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The Lawbringer: No, you can't sue Blizzard over the Dance Studio

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?

Imagine, if you will, a time long ago. A time before we cared about dual specs, Ulduar, Sartharion, and the rest. Back before hard modes and vehicle fights. I speak of that fabled time at the end of The Burning Crusade, when Kil'jaden was reentering the world through the Sunwell and there was something about a girl and some manga ... There was a lot of supplemental reading. Wrath of the Lich King was announced, and we were all excited.

One of the more community-jolting announcements during the Wrath of the Lich King launch trailer related to new character dances. Since then, the Dance Studio has become a legend in its own right, being called everything from the second coming of the WoW messiah to a dumb waste of time for designers and developers who could be working on more "important" projects. Some people believe it will never come, and others still hold onto embers of hope.

As I said last week, email topics come in batches. Everyone seems to have the same idea for a question at the same time, apparently. People are passionate about the Dance Studio and their game of choice; here's the email that got me started on this topic, however wacky it may be.
Hello Mat,

I was having a discussion with a few fellow guildies and the issue of the "dance studio" came up. I wondered if there would be the possibility of a class action suit against blizzard for not including this content.

I was a Star Wars Galaxies player back when the "NGE" debacle happened, and one of the major things that happened was that the "Trials of Obi Wan" expansion pack was sold to players both digitally and in boxed format with features that were promised but either not delivered or removed from the game. Sony was hit with a lawsuit and players were offered a refund of the price of the expansion pack.

I understand the dance studio is considered by many to be an unimportant, if not laughable addition to the game. But my point is, if it was on the box and promised with the expansion pack...just like in sony's case...then blizzard should have included it. We are now 1 expansion past Wrath, plus several content updates...when updates are being made to player characters and hairstyles, it gets harder to justify blizzards defense of "we're working on it"

Thank for all you do, love the columns, and the show.

[Name: REDACTED]
Garrosh-US
The tale of the Dance Studio

Wrath of the Lich King was announced on the opening day of BlizzCon 2007 with a machinima trailer much like the patch trailers that had come before it. In this trailer, adventurers in Northrend faced insurmountable odds, showed off the death knight class, and flashed new additions to the game on screen. One of these slides said "New Dances." Players flipped their collective lids.

Since then, the hairstyles portion of the customization promises has been delivered. The barber shop was an exciting and necessary character customization option in WoW, which was long considered the loser in the MMO genre in choosing how your character looks. With new dances, players would be able to add a unique spin to their race of choice, presumably for a fee or an achievement.

Time passed, and so did the priority of the Dance Studio. Players asked, and Blizzard assured players that it was there, lurking in the darkness, still living and breathing but not ready for prime time or even high on the priority queue. As Wrath development ended and the monumental task of remaking the world with Cataclysm began, the Dance Studio was again pushed into the recesses of fringe development.

Trials of Obi-What?

Back in 2005, Star Wars Galaxies was still kind of a big deal, although not as big of a deal as it was initially. The draw of a Star Wars MMO was huge but well before its time, as the game SOE created was, in a way, too high concept for a genre just entering into its "teen years." Trials of Obi-Wan, the third expansion for Star Wars Galaxies, came after sweeping changes during the Jump to Lightspeed expansion pack. The sweeping changes were not finished, however, and soon after Trials of Obi-Wan released, Sony upended the entire game's systems and character development, changing everything from the ground up.

Players who had purchased Trials of Obi-Wan were dismayed and angry that the game they purchased in the box was not the game that Sony had promised, since the entire experience was changed dramatically since the expansion launched. Players fought Sony on the issue, and eventually, Sony offered refunds for people who had asked to be repaid. This was also around the time that many players left the game, leaving planets empty and a game in decline. Sony was not sued to completion or judgment and was not forced to give anyone their money back.

The issue people had with the release and then subsequent incredible changes was that Sony had materially altered the game that was supposed to come in the box. The game you bought was not the game you got, for the most part.

Dance like you want to win it

Blizzard announced through interviews after the BlizzCon that the new dances would be implemented by the creation of a Dance Studio and that the feature was being developed for Wrath of the Lich King but would not make it into release. As we fought across Northrend, time still passed. Even in 2010, we were reporting that the Dance Studio was "still on the list" and that it would be launching after Wrath came to a close.

You're not going to be successful suing Blizzard over the Dance Studio, nor do I think anyone should even be that upset over the thing. The fact is that it all comes down to whether it's reasonable to hold the belief that the Dance Studio was essential to Wrath and Cataclysm and whether the exclusion of the Dance Studio materially altered World of Warcraft enough that you didn't get the game you paid for.

Advertising new dances

It's no secret: One of the advertising points used for Wrath was new hairstyles and dances for characters. The fact that new dances would be in the game was potentially one of the reasons you bought the game. It's a pretty fun customization feature, after all. Amazon's product description for Wrath of the Lich King still includes this bit:
The pack presents the first Hero class and allows you to transform your Death Knight's look with character customization that even include hairstyles and dances.
Plus, as stated before, "New Dances" was in the original video, so one would assume that, baring some catastrophic or cataclysmic event, new dances would be added into the game. Because, really, who would put "New Dances" in a video and not have any new dances ready to go?

Maybe that's where the player attachment comes from. Since the Dance Studio was for all intents and purposes "on the box" through official releases and such, players had come to expect something announced. The Dance Studio is not the first feature MMO developers have promised and not delivered. Players, in their fervor for more information and any details about an anticipated time, sometimes forget that announcing features in an MMO is a deadly game of what can and cannot be accomplished at any given time. Maybe this is one of those situations where a compromise has to be made between promises being made that can't be kept and a community that has a bit of patience in regards to systems implementation?

Blizzard hasn't said it is out of development

The nature of MMOs is known to us as MMO consumers. Features rise and fall like the sun. In fact, MMO developers hate talking about future features because the way they are implemented is usually far and away different or changed in remarkable ways from when they are original pitched and planned. The development process is full of roadblocks, problems, implementation issues, and more. It is, for lack of a more flowery phrase, the nature of the beast.

Features just don't make it in. Mythic Entertainment promised three grand home cities per faction when Warhammer Online was announced and had to scale back to one each due to time constraints. Was that a material change to the game's promise? The problem with game development is that whatever you say or announce has to have some caveat attached that gives you, the developer, the right to remove features due to whatever issue. If the feature removed is what sold people the game, then maybe they have the right to want their money back. Team Fortress 2 without the multiplayer advertised as having the best multiplayer would probably be more of a material change than WoW without the Dance Studio.

Plus, Blizzard hasn't said the Dance Studio is gone. Sure, it jokes about it in April Fool's gags (and probably have awesome internal jokes), but the fact remains that the Dance Studio is still on someone's list. That list could belong to Denny the intern, whose job it is to keep a list of stuff that will never happen -- but it's still a list that has development attention. We currently have a Schrödinger's Dance Studio, where outside of Blizzard's walls, the Dance Studio exists and does not exist at the same time.

Cataclysm culprit

Do I really need to talk about Path of the Titans and how this monumental character progression path was going to be the next big thing? Players would use archaeology combined with an alternate advancement system to grow their characters in unique ways. Each character roll would get to add neat modifiers to abilities and earn new bonuses to the already existing systems.

It was a bloated mess by the time it was removed, but Path of the Titans was a prominent character advancement feature that was more material to the game's content than the Dance Studio ever was. It was removed with a bit of community backlash, but people largely forgot about it once the new glyph system was introduced and archaeology actually fell into people's laps.

Reasonable? Material?

It's fun to entertain questions like "Can I sue Garrosh for ruining the Horde?" or "Why can't I sell my account to a llama?" However, we've all got it in our heads that the restitution we are owed is through lawsuits. A lawsuit over fraud or false advertising over a immaterial part of a video game with thousands of moving parts is not going to go anywhere. The real way to get Blizzard's attention over the Dance Studio, if that is your cause, is to press the company on the issue. At this point, it is not about rules, regulations, or laws, but rather about promises that MMO developers make to their audiences and consumers. Make the cause about that, if anything.

The best argument for being owed a Dance Studio is that it was right there, in our faces, when Blizzard wanted to show off the next big thing in WoW. Player customization options were about to explode, and new dances were a powerful commodity.

Dance Dance Resolution

So, there you go. The Dance Studio may or may not come out any time soon, and its implementation will probably be leaps and bounds different from whatever Blizzard drew up on a white board in a meeting room that one fateful day. The model animators might have run into a snag that killed development for some time, or new issues cropped up that took people off of one project and put them on another. We don't know why these things happen. But what we do know is that there is a list, and the Dance Studio is on it.

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@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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