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)