Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
How well does Blizzard defend its intellectual property?

Arkenor from Ark's Ark has an interesting post up on the new browser game World of LordCraft, which "borrows" artwork and design from Blizzard's World of Warcraft for a browser strategy game pitting Alliance vs. Horde. Or as they say themselves: "World of Lordcraft should be regarded as a fan game of WoW".

Arkenor thinks that the makers of World of Lordcraft are the same people who made Evony. And the makers of Evony are known for sueing bloggers. But I would guess that Activision Blizzard has a far bigger team of lawyers, and they might have objections against "fan games" making money based on Blizzard's intellectual property.

Thus we will see how well Blizzard is defending their intellectual property. Maybe they just don't care as long as the "fan game" is not a MMORPG, maybe they'll come down like a ton of bricks on them. Might be interesting to watch.

[EDIT: Today's news is that Evony dropped its libel case against blogger Bruce Everiss. Grats, Bruce!]
Blizzard's lawyers tend to favor the slow-and-ironclad approach. Bnetd, FreeCraft and Glider were successfully shut down and World of Whorecraft had it's name changed. One almost-identical precedent was WoW Island. I and Azeroth Metblogs covered it back in the day. It's long-gone now.
The term "fan" is outdated in the context of WoW. Any popular fan-based project will inevitably become commercial, because of the scale of WoW - the size of its player base, and the high expectations of those players. (Not to mention that everything about Lordcraft screams "cynical commercial" - development, concept, mass-advertising.)

Generally, Blizzard seem to have 3 criteria for becoming upset:

1. How much money is being made? Both regarding the expense/threat of legal action, and extent to which Blizzard's (potential) profitability might be being diluted.

2. How much do WoW customers (not) like it? For example, Wowhead may primarily consist of Blizzard's unlicensed IP, but is also regarded as essential by many players. (So Blizzard's approach has simply been to copy - which is another story.)

3. How much does Blizzard dislike it? They seem more relaxed about "quality" offerings (that match WoW), and things that don't cause them any hassle.

Lordcraft ticks all the (wrong) boxes.

But the wildcard here is surely China: Blizzard would not want to "rock" an already unstable boat, however strong they feel their copyright claim is. I suspect we may see a subtler approach adopted. For example, Wikia being told to stop running adverts for Lordcraft (if it wants to retain an "official fansite" status), and so on.
I would say that they don't defend it well at all. Take this line out of the EULA for example:

You agree that you will not, under any circumstances [..] in whole or in part, copy, photocopy, reproduce, translate, reverse engineer, derive source code from, modify, disassemble, decompile, or create derivative works based on the Game

That line gets violated by fans ALL the time. Every Machinima video ever made violates it. Wowhead and Thottbot both violate it. Even many addons which have decompiled the .MPQ and used the embedded files and interface scripts violate it.

So it seems to me that the greater history is that Blizzard doesn't enforce it's IP. In fact, they are really quite selective about it.
Blizzard burrowed a bunch of things from Everquest and DaoC, does that make them intellectual bandits? But this Lordcraft, this is a joke.
I really think that Blizzard doesn't do much to defend its WoW IP because they simply make so much money from their huge number of subscribers. They must surely be "losing" a percentage of cash through IP violations, but the expenditure of resources to pursue action against the "offenders" must surely not be worth their effort.

Also things like this (as well as others not mentioned here such as the huge private server market) are a form of advertisement and probably actually help to keep interest ongoing, possibly resulting in more subs or renewals at least.
Blizzard is probably not eager to get into these suits because it sort of exposes how derivative their own IP is. I mean, Warcraft itself was essentially a reskin of Warhammer; they only came up with Warcraft when the deal to buy the Warhammer IP fell through. If it was ok for them to change one word for their product, why isn't it ok for these guys to change one word? (BTW, there was a "World of Warhammer" book that came out long before WoW).

So basically Blizzard would be setting themselves up to create a precedent that would work against them. The monetary benefit of shutting down some lame ass browser game (which would be virtually none) has to be weighed against the legitimate concern they would be setting themselves up to get cornholed by Games Workshop, or whoever they decide to get inspiration from next.
Thought of this on the way home--- if Blizzard loses it would set a precedent for how far you could safely go in ripping off video games.

If they win, they set themselves up for lawsuits for all the ripping they did.

Odds of any significant monetary gain? None.

Actual losses caused by game? None.

Possibility of screwing yourself win or lose? Yes.

Sounds like a bad idea to sue them to me. All downside, no upside.
Grats Bruce.

For him to be tried in Australia was a travesty of international justice, I hope this case leads to legislative action against jurisdiction shopping.
What you have here is the inevitable East meets West design philosophy, and the spread of the vile Microtransaction based revenue scheme.

This gets back to your earlier post about globalism and embracing the culture surrounding game design. Would Blizzard be seen as the evil media company in your eyes if they did, in fact, pull out all the stops in enforcing their IP rights internationally in a case like this?
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