Why Do You Gotta Make Me Hurt You, Baby?

Remember the offhanded link I posted a while back to the spurned EQ2 ‘fan’ site that quickly turned into a community manager’s worst nightmare? At some point it turned from juicy drah-ma to full-on psychotic dev stalking.

I wonder, if I searched their archives, if there would be complaints from players about how developers clearly never played their own game. Because, for damned sure, after that little display, it’s safe to say that no sane SOE developer will be caught dead in EQ2 for quite some time. Clearly, they have commited the cardinal sin of working on an MMO – in some cases actually playing one, and now they must pay. Oh, they must PAY!

This is a good example of why, as a game developer, you ideally should never let anyone in an MMO know who you are, ever. And you absolutely shouldn’t let people know that you work on the game they play. (And it goes without saying, you shouldn’t then cheat, or send out patch notes a week early on your guild message board, or just simply attract the attention of the appropriate gender in your Ventrilo channel with your el33t access, or anything ethically sleazy like that.)

For most developers this isn’t an issue, because, frankly, after working on an MMO for 5 years or so, the absolute last thing they want to do is look at it in their limited free time. But this is a good object lesson in how what you think may be a harmless confidence can blow up in your face. Because spurned fans have a way of taking those good intentions, blowing them out of an aerosol can, and lighting them on fire.

I Still Has A Bird

At this point, I’m thinking it’s some sort of harbinger of doom.

bird2.png

Not shown: its near constant flying headlong into the window.

Design Progression in World of Warcraft, An Illustrated Guide

Diagram of requirements needed to enter Black Temple, the penultimate WoW:Burning Crusade instance, prior to today’s patch:

btattunement.jpg

Diagram of requirements needed to enter Black Temple, the penultimate WoW:Burning Crusade instance, after today’s patch:

enter.jpg

Not everyone is happy about this.

Blizzard no longer cares about the hardcore gamers, be that the raiders or the pvpers. Well, we’re done with it. It wasn’t just one thing really. While we were all excited to get some tier6 for our freshly 70 alts from this new badge gear, there’s a part of you that just has to feel some pain when you look back at all the time you spent farming instances…for nothing.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, silly. It’s silly to expect game developers to create content that 50 people on the planet can access. OK, so that’s an exagerration. According to Wowjutsu, 286,000 people have entered the Black Temple, and 121,000 have finished it. Still, that is 5% of a given fairly hardcore population… to show up on Wowjutsu, you have to be in a raid that has completed some portion of Karazhan. Just as a comparison, those figures above are compared to 2.2 million players that watched the Shade of Aran blow up their raid.

 

It’s obvious that at least someone (probably a community person, they tend to develop black humor as an on the job requirement) at Blizzard had a pretty clear picture of where they eventually wanted to take things from this parody, complete with this world event:

The Illidari Invasion: A major attack is launched on all major cities, both Horde and Alliance. Repel the invaders for 6 hours or lose the chance to face down Illidan in the Black Temple for one month. Additionally, repair costs in cities you fail to hold go up by 20% due to tax increases.

And you know? Some players would defend that. “THAT IS SO COOL, THE WORLD IS RESPONDING TO OUR SCREWUPS.”

 

It’s an interesting pattern, actually. As the playerbase in general progresses in mudflated power, content is trivialized so that more people can experience it. What was the domain of the l33t a short time ago now becomes content that’s conquered on the test server before it even goes live.

This isn’t a bad thing. If you make your game’s endgame challenge dependent on how fast your content designers can crank out ever-increasingly-difficult challenges, you either have a game that no one can finish, or a game everyone can eventually finish, given enough investment of time.

Which makes some people unhappy. Raiders denigrating casual players in WoW has a long, storied tradition, after all. But casual players pay the bills. I fully expect Wrath of the Lich King to have a hideously complicated attunement sequence for taking down Arthas at the end. I also fully expect that sequence to disappear a year later. And someone will post a snippy letter on their guild page about how they are totally leaving WoW for some other game because no one understands the purity of their vision any more.

Which also has a long and storied tradition.

(Hint 1: Second entry on the list.)

(Hint 2: If you’re confused, check with your devstalkers.)

I Has A Bird

This morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched.

bird2.jpg

Turns out I was.

Now it’s pecking the window. I think it wants something.

FAIL!

I’m not sure I agree with this list.  From an MMO centric viewpoint, Anarchy Online, and ESPECIALLY World of Warcraft should be on there somewhere (its issues were very similar to Steam/Half Life 2’s). In fact, it took until a few years ago for MMO launches to NOT be automatically assumed to be failtastic.

Fun trivia tidbit: DAOC had an almost flawless launch day. It went down for about 15 minutes on launch day. That was all my fault. Uh, sorry!

MDY v Blizzard: Place Your Bets

Virtually Blind has the initial round of motions filed in the MDY v. Blizzard case posted. (I’ve gone ahead and mirrored them here in case bandwidth becomes an issue; a list of all the docs is at the end of this post.) As you might expect, they live in mutually antagonistic realities. MDY’s pacific “levels want to be free” version:

When Blizzard released WoW in late 2004, Donnelly became an avid player of WoW. Like many others who play WoW, Donnelly became frustrated with the amount of time it took to advance his character in WoW. Inspired by his desire to advance his character‘s level to the same level several of his friends had reached, Donnelly searched online for any available programs that would help him speed up the time it took to level his character up to where his friends were. After searching and being unsuccessful in locating a software program to meet his needs, Donnelly decided to write software code to assist him in catching up with his friends in the game without having to be physically playing WoW. Between March 2005 and May, 2005, Donnelly developed a software program that became known as WoWGlider (“Glider”)…

…MDY has only marketed the game as an alternate method to reduce the time it takes to level a character to 60 or 70. Although a person can use Glider (inefficiently) as a tool to help WoW licensees to “farm gold” within the WoW game, MDY has never marketed the program for that purpose and actively discourages persons from using Glider as a gold farming tool…

…Although Blizzard‘s acts of detecting Glider and banning Glider users‘ accounts led Donnelly to believe that Blizzard considered Glider an unauthorized third-party software program under its EULA and TOU, Donnelly did not agree with how Blizzard interpreted its agreements. Donnelly believed that Blizzard had no right to control MDY’s efforts to sell Glider because he had no contractual relationship with Blizzard. In addition, Blizzard‘s EULA did not originally prohibit “bots.”

Well, since it didn’t say the word “bot” anywhere, it must be OK! Allow Blizzard to retort:

While legitimate players eat, sleep, and attend school or work, MDY’s customers use Glider to shortcut the advancement of their in-game characters and loot scarce game assets. As shown herein, Glider use severely harms he WoW gaming experience for other players by altering the balance of play, disrupting the social and immersive aspects of the game, and undermining the in-game economy…

…Perhaps most significantly, MDY invests great effort to prevent Blizzard from enforcing its rights against Glider users by enabling them to circumvent Blizzard’s technological access controls and conceal their infringements from Blizzard and other players determined to report them. MDY has willfully persisted in this endeavor despite knowing that the overwhelming majority of WoW players despise the presence of Glider bots in WoW, and that Blizzard is being forced to divert significant human and financial resources from game development and support to efforts to stop Glider. Indeed, MDY’s stated goal is to drive up Blizzard’s cost of combating Glider to the point it ultimately abandons efforts to block it, an option that Blizzard’s rule-abiding customers, who have filed over 465,000 formal complaints and voiced their continued displeasure with Glider on Blizzard’s forums, have made clear is unacceptable.

Of special interest is the ‘expert report’ filed in support of Blizzard’s case by Terra Novan Dr. Edward Castronova. He takes the controversial position that cheating is bad.

Glider bots destroy this design, distorting the economy for the average player in two specific ways. When a Glider bot “farms” an area, it picks up not only experience points for its owner, discussed above, but also the “loot” that is dropped by the mobs killed by the bot. Because Glider can run constantly, it kills far more mobs than anticipated by WoW’s designers, thus creating a large surplus of goods and currency, flooding the economy with gold pieces and loot like the Essence of Water. This surplus distorts the economy in a specific way.

When bots gather key resources, they gather them in abundance. Owners of bots usually sell these resources to other players for gold, which inevitably deflates their price. Blizzard’s design intent is for the resources to command a certain high value, so that average players, who might get one or two of the resources in an average amount of play time, may obtain a decent amount of gold from selling them. But because characters controlled by bots flood the market with those resources, the market value of these resources is far less than Blizzard intended, and the average player realizes only a fraction of the intended value from the resources s/he finds. The deflated value of key resources presents a critical problem for ordinary players trying to enjoy the game. Blizzard’s game systems assume that players will be earning a certain amount of gold per hour, and many systems, such as repairs and travel, force players to make fixed payments of gold into WoW’s systems. Buying a horse, for example, costs a certain amount of gold. That pnce IS set by the game designers based on the assumption that normal players will accumulate gold at a certain rate, and that some of their gold will come from the value of resources that they harvest and sell. When the value of those resources plummets because of Glider, the amount of time it takes to accumulate the gold required for in-game expenditures like the horse skyrockets. This skews the economy, frustrates players, and, as a result of a less-satisfied user base, damages Blizzard.

So, it probably comes as no surprise that I come down on Blizzard’s side in all this, being that I work on MMOs, dislike cheating, and all that entails. Still, no matter which way the rulings go in this case, the repercussions are going to be interesting:

  • WowGlider/MDY is arguing, essentially, that they have a right to run a business based on third party tools for automating World of Warcraft because the EULA didn’t expressly forbid it, and anyway, who reads EULAs, ya know? It’s just another form of playing the game. Also, Blizzard’s a bunch of Nazis who came knocking on a poor bot writer’s door. With lawyers. (For some reason, I don’t see this argument holding a lot of water in court, but who knows.) So if MDY’s case is taken as written, we’ll have legal precedent that botting is an accepted part of MMO play. Also, EULAs will suffer a serious challenge. This will result in, to put it mildly, quite a few more court cases (“Were YOU banned for gold farming? Take it to court!”)
  • Blizzard is arguing that WowGlider harms the gameplay of WoW players, is explicity forbidden in the clickthrough TOS/EULA, and thus they have a right and duty to stop WowGlider and similar programs by any means necessary, up to and including polymorphic rootkit-style access control programs and lawyering bot writers TO DEATH. If Blizzard gets a ruling in their favor, that will give them a strong leg to stand on vs. other legal challenges to Warden, their EULA, and will also have a precedent vs. botting/exploiting on the books.

I strongly suspect that, like most lawsuits, this will eventually settle out of court. But even if it doesn’t, we certainly live in interesting times when a game design discussion doc ends up as a court filing.

Paperwork for your own backyard unfrozen caveman lawyering:

MDY’s Motion for Summary Judgment (MDY v Blizzard)
MDY’s Statement of Facts (MDY v Blizzard)
Blizzard’s Motion for Summary Judgement (MDY v Blizzard)
Blizzard’s Statement of Facts (MDY v Blizzard)
Effects of Botting on World of Warcraft, Edward Castronova, PhD. (MDY v Blizzard)

For Once, The Folder Name Is Quite Appropriate

Fans of leetspeak in legal documents will be fond of this one: a recently denied motion in the Blizzard/WoWglider case included the lines:

The documents that Defendants requested Thaler and Lavish Software to produce included:
1.     All records, documents, or [sic] relating to or concerning MDY Industries, LLC, Michael Donnelly, www.wowglider.com, www.mmoglider.com, or any related entity, or the WowGlider or MMOGlidercomputer program, or any of its predecessors
2.     All communications between you and the following entities and individuals, or documents provided by you or them or by them to you: MDY INDUSTRIES, LLC; MICHAEL DONNELLY; WWW.WOWGLIDER.COM; WWW.MMOGLIDER.COM
3.     All files located in the WTF directory (or any subdirectory) from any and all World of Warcraft installations used or controlled by Joe Thaler or Lavish Software, LLC.
4.     A list of all World of Warcraft accounts registered, used or controlled by Joe Thaler or Lavish Software, LLC in the past three (3) years.

The wonderfully named WTF directory being where World of Warcraft stores its preferences, including account IDs and addon data. Thus showing that the Fishing skill of the Blizzard legal team is at 375. Sadly, the zone they were fishing in hadn’t been itemized.

Also, as an irony assist: remember this story? Remember the subject’s insistence as how he was a poor aggreived innocent bot writer looking in from the outside at the WoWglider case? Guess according to Blizzard’s legal team, he wasn’t so outside after all.

I Can Has Ur Market?

In most of the MMO industry, most of us hew to what I like to call the “gentleman’s agreement.” It’s basically that you don’t trash your competition in public. Partially because we’re all in the same boat in terms of the challenges we face in bringing these beasts to market, partially because chances are good thanks to the general mobility of people within MMO/VW companies that you may be working tomorrow with the person you’re talking about today, but mainly because talking smack is just not terribly professional conduct in general.

Corey Bridges of Multiverse apparently didn’t get the memo.

In other words, in Bridges’ opinion, Rosedale’s resignation is “an acknowledgment that [Second Life] is not suitable for mainstream users and corporate customers — neither the culture within Second Life, nor the tech underpinning it, is suitable for either.”

Continues Bridges, “I think with Second Life, he [Phillip Rosedale] and Cory Ondrejka built something that got a lot of attention. It didn’t ever quite go mainstream, but certainly it got a lot of companies — big consumer brands, enterprise companies, to sort of examine this new phenomenon of virtual worlds, and got them to dip their toe in the water, which has been great. To some degree, I guess — to mix water metaphors — ‘the rising tide lifts all boats,’ and that’s been true for the past couple years.”

“That turned a corner last year, however, as the sort of completely wild, inappropriate expectations got way too far past what that particular world could actually deliver,” notes Bridges. “What a lot of these big companies have found is that yeah, this is a useful new medium, or at least a method to engage with folks. But then, after they got that experience, they said, ‘OK, what we really need is to build a virtual space where we have more control, where there are no flying penises, where our brand is not underneath somebody else’s brand.'”

And what would be his suggestion?

“I do honestly sincerely think we all owe Philip a thank you for bringing attention to the industry. Now it’s just time for the real technology to step in,” Bridges says.

You don’t say.

Let Us Treat This Like We Were A Family: Cover It In A Dark, Hidden Place, And Never Speak Of This Again

So, um, yeah, 400+ comments. Let’s look at some takeaways.

Things We Learned About Yon Humble Correspondent:

Things We Learned About Yon Prokofy Neva:

Things We Learned About Games and Virtual Worlds:

Things You May Not Have Known About Yon Humble Blogger’s Comments Policy:

  • I really, really dislike censorship.
  • I will rarely, if ever, intervene in the cut and thrust of a good argument.
  • Sometimes I’ll break this policy to pour more oil on a fire.
  • Ironically, this may make this blog the one safe space on the Internet for Prokofy Neva to post in that she doesn’t own.
  • Incessant personal attacks (as seen on both sides of the previous post) may cause me to rethink this policy.
    • But probably not, as it involves a lot of work, and I’m pretty lazy.

Things We Learned About Ourselves:

  • Taemojitsu really, really, really likes posting comments on this blog.