Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 21, 2013
 
An unpopular opinion

I'm not writing this blog to be popular. I'm writing what I think without particularly trying to be either popular, nor controversial on purpose. But I know that on one particular subject my opinion is always rather unpopular: Intellectual property. I make my living in research, and if there was no intellectual property protection, I would be out of a day job. Thus contrary to the general anything goes attitude on the internet, I am for intellectual property protection and against intellectual property theft (or piracy, or whatever other word you want to use for it).

Now I've noticed that more and more blogs are writing about private servers for MMORPGs. Usually the argument is that the official servers have some set of new rules, while the private servers have some set of older rules which some people like more. But in my opinion that does not justify running a private server or playing on one. Playing on private servers hurts the people who developed the game you love. It robs them of a part of their living. And it decreases the chance that they will have the money necessary to improve the game you love further, or make an even better game. That is why I think that playing on a private server is morally wrong.

Apparently I'm not totally alone with that point of view. MMORPG.com shut down the discussion of an editorial of theirs discussing a private UO server. They have rules prohibiting the discussion of private servers on their site, and that is a good thing. If you are nostalgic, lobby the game companies for servers with old rule sets. Don't use that as an excuse to participate in intellectual property theft.

Comments:
UO is a fairly open-and-shut case, because the original authors are still alive and working on the same IP. But what's your stance on abandonware or other types of works with unreachable/unknown rightsholders? Life + 70 years is a loong time in IT, and the original media might have decayed by the time it becomes free to use.
 
I make my living in research, and am required to make my work available free of charge to anyone (due to our funding). I also would wish that MMO companies would license out or make custom servers available, so people can play with custom rulesets ... sadly they would rather shut down their services before licensing.
 
"If you are nostalgic, lobby the game companies for servers with old rule sets. Don't use that as an excuse to participate in intellectual property theft."

I don't disagree with the second part, but let's be honest - the first part is a false option because no company is ever going to agree to run two separate versions of the same MMO. Maintaining old code that your company set aside years ago is prohibitive. When progression servers are offered at all, they are offered under the modern ruleset. The truth is more that if you are nostalgic for an online title, you are out of luck.
 
no company is ever going to agree to run two separate versions of the same MMO

How are existing EQ progression servers NOT "two separate versions of the same MMO"?

I don't expect them to put the old bugs back in, but if for example Blizzard ever made a WoW progression server, I would very much expect Molten Core to be a 40-man raid.
 
I think custom servers for MMORPGs are never going to be too much of a problem compared to other IP violations. They lose the network effects and they lose (unless they rewrite) the server code which controls monster behaviour and such. They are unlikely to have the resources to provide a good experience.
 
Nobody bothers to read the blog of a parrot.

As for private servers, they're usually there for nostalgia reasons just like an open source client which uses the original data files of game still require a license is usually a nostalgic game. Many of the people who want to experience TBC have quit WoW, and even if they didn't they could play side on side.

The problem of the argument is that you take a moral stance on IP whereas a lot of people are neither for nor against IP; it just depends on the situation. There is a big difference between the opponents ("anything goes") and the grey area in between the 2 extremes e.g. "there are exceptions".
 
"UO is a fairly open-and-shut case"

If it an open-and-shut case why are there private servers that have been running for 5+ years with player populations that are near/better than EA servers?

I'm torn on the morality of emulators, so much so that I have an active UO account and I have been dabling with RunUO lately trying to build a Moria/Rouge like game. I would love to see the private server players on live servers and not be the only person at west Brit bank - but it's not going to happen until UO supports a free to play model. Let's be honest - that's the major driving factor of private vs. live. I highly doubt more than 5-10% of private server players actually donate to their server maintenance.

RunUO is pretty amazing in the fact that it is open source using C#. It's a great exercise in game server development and scripting. I imagine a lot of people have gotten into development because of it and that is a good thing.

 
Three words: licensed private servers.

This way, everybody wins.
 
If you are nostalgic, lobby the game companies for servers with old rule sets.

I'm not a fan of intellectual property theft, either, but is there any chance in hell that any imaginable campaign could keep many -- or even a significant number -- of old rulesets available? This is a world where we can't even keep City of Heroes or Glitch online. They've existed for Everquest, but I don't think EQ2 used the same concept, or is likely to. In modern MMOs, they're exceptions to the rule. World of Warcraft isn't exactly rushing to push out a pre-Cata server, or level 60 Molten Core raider server, and to be honest, I can't blame them.

You might as well argue that we should lobby for changes to intellectual property rights until private servers aren't theft, if we're describing the impossible.

((There's a bit of a problem here in that there is no good answer: no compromise position exists that is acceptable to either party, and changing the reasons for the stalemate is outside of the power of relevant parties. People don't like 'tough cookies' being the answer.))
 
In my Pov, that is a weird reasoning, how do you feel about fan fiction then?
Since that is stealing the property if the original authors?
In my eyes, you can have as much fun as you like on private servers. I've never been, but I understand that there rearly is much fun to be had on private servers.

As a given I assume that people who play on private servers still pay their fees on the game. Maybe that is where we differ
 
"How are existing EQ progression servers NOT "two separate versions of the same MMO"?

I don't expect them to put the old bugs back in, but if for example Blizzard ever made a WoW progression server, I would very much expect Molten Core to be a 40-man raid."

My understanding via Wilhelm (who has actually played on the progression server) is that you're looking at the modern EQ1 client with content locked out using the existing technology that flags people for access to individual expansion content. This means more than just bugfixes.

Molten Core is available as a 40-player raid on the live servers today, but 40 players under 2013 version 5.2 rules make the content trivial. Of course, that solution won't even work for WoW because of how much content has been removed from the game - a "classic" server would have to revert back to 2.X or earlier with a separate client install from the base game.
 
Honestly, when a private server running without access to the full code and (maybe) even managed by hobbists manages to actually be *competition* for the new version of the game it's clear that there is a problem. And it's not a problem with IP......

A bit like pirate version of games offering a *better* experience than the originals.....

 
Tobold,

Not sure this is on topic, but I am not at all sure that your opinion is particularly "unpopular". Energetic dissenters are always more vocal than the tired majority, but I still believe that a solid majority of the population (of the countries that make up the bulk of your readership) share your view.

Of course, it all comes down to the way the questions are asked. "Do you download films from the internet?" may yield entirely different indications than "Do you think filmmakers have a right to get paid for your enjoyment of their films?".
 
I agree with Ephemeron...

Give people an avenue to compensate the company if they plan on using a private server. This isn't even an option, its just a plain NO.
 
I agree with some parts of your post.

I agree that private servers are illegal. No amount of rationalizing, arguing etc changes that. The original owner of an IP has the ultimate right to determine what the future of that IP should be and if they want to do something unpopulare or even detrimental to they own interest they should be able to do so.

What I strongly disagree with is that the existence of private servers hurts the original developers. There is no proof for that. All of your reasoning is based on the incorrect application of basic logic: That if A leads to B then not A leads to not B. No. It is not like that at all.

There is no proof that they lose paying customers that way or that that the fame or reputation of the programmers, managers or staff developing a widely pirated MMO would suffer at all. I think people playing on private servers don't want to play on a real server because the real server does not serve their needs. If there were no private server they would do something else.

Again I don't question your statement that private server is a kind of theft. I just disagree with your sentiment that it is theft because it actually causes damage. It is theft because it breaks the law not because it is damaging.
 
I think there is a significant difference between private servers of operational MMOs and private servers of canceled MMOs.

Private servers for canceled MMOs are the only way for people to experience that world/community they were a part of. It is the only way to use the client software they purchased.

I think canceled MMOs is one of the things that is hurting the industry right now. There are many other factors as well, of course, and I don't think this is the biggest one, but I still think it is a factor.

People are becoming a little more gun shy and a little more hesitant to try out an MMO because if they fall in love and the devs cancel it, they are screwed.
 
Do you actually know of any private servers for a cancelled game? I was under the impression that the MMORPGs most likely to have private servers are those that are most popular to start with.

There is no proof that they lose paying customers that way or that that the fame or reputation of the programmers, managers or staff developing a widely pirated MMO would suffer at all.

Well, if they lose paying customers, the company obviously loses money, pays less bonuses, fires people, doesn't develop new games, or even shuts down. Fame doesn't come into it.
 
If you want a '69 Porsche, you'll shell 100k for a pretty good one. You cant lobby Porsche to start making them again.

Using the analogy, if you want an UO server using the old ruleset, you have just one option - a private server. It violates IP but it's no different than a 19-year old drinking bear. Lets not make it bigger than it really is.

When it comes to old rulesets, you cant argue the company is losing customers. In fact, the same guys that are passionate about an old ruleset could be customers of the new set as well.

In short, you could have a '69 Porsche sitting to your brand new 2013 Cayman.
 
I agree with you, in the case of games which are still up and running, such as the aforementioned UO.

I can't honestly agree that there's anything wrong with running a pirate server for a closed-down game, though, such as SW:G.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Tobold, I work in research myself and my company is (rightfully, with current laws) strict with IP protection; I also do advocate respect for existing rules. Yet, I don't like the whole idea behind IP: I don't like my freedom to learn and share to be subject to NDAs, I use open source software whenever available, whereas a great deal of my work is a Pulcinella's secret to anyone in my field.
I am sincerely appalled at most famous disputes, e.g. Apple vs Samsung, as I find patenting ideas such as touch gestures utterly ridiculous. Yet, these companies make a living out of producing goods that are guaranteed by laws to be unique in their own way. My very job is bound to the existence of the same laws.
To get to the point, I do understand why IP exists; I don't like the way it is implemented (companies ought to get the chance to get an "approval" seal by IP protection bureaus before launching their new products, before discovering they have to pay a billion dollar fine for instance; I should be able to know what the software in my PC really does; any product that is no longer developed/supported/sold - e.g. "vanilla" WoW should no longer be restricted - within reasonable limits; etc.).
While I agree that there is no excuse for breaking laws (you can at best try and chanfe them), I do advocate for more transparency on behalf of companies and protection of customer rights (Amazon should't be able to lock access to ebooks I lawfully bought because of a pirated one; actually, there should be no such thing as licensing books or music instead of buying, like one would do with a physical good such as a book or record).
 
Clearly, EA could easily make a case against any RunUO server that is using even one digital asset of their game. Note that some shards have nothing to do with the original game anymore, custom graphics, gui, sounds, design etc.

The fact is that EA can barely be bothered to keep the official UO servers running and tolerates the RunUO servers. That may weaken their position (I'm not a laywer) but since UO is peanuts in EA's shop, I doubt anyone at EA cares about that.

IP should be protected, if the owner so wishes. EA doesn't, so UO emulation is fine - until someone at EA changes their mind.

As a side note, I do think that the efforts to extend the protection timespan more and more (Disney) and to reduce the qualifications for protection further and further (software/idea/iPatents) need to be checked. Patent lawsuits and war chests are out of control and proportion.
 
There are a number of private servers for Star Wars Galaxies, which was shut down for the launch of TOR.

SO I'm curious, do you feel the same way about games that were canceled?
 
The SWGemu project is fully legal. Non-SWG employees scripted every line of code that runs on that server. The only shared assets are client side, and since I bought a copy of the (now useless) client its mine to do with as I wish.

SOE killed the good out of that game with NGE and CU. I don't have a single ethical qualm with hardworking fans reviving the game for enjoyment by a modern audience.

These are the same fans that would have played SWTOR for a decade if it had been worth a shit, but it wasn't. You cannot blame fans for wanting a different experience when the MMOs we play today are inferior to what we had over a decade ago.
 
"If you want a '69 Porsche, you'll shell 100k for a pretty good one."

...or you could just steal one. Or steal the blueprints and create one. That's always an option. It might not be as good an experience, but nostalgia overrules legality.
 
"If you want a '69 Porsche, you'll shell 100k for a pretty good one."

...or you could just steal one. Or steal the blueprints and create one. That's always an option. It might not be as good an experience, but nostalgia overrules legality.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Do you actually know of any private servers for a cancelled game? I was under the impression that the MMORPGs most likely to have private servers are those that are most popular to start with.

========================

SWG has them.

I know Earth & Beyond has a project and they made some progress and it was supposedly playable.

Tabula Rasa had a project but I don't think it ever got off the ground.

There is a big City of Heroes team that I hope is successful.

The thing that is hard about private server projects for a canceled game is that you don't have a live server to use as a source for solving problems as you discover them.

So if you don't learn everything you need to know in advance, you are hosed.

From a legal standpoint, private servers are the only way you can use the client software you (usually) bought.

From a moral standpoint, you aren't costing the game money since the game is gone. I don't see a problem with it.

-Michael Hartman
http://www.frogdice.com



 
Commenter - "The problem of the argument is that you take a moral stance on IP".... Hell no.

The IP is owned by somebody else, so it is theft. This is a totally black and white question, morals do not factor into it when it is illegal.
There are those who might try to mitigate the impact of that theft by saying the owner abandoned it, or they think the owner does not care, but really without confirmation from the owner - its theft.
I create software for a living and if it is stolen without compensation that affects me directly. Simple.
 
No, it is not theft, it is copyright infringement. Theft is dealt with by the police; copyright infringement is a civil law. Theft is when your car is stolen, and you miss your car. When your software is copied, you don't miss the original copy, which makes it copyright infringement. Its appalling how someone who claims he works in this field cannot even get such basic terminology right. It must be deliberate ignorance.

Now, where you and I differ is you say "copyright infringement is wrong and this is specified by law." I say, that's a black and white statement because there are exceptions where I find it very much justified (and I'm not talking about little Johnny downloading the latest LOTR on daddy's computer because I don't find it justified there). I'll give you an example where I find it justified. If I bought a VHS 30 years ago, and my video recorder is broken (or the VHS itself), then I find it justified to download this VHS from a torrent (or whatever) so I have a copy again. You may disagree, the law may disagree, but I find it morally justified. Now, as it turns to be, there is no way either you or the law would stop me doing that right now. There's a lot more and other examples like DRM from businesses who went south and they cannot authenticate anymore.

In fact, where is the copyright infringement when you develop a private server from scratch without copying any source code you're not allowed to? If done right there isn't copyright infringement (Google clean room implementation) it is at worst a breach of EULA; contract law (if the EULA is valid; local law is above EULA).

Where the moral stance is wrong is assuming there are no such exceptions as the above. By assuming this stance you get a discussion with all kind of exceptions (see above discussion).
 
I guess. My problem with Tobold's take on IP law is not so much his belief in IP, as it is what I see as rather simplistic takes on complicated economics problems.

I'm not entirely sure private servers really hurts the game, anymore than I think Star Wars fan fiction undercuts the sales of official Star Wars merchandise. Having a healthy and happy fan base is incredibly important. While I can imagine there are a few people who don't purchase the latest Star Wars official novel because they're happy with their fan fiction, for every person like that there's probably 100 guys who buy the novel because the fan fiction keeps them engaged with the franchise. Same thing with these UO private servers. Only people who really really like UO will get on these things. To the degree these private servers keep them thinking about UO I can only think that's ultimately good for the bottom like of UO.

Even if I were a as dedicated a fan of IP as Tobold, I would mind my own business on this front. If UO doesn't like these servers, it can issue a statement to that effect. Until it does I would feel uncomfortable usurping the ownership rights of UO's IP owners. Like George Lucas, maybe they've determined than keeping their avid fanbase happy is good for business.



 
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