March 23rd, 2008 by Benjamin Duranske
Blizzard and MDY Industries have filed key motions in their lawsuit over the popular World of Warcraft automation program “WoW Glider” (since renamed “MMO Glider”). Exhibits include an expert report supporting Blizzard from Indiana University’s Edward Castronova (PhD, Economics) regarding the impact of Glider on World of Warcraft.
Substantial excerpts follow; here are the documents:
- MDY’s Motion for Summary Judgment (.pdf)
- MDY’s Statement of Facts (.pdf)
- Blizzard’s Motion for Summary Judgment (.pdf)
- Blizzard’s Statement of Facts (.pdf)
- Effects of Botting on World of Warcraft, Edward Castronova, PhD (.pdf)
MDY’s briefing refers to a rebuttal expert report countering Castronova from Koleman Strumpf (PhD, Economics) at the University of Kansas School of Business. I don’t have all the exhibits yet, but the report does not appear to have been filed with this round of briefing. My guess is it will be filed with MDY’s opposition brief. I will make it available here as soon as I acquire it.
Background of the MDY v. Blizzard Suit
Glider is a program that users run along with World of Warcraft. It automates key tasks in World of Warcraft, making it possible to play the game essentially unattended. Glider users can thus both harvest resources and generate high level characters without actually playing. MDY’s advertising material says that Glider helps users “escape the grind” of leveling and resource collection so that they can focus on play. Blizzard, on the other hand, says Glider disturbs the World of Warcraft gameplay balance, undermines the in-game economy, and ultimately costs Blizzard money.
MDY originally filed this lawsuit in federal court in Arizona seeking a declaratory judgment that MDY does not violate Blizzard’s intellectual property rights by selling the Glider program. Blizzard counterclaimed, alleging trademark and copyright infringement, as well as a handful of business torts. The case is now at the “Summary Judgment” stage.
For VB’s non-litigator readers, here’s a bit of background on summary judgment motions. In very basic terms, both sides get to put their best case before the judge in the form of written arguments and supporting material. The judge will grant a motion for summary judgment where there is no dispute about the facts, and where under those facts, one party is clearly entitled to win. This is simplified, of course — if you’re interested in the details the Wikipedia entry on Motions for Summary Judgment is pretty good.
Basically, MDY and Blizzard are both arguing that there is no dispute about certain facts, and that under those facts, the party making the motion is so clearly right that that party should win before the issue even goes to a jury. It sounds like a long shot, but claims are decided at summary judgment all the time. Both sides will respond to each other, and then there may be oral argument. Some judges rule quickly on these, and others take many months.
This is an important step in a lawsuit — a successful motion for summary judgment means a party wins on one or more issues without a trial. And even if the motions fail, a litigant learns a lot about the opposition’s position. Finally, since the judge usually grants or denies these motions with fairly detailed orders, the parties (and commentators) get a preview of the Court’s position on key issues that may come up at trial.
Excerpts from the documents follow. As always, keep in mind that these are advocacy documents, and thus only give you one side of the story. Also, as always, know that I don’t take a position on litigation strategy or provide substantial commentary on active lawsuits, for reasons explained here. VB will excerpt the oppositions to these motions when they are filed.
MDY’s Motion for Summary Judgment
In its Motion for Summary Judgment (.pdf) MDY argues that its product does not violate Blizzard’s copyright (using a fairly straightforward interpretation of copyright law) and also argues that its product cannot tortiously interfere with Blizzard’s contract with users because Blizzard cannot prove it acted with improper motive, and cannot prove damages.
Some interesting (non-contiguous) excerpts from the motion:
Since its release, MDY has made the program available solely by downloading it from MDY‘s website located at www.mmoglider.com at a cost of $15.00 per license. Moreover, MDY has increased its sales from approximately twenty in the first month, to over 100,000 as of February, 2008.
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.”
On the early morning of October 25, 2006 and without any prior notice, the defendants‘ counsel Shane McGee, an officer of Vivendi Games Fritz Kryman, and an unidentified private investigator appeared at Donnelly‘s home. When they arrived, they presented Donnelly with a copy of a complaint that they indicated would be filed the next day in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California if Donnelly did not immediately agree to stop selling Glider and return all profits that he made from Glider sales. Blizzard‘s audacious threats offended Donnelly. Donnelly immediately contacted counsel and filed the present action.
Blizzard asserts that MDY has infringed its copyright both contributorily and vicariously by selling the Glider software to Blizzard‘s customers. As a threshold matter, a party cannot be secondarily liable for copyright infringement without a third party first directly infringing the copyright.11 As a result, Blizzard must present at least some evidence that third parties have infringed its copyrights to avoid summary judgment. Blizzard cannot make such a showing as a matter of law.
A claimant seeking to establish copyright infringement must prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright and (2) engaging in one of the exclusive rights the Copyright Act affords the copyright owner (hereinafter referred to as “copying”). In this case, Blizzard cannot establish a third party infringed its copyright because Blizzard cannot demonstrate that anyone has made a “copy” of its WOW game client software and violated the Copyright Act. Even if Blizzard can establish that MDY’s customers have breached Blizzard‘s EULA or TOU, the mere breach of contract is not enough to invoke the punitive remedies of the Copyright Act – nor should it be as a matter of public policy. To hold otherwise would turn every breach of a “license agreement” concerning the use of a product containing software (including automobiles and home appliances) into copyright infringement.
Copyright is not designed for, and cannot be made to bear, so much weight; nor can the remedies of copyright be invoked solely through artful contract drafting purporting to condition the copyright license on compliance with a vast array of non-copyright-related terms. Where a given business model envisions a customer act outside of the exclusive rights of copyright, contract and not copyright is the way to enforce such business model.
Even if a licensee violated Blizzard‘s EULA or TOU by using Glider while playing WoW, that licensee does not infringe Blizzard’s copyright in its WoW client software.19 Unauthorized use of a protected work infringes a copyright only when the unauthorized use ―conflicts with one of the specific exclusive rights conferred by the copyright statute. In other words, acts that breach a contract (such as Blizzard‘s EULA or TOU) infringe a copyright only when such acts would infringe the copyright without the contract.
Congress enacted the DMCA “to help copyright owners protect their works from piracy behind a digital wall,” such as encryption techniques or password schemes. Congress did not enact the DMCA as a way for businesses to use the copyright laws to enforce their business models or license agreements.
The DMCA extends only to efforts to circumvent measures that enable access to a forbidden place and thereby facilitate “digital trespass.” In other words, there must be a nexus between “access” and the “protection” offered by copyright. No nexus exists — and DMCA liability does not attach — when efforts to circumvent technological protection merely enables rightful access to a protected work for the purpose of using it for its intended purpose (without copying, making derivative works, or distributing the work).
Blizzard alleges that MDY knew that the use of its Glider software with Blizzard‘s WoW game client violated Blizzard‘s EULA and TOU. Blizzard further alleges that because MDY knew Glider‘s use with WoW breached Blizzard‘s EULA and TOU, MDY’s acts of offering its Glider software for sale to Blizzard‘s licensees tortiously interfered with the contracts (“TIWC”) between Blizzard and its licensees. Even assuming Blizzard‘s allegations to be true, Blizzard cannot legally establish a claim for tortious interference.
Arizona has adopted the Restatement 2d of Torts and its five factors in analyzing whether a party is liable for TIWC. However, Blizzard does not have requisite evidence to support three of the five elements, namely that: 1. MDY acted improperly as to motive or means; 2. MDY intentionally interfered by causing a breach; and 3. MDY’s actually caused damage to Blizzard. MDY admits that it knew Blizzard‘s EULA and TOU governed the relationship between Blizzard and its licensees, but Blizzard lacks evidence to establish these three required elements of the tort.
Nothing MDY has done by selling Glider arises to the level of unfair competition under Arizona law. Even when viewing all of the facts in the light most favorable to Blizzard, the defendants cannot establish all of the elements of its unfair competition claim. Thus, the Court should grant plaintiff‘s motion for summary judgment on Count VI of the defendants‘ counterclaims.
MDY asks the Court to:
Grant the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on all issues; Issue a judgment in favor of the MDY and Donnelly for all counts in its declaratory judgment action filed in this Court on October 25, 2006; Dismiss all claims filed by the defendants Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. and Vivendi Games, Inc. against MDY and Donnelly; Award attorneys fees to MDY and Donnelly under 17 U.S.C. § 505 and other common law; Award any further relief the Court deems proper.
Blizzard’s Motion for Summary Judgment
Blizzard’s Motion for Summary Judgment (.pdf), argues that the facts lead to precisely the opposite conclusion as that urged by MDY — namely, that MDY infringes Blizzard’s copyrights and intentionally, tortiously, interfered with Blizzard’s contracts with its users. Blizzard’s copyright claim depends on a fairly nuanced and somewhat controversial (though not facially unreasonable) interpretation of recent copyright case law.
Some interesting (non-contiguous) excerpts from Blizzard’s motion:
MDY has maliciously encouraged WoW players to exceed the scope of their licenses under the EULA and TOU by developing, promoting and supporting Glider, “bot” program designed specifically to exploit WoW and “play” characters, increase their “level” in the game to access more advanced game content, and acquire valuable in-game currency, all without actual human participation.
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.
The threat that Glider poses to WoW is real. The dismay among legitimate WoW gamers over the effects of economic exploitation of WoW on the game experience has spawned an unprecedented player class action lawsuit against a prominent internet virtual property exchange, a site where professional “botters” sell, for real money, the virtual goods that Glider enables them to collect in their sleep. Absent intervention by this Court, MDY and the opportunistic cheaters it enables will remain free to devalue the gaming experience of Blizzard’s loyal and rule-abiding customers and undermine the integrity of the online gaming industry’s premier franchise. MDY’s brazen unlawful conduct must be enjoined, and its illicit profits disgorged.
In this Circuit, the “copying” element may be proved in software cases by showing an unauthorized reproduction of a copyrighted software program in the computer user’s Random Access Memory (“RAM”). The Ninth Circuit has recognized that “the loading of software into the RAM creates a copy under the Copyright Act.” MAI Sys. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 519 (9th Cir. 1993), cert. dismissed 510 U.S. 1033 (1994); Triad Sys. Corp. v. Se. Express Co., 64 F.3d 1330, 1334 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. v. Cablevision Sys. Corp., 478 F. Supp. 2d 607, 621 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (agreeing with the “numerous courts [that] have held that the transmission of information through a computer’s random access memory or RAM . . . creates a ‘copy’ for purposes of the Copyright Act,” and citing cases.) When such a copy is made in excess of a license, the copier is liable for copyright infringement. Ticketmaster LLC v. RMG Techs., Inc., 507 F. Supp. 2d 1096, 1107 (C.D. Cal. 2007) (‘“When a licensee exceeds the scope of the license granted by the copyright holder, the licensee is liable for infringement.”’ (citation omitted)).
There is no dispute that to run Glider with WoW, users must load WoW from their hard drive into their computers’ RAM, at which point WoW is able to be both perceived and communicated, including interaction with Glider itself. (SOF ¶¶ 50-52). When a user first launches WoW, the executable of the program is loaded into RAM, and as they move through the game, additional copyrighted game content is loaded from the hard drive into RAM as the player reaches points in the game with which that content is associated. (SOF ¶ 51). In order to avoid easy detection and blocking of Glider by Blizzard’s anti-cheat technology, Glider users rely on Glider’s “launch pad” to initiate the start up and loading of WoW into RAM. Clearly, Glider users’ loading of WoW into RAM creates a copy for purposes of the Copyright Act.
Under the traditional test for contributory copyright infringement, a party is liable where it had “knowledge of the infringing activity and induce[d], cause[d], or materially contribute[d] to the [activity].” Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., 487 F.3d 701, 727 (9th Cir. 2007); A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004, 1019 (9th Cir. 2001). In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., the Supreme Court held that a software distributor also induces infringement where its product is used to infringe copyrights “if the product is not capable of ‘substantial’ or ‘commercially significant’ noninfringing uses.” 545 U.S. 913, 942 (2005) (citation omitted). Under either of these formulations, MDY plainly is liable for Glider users’ repeated infringements.
A party is vicariously liable for the infringement of another if it has a right and ability to control the infringing activity and derives a direct financial benefit from that activity. Grokster, 545 U.S. at 931 n.9; Napster, 239 F.3d at 1023. Here, MDY concedes that it maintains control over all existing Glider programs, even after they are sold, and has the right and ability to control the infringement by disabling the “key” that enables Glider to function at MDY’s discretion. (SOF ¶155); Napster, 239 F.3d at 1023 (“Napster’s ability to block infringers’ access to a particular environment for any reason whatsoever is evidence of the right and ability to supervise”). MDY likewise concedes that it receives a direct financial benefit from the infringements, as Glider’s enablement of infringement is its only draw, and MDY has profited generously from sales of the program. (SOF ¶ 155); Napster, 239 F.3d at 1023 (financial benefit exists where ability to infringe increases draw of service).
MDY’s distribution of Glider violates the DMCA’s bans on trafficking in
technology that circumvents: 1) access controls to copyrighted works; and 2) technological measures that protect the rights of a copyright owner.
Blizzard’s anti-cheat technology is designed to prohibit WoW users running “cheats,” “bots,” and other unauthorized programs in conjunction with WoW from accessing Blizzard’s copyrighted WoW content. This anti-cheat technology – sometimes referred to collectively as “Warden” – is composed of two different software components. One component of Warden – “scan.dll” – scans for unauthorized programs before a user logs into the game and denies that user access to the game content, and prevents the user from copying WoW into RAM, if such a program is detected. The second, resident component of Warden runs periodically while a user plays WoW, patrolling the computer memory for signatures – telltale fingerprints – associated with known cheats, and revokes access to the game, and protects additional copyrighted portions
from being copied into RAM, upon detection.
All WoW players, without exception, enter into a valid and enforceable contractual relationship with Blizzard by agreeing to Blizzard’s EULA and TOU. To play WoW, users must view and demonstrate acceptance of the EULA and TOU at numerous times. Such “click-wrap agreements” are readily recognized as enforceable contracts. Altera Corp. v. Clear Logic, Inc., 424 F.3d 1079, 1092 (9th Cir. 2005) (software license agreements are valid contracts for purposes of a tortious interference claim); Davidson & Assocs. v. Jung, 422 F.3d at 639 (enforcing Blizzard’s clickwrap terms for its online gaming offerings). MDY was aware of these contracts, as Michael Donnelly personally assented to them in the creation of his own WoW accounts, concedes that he understood that all WoW users must agree to the EULA and TOU, and evidenced MDY’s knowledge of the terms repeatedly in information it posted on the Glider website.
MDY’s intent to interfere with the contracts between Blizzard and World of Warcraft users is plainly evident. “[I]ntent is shown by proving that the interferor either intended or knew that ‘[a particular] result was substantially certain to be produced by its conduct.’” Wells Fargo Bank v. Ariz. Laborers, Teamsters & Cement Masons Local No. 395 Pension Trust, 38 P.3d 12, 32 (Ariz. 2002), (citation omitted). Here, MDY offers no products or services other than Glider, which he concedes has no viable use other than with WoW. As described previously herein, use of Glider in conjunction with WoW violates multiple provisions of both the EULA and the TOU. See Section III.A.3, supra. Indeed, MDY admits that from at least September 2005, it knew Blizzard considered Glider use a breach, and MDY agreed it was proper for Glider users to be banned upon detection of their breach. MDY conveyed this understanding to Glider customers in his FAQ, but aggressively promoted Glider use nonetheless.
MDY’s own words and deeds likewise betray its ill motive. Donnelly’s email communications reveal that “[MDY] want[s] to make it bad business” for Blizzard to detect Glider, by making such detection as difficult and time-consuming as possible. MDY has acknowledged that botting has a negative effect on Blizzard’s goodwill with its users ─ “if the botting population becomes too big, other players become more aware of them and think badly about the game” ─ yet continued to push sales. (SOF ¶ 241). MDY has also encouraged using Glider for gold farming and related activities that threaten the integrity of WoW to the point that rule-abiding players have filed a class action seeking to enjoin them. Perhaps most tellingly, Donnelly concedes not only defeating Blizzard’s software detection, but also designing features and providing instruction to assist Glider users in avoiding being spotted by other WoW players. The reason — Donnelly takes it as given that most WoW players detest Gliders and would report them to Blizzard. (SOF ¶ 208-09, 238-41). In sum, despite knowing that Glider use is disliked by WoW players and Blizzard, MDY has nevertheless worked diligently to ensure Glider users can conceal their breaches from Blizzard and other players who might report them, thereby preventing Blizzard from enforcing its contracts and ridding its game of this destructive menace.
Blizzard has built an unparalleled reputation among gamers by striving to provide a gaming experience responsive to player demands, including their frustration with the presence of bots. These bots, left unchecked, sully the game experience in multiple ways, including destabilization of the in-game economy because Gliders devalue in-game items by accumulating them faster than game designers intended, and frustration of WoW’s immersive, interactive role-playing aspects by replacing human players with bots that do not converse or work with other players. When WoW players encounter these effects, Blizzard’s hard earned goodwill among its customers is undermined.
This harm is not speculative. On the contrary, WoW players have voiced their opinion on Glider loud and clear. Blizzard has received over 465,000 in-game petition reports from users citing bots in their complaints. The extreme frustration Glider use causes WoW Players, and the negative impact on Blizzard’s reputation, are evident from the tenor of the complaints, as the following examples demonstrate: — A player indicated s/he could not complete an in-game quest due to the presence of two bots and demanded “DO SOMETHING ABOUT WOWGLIDER !!!!!!!!!!!” — A user noted four “auto-farmers clearly using Glider” making it impossible for the user to play, and suggested s/he would quit the game if Blizzard could not stop players from using Glider. — Another user notified Blizzard s/he had cancelled his/her account out of frustration with players using Glider to “clear[ ] a quest area 3 DAYS NONSTOP,” making it impossible to complete in-game quests. — A WoW forum user commented on Glider’s destructive impact on group play, noting that “Everyone keeps asking for BG’s [Battle Grounds] to suck less. There’s a very simple solution: track down and delete Gliders.” The user concluded his post by saying “Seriously. Crack down on the botters. They ruin the BG’s. If I want to play with bots I’ll load up something like Battlefielld 1942 and play a bot match. Instead AV has turned into the 6 humans + 34 Gliders vs the same on other team . . . .”
Blizzard has also suffered, and continues to suffer substantial economic harm from the distribution and use of Glider in multiple forms.10 First, the undisputed evidence of record establishes that Blizzard has suffered $970,000 in loss per year as the result of the direct costs of bot enforcement and responding to user complaints about bots, and $2,425,000 in the two and a half years since MDY began selling Glider. Blizzard has also suffered approximately $10.5 million in lost subscription revenues resulting directly from Glider use.
At this point, Blizzard begins referring heavily to the Castronova expert report (.pdf) which is excerpted (also non-contiguously) below.
Although the direct loss to Blizzard is significant, most of the damages caused by Glider are felt as a result of its impact on players that do not use Glider. The game play experience of Blizzard’s average, TOU-abiding players is reduced as a result of Glider’s use. Relative to Glider bots, average players accrue experience, virtual goods and gold at a much slower pace. This makes the game appear unfair, decreasing the quality of game play and even driving players from the game. In fact, Blizzard has registered more than 300,000 user complaints that specifically reference bot usage.
This sense of unfairness in the leveling system Imposes two direct damages on Blizzard. First, it causes some current players to cancel or let lapse their subscriptions. Second, it hurts the reputation of the game, which lessens the chance that new players will buy the game.
It is important to note that players may sense unfairness in WoW’s
leveling system without realizing that Glider bots are the cause. From the perspective of the average player, all he knows is that there are other players who somehow have gained 20 levels while he has gained only 2 or 3. Is it difficult for another user to confirm that the players gaining levels at an accelerated pace are botting, so the average player concludes that either he must be an incompetent player or the system is balanced against him. Either way, he may quit the game and encourage others not to purchase it. The more than 300,000 botting complaints that Blizzard has received does not include complaints lodged by the many current and former players whose game experience was adversely impacted by bots, but did not know the reason for their less-than-perfect gaming experience. Unfortunately, there is no way to ascertain this number, or to quantify these damages. However, after researching Glider and the WoW gaming environment, I believe the financial damages suffered by Blizzard as a result of lost business are significant.
It is extremely difficult to design a game economy so that it functions efficiently. In the case of WoW, the in-game economy is based on a system of inputs and outputs. The inputs are virtual property, including in-game items (armor, weapons, potions, etc.) and virtual currency (WoW gold), both of which enter the economy in the form of treasure taken from defeated mobs. The vast majority of the time, what is found on these mobs includes both gold (or some lower denomination of currency such as copper or silver) and one or more resource items. The player can use the gold as a form of currency to buy things from other players or in-game vendors. The player can use the resources it receives to create more valuable items, or can sell (for gold pieces) or barter them. The sale of these virtual goods takes place directly from player-to-player or through a massive in-game auction system called the Auction House.
Blizzard designed WoW’s economy with the intent that a normal player, killing mobs as part of normal quests and adventures, will accumulate enough gold to purchase a reasonable package of useful items and services from other players. For example, a player might spend two hours completing a quest and pick up 6 gold pieces and one Essence of Water, a raw resource item. The Essence of Water item is designed as an ingredient for the production of several advanced items, including various armors. The armors are powerful and provide protection against some of the game’s toughest mobs. As such, many players seek out those armors, and the price they command in the Auction House is high. Because the armors command a high price, their ingredients, including the Essence of Water, command high prices as well. Accordingly, when a casual player picks up 1 Essence of Water, he is supposed to have picked up a fairly valuable item, one that Blizzard has intended to sell, for purposes of this example, for 6 gold pieces. All told, then, Blizzard’s design intent is for the casual player to earn perhaps 12 gold pieces in his hour of hunting — 6 gold in virtual currency and 6 gold in the form of key resources like Essence of Water. The effort that goes into designing this type of economy is significant.
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.
The second way that Glider farming bots damage the economy is
Many WoW players do not have the budget to pay for both the WoW monthly subscription and gold. At IGE.com, the smallest amount of gold one can buy is 300 gold, which currently sells for about $15. WoW’s typical monthly subscription fee is also $15. If, in order to play the game as intended, a player is forced to buy gold just once a month, this means that the player must pay an additional $15 per month, just to play the game the way it was designed. When players face a doubling of the monthly costs of playing, they must certainly consider quitting the game. When they do, their recurring subscription revenue is lost to Blizzard Entertainment.
Even should a player stay in the game and buy the gold, this heightens every perverse incentive analyzed in the previous section. If more players buy gold for real money, the price of gold rises, and there is greater incentive for botters to farm gold from the game. If botters farm more, the hourly gold returns of ordinary players fall, and the prices ordinary players have to pay in the Auction House rise. This creates further incentive to buy gold, which starts the cycle anew. In the end, Glider’s botters have so distorted WoW’s economy that players must buy gold to play at all. By distorting prices and Blizzard’s economic design, the botters have made themselves an integral and necessary part of the economy. This completely abuses Blizzard’s original intent and damages the economy and the game at the same time.
Moreover, when players continue to play in this manner, the $15 they would otherwise spend on an additional month of game play as Blizzard intended is instead diverted to third-party gold sellers.
Ordinary players, of course, cannot perceive this dynamic. Many
simply view the economy as broken, and appreciate the fact that gold merchants are there to sell them anywhere from 300 to 5000 or more gold if the price is right. Most do not make the connection that the gold is only available because of botters, and fewer still make the connection that the purchase is only necessary because of botters. Ordinary players suppose that Blizzard is at the root of the economy’s problems and distortions, and likely tell their friends as much. Moreover, many players cannot afford to pay Blizzard the subscription fee for the game and pay a great deal of real money to purchase gold pieces every month. Thus, this secondary, acceleration effect of botting drives away Blizzard’s customers, by making the game more difficult and more expensive to play than Blizzard intended.
Glider raises the cost of providing WoW in two ways. First, it raises
customer service costs by increasing the number of customer complaints, all of which must be addressed. Second, Glider forces Blizzard to create and constantly update detection and enforcement systems to catch and discipline players using Glider.
Customer service is a difficult and expensive job. WoW has hundreds of servers and thousands of GMs worldwide, all of whom command decent salaries. For every minute of GM time devoted investigating and solving a botting complaint, some other player is waiting an extra minute to get a legitimate game issue resolved. For every hour a forum moderator spends reviewing public forum complaints about botting, an hour is lost to the important job of discovering how players feel about legitimate issues. To date, Blizzard has received over 300,000 complaints about botting from customers. Millions of additional complaints have been received in
connection with issues of inflation, resource-hogging, farming and other issues that are likely tied directly to the existence of bots, but that players do not understand, or do not acknowledge, are connected to botting. These complaints damage Blizzard directly with respect to the cost of investigating and responding to those complaints and players that leave the game as a result of these issues. Blizzard is damaged indirectly to the extent that the reputation ofWoW and Blizzard suffers, and fewer players enter the game as a result.
Secondly, WoW commits real resources to fighting Glider’s bots technologically. It employs an entire team of programmers and investigators to identify bots and ban them from the game. This team engages in manual bot detection, coordinates with GMs that receive complaints, and deploys an array of sensor algorithms designed to identify characters who are acting like bots. Because of the risks of false accusation outlined above, these technologies must have an extremely low error rate. The labor devoted to designing these countermeasures and interpreting their results is substantial, and is yet another direct cost for Blizzard. Their time is valuable and expensive for Blizzard to hire.
WoW is a role-playing, fantasy game. When Blizzard sells WoW
subscriptions to the public, it is selling an immersive fantasy experience. Unfortunately, when Glider bots enter the picture, they remove the human element; bots cannot neither role play nor communicate effectively. This inability to maintain the fantasy, role-playing element destroys the immersive fantasy aspect for all players who encounter bots. Bots alter the essential character of the game, and severely damage the essence of Blizzard’s product.
To see this, imagine we were not talking about a video game but about an event in the real world. Consider the Baja 1000, a road race down the Baja peninsula. It’s an off-road event where teams of drivers rotate shifts to cover the distance in times that range from 12 to 30 hours. In principle, the race could be botted. Simply outfit the cars with robotic driving systems instead of real drivers. The advantage would be that it eliminates the need for rotating the drivers because of fatigue. As robotic driving systems gain sophistication, one could imagine that botted cars would regularly win the race. Anyone owning a car would then have to decide about drivers: human or robot? If the robots were good enough, and easy enough to implement, eventually everyone would have to put a bot in their car or have no chance of winning. So, following their individual self-interest, each owner would bot her car. But what would the race be at that point? Would it still be the same race that Ted Mangels and Vic Wilson won in their dusty Volkswagen in 1967? No. It would be a different race, a race among programmed cars. No one is interested in such a race. Thus, botting the Baja 1000 would cause the community of humans interested in the race to evaporate, and as a result it would destroy the race as it exists today.
Glider has exactly the same overall effect on WoW. Players who bot get ahead faster and earn more money. Glider makes it easy for anybody to bot. With the appearance and widespread adoption of Glider, all player incentives point to simply botting the character. It becomes a different game – World of Botcraft – one that few if any people would pay money to play. In this way, Glider has the potential to destroy WoW as we know it.
Studies of normal WoW players indicate that attaining the highest
level in WoW takes about 480 hours of play time.7 The casual player might be expected to average perhaps 2 hours a day playing the game, in which case the player would get to the top level in 240 days, or about 8 months. During those 8 months, the casual player pays Blizzard the monthly subscription fee of about $15. With Glider, however, a user can let his bot fight his battles for him, all day and all night; a Glider bot has the ability to run 24 hours a day. Using Glider, a player could get through 480 hours of play time in just (480/ 24) =20 days, or less than one month. Those missing seven months, in effect, are months of revenue that Blizzard loses, and constitute a direct loss for the company of (7 lost months) x ($15 per month) = $105 per Glider user.
With sufficient data and time, it would be possible to quantify many of the other costs of Glider to Blizzard Entertainment.
Readers can anticipate expanded coverage of this case going forward.
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