A judgement was just entered in a lawsuit Blizzard filed against Scape Gaming, which ran a "unofficial" World of Warcraft server. Apparently they made $3 million off of it! They have to give it all back, though. Along with.. um, $85 million in damages.
Gamasutra notes that Scape Gaming apparently out-Blizzarded Blizzard in RMT:
The original complaint said Scapegaming would ask for "donations" from players -- but these donations were in exchange for virtual items ranging from $1 to advance characters two levels, to $300 for a pack that included a collection of rare items.
The judge's order said Blizzard "submitted satisfactory evidence from third-party PayPal Inc. showing that Defendant’s PayPal account received $3,052,339 in gross revenues."
The order also said that Blizzard submitted satisfactory evidence that showed Reeves' website (Scapegaming.com, currently down) hosted 32,000 users on a given day in June 2008. That same month, there were over 427,000 members of the Scapegaming community, and Reeves, who goes by a number of aliases including "Peyton," said that 40,000 people play on Scapegaming's servers every day.
The court took the size of the community, 427,000, and multiplied that figure by $200 "per act of circumvention" of a copyright security system, and came to the statutory damages amount of over $85 million. It's unclear if Reeves, who didn't respond to the suit, would be able to pay the award to fulfillment, or if the defendant would appeal the ruling.
420k users... that's the size of most second-tier MMO subscription bases. Kind of humbling that World of Warcraft thieves make more than some actual MMO devs.
$88m in damages is a pretty crippling blow to bring against an individual and I would guess that, unless Rees is a wealthy individual living in the US (or she manages to win an appeal against that award - seems unlikely), then actually recovering anything like that sum of money may be difficult. However, the sheer size of the damages award certainly should send a clear message to other WoW private server providers (particularly any of those who have moved in on Scapegaming's territory since the lawsuit began).
Which leads us to the last point for this post. What this case shows most strongly is that Blizzard views private servers as a sufficiently significant problem to merit lawsuits - particularly if other private server providers are earning anything like the $3m that Rees made from Scapegaming. Couple that with the fact that there are clearly other private server providers out there, and it suggests we will see more of this kind of action from Blizzard in the future.
Whoops. Time for a new business model. I suggest "not stealing things".