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The Lawbringer: What does B(viii) even mean anymore?

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

Part B, section viii of the World of Warcraft Terms of Use state that players are not allowed to communicate directly with players who are playing characters aligned with the opposite faction. This makes sense for a game that has a heavy faction-based player versus player system, as well as a comprehensive achievement system with numerous milestones based on interaction with the opposing faction. However, over time, Blizzard's own actions and the ever-evolving customs of the community have made B(viii) something of a mystery. We communicate with the opposing faction moreso than ever today, in game and out. And while the Terms of Use makes the point that this communication is in-game only, one has to wonder where the forums and the player collusion that goes on there fits into Blizzard's understanding of cross-faction communication.

This week, The Lawbringer is all about player communication and, in light of B(viii), some issues regarding how such communications between the Horde and Alliance have either gone completely unnoticed, not cared for, or are even necessary and tolerated by Blizzard. At the end of the day, I'd like to find out for myself what B(viii) really means, and what something like Tol Barad win-trading does in the face of such a provision in the Terms of Use.

Cross-faction communication


We've been talking between the factions since the beginning of World of Warcraft. Actually, we've been talking between the factions well before the release of WoW, as shown in Mike Sacco's favorite screenshot ever (which I still cannot find) -- the undead lying in wait for his human victim, tricked into investigating a bridge where there is little to be found other than murder. Players have engaged in ridiculous amounts of trial and error to break the language barriers in World of Warcraft since the beginning, and customs sprang up around emotes and conduct that signaled player behavior and intent.

WoW isn't the first MMO to display this type of behavior. Back in Dark Age of Camelot, realm versus realm was the name of the game, and there was a code of conduct to initiate one on one duels with a member of the other factions without using words. Did you ever play multiplayer Jedi Academy and bow to people before duels because you couldn't communicate with them? If so, you know what it's like to deal with different types of custom.

Back when World of Warcraft was in beta, the undead Forsaken could speak common as their second language -- the same common that the humans of Stormwind spoke. After the griefing and insulting via undead characters got too hectic for Blizzard to deal with, gutterspeak was born.

What does B(viii) prevent?


It almost seems like a no-brainer in a game like World of Warcraft, doesn't it? Communicating with the other faction can potentially ruin game balance, disrupt player on player objectives, and give unfair advantages to the sides the communicate cross-faction the most successfully. You've been in a For the Horde! or For the Alliance! raid before that's been ruined by characters alerting the other faction. Even if you didn't know, someone probably spilled the beans on you before.

Really, it seems like B(viii) is in place to prevent a good amount of player griefing and insulting. By making cross-faction communication against the Terms of Use, Blizzard can blanket ban harassers who find ways to torment other players in an unacceptable fashion. Blizzard watches language and insults carefully, especially in public channels like the forums and general/trade chats in game, as we've seen in Moon Guard's case from earlier this year.

Breaking down the barriers

Over time, however, Blizzard and some of the in-game mechanics that have been introduced seem to not only tolerate cross-faction communication but also encourage it, against the very terms of use that Blizzard touts as the rules you game by.

Take, for instance, the Outland contested area of Halaa. For a long time, I posted on my realm's forum about trading kills with an Alliance friend or two to collect enough of the tokens from the long dormant Halaa for my two talbuk mounts. Since you only received a Halaa Battle Token from an honorable kill within or near the city, at level 80 you could not receive tokens by killing players who were level-appropriate in the area. Cross faction communication was a necessity in order to gain enough tokens to purchase the two talbuks post-Burning Crusade. Was this practice against the Terms of Use, even if it was a necessity in order to complete game content?

Speaking of the forums, player interaction between the factions is at an all time high, with PvP nights planned as well as scenarios of kill-swapping like I described above. While the Terms of Use do only govern in-game activity for the most part, a lot of the behavior could be extrapolated to deal with out of game content, especially the harassment issues. Blizzard is in charge of these forums, however, and has made no mention of cross-faction communication on the boards as being against the Terms of Use.

Real ID


Real ID is the true marker of these faction barriers falling. Friends can not only chat with their buddies playing any on any alt or faction, but even from Blizzard game to Blizzard game. The very game itself promotes cross-faction communication, flying in the face of its own Terms of Use. Again, the spirit of B(viii) lies in the harassment nature of cross-faction heckling, so Real ID doesn't truly fit in my observations. But it is interesting that the very game itself contains a powerful tool for cross-faction communication that Blizzard thinks is detrimental enough to the game to include in the Terms of Use.

The dangers of acquiescence

Here's the problem -- what happens when cross-faction communication and faction cooperation are made to be institutional against a Terms of Use that explicitly forbids it. There are two recent examples of faction coordination that have had and are still having some interesting effects.

Arena season 3 will go down in WoW history as a crazy time for PvPers. During the season, which lasted between November 28, 2007 and June 23, 2008, players would buy their way onto top ranked arena teams and, through a complex system of win trading with other similarly minded teams on the opposite faction, would get those buyers their arena gear and weapons. Eventually this practice was dealt with, and people even had their accounts suspended, arena points deleted, and gear and rating obliterated.

Arena season 8, right before the end of Wrath of the Lich King, was marred with scandal, win-trading accusations, and cheating just like season 3. There was, however, much less of a response about the season from the men and women in charge of the arenas. At this point in the arena system's history, teams are sponsored and notoriety is real. A system in which cheating and win-trading is so easy and, dare we say, accepted is a problem of fairness.

Lol Barad

Finally, Tol Barad has recently been hot-fixed because the defense of the island PvP objective was too easy compared to the attacking faction's win scenario. While the attackers need to capture all three objectives to win back the island, the defenders only need to stop this from happening. There's a lot more in the balancing of Tol Barad that needs to be changed, but that's not the issue we are discussing here today. Recently, Blizzard hot-fixed a change that grants the attacking team a huge 1,800 honor point prize if they manage to steal away Tol Barad from the defenders, in order to encourage attackers to fight the good fight for an amazing reward. However, this change has turned into an almost sanctioned win-trading epidemic that has killed the contested nature of Tol Barad.

Tol Barad win-trading has become rampant across all servers, and with good reason -- win-trading Tol Barad is the single greatest honor gain per hour in the game, well above any battleground or rated honor farming session. The interesting part of it all really is that the change seems like a temporary fix that is there to encourage the behavior that is going on -- Blizzard instituted win-trading.

The complaint from many people about Tol Barad was that the island was impossible to attack and therefore one faction was completely locked out of the dailies and benefits of controlling the island. Blizzard has seen fit to encourage both sides to trade off Tol Barad so that each side does get to participate in the dailies and content, while also reaping a huge honor gain. Soon we will be getting a proper blue post about the changes coming to the broken Tol Barad, but until then the win-trading will continue, seemingly flying in the face of the fairness doctrines of the Terms of Use and cross-faction collusion and communication.

Wrap it up

The Terms of Use are our rules and B(viii) seems like an antiquated piece of our hallowed rules. What purpose does this clause serve these days, when the forums are ripe with cross-faction colluding and communication and Real ID breaks down every boundary, even those between games? Has Blizzard instituted its own win-trading behavior into the game in order to facilitate "fairer" Tol Barad usage, and doesn't that fly in the face of player collusion and communication? I would love to know B(viii)'s purpose in a world where barriers barely exist.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wow.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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