuster games like Warcraft and EQ2 have many of the same problems that were readily apparent in all of their predecessors. The gaming companies might have made some improvements, but companies like IGE have made even larger strides - they are more organized and agressive than ever. The profits they bring in probably even exceed that of some of the smaller gaming companies. They run fan sites, they run ebay clones, they advertise through every internet medium available and they employ armies of botters to farm gold... AND they have great customer service that is available at your beck and call 24/7. They have gone beyond the hobbyist making an extra buck to professionals whose lively hoods depend on these games. The problems are not getting better, they are getting worse.

50.

LMC: Your numbers are meaningless, resources are created by design to be limited as part of the game experience. Even if an item is designed to accessible to only 1% of the player base it is good because it was designed that way for balance.

I am not sure what you mean by balance in this case. You mean it is critical for the system that this 1% get to a level of "uberness" that the other 99% will never get to? Maybe that is the way the treadmill works, but it still isn't a good strategy for fun (for the majority).

LMC: I never said anything about 3 farmers for each buyer. What I described is a very common occurrence where commercial farmers take over a spawn or an area and take it out of play for the rest of the player community.

This can only happen if the designers make a spawn campable, and it also makes a lot of assumptions about how the looting system works etc.

51.

matt> "Designers of modern legal systems have seen past legal systems."

An interesting comparison.

It is interesting to note that the developers of UO made a system which mimiced real world murder-ability. Ie, anyone could kill anyone else, anywhere.

Rather than making laws about "murder", subsequent developers have almost unaminously patched it out of the game.

My point isn't that developers shouldn't try to fight farming. Of course they should! It is that fighting farming is best done by addressing farming itself, not one of the many reasons people farm.

Despite often being painted as pro-ebay, I'd like to point out that I agree that an external market can increase farming. The reasoning is thus:

(I am not an economist, so feel free to trash my naive views...)

1) External markets do not directly create more items. Item creation is in the hand of the developers.

2) External markets do not create dupes. I'll point out UOs hyper inflation due to gold duping occurred *before* ebay, so we know people dupe even without ebay. See also the first Diablo for an object lesson in rampant cheating despite lack of fiscal reward.

3) External markets do not directly increase demand. The people who pay for gold are people who already wanted gold. I don't think we are (yet) at the point where IGE's advertisements create a demand for Blue Shirts because IGE convinces people they are "cool".

So how do they affect game balance? The big crime of external markets is that they radically increase the efficiency of the in game economy. Most Farming based MMORPGs have intentionally broken in-game economy. Because an open faucet is more "fun" than a closed system, at least in the short term, (cf. UO: few want to play an MMORPG to be poor, almost all want *any* work to be rewarded), there are inevitably gold faucets.

The only restriction on peoples acquisition of gold is time. In an efficient economy, we'd see people whose time is "more valuable" trade it for more of those whose time is "less valuable". Note this DOES NOT REQUIRE the outside world.

Let's say I write books *in game*. Let's say people like these books. It so happens that time I spend writing books is more valuable than time I spend farming mobs for gold. If I'm a rational player, I'll write books and not farm gold. Of course, I will be causing others to farm gold. They already had enough gold for their own dungeon crawling, but now they need extra gold to pay for Brask's latest book.

Games with crafting already have this in place. Usually, it results in the crafter having infinite gold and the warriors sitting in dungeons farming monsters to pay the crafter.

The "fault" of third party trades is that they greatly increase this efficiency. The crafter no longer has a point of "I have enough gold, no point crafting any more". They can sell it on ebay. Meanwhile, the warriors don't have to farm the mobs for gold, but can instead buy the gold on ebay. Of course, with gold having a real world value, anyone whose base income is less than that gold per hour may consider taking up farming. Or, if the monthly gold harvest is worth more than the monthly subscription fee, set up Bots to do so.

This increase in economic efficiency results in an increase in items, currency, and farming. What we end up seeing is a healthy economy. Healthy economies, however, aren't always fun games, as those crowded out of "farm" zones by professional farmers will attest. (Mind you, what were the people who are crowded out doing there? Quite likely, they were farming themselves. Here we see the disonance: It is considered reasonable if an individual sits in a high drop zone and farms enough gold for their next spell book, but it is unreasonable for a professional organization to do the same thing)

So, if ebay can increase farming, why am I against using lawsuits and EULA agreements to fight ebay? Because I think resources are better spent at the actual problem: Farming. Ebay is, to me, a litmus test of your game design. If it can ruin your game, you have not made a good game. You were relying on your in game economy being inefficient, despite the fact that your players have been fully versed in the notions of economic efficiency. In the early days of UO (before ebay, notably), many guilds set up rather efficient assembly lines to try and extract enough gold from the economy to build covetted types of buildings.

- Brask Mumei

52.

Brask: "Healthy economies, however, aren't always fun games, as those crowded out of "farm" zones by professional farmers will attest. (Mind you, what were the people who are crowded out doing there? Quite likely, they were farming themselves. Here we see the disonance: It is considered reasonable if an individual sits in a high drop zone and farms enough gold for their next spell book, but it is unreasonable for a professional organization to do the same thing)"

If it was a farm zone that would be one thing but most devs do not design a zone of uber farming just for farmers. When I design a dungeon, it is designed for a group of players to experience. But with commercial farmers I get the same over-qualified characters sitting right in the middle of the flow I designed into my dungeon. Where is the fun in that? Sure the good spots will be farmed from time to time, but until the advent of commercials farmers it was rarely 24/7 and the instances that were could be easily remedied. Now if I change the spawn rate or move or otherwise modify the zone the commercials farmers just adapt or move to the next best plat maker.

It becomes a never ending game of chess and the time and resources to stay ahead of it no one would pay. The only solution I see forwarded by external market would be to make all the popular items drop from one zone dedicated to farmers. What are the other players going to do? Explore zones and only get plat for their efforts to buy stuff from the farmers? I think not, most of the player base I have talked to enjoy the personal rewards of their efforts. Which is more rewarding? Killing the deadly dragon by a slim margin and finding the unique lost sword of greatness or killing dragon X for the 17th time to get the 1 million plat the farmers are charging for the assembly line sword?

53.

LMC, the design you describe is broken, from a MMOG POV. For example, long ago we learned that types of puzzles that work great in single-player games (e.g. Myst-type logic puzzles) just don't work in MMOGs. A puzzle that takes you a week to put together will be solved and posted on web sites within an hour. But rather than railing against the players doing so and threatening them with lawsuits for misuse of our IP (a close analog of what Blizzard is doing now) we adapted to the new reality: people share information. Markets, whether of information or goods, tend toward efficiency whenever the opportunity presents itself. It may not sound game-friendly, but farming is just another form of market efficiency.

So if your design assumes that people won't farm high-value spawns, that over-powered PCs won't camp the spawn and keep others out, it's broken -- every bit as much as a design that assumes that the client can be trusted, say.

To some degree it is a game of chess, trying to provide entertainment in a way that minimizes the ability of others to detract from that entertainment (whether by griefing or camping or whatever). Doing that is a lot of what makes MMOG design so difficult.

54.

Michael,

>things, I'm impressed by the intelligent dialogue. >It's
>much better than all "the Man is out to screw the
>player" stuff that this was devolving into earlier.

Of course I don't believe that this is happening in every instance. There are civilised and uncivilised companies, just as there are civilised and uncivilised individuals. I don't believe that a desire for blindly commercialistic, exploitative mischief is the attitude of *every* corporation, however, and for what miniscule amount it is worth, I support Blizzard's right to decide whether or not trading occurs within its own virtual territory, *as long as* action resulting from that decision is executed in an intelligent and civil manner.

>Should there be games where trafficking is allowed and
>encouraged? Absolutely! I'm working on one now! I hope
>others are too.

Yes...We must observe that attempts at external trading are going to continue to occur, because a certain demographic at least genuinely *do* want it. I am gratified and encouraged to see that you are aware of this. However, let me be clear...I do not specifically support external trading in every instance...as you say, it can be extremely disruptive in economies that are not designed for it. Unfortunately of course, economies that are not designed for it are probably going to be the primary target for a certain number of individuals prone to trading, simply because such economies are where traders are likely to be able to gain the greatest unfair advantage. This however is where I believe legal enforcement becomes entirely appropriate...If an individual has a choice of games where they can trade, and games where it is an infringement, and deliberately chooses to attempt to violate the rules of the game where it is not allowed, a company is completely within its rights to say, "We gave you a place to play where you could trade, if that is what you wanted to do, but you *chose* to attempt to violate the rules of the non-trading game. Therefore we are closing your account."

Companies talk about virtual property, and I understand that the concept of such is a sensitive issue to many people. However, I believe that rather than the individual commodities of a game (gold, wood, metals etc) being considered "virtual property", it would be more appropriate to talk about Azaroth (as one example) being a territorial possession of Blizzard, and that such a territory, as real world territories do, would have laws/strictures governing the trade/export of commodities. This could be incorporated into the game's fiction to the degree that banishment (the closing of one's account) could be decreed as a punishment for violating external trade related laws of the realm.

From a role-play/fictional point of view, scenarios like Star Wars Galaxies are where I could see external trading possibly being allowable...from the point of view that such an activity would not be too much of an illogical extension to my mind of someone roleplaying a Han Solo/Watto/Quark type character. Han was himself a smuggler and pirate, Watto from The Phantom Menace was a parts dealer for starships, and Quark was a barkeep and smuggler/fixer/arms dealer in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Players roleplaying characters like these are going to be dealing in commodities in-game anyway, and in that type of scenario as I said, as long as the commodities are created in game, and not artificially introduced, ebay only really becomes just another trade venue.

LMC,
>I think not, most of the player base I have talked to >enjoy the personal rewards of their efforts.

If this is correct as you say, then farmers being the majority is not something you will have to worry about. Farmers can establish themselves in certain regions, perhaps...and players who wish to buy items from farmers can do so, and those who do not can acquire them via their own efforts. A certain amount of mediation by the live team and pruning/banning of farmers who establish excessive monopolies (similar to offline antitrust law) would also prevent saturation of the environment by farmers and an inability of players to earn items via their own means.

This I believe would actually be the most fortuitous scenario for all concerned. This way, the players who want to roleplay and improve via their legitimate efforts can do so, the farmers/traders get to continue their activities, and those who wish to buy from the farmers get access to a thriving commodity market where prices are regulated via competition between farmers and the aforementioned monopoly enforcement by the live team. Everyone wins.

55.

I just had another idea. I'm thinking to prevent the kind of spawn camping/farming LMC mentioned, in at least certain regions members of the live team could act as rangers. A per-person bag limit could be established on certain spawns, similar to that which exists at physical hunting ranges and trout farms, with enforcement provided by the rangers.

People will probably say that the costs involved in paying additional members of the live team to serve as gamekeepers could become prohibitive. My answer to that would be an earlier suggestion that I made a while back...and that is that some of the trade sites associated with a given game could also be run by the operator company, and that a commission/tarriff be put on the trades conducted on the site. (say 2-5%) Obviously players would need some incentive to use the operator run site as opposed to third party, non-tarriff sites...but that incentive could come in the form of sales/special offers on various commodities by the company, as one example. Itms which were customised/personalised in a particular unique way could be another incentive.
Depending of course on the amount of trading occurring in connection with a given game, the trade site tarriff could then go towards paying the rangers.

56.

"Mike said, For the last several years, MMO operators have discussed putting an entry into the credit reports (TRW, et al) of subscribers who they ban. Credit reports can have 'misuse of services' entries. This would allow other operators to deny a person access to their service if they are a known troublemaker.


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this seems like a great idea. At least one worth exploring in detail in terms of the overhead and legal ramifications. MMOGs are becoming sufficiently integrated into pop culture that this could be a real service -- and more to the point, a major deterrant to serial griefers."

So virtual economies shouldn't be allowed to interact with the real world, but an avatar's actions can? I think this could become very dangerous if we start to penalize players in the real world for camping a spawn or stealing a kill from another player. This is a style of play for some people, an annoying one for most, but still allowed by the game design. Shouldn't the game be altered to not allow these actions if they are not what the designers intended? Perhaps I didn't understand where you were going with this, but tinkering with someone's financial well-being based on actions in a non-existent world seems quite severe to me.

Imagine not being able to get a credit card because you were camping a spawn last night.

Does it make sense that you should be unable to get a cell phone because you stole someone's kill in Everquest the week before? Your ability to pay your cell phone bill and grief/not grief in MMOGs are not even remotely equivalent and should not be judged as such.

57.

JPW: "This is a style of play for some people, an annoying one for most, but still allowed by the game design. Shouldn't the game be altered to not allow these actions if they are not what the designers intended? Perhaps I didn't understand where you were going with this, but tinkering with someone's financial well-being based on actions in a non-existent world seems quite severe to me."

Think of it this way JPW, this style of play, while unintentionally allowed by game design can hurt the financial well-being of the game company and its employees. Should the rights of the players be more important than the rights of the company and employees that made the game? Trying to totally design out that unwanted style of play can hurt the games playability and financially cripple the game more than that style of play does.

58.

I just had thoughts on how to develop a commercial farming friendly game that would not affect normal players game enjoyment.

First I would design a zone/area for farming only.
I would basically make a zone of many rooms. In each room would be the mob or mobs that would drop a certain item. I would design the mobs to be higher level and lower experience than the world mobs that normal players would be fighting, while at the same time raising the drop frequency high enough to attract the farmers. I would also design it to be random enough to prevent macro botting and put in a random "the farmer will die mob if he does not run" mob. This would catch the farmers that temporarily figure out a way to macro bot.

The regular players would be able to get their loot and enjoy the game at their appropriate levels while the farmers could do their thing out of sight and not affect other players experience of the game. Also loot drop rate etc... would be very easy to adjust being concentrated in one zone and at the same rate being so monotonous that normal players would mostly avoid the area.

Anyone see any large holes in my idea?

59.

LMC: Should the rights of the players be more important than the rights of the company and employees that made the game?

Yes, the rights of the customers/public/society should in general be given more weight than the rights of a corporation running a service for the public... IMHO. In some countries this is even true!

Now, as it is just a game the rights of the customers might not be as important... I think your argument would have been better if you had chosen the perspective "the game is art".

60.

LMC: "Think of it this way JPW, this style of play, while unintentionally allowed by game design can hurt the financial well-being of the game company and its employees.

If I design a piece of software that has a flaw that makes it difficult to use, I will lose customers. If the design is flawed, how can this be the customer's fault? Whether or not the side-effect was intended is irrelevant.

Should the rights of the players be more important than the rights of the company and employees that made the game?

In this situation, yes. You are talking about taking retribution against players who are playing the game as designed. Without the players, the company and employees would not exist.

Trying to totally design out that unwanted style of play can hurt the games playability and financially cripple the game more than that style of play does."

Then the companies who make MMOGs will need to be more creative. If that style of play is that damaging, design it out. If you can't design it out, then you'll need to be more flexible in order to sustain your business. Companies have this problem everyday, why should this situation be any different?

All of this gets away from my original point. Should we be offering up real world penalties for in game actions? We're not talking about banning someone's access to a game, but access to financial stability. If the currency I make in game is worth nothing in the real world, how can my actions in the game have any consequence in the real world?

61.

JPW: "All of this gets away from my original point. Should we be offering up real world penalties for in game actions? We're not talking about banning someone's access to a game, but access to financial stability. If the currency I make in game is worth nothing in the real world, how can my actions in the game have any consequence in the real world?"

But we are talking about in-game currency that does have value in the real world when it it sold in an external market. Commercial farmers do this everyday. I see no reason why a game company should not use any tool to enforce their game design plans. I know IGE and other commercial external markets will.

I have no problem with people farming for an internal market as the effects on a game are of limited scope but the external market is magnitudes larger in effect. Without the external markets their would be no 24/7 farmers as their would be no financial incentive for it.


62.

LMC: "But we are talking about in-game currency that does have value in the real world when it it sold in an external market. Commercial farmers do this everyday. I see no reason why a game company should not use any tool to enforce their game design plans. I know IGE and other commercial external markets will."

Because their "game design plans" are inherently flawed. The currency only has value because someone is willing to pay for it. Eliminate the design problem that encourages people to purchase virtual currency and you will have solved your problem.

63.


Because their "game design plans" are inherently flawed. The currency only has value because someone is willing to pay for it. Eliminate the design problem that encourages people to purchase virtual currency and you will have solved your problem.

That is pretty much the catch-22 though isn't it. If you design out all these things, then what kind of game are you left with? Normal gamers tend to enjoy the game mechanics that lead to these problems, therefore they support those games. If you put out a game that no one enjoys, they aren't going to care that it is Ebay-Free because it is not worth playing in the first place.

64.

LMC: "When I design a dungeon, it is designed for a group of players to experience. But with commercial farmers I get the same over-qualified characters sitting right in the middle of the flow I designed into my dungeon. Where is the fun in that? Sure the good spots will be farmed from time to time, but until the advent of commercials farmers it was rarely 24/7 and the instances that were could be easily remedied. Now if I change the spawn rate or move or otherwise modify the zone the commercials farmers just adapt or move to the next best plat maker."

That's because your solution is insufficient for the root problem. You're trying to fix the individual symptom and not the underlying syndrome.

If you want to prevent 24/7 farming in a given location by over-qualified characters, you take away the incentives from 24/7 farming by over-qualified characters... while leaving behind the incentives for the standard players.

In other words, you adapt the game's mechanics to stop REWARDING low-danger, high-time grinding, and instead focus the rewards towards player behaviors that are more in line with the paths that you'd like to see the players take.

For example, take one of the anti-farming dynamics from some roguelikes. Establish a multiplier for creature damage infliction, and a simultaneous divisor for loot drop values. Tie the multipliers and divisors to how long (in the last 24 hours) that particular ACCOUNT (not character) has been making kills in that zone, and to the total amount of loot value gathered on that account in the last 24 hours as well.

If you like, throw in the relative character strength to mob strength as an additional scaling factor. The rate rises faster if you're farming things relatively weak with respect to your character.

With decent granularity, you now have a system with an automatic sliding scale that makes camping an area decidedly UNDESIRABLE, and you'll see those who are interested in maxing out their gold-per-hour moving on to different zones, because it is in their own best interests.

The "commercial" farmers therefore don't stay in any one location long, and players can move through the flow that you designed without significant disruption.

A nice side benefit is that players get the best rewards by continuing to put themselves at the edge of appropriate danger levels and good challenges... in other words, you're rewarding players for engaging in good, tough fights instead of rewarding them for mindlessly grinding over and over in just one spot.

Have some plot-critical spot that you want to force characters through, to make sure they acquire the Amulet of Insufficient Plot Justification before proceeding onward? Scale the anti-farming factor even more sharply (to keep the zone clean), but also scale the probability of your gatekeeper object dropping as the time investment rises. This prevents any excessive punishment of legitimate players.

The so-called "commercial" farmers will discover under such a system that they get maximum reward from actually PLAYING the game in exactly the same way a real human would, and having their character move along and progress in a perfectly normal fashion.

Eventually, these characters will hit whatever maximum character level that you've established, and will be seeking the same rewards as every other end-game player. The same dynamics can ensure that they won't (profitably) 24/7 bot some static end-game content, because the rewards will drop and the dangers will rise unless they "shake things up" and continue to expose themselves to different zones and loot mixes.


LMC: "It becomes a never ending game of chess and the time and resources to stay ahead of it no one would pay. The only solution I see forwarded by external market would be to make all the popular items drop from one zone dedicated to farmers. What are the other players going to do? Explore zones and only get plat for their efforts to buy stuff from the farmers? I think not, most of the player base I have talked to enjoy the personal rewards of their efforts. Which is more rewarding? Killing the deadly dragon by a slim margin and finding the unique lost sword of greatness or killing dragon X for the 17th time to get the 1 million plat the farmers are charging for the assembly line sword?"

Doesn't the system that I outlined above do just that... provide maximum rewards to those who take on the dragon when it's a challenge, instead of farming/monopolizing the dragon?

Nothing in the system I outlined calls for any significant "chess game" that has excessive developer overhead. Instead, it simply changes the dynamic to reward difficult/dangerous play, and punish drudge-like farming.

Tweak a few parameters along the way to maximize enjoyment, that's about it. Maybe tweak your anti-farm zoning boundaries over time, or even have them jitter/drift based off of internal heuristics.

It's not a problem of external markets, IMO. It's a problem of the game excessively rewarding behavior that the developers don't like to see. Change the reward structure to one where legitimate players aren't impacted significantly, and the "problem" goes away.

65.

Blizzard acting like an ass?

To non-gamers and scum, you may think so.

To those of us that love MMOGs though, if they succeed, they'll be Heroes.

Gold/Wealth MMOG Sellers ruin MMORPGs, trivialize the gameplay, and slaughter economies ~ as a whole they hurt the gaming experience. I pray that Blizzard succeeeds.

66.

How dare Blizzard try to make an online world that... gasp... relies on an online economy! And to want players to have to earn their items... ONLINE! INSIDE the game! Such evil must be destroyed! Smite them, smite them all!

While we're at it, let's make hacker programs legal as well. Against the EULA? The EULA won't hold it court as so many "lawyers" have pointed out in this thread.

The sound of rape can be heard in the distance.

67.

Why do people insist on looking at this as Blizzard/Vivendi attacking the little guy or someone that is fighting the good fight?? Gamersloot and other related sites/entities are in fact using Blizzard intellectual property to make a profit. They have no rights whatsoever to sell anything found on the WoW servers for personal profit.

If Blizzard chose to allow the sale of gold/in-game items for real funds then it would be a different story. The way that things stand, any player involved in the unauthorized sale of WoW items can be banned permanently from the game.

The legal issues are a grey area at this point. The virtual property(all of which is stored on Blizzard's proprietary servers) is expressly controlled by Blizzard, but there is no legislation in place regarding virtual items. It is undeniable that the sellers are violating Blizzard's rights in this, but getting them for it will be tricky.

This situation is no different than if you ran a rental business and found some guy outside charging people extra money to use your rental property because they had made special modifications to it. Would anyone allow their business to be exploited in that manner? I didn't think so.

Because of the non-existance of the product in this case Blizzard has it's hands tied, but I think that will be changing soon. They have the right to protect their assets.

68.

Congratulations, Ted, on a really excellent thread. While we do not typically get involved in these discussions on TN-- given our clear economic interest—its becoming harder to ignore the frequent mischaracterizations concerning IGE.

As Steve Salyer outlined at State of Play, the secondary market for virtual currency and items currently exceeds approximately $880 million on a world-wide basis and is expanding rapidly. Millions of online gamers are directly involved in trading, buying and selling virtual items in real markets. As Mike Sellers accurately noted in this thread, there is a foundational change occurring in the base of players playing MMOGs, as the relative proportion of players without endless amounts of time to invest in the game is increasing. Addressing the expectations of this market represents a tremendous opportunity for MMOG publishers and developers.

In addition, you might be surprised to learn the extent to which even “hard-core gamers” participate in the secondary market. IGE has hundreds of thousands of customers, many of them leaders in top guilds. Our experience in both the Western and Asian markets is that many, many players want the ability to receive real world value for the time they invest in MMOGs. In Korea and China, where the multiplayer online gaming market is more mature, surveys show that approximately 80 percent of gamers want the benefits that the secondary market provides. And the statement that someone made earlier about supporters of the secondary market being a “vocal minority” in the Western world is simply contrary to the facts. Even the most one-sided surveys run by game publishers have shown that the “vocal minority” is in fact the narrow slice of the playing community that opposes secondary markets.

Where we do agree with almost all of the contributors to this thread is that we vigorously oppose behavior that negatively impacts gameplay. IGE was founded by avid online gamers and we are the only company in the market that is championing self-regulation, is working directly with publishers to stop fraud and cheating of all kinds, and does not have ANY employees playing games to acquire virtual currency or items for resale by the company anywhere in the world. We do not "farm", we don't employ "bots" and we don't approve of hacks, exploits, cheats, or any other form of behavior which negatively impacts enjoyment of the games. Anything you have heard or read to the contrary is wrong. We believe that the market will inevitably move toward a model where publishers work with responsible secondary market makers in sanctioned relationships to provide the benefits that the majority of players want.

It is beyond naïve to believe that one can legislate markets and dictate the behavior of MMOG players. The secondary market is here to stay. IGE is committed to working with publishers to provide transactional security to players who wish to participate in the secondary market while also helping to end practices that are harmful to enjoyment of the games.

Randy Maslow
Senior Vice President and General Counsel
IGE U.S., New York, NY

69.

> Our experience in both the Western and Asian markets
> is that many, many players want the ability to receive
> real world value for the time they invest in MMOGs. In
> Korea and China, where the multiplayer online gaming
> market is more mature, surveys show that approximately
> 80 percent of gamers want the benefits that the secondary
> market provides.

Who cares what they want?

I want a Ferrari. Does that mean I can just take it?

The sale of virtual property and currency without the consent of the party who actually OWNS it is a crime. It is no different than shaving the value off of any product for personal gain.


> We believe that the market will inevitably move toward
> a model where publishers work with responsible secondary
> market makers in sanctioned relationships to provide the
> benefits that the majority of players want.

What will really happen is that once customers/players have come to understand the inevitability of people wanting to buy currency/items/etc, the companies will just sell the items themselves and get rid of the leeching, thieving, "secondary market."


> It is beyond naïve to believe that one can legislate
> markets and dictate the behavior of MMOG players.

It is naive to believe that one should not have their property stolen and resold for profit?

> The secondary market is here to stay.

The secondary markets for MMORPGs are a flash in the pan that will have no more staying power than John Romero's tenure at Ion Storm.

Once the companies themselves handle the desire for people with more money than time to supplement their characters, the demand will be sated and the IGE's will (thankfully) rot and die.

70.

------------------
We do not "farm", we don't employ "bots" and we don't approve of hacks, exploits, cheats, or any other form of behavior which negatively impacts enjoyment of the games.
------------------

I believe that and IGE has made great strides in recent years. However, you have to acquire your currency from somewhere. Often times there are large rooms full of computers with Chinese players farming 24/7. These centers then sell to you, because they don't have the resources to sell directly to the American market.

Many other players use bots and sell to IGE. Many players use exploits and sell to IGE. I am not saying that you support this, but it happens and there is little that is done to stop it (or a blind eye is turned). If I acquired 100 gold killing 10,000 goblins, or if I acquired 100 gold setting up a macro to kill those 10,000 goblins, or if I acquired 100 gold finding a certain chest that would give me 3 gold each time I opened it over and over again, it is still 100 gold. If IGE is low on currency on that server I am sure they would take it.

This sort of situation happens again and again. College student needs some extra money for books (or whatever). So when they go to sleep they set up a bot to run their favorite MMORPG. They do this for a week and sell the currency they make to IGE. That one player if not farming an instance, can have undesirable effects on a large number of players each night.

This is not to say that if IGE hears word of a certain exploit (lets say a tradeskill bug) that is starting to become public that they will not try to have it “nerfed”. It is a simple economic decision. If the price of 100 gold will be worth $25 instead of $100 in only a few days if it gets out; they will most likely give the game company a call and try to get it nerfed. Exploits hurt IGE more then it helps them. If some of the gold that IGE is carrying is tainted (maybe even 10 gold out of 500) then the whole account will be banned. For this reason I assume IGE minimizes the risk by only carrying a certain amount of gold per account. Exploits are just as bad for IGE as they are for the playerbase.

The fact is that exploits no longer seem to be the main supply of currency. All of the currency now seems to be coming from warehouses in 3rd world countries. This is not necessary a bad thing as the employees there often make decent wages (for the area) and are presented with a job that lets them work in an air conditioned office doing non-manual labor. This can hamper the enjoyment of many players if the zone they are trying to fight in is overcrowded. With the new instances this is less of a problem as these farmers will simply farm out a whole instance (they would like to be left alone to work as much as the regular players would like to be left alone to play).

Although you do not directly,

"farm", we don't employ "bots" and we don't approve of hacks, exploits, cheats, or any other form of behavior which negatively impacts enjoyment of the games”

you indirectly support this behavior. At least that is my personal experience with the market and IGE. You are not going to post on a public board however that you endorse cheating and that most of your currency comes from players farming in 3rd world countries. IGE has taken great strides to make virtual trading respectable and less shady but still have a long way to go. I know that it is hard enough to join such a conversation as a lot of “IGE-Bashing” can take place. I appreciate the attempts at communication and understand some of the difficulties faced when you post (and are representing IGE). Best luck to you and whatever the New Year will bring.

71.

I would also like to bring up the wired article about MMORPG outsourcing:
http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,64638,00.html?tw=wn_story_related

"Automation, though, is generally considered cheating, and is frowned upon. IGE CEO Brock Pierce said the company cracks down on suppliers whose volumes imply they're using bots. That leaves the other method: cheap labor.

Pierce said he knows of other companies like Markarov's that employ play-for-pay gamers, including one in China and one in Singapore. But hundreds of others from those regions supply goods to IGE, either as individuals or more informally organized groups.

Meanwhile, while many Western players admit to buying currency and other goods from IGE or auction sites including e-Bay, some are none too happy about people "playing" their games for a living. "

72.

Randy Maslow wrote:

It is beyond naïve to believe that one can legislate markets and dictate the behavior of MMOG players.

Ahh, the ultimate justification eh? "They're going to do it anyway, so let's get a slice of the pie!"

What you guys do is traffic in stolen goods, whether or not you're stealing them yourselves. I, obviously, have no problem with the commodification of games, but what you're doing is fencing stolen 'goods.'

Just because IGE could afford to hire a lovely law firm and buy themselves a nice headquarters doesn't make them legitimate anymore than sticking a dress on a pig makes it a suitable prom date.


is working directly with publishers to stop fraud and cheating of all kinds

Heh, oh yeah, that's definitely what you're doing. I bet you're just tripping all over yourselves to turn over to publishers/developers lists of all the accounts who have broken the EULA to deal with you right? Cause mate, they're engaging in fraud. They're cheating. Nice job on the corporate-speak bullshit though. I'm sure you're a very expensive hired gun.

--matt, who is going to call a spade a spade.

73.

Randy Maslow>It is beyond naïve to believe that one can legislate markets and dictate the behavior of MMOG players.

I wouldn't say so. After all, it's only legislation that prevents developers from doing whatever the hell they like to their players and "their" virtual possessions.

Richard

74.

I'm currently playing World of Warcraft with a guest account, and I'll be buying the game this weekend. I will also be cancelling my Final Fantasy XI account, which I've been subscribing to for almost 14 months. The only reason behind this migration is Blizzard's evident commitment to enforcing fair play, and their hard stand on cheaters, botters, and real money traders (RMT), a commitment that is sadly absent from Square-Enix.

FFXI is polluted with botters (software that automatically controls the game avatar, to gather in-game resources around the clock), since it's the best way to generate game resources to sell for real money. The buy prices for Gil (FFXI game currency) have dropped far too low to be financially viable for any would-be European or North American “Gilseller”, but in China, it's a great way to make a living. You don’t have to walk far in FFXI to see it’s riddled with unattended resource gatherers. I've been waiting months for Square-Enix to "crack down", and their approach has been to repeatedly hobble the resources that botters use, instead of the botters themselves. This approach has adversely affected the whole FFXI community, and to a great degree.

I'm sure a lot of players like myself support and agree with Blizzard's approach. If you decide not play the game on the soul reason of this approach, we're relieved and happy you won't be joining us.

75.

Randy Maslow>It is beyond naïve to believe that one can legislate markets and dictate the behavior of MMOG players.<

I’d call it naïve to believe that changes in environment don’t modify (statistically) people behaviour. As I understand it, MacDonalds pay a lot of attention to the colors they use in their restaurants, because, statistically, it changes people behaviour there. I think the use of the world “dictate” is setting up a straw man argument. I’d expect Blizzards stand to make a statistically measurable change in people’s behaviour, both in reducing the selling goods, and in increasing player retention of people who don’t want that in their world. That's very far from "dictating" people's behaviour, even if it does shift it. Unfortunately, their press release is written by lawyers, who seem to express themselves in absolutes even when faced with a probabalistic system.

76.

I'm vastly amused by the "wondrous powers of data mining" concept -- data mining is a solution to all our woes. Want to find the bad guys? Use data mining! You can find ANYTHING with enough data mining!

Hint1: tossing buzzwords around en masse is very Pointy-Haired Boss and not terribly Real Life; Hint2: data mining ultimately, at the end of the day, requires a human somewhere to look at the data mined. No heuristic algorithm is perfect, so you have to sort the wheat from the chaff that your algo spat at you -- you can't just autoban people that your algo found, or your mistakes would sue you or at least give you Very Bad Press -- to be avoided at all costs by game companies.

Also, the one poster had it right; you have basically two groups of people here. One group has far more time than money, and they don't see anything wrong with spending 8 weeks of their life doing the same boring drudgery in a game over and over just so they can get to the fun parts (for reference, see EQ and "the level grind"). To them, it's "all a game, and if you're not having fun, you shouldn't be playing!" [Meaning: if you have a life, and can't spend every waking minute in front of your computer, say because your spouse or child wants some attention too, you don't deserve to actually Have Fun in-game, and should stick to killing a_moss_snake_01 with all the other bottom-feeders.]

Another group of people -- the ones everyone seems to love to hate -- have more money than time; they may not want to spend 200 (real-world) dollars on a_sword_of_uberness_+10, but they want to spend three weeks of real-world time questing for it even less, especially when 95% of that time is spent in one spot waiting for an_incredibly_rare_mob_03 to spawn (and hopefully getting it before some invised/cheating ganker nabs it). See for reference: the old monk epic, and the insanely long part camps, in EQ1.

What we're seeing, essentially, is the old group, the hard-core gamers (mostly school kids and the unemployed or unattached; not meaning to insult, but where else can you find people with 8 hours a day to spend in front of a computer?), getting REALLY pissed off that the new group, the ones with more money than time, are able to actually *buy* a_sword_of_uberness_+10. This is usually couched in terms of moral indignation and outrage. Comparisons to murder, pedophilia, and Hitler come up frequently, when the core problem is that some people are pissed that other people can afford to spend money to avoid the drudgery that they are dealing with.

I have news for ya: wake up and smell the coffee burning. There always have been and always will be have's and have-not's. I may not like this (I have neither time NOR money, go figure...) but it's the way the world works. Whining about it won't change anything.

When I was playing EQ1 -- which I quit not because of the sellers/traders/farmers but because the game, at core, was horribly, mind-numbingly BORING with endless huge time sinks to eat up months of your real-world time -- I would have LOVED to have had the spare cash to buy a million plat or whatever. I would have done it in a flash. That's what money's for, after all; we spend money to avoid doing things we would have to do otherwise. I spend money for rent each month to avoid living on the street. I spend money at a restaurant so I don't have to cook that meal myself. Etc. Yes, a game should be fun, but the fact is that all modern MMORPG's that I've seen (up to and through EQ2 -- sorry for the rhymes!) are, intentionally or unintentionally, designed with HUGE time sinks in them. Yes, gaining a reward should take some kind of effort (cash or time) to be meaningful, but it seems like Sony and it sounds like Blizzard (haven't played WoW yet, probably won't) are stuck on the "effort equals huge blocks of time" formula.

When the design of the games changes, so that you are rewarded for being truly *good* (intelligent, skillful, whatever) rather than for simply having vast blocks of free time to kill, maybe I'll see the "rewards" of the game (levels, plat, items) as being worth the actual "efforts." But as long as you have to invest huge amounts of time to see the "fun" parts of the game (and no, killing 4 million a_moss_snake_01's is NOT fun, people, no matter how you try to twist it that way...), I will see nothing wrong with people opting to buy and sell that time in real world dollars, and will applaud those who do it and only wish that I had (or rather was willing to spend) the real-world cash to purchase it.

77.

Aren't MMORPGs just carefully disguised games of chance, then? You pay an entry fee to get an opportunity to roll for loot, and if you're lucky, you'll find enough to get your money back via IGE.

Shouldn't something like that be prohibited by anti-gambling laws?

78.

Greetings everyone,

Its been awhile since I posted, but I'm one of those dreaded exploiters that make a living playing games. Its probably not *smart* that I say anything at all, but after reading IGE's usual propaganda statement I felt compelled to hop in.

Just a little background on myself:

I'm self-employed and I've been running a farm of PC's (approx 25) automating various games for the last three years. I am a software developer by trade, and I found automation to be a fun and challenging alternative to working in a cubicle and having a boss. This year was a hallmark year for me - I grossed $182,000 from my craft. That experience alone permanently launched me into this industry, and it is a statement as to what potential MMOGs offer. Frequently I am demonized by players, for selfish motives of their own, but I've learned to shrug it off. Players are emotional, argumentive and reprobate, (which is why I read TN and not player forums).

What I wanted to say about botting is that the desirability to automate the various games is dwindling, mostly due to the fact that many retailers are setting up sweatshops in 3rd world countries, capitalizing upon human labor, which although perhaps not as reliable as bots, are infinitely more adaptable. This is the ugly side of the industry. Americans, Canadians, Europeans, all spend their entertainment dollars to play in a virtual world, but are now seeing their play experience destroyed by immersion-breaking encounters with workers from places like China, Mexico, Vietnam, and Korea. Companies are going to have to start making some hard calls about whether the reality of a globalized virtual marketplace is disruptive to the very experience they are trying to sell. Personally I think Lineage 2 was a classic example of how an economically and culturally disparate playerbase will transform the play experience for the worst. MMOG companies really need to innovate here some sort of gatekeeper mechanism to separate these markets effectively. When I recreate, I choose to do so with my friends whose company I enjoy. I tend not to recreate in the company of foreign others who are working the game. This 'work' destroys the context of the activity, and as politically incorrect as it may sound, we are talking about how players choose to associate. You can't force people into a muddled international work-play setting and expect to retain subscribership.

On the subject of IGE, and speaking from my conversations with the various other vendors I deal with, they have a fellow in Hong Kong named Alan who manages their operation there. Supposedly they have a pretty big operation, but then again alot of the things IGE has claimed in the past we just kinda smiled and understood it was BS. We do know that IGE tends to become ruthless when dealing with other retailers who refuse to 'cooperate', and we believe that in the games that ban sellers, IGE has a policy of buying from its competition and then reporting them. I understand that they'll make threats to 'put you on the street' if you are a competitive seller, which is silliness of course, as if they could do that to anyone. My partners need go no further than their ICQ logs to see a good deal of garbage-mouthed exchanges with IGE reps who are trying to incorporate them into their supply chain. This is why I made a personal decision to use my skills to empower other smaller vendors in the business and to deliberately avoid any interaction with IGE at all. I think if most consumers knew what IGE says in those private conversations they wouldn't appreciate IGE very much as a company.

79.

It seems to me that many of the anti-commodifiers are conflating multiple issues here, which really should be treated separately in most cases.

First off, there's the straight-out cheat: Early Diablo II packet sniffing on gambling for rares, duplication bugs, item creation/drop hacks, and the like.

From what I've seen, the vast majority of those who support the basic concept of commodification oppose these tactics. They are clear game-breaking mechanics. I fully support and encourage all developer efforts to eliminate anyone's account from any game that is a participant in things like this. I think they are completely unjustified and unjustifiable.

One layer down from this, we have unattended "botting"... recurring scripts which mechanically repeat the same actions over and over in order to generate rewards. We see this happen even in situations where there are no manifested external markets. People are taking the obvious and easy route to generating benefits for themselves, and they do it precisely because the game mechanics support it. Since there is decent reward that comes from (at the margin) zero effort, people choose to take advantage of it.

The net impact of this behavior to standard players can be large, depending on the current game design/implementation. This is especially true in games that have implemented content which is obviously the most profitable per unit time. However, this problem can be remedied without having to target all external markets... that's treating the symptoms, not the disease.

I outlined above a fairly simple set of game mechanics which don't require any significant developer intervention, yet changes the landscape in such a way that botting and standard "farming" techniques are simply no longer profitable. I'm sure there are dozens of other solutions as well that address the root problems of "congestion" that occur in some games where people bot or farm.

Next, we have farming: a human being is sitting at the keyboard, and typically performing some highly repetitive set of actions, camped out in one spot for extremely long periods of time, and when taken in conjuction with a bunch of others doing the same thing, end up monopolizing certain content.

Again, this can be addressed at a much more fundamental level, without regard to whether or not there are external markets. Adjust the game to make it less rewarding to do the same low-risk, high-reward actions forever, and those who are seeking rewards will naturally gravitate towards actions which are more profitable... which means they can be persuaded to play the game in a fashion that is not significantly different than any other player. They will therefore not be monopolizing any given set of content. Provide instanced opportunities, and the chance of farmers monopolizing valuable content drops to near zero.

Apart and aside from all of the above, you have commodification. As I've mentioned before in previous topics, I consider commodification of items and currency to be the natural evolutionary reaction to twinking/gifting between characters. Item/currency commodification occurs when you allow one character to transfer meaningful benefits to a character which hasn't invested an appropriate degree of effort.

So long as your game mechanics support and even encourage the transfer and gifting of character-inappropriate values, you will see people trying to optimize their experience. One common method is through guilds - many of which provide inordinate benefits to members, substantially easing their path and giving them a decided competitive advantage over those who don't have such a vast social network.

Commodification arises as a natural by-product of such an environment. Some people will substitute different external values in exchange for in-game benefits... instead of social capital, they will spend real capital.

Want to stop commodification? Change your game to stop the often-outrageous benefits of twinking and gifting.

I have yet to see a game with any significant item/currency commodification which doesn't also provide the initial gateway of large twinking benefits.

Account sales are a whole other kettle of fish. I fully support the concept that accounts can (and often should) be made a function of a person's identity, and therefore non-alienable. I therefore consider it appropriate for account transfers to be fully punishable offenses.

A character's chattels, on the other hand, are often designed to be obviously alienable between game characters, and that's what people do... they transfer those chattels for whatever personal motivations they might have. Sometimes it's friendship, sometimes it's altruism, sometimes it's seeking admiration. Sometimes people buy their own in-game diversions: I've seen people give non-trivial benefits to female characters who will dance provocatively for them, as an example.

Others will transfer their character's chattels for external compensation. In effect (but not in actuality), they sell them. They are motivated to perform an action in one environment based off of benefits they derive in a different environment.

In all of these cases, the transfer itself has a net-zero effect on the in-game economy. Nothing is being created or destroyed by the transaction, it is just being moved around within the game.

This is a separate question from how the valuable items were initially acquired, as I addressed above. Once they are acquired, through whatever means, the only remain question is whether players are permitted by the game mechanics to transfer those values to others (for significant benefit to the receiver). In games where this is permitted/encouraged, you'll see twinking, gifting, and therefore commodification.

The heart of the anti-commodification argument therefore reduces to a simple objection: Some people don't like the personal REASONS and MOTIVATIONS that certain players have for performing in-game transactions... the exact in-game transactions which they encourage and even applaud if performed for different motivations.

I don't consider dislike of someone's motives for game-neutral actions to be a sound rationale for targeting accounts for banning, nor for threats of legal action.

But maybe that's just me. =)

80.

I just re-read the text of the C&D posted by Anonymous Helpful Person, and something caught my attention that slipped by before..

"(5) forward to my attention an accounting of and all monies received from the sale and/or distribution of such WORLD OF WARCRAFT virtual property or any other Blizzard Entertainment intellectual property."

(emphasis on the word "and" is mine).

They are not just saying they want (among everything else) to know how much you made along the way... they are threatening that if you don't forward all of that cash TO THEM, you're looking at a lawsuit.

It's a shakedown. Fork over all of the cash within 5 days, or it's showdown time.

I'd dearly love to see them pull the trigger on that one... I'd like to see some of these legally-gray questions resolved to (hopefully) a sharper black and white.

In particular, the nature of the EULA and ToS provisions that seem to be more akin to a contract of adhesion than anything else.

Can we draw any interesting conclusions from the fact that Vivendi refers to these items and currency as "virtual property" in their own C&D?

81.

Is it illegal for me to pay my friend to come over to my house and level my character? I mean, is he selling me Blizzard owned IP sitting there slaying mobs, or is this really nonsense? I'm just wondering.

I'm just wondering because it almost seems that selling virtual items only violate IP rights in the advertising, that is, the use of Blizzard trademarks and artwork featured in auctions and websites. Beyond that the case strikes me as weak.

If its not IP infringement to pay my friend to sit at my desk and level my character, defeat a mob, or solve a quest on my behalf, I'm not sure how it is materially different if he does the same thing from his house, whether he uses his own account, or whether he is truly my friend. I guess this is the essence of the 'we are selling a service, not IP' argument.

Supposing one removed any references to Blizzard or WoW and adopted some pseudo-language to refer to their service, what recourse would Blizzard have in an IP suit? Anyone know? I realize this topic is overcooked here on TN, but I wouldn't mind hearing it again from the experts.

82.

Mithra>Is it illegal for me to pay my friend to come over to my house and level my character?

No, but it may be a breach of contract.

Is it illegal for you to pay a friend to take your driving test?

Richard

83.

Richard> Is it illegal for you to pay a friend to take your driving test?

I'm not sure many of us would equate playing a MMOG to a driving test. Perhaps it fits better to the description of doing your homework. It's not illegal for someone to do your homework, very well may be a breach of contract if someone does. Now remove the testing requirement to get your degree, could we then say that a person pays someone to do their homework and then walks away with the degree equal to someone who pays someone to level up their character for them?

Basicly, everyone else feels cheated when they actually did work, and someone else just paid to do it for them. Then again, one person said to me, "How is paying for someone to level up your character that much off from paying a Coach to teach you how to play golf." Now details aside, I think it's a valid point.

Tony

84.

Michael Steele wrote:

Why is trafficking unbalancing? Simple: Because the developers spend lots of time/money creating game systems and content. *Which* content/code they choose to spend their money creating depends on how rapidly the game design intends people to gain wealth/experience. Messing with that rate (by letting many players get far ahead of others out of sequence) changes the way the entertainment is supposed to unfold.

Yet we see precisely that mechanic (of many players getting far ahead of others out of sequence) taking place even in the ABSENCE of external markets.

You see it all the time in guilds, particularly those made up of large numbers of game-savvy high-school kids. Some of them will have started the game early, and amassed huge wealth. Their buddies join up, and get largesse distributed to them like manna from heaven.

How is the player who just bought 100 gold for his level 1 player any more out-of-sequence than the kid who just received 100 gold from his new guildmates at level 1?

Where is the hue and cry regarding this sort of grotesque guild twinking? Where are the associated threats of lawsuits?

Is sending out a nasty legal note really an overreaction?

When the "nasty legal note" contains language which amounts to extortion... then yes, it is indeed an overreaction.

We have a massive corporation aiming lawsuit threats at small-time website operators. If they don't agree to fork over ALL OF THEIR REVENUE associated with that game, they are facing the prospect of potentially huge legal expenses.
For many, that spells the prospect of personal bankruptcy. Give up a segment of your business and all the revenue you made along the way, or face being utterly wiped out. Which alternative do you expect small businesses in that circumstance to take?

Given these tactics, I'd think a potential "restraint of trade" / antitrust countersuit is becoming much more viable. Thanks, Vivendi!

85.

Tony Hoyt wrote:
Basicly, everyone else feels cheated when they actually did work, and someone else just paid to do it for them. Then again, one person said to me, "How is paying for someone to level up your character that much off from paying a Coach to teach you how to play golf." Now details aside, I think it's a valid point.

I think the major difference is that you may have agreed not to let others play your account when you agreed to the TOS or EULA.

Barry Kearns wrote:

We have a massive corporation aiming lawsuit threats at small-time website operators. If they don't agree to fork over ALL OF THEIR REVENUE associated with that game, they are facing the prospect of potentially huge legal expenses.
For many, that spells the prospect of personal bankruptcy. Give up a segment of your business and all the revenue you made along the way, or face being utterly wiped out. Which alternative do you expect small businesses in that circumstance to take?

Poor fellows. They may be forced to return that which they gained by lying and cheating! It is indeed a harsh, uncaring, brutal world when the idle rich can no longer make money by "playing" an online game.

--matt

86.

Kudos to Barry, I think he's making the most sense here. Truly, why are players not up in arms about guild twinking? Its the motivation for the transfer of materiale thats coming under fire. I mean really, you can either have a game where people have differentiated skills and assets or not. Ya'll tell me which game is going to be more fun. Personally, I won't pay monthly for a first-person shooter. Can Blizzard even restrict the sale of time/work/services? Don't we have a right to contract thats protected by law? Seems like its beyond the scope of a companies legitimate legal authority to usurp certain rights, no matter if its 'waived' in their EULA. Lawyers, speak up. If for example, I slapped a EULA on a game that required players to give up their right to vote, is it binding? I don't really care what grounds companies reserve for terminating accounts, what I'm interested in is what criminal and civil remedies companies can reasonably expect and for what.

Richard, I think I agree with Tony that perhaps cheating at a driving test is perhaps inequivalent to cheating/twinking in a MMOG. Your example behavior is patently illegal because it represents a tangible hazard to public safety in the real world. Twinking on the other hand, be it for whatever motivation, doesn't seem to jeopardize.. anything at all. Virtual worlds are something we tend to walk away from when the entertainment value expends, and this can happen for a number of reasons, either because the endgame content was prematurely exposed, OR just as much because it wasn't exposed fast enough. I tend to see virtual sales, and cheating at video games in general, as an activity with zero moral gravity. No one is going to hell over this. No one that knows me thinks I'm a 'bad person'. No one is going to go to bed hungry, whether we are taling about game developers, support reps, gms, stockholders or whoever. What is the measurable negative impact of any of this? Is it simply player perception that someone is getting something for nothing, or getting paid to 'play games'? This is immaturity at best.

I think that ultimately there are only two complaints to be had:

1) The MMOG company perceives its revenue stream adversely affected by virtual sellers. Firstly, is there any evidence for this? and secondly, Welcome to the Real World. God forbid one business affect anothers bottom line. Not like that doesn't happen legitimately every day.

2) Player B cannot figure out how player A is making real dollars, perceives a cosmic injustice and makes it a customer support issue. Again, Welcome to the Real World. What, I wonder, would customer B's motivation be?

Speaking from a players point of view, I have x amount of patience with any given game, and if I feel I need to BUY something off eBay to retain interest and keep the ole entertainment ball rolling, don't get in my way or I'll walk away from the product. Ever consider that some customers need to buy things just to keep an interest? Different people burn through these games at different rates. I typically never spend more than two or three months with a new game before I'm bored. WoW is actually the first treadmill I've ever made it beyond level 15. I belong to a subset of players who have cultivated a resistance to MMOG addictiveness. After playing UO for 7 years, the novelty of multiplayer has worn away. I recognize these games for what they are: a bunch of crap flashing on my screen. A representation that is cosmically non-persistent, no matter what marketing says. What does restricting my access to the external market do, except give me one more reason to throw my hands up and quit? These games possess an inherent goal, which more and more looks like WORK. The game designers intend for me to level to 60, but I'll say BULL$h1* and find a lesser commitment of equal entertainment value elsewhere. How do you market to a player like me? Maybe its time game companies embraced the dynamics of the external market instead of making themselves out to be legal a-holes.

This whole debate may be moot however:

There is no tangible benefit to Vivendi's move. Let me tell you why: China & Russia. There is no such thing as an international copyright. If a seller was to relocate to China or Russia (or originate there) then essentially, the laws of that sovereign country are the ones that matter. Research it - I did. Russians straight up sell pirated movies, music, software in street kiosks. If Russian authorities will not act against the street kiosks, you can imagine how little they will care about Vivendi's vague and overreaching IP claims. I'm predicting a number of virtual businesses will trump the whole IP debate via relocation. The internet is a wonderful thing. Its been a discussed more than once with the sellers I know, and one glance at WoW auctions on eBay will show 50% or better list from China. Is WoW going to experience a holistic improvement by having eliminated the western market alone? I had high hopes that Blizzard could be an 'enlightened' company, but instead they're inheriting Sony's stigma.

87.

Tony Hoyt>How is paying for someone to level up your character that much off from paying a Coach to teach you how to play golf?

How is it different? It's different in the way that getting someone else to play golf for you to improve you handicap is different.

It's the same as paying someone to teach you how to play your character.

Richard

88.

Heh.

1. Character as sports-equipment: Some games have two different games in the same system. PvP and PvE. It also happens that PvP is only viable in certain level ranges (if unbalanced).

Buying a character for PvP is then the same as purchasing sports equipment. Say, if you played one class that was nerfed, why would it then be wrong to purchase a ready-made character of another class rather than spending another 3 months on the treadmill to get to a level where you can play the PvP game you actually enjoy?

2. MMO as boardgame: It isn't all that uncommon that a player who is leaving the game leaves his position with the aquired resources to a replacement-player. This is usually done to keep the game fun. What if a player gives his account to another player in order to maintain status quo, to give his old guild stability? Can't really see the problem with this character transfer?

It is quite obvious that the core of the problem isn't in the transfer, fairness, or getting ahead, but in the social contract between the players. Twinking by friends is different from OOC wealth spill-over as the friendship trancends the OOC/IC barrier. Largely OOC uber-twink-guilds are frowned upon by more casual players... So it isn't all about money... :P

89.

Ola raises some good points with respect to character-as-equipment, and the desirable aspects of preserving guild integrity / time investment.

I think the primary issue with character takeovers is one of identity. Generally speaking, the account (and therefore the associated characters) need to be tied to a particular real-world identity, often for a variety of legal/accountability reasons.

However, I have seen offers before from MMO companies willing to transfer a character from one account to another account (typically for a non-trivial fee).

This allows the company to maintain a "chain of custody" associated with that character, and always have it tied to a real-world person for accountability purposes.

I recognize the importance of maintaining accountability, and these sorts of character transfers seem like a good option that meets the basic goals outlined by Ola.

I also recognize that some casual players may "frown upon" uber-twink-guilds, but that's a universe away from mass account bannings and/or threats of legal action being leveled at them.

When's the last time those penalties were leveled at an uber-twink-guild because of the basic nature of high-volume/high-value twinking in a pay-to-play MMO?

In fact, I've been considering the following gedanken, which may serve to illustrate the disconnect in these policies and legal threats.

Let's say I create a new private club or association, made up entirely of MMO players who are interested in optimizing their entertainment value / time investments. The guild provides support for multiple simultaneous games.

I create a set of internal by-laws and policies governing appropriate behavior of members within the games that we play, and a membership agreement which must be physically signed as a condition of participation.

I create a guild-internal system of accounting, for tracking the various contributions that players have made towards the benefit of the guild itself. I might issue guild tokens, for example, representing the investment of utility that players make along the way.

A guild blacksmith, for example, creates various assembled "twink kits" for new characters in a given game, providing new players with an optimized set of armor that they can swap out during their first 30 levels or so.

My guild treasurer might issue 20 tokens per kit to the blacksmith (up to a certain capacity, of course... no sense in maintaining too much excess inventory), and in turn charge guild members who are new to this particular game 20 tokens to check out the kit from the armory.

Likewise, since there are some aspects of various MMO games that require substantial internal currency (skill upgrade purchases, for example), I allow tokens to be traded for game currencies as well.

Up to this point, I see nothing but a reasonably explicit twinking guild.

Is there anything in the above description that implies the sort of IP infringement that Blizzard is alleging in their C&D letter?

You might acquire guild tokens for your contributions to the general welfare of guild members in game A, and then choose to invest those tokens into benefits in game B.

Now we take it one step further: I charge a membership fee for my private association, and to compensate for this and give players a running start, I give them an initial allowance of guild tokens.

Do we have IP violations against Blizzard/Vivendi now?

Now add the last step: I permit members to give away or sell their guild tokens to one another.

Does this step add an IP violation?

At this point, we have people trading values for values, which is what they have been doing all along. One of those values is money.

Is the act of assigning a value (or an accounting of that value) to an item being traded within a game sufficient to establish a violation of IP rights?

Since people perform precisely that form of accounting when they decide how many gold pieces a Sword of Foozle-Whacking is worth, does that imply that EVERY internal game trade is also a violation of IP rights?

90.

Mithra wrote:

. I tend to see virtual sales, and cheating at video games in general, as an activity with zero moral gravity.

I could not agree more. Lying and fraud, on the other hand, in the form of agreeing to a contract you proceed to repeatedly break, is an activity with considerable moral gravity to some of us who place value on the integrity of contracts and our word.

--matt

91.

Matt,

Do you recognize that some contracts have contained clauses which are exceedingly overreaching, and that some contracts are written from an absurdly, even grotesquely one-sided perspective? There's even a legal term for these extremely one-sided contracts: a "contract of adhesion".

Do you assign the same moral gravity to breaking unconscionable terms in such a contract that you do to all other instances of contract-breaking? Or is the "value on the integrity of contracts and our word" an end-all-be-all trump card?

Have you ever encountered employment contracts which have "non-competition agreements" tacked onto them as a contition of employment... many of which have been ruled illegal restraints of trade, and therefore unenforcable? Does violating one of those carry the same moral gravity?

92.

Son of a...I just wrote out a long reply and managed to delete it. I'll try again, in reply to Barry's last post.

First off, the law doesn't have any moral gravity, as you put it, to me. I don't care what courts rule are legal or illegal in terms of my actions as a moral being. If I didn't want to sign a non-compete, I'd not agree to it. If I did agree to it, I'd abide by it, unless I was starving or whatnot, or unless someone had held a gun to my head (what I'd call circumstantial and direct coercion, respectively). If you offered a starving man a carrot in return for signing up for lifetime slavery, I'd view that was extreme circumstantial coercion and would attach little value to that agreement. I'll grant that drawing any line in the case of circumstantial coercion is difficult.

There is another reason I'd view the lifetime slavery contract above as a problem: The contract is taking away something (your freedom to do just about anything) you previously had. In the case of a EULA or TOS for an MMO, we have:
- No direct coercion.
- No circumstantial coercion.
- No loss of ability to engage in activities you could before signing the contract. (Were your rights being violated in 1975 before MMOs existed?)

MMOS are playgrounds for the idle rich of the world with access to luxuries like the internet. I'm assuming you're not referring to MMO TOS or EULA's when you talk about 'unconscionable' terms, as I haven't seen any that would be referred to by the same word people might use to describe things like genocide, rape, slavery, etc.

So here's my question: Where does the belief that you have a right to use someone else's creation, in the way that you wish when under no direct or serious circumstantial coercion, even after having explicitly agreed differently, come from? What do you lose by simply not agreeing to the TOS or EULA and not using the product? I think your only answer can be 'opportunity,' and boy, if opportunity is the only justification needed to simply ignore contracts, we have a problem.

--matt

93.

Matt wrote:

I'm assuming you're not referring to MMO TOS or EULA's when you talk about 'unconscionable' terms, as I haven't seen any that would be referred to by the same word people might use to describe things like genocide, rape, slavery, etc.

I'm using the term in the same sense as UCC § 2–302 uses it, rather than the more outrageous sense in which you use it.

From Dictionary.Com:
unreasonably unfair to one party, marked by oppression, or otherwise unacceptably offensive to public policy [an unconscionable clause] [finds the contract…to have been unconscionable at the time it was made —Uniform Commercial Code]

The threshold for determination of "unconscionable" in that sense is vastly lower, particularly when it comes to determining whether particular contract terms within a contract of adhesion can be enforced.

Examples are binding people into arbitration to resolve a dispute, setting limits on a company's liability, certain non-competition agreements, or even which venue a particular complaint will be heard within. None of these rise anywhere near to the level of the events you described, yet all have previously met the unconscionability test before in various circumstances.

Restraint of trade is one particular aspect of "offfensive to public policy" that has been used before to strike certain provisions from contracts as unenforceable. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing affair, either. Various non-compete agreements have been struck down because the terms were a bit too broad. The former employees in question still had the ABILITY to work, but the impairment represented by the non-compete clause was determined to be unreasonably one-sided.

Interfering with the ability of people to compete and thereby earn a living is at least part of why we have the Sherman Act and other antitrust legislation.

"Where does the belief that you have a right to use someone else's creation, in the way that you wish when under no direct or serious circumstantial coercion, even after having explicitly agreed differently, come from?"

I don't think it ever comes down to a "right to use someone else's creation" at all. Instead, I think it hinges in precisely the OPPOSITE direction.

Where did the idea that it's OK for a corporation to extort money using legal threats, solely based on terms that it put into its own contract of adhesion, come from?

As far as I can see, somewhere this notion popped up that, since "I created it, I'm the only one allowed to make any money associated in any way with it."

It's a rather unsupported notion, by the way. There are distinct limits to the amounts of interference you can provide to others making money, even when the process of making that money involves something you created.

In this particular case, we have Vivendi levelling extortive demands backed by legal threats against those who have had the sheer audacity and gall to choose what form of compensation they want for values they trade within one of their games.

The trading of values involving World of Warcraft is undeniable, as is the particularly one-sided nature of many of the transactions when viewed purely from an in-game perspective. People regularly give hugely beneficial gifts from one character to another, and only a fraction of those involve external financial compensation, rather than other forms of compensation.

Vivendi appears to be trying to make the case that it's OK to extort money from those who make a profit from deciding to have their characters give in-game values to one another... while letting everyone who's doing it for other forms of compensation do it without so much as a peep from Vivendi's legal department.

In reality, the only thing that is ever "sold" in these currency transactions is a player's largesse within a game. People are (if they are selling anything) selling their DECISION on what to do with representations on value that their character may have.

Nothing has ever left the bounds, scope, possession or control of the game and it's owners... before, during, or after the in-game portion of the "consideration trade". How then can their intellectual property be compromised by that act - especially when identical acts are performed all the time which are not considered IP violations?

From where did MMO companies get the idea that my decisions - even those I make with respect to my actions within their service - are their intellectual property?

94.

Barry wrote:

As far as I can see, somewhere this notion popped up that, since "I created it, I'm the only one allowed to make any money associated in any way with it."

Or rather, I created it, thus it's reasonable that you adhere to my requirements for using it, all of which are laid out for you beforehand.


Vivendi appears to be trying to make the case that it's OK to extort money from those who make a profit from deciding to have their characters give in-game values to one another... while letting everyone who's doing it for other forms of compensation do it without so much as a peep from Vivendi's legal department.

Well, like I said, I attribute no moral gravity to the law, but as you do, what you're describing sounds perfectly consistent with real-life laws. Prostitution, for instance. I'm free to just give you sex, but if accept money for it from you, it's a crime. You're not free to walk into my bar and start making a business of selling drinks I sell you to other customers. You're free to give them away though.

Motivations matter and there's certainly plenty of legal precedent for distinguishing on the basis of them.

--matt

95.

Matt wrote:

Or rather, I created it, thus it's reasonable that you adhere to my requirements for using it, all of which are laid out for you beforehand.

By that logic, you seem to be saying that all contracts of adhesion will, by their very nature, contain nothing but reasonable clauses. In reality, we see that this simply isn't the case. The "take it or leave it" nature of this sort of one-sided contract isn't an automatic escape hatch for the drafting party to put in anything they want, and have it be considered reasonable.

That's why some contracts of adhesion have had terms ruled unconscionable, and therefore unenforceable... even though the adhering party "agreed" by accepting the take-it-or-leave-it package deal. When you have a drafting party with all of the negotiating power, nothing else really stops them from exploiting the nature of that relationship.

Prostitution, for instance. I'm free to just give you sex, but if accept money for it from you, it's a crime.

Prostitution is certainly the exception, rather than the rule. It would be rather off-topic to go into a diatribe about the nature of that particular topic. I've made my position on the subject clear in other discussions on TN. (Suffice it to say that I'm philosophically opposed to anti-prostitution laws on general principles.)

Can you come up with a good example or two from the world of commerce besides prostitution (which I consider a definite outlier)?

You're not free to walk into my bar and start making a business of selling drinks I sell you to other customers. You're free to give them away though.

So, by that logic, do you think you'd have a cause of action against me in the following scenario: A buddy and I are going out drinking. I know that he doesn't get paid until next week, and he's flat broke. We agree before we head out that I'll buy all of his drinks for him, and he'll pay me back later... along with a little bonus for the trouble.

I would think the primary factor in determining this is the disruptive nature of the "external" transactions on the business at hand.

If I'm free to give away the drinks I purchase, then my motivation for doing so, or consideration I might receive outside of the business as a result is largely moot, I'd think.

If I were bringing liquor into your establishment, if I were standing on tabletops and shouting out my proposals to your customers, if I were hauling the drinks over to the bar next door and reselling them there, or otherwise disrupting your ability to sell drinks there, I'd see it as entirely different.

But in a situation where my behavior in your establishment is functionally identical and indistinguishable from the behavior of other patrons, and the only difference is the form or nature of compensation I might receive later, I doubt you'd be able to construct the sort of case against me that Vivendi is launching at commodifiers and others.

In fact, there's a thread on the World of Warcraft boards discussing eBay takedowns and C&D for a site that was doing no commodification of currency, accounts or in-game items at all... they were reselling Game Time Cards and retail copies of the game.

First sale doctrine makes it pretty clear, IMO, that this is an entirely legitimate business, but that didn't stop Vivendi from flinging their Hammer of Legal Righteousness at them.

I had a couple of other scenarios I had been considering, dealing especially with the concepts of "VW as place", and whether the use of that place means that you give up your out-of-VW rights.

Would any of the following constitute the types of IP infringement that Vivendi alleges in their C&D letters?

1. Assume I'm well-versed in the universe and game-play of World of Warcraft. I decide to write a strategy guide, outlining methods of levelling quickly and providing walk-throughs of various quests. Assume that players using my guide advance more quickly than those who don't. In my guide, I provide full and appropriate legal notices with respect to all Blizzard/Vivendi trademarks and copyrights that I might reference. Am I infringing Blizzard/Vivendi IP if I share this guide only with my guildmates? If I give it away for free to whoever asks? If I sell it?

2. Same scenario, but instead of writing a guide I decide to offer a "mentoring" service associated with the game. I group my character with players, and lead them through quests, adventures, and I point out interesting sights and activities within the game.
Assume that I perform no advertising or even acknowledgement within the game that I'm doing this. Other players simply see a group of players off doing things.

Am I violating IP if I do this mentoring for my guildmates? If I do it for anyone who bothers to ask? If I do it only for people who pay to subscribe to my website?

3. Along the lines of "machinima", let's assume that I've formed a guild of players who happen to be skilled and clever actors. We decide to act out various comedy skits using our characters, and invite others to watch. We might even decide to do a 21-part episodic dramatic series, along the same lines as a TV show. We group up with our "audience", and all travel to some remote location... perhaps even an instanced dungeon. We make no announcements or advertisements within the game... the only people who are coming along are those who know about it via out-of-game channels. We make no recordings, no screenshots, we redistribute nothing associated with this outside the confines of the game itself. The only people who ever have access to this content are paying subscribers to the game.

Are we infringing IP (along the lines of the Vivendi threats) if we do this as entertainment for our guild? If we do this free for any game players that want to come along? If we have a PayPal tip jar on our website? If we do this only for paying subscribers to our website? If we do this only as a "pay per view" live performance?

In all of these cases, we have people with at least the POTENTIAL to receive outside compensation as rewards for their decisions with respect to in-game behaviors. We also have a set of in-game behaviors that are inherently non-disruptive to the game play of other players, and can be shown to be functionally identical to behaviors that other players perform all the time. We are generating no disproportionate impact on the game servers, and aren't interfering with the normal operation of the game by its owners.

Does the fact that the out-of-game compensation we receive for our actions might sometimes be money, somehow transform our actions from "legitimate" to "IP infringing"?

96.

I think the obvious answer to you question Barry is 'no'. I also think Vivendi is bluffing on the legal end. Whats going to need to happen I think, rather than waiting on Vivendi to sue someone, is for someone to sue them for a legal determination. Again, the cheapest way to resolve the problem from a sellers point of view is to operate out of China or Russia and ignore Vivendi altogether.

If I were a MMORPG developer I think I would design my game with the secondary market in mind. Seriously though, what game worlds have been shut down because of the over-commodification of in-game goods? None? UO is probably the most highly commodified game on the market, and seven years running, still outperforms anything online EA has released since. If there has been any decline in subscribership its because of newer offerings. UO didnt have seven years of content lined up - it doesn't even have a quest system. How does one explain its resistance to the 'negative effects of the secondary market'? Is there even justification to posit a negative effect?

Look: generally speaking people don't like wasting their time. This is as true in VWs as it is IRL. When you can commodify a game, assets in that game cross the threshhold from imaginary into the 'real'. If my sword is worth $10 on eBay, it then has VALUE to me. If I can't sell it, its about as worthless as a sword I drew on paper. I might as well photoshop together my character, set it as my desktop wallpaper and declare myself a winner. Whats the difference really, if there is nothing more here than pixel representations? To my mind, a screenshot of the game is no more or less REAL than actually playing the game. Pixels are pixels.

If you assign the 'pixels' a dollar value however, the context by which I enjoy the content becomes important - items MUST exist within the context of the game to have value. Why divorce the game of VALUE unnecessarily? Players are more than willing to enhance the value of the VW by investing their own real world capital. As it stands, WoW has about as much VALUE to me as the two hour movie I just watched. There is no transcendent real-world value to either thats going to engage me and keep me coming back. If you want a VW to be optimal and robust, you'll need to allow players to WORK as well as PLAY. One of the reasons I never blew any time on EQ1 was because I knew up front that I would be wasting my time. Now its true that people still sell EQ accounts and plat, but that was my opening assessment. I'm not going to invest my TIME or MONEY in a game that won't let me cash out. The whole problem amounts to poor game design, misassumptions about the effects of the market, and an arrogant desire to control others.

97.

Barry wrote:

That's why some contracts of adhesion have had terms ruled unconscionable, and therefore unenforceable... even though the adhering party "agreed" by accepting the take-it-or-leave-it package deal. When you have a drafting party with all of the negotiating power, nothing else really stops them from exploiting the nature of that relationship.

How is that a one-sided relationship? Your negotiation power as a potential customer is in simply not buying their product. This isn't food or shelter. It's entertainment for the idle rich, all of whom are free to just not engage in that particular form of entertainment.


Prostitution is certainly the exception, rather than the rule. It would be rather off-topic to go into a diatribe about the nature of that particular topic. I've made my position on the subject clear in other discussions on TN. (Suffice it to say that I'm philosophically opposed to anti-prostitution laws on general principles.)

So the law only has moral gravity when it happens to agree with your moral principles? Sounds to me like the law has no moral gravity in that case, which is a reasonable take on an institution that has a long history of condoning mass murder, corruption, slavery, rape, and so on.

None of this is an IP issue to me, so I'm not going to address that part of your post. I don't, personally, care about the IP part of this argument. It's a simple moral issue to me. You agreed, under no form of coercion, to a set of terms governing your use of a completely frivolous product that you have absolutely no pressing need for, and subsequently decided you didn't wish to adhere to your agreement. I'm really not interested in the legalese surrounding it, as my objection is purely a moral one. I'm not a lawyer and don't know or care enough about the law to know if Vivendi's suits are likely to go anywhere.

I don't think we're going to reach an agreement here. It's a moral issue to me, same as music thieving, but that holds little weight with most people when there is something to be gained.
--matt

98.

Matt wrote:

I don't think we're going to reach an agreement here.

I'm sorry... were you operating under the assumption that my purpose in posting is to get you to agree with me? My posting has had nothing to do with that.

I am interested in an intellectual exploration of (among other things) the legal aspects of this particular case, which seems to revolve around legal pressure being brought to bear regarding a particular virtual world.

After all, to quote the "About TN" page:

Posts at Terra Nova will offer news and opinions regarding the social, economic, legal, psychological, and political aspects of these worlds. We will feature scholarship, insights, and data relevant to the study of virtual worlds.

That's the spirit in which I'm offering my comments in this thread. My point in raising these questions was definitely not to simply get you to personally agree with me.

I think there are significantly bigger issues involved in this particular case than either of our personal moral stances or positions.

I wish you well, Matt... sorry if I've offended you somehow along the way. That certainly hasn't been my intent. I think these are useful and valuable questions to explore - questions that help clarify the edges of what we are exploring in the interaction between virtual world creators, virtual world users, and our legal system.

I'm sorry if you disagree.

99.

Matt>How is that a one-sided relationship? Your negotiation power as a potential customer is in simply not buying their product.

Since all EULAs I've bothered to read are over-broad then it would effectively mean that I couldn't use any software. I doubt I would be able to user any products from Microsoft, which of course would make it more difficult to take part in the society I live in. I basically view these EULAs as american anomalies which I am happy to ignore!

Very few users actually read them. And they are very hard to read and understand. They are not meant to be read and understood by your average citizen. TOS and EULAs are not written as information for the consumer. They are written as legal worst-case insurance.

If a provider really wants me to know something then they should clearly state it in a simple non-verbose language on the same page as the download link, not hidden in some lengthy document. I basically expect the same effort from the provider as the norwegian law requires from a salesman: you have to make those terms clear to the customer before he makes the purchase. I consider a download to be an investment in the product (time, effort, bandwidth).

That said, I think it is somewhat immoral to build a business on hiring people to do non-productive work by playing up characters that the provider could have made available by a simple database change... It is counterproductive and doesn't seem reasonable. I think it IS reasonable to give your character to a close friend and that he compensates you for the favour. Sure, you can try to prevent reasonable behaviour if you want to, but don't make it a question of universal morale (which of course would be "ethics" not "morale"...)

100.

ding!

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