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The Lawbringer: Paying for addons and the spirit of the TOS

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, 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?

A long, long time ago, I can still remember the article I wrote at the beginning of my time here at WoW Insider called What happed to TourGuide?, an article detailing the disappearance of beloved addon TourGuide and the sale of World of Warcraft leveling guides. I had questioned whether these guides went against the stated addon policies Blizzard had laid out, which expressly forbid addons for sale or paying for addon access. It was not well received in those circles.

Addons have been brought down or have had the Blizzard gaze upon them for less than being sold on a website for a nice chunk of change. Why then does this new crop of leveling guides and automatic gold making addons (which I will not be linking) get an apparent free pass? Why haven't we seen Blizzard take action against for-pay, in-game gold automators and leveling guides? What is it inherently about the for-pay addons that makes them permissible?

Kevin spurred this whole discussion with an email about a particular gold-making addon that people have to charge to get.
Hi Mat,

Me and a few friends have been having a little discussion lately after we found out about a addon that is for the auction house that require you to pay to use it. our understanding was that if you are required to pay for a addon it is against the ToS, this is why even though guides like Zygor's come with addons, the addons themselves are still available for free your paying for the guide and addons like carbonite went to a donation model as opposed to being payed for.

Many thanks,

Kevin
There are a few things at work here with for-pay addons that contribute to "acceptance" of these specific addons. You have to ask yourself what is actually being paid for, as well as what is or is not permissible under the addon policy. You can read the Blizzard UI policy on the official forums. Let's go from relevant provision to relevant provision and figure out why Blizzard hasn't expressly forbidden for-pay guides and automatic gold making services that you pay to use.

Free of charge

1. Addons must be free of charge. All add-ons must be distributed free of charge. Developers may not create "premium" versions of add-ons with additional for-pay features, charge money to download an add-on, charge for services related to the add-on, or otherwise require some form of monetary compensation to download or access an add-on.
This provision of the policy is actually aimed at addons offering premium versions of their addon, much like how Carbonite was accused of created a free version and a better, more robust, for-pay subscription addon. However, look at the rest of the policy -- charge for services related to the addon. While you are not technically paying for the addons that comprise the purchased guide, since profiteers will hide behind the notion that you are paying for information or the data that goes into the guide, you are still paying for a service related to the facilitation of the addon's stated purpose. Downloading, updating, and installing addons as well as furnishing them with the information from a third-party program running alongside WoW is paying for a service related to an addon that you have installed, violating the policy.

Completely visible
2. Addon code must be completely visible. The programming code of an add-on must in no way be hidden or obfuscated, and must be freely accessible to and viewable by the general public.
This provision is a semantic overload. Sure, the addon's code is required to be revealed and freely available, but the information fed to the addon is not mentioned. If a third-party program running outside of WoW or layered on top of the game is still running and interacting with the game and is charged for, that information should be freely viewable, yes? While it is not the programming code of the addon, surely you would think that many things would fall under the spirit of this policy, right?

Abiding by WoW's terms
7. Addons must abide by World of Warcraft TOU and EULA. All add-ons must follow the World of Warcraft Terms of Use and the World of Warcraft End User License Agreement.
Here's the kicker policy for me with these for-pay addons and guides. First of all, these for-pay gold making services advertise themselves as addons, playing to players' understanding and built-in connnotations of what the word addon means, fully aware that they believe addons to be acceptable in WoW in this capacity. But let's look at two specific pieces of the Terms of Service:
A. use cheats, automation software (bots), hacks, mods or any other unauthorized third-party software designed to modify the World of Warcraft experience;

C. use any unauthorized third-party software that intercepts, "mines," or otherwise collects information from or through the Game or the Service, including without limitation any software that reads areas of RAM used by the Game to store information about a character or the game environment; provided, however, that Blizzard may, at its sole and absolute discretion, allow the use of certain third party user interfaces;
If these guides are authorized pieces of third-party software that run alongside the WoW client, by all means tell me that they are, Blizzard. Warden already runs alongside WoW, monitoring the use of third-party programs during your gaming experience, so detecting these for-pay guides and addons, if they are using third-party, out-of-WoW software, should be an easy thing to do.

"Modify the World of Warcraft experience" is an intentionally vague phrase allowing the Terms to cover a greater spectrum of issues that crop up. If these guides and automatic gold making programs advertise themselves as addons and run third-party software alongside WoW that acts as a service to provide the player and the game with information that it computes to effect the game experience for players, then why is this tolerated?

Blizzard's team sent messages to the creators of Tukui because of beta versions of the UI replacement addon was behind a premium pay wall on the site. And yet players can plunk down 40 bucks for an "addon" that auto-updates, downloads and installs other addons into the WoW interface directory for a fee, feeding the player information as a service alongside a third-party program.

This isn't about semantics or wordplay anymore. Most of what I've done for a living has been all wordplay and semantics. I talk for a living. However, there is a factor in all of this that people might be forgetting -- the spirit of the law. The spirit of these policies lies firmly in the fact that Blizzard does not want players to feel as if they have to pay to get the best experience out of WoW outside of the monthly subscription fee. The fairness doctrine of MMOs is in full effect here, and addons are part of that. Paying for a guide or gold making addon, despite how ironclad the wording, is to skirt the addon policy and the Terms of Service and should be fought against. It is against the very spirit of the rules set up by the creators of the game.

Or not. It's your money to spend. I guess I just want clarification.

Fake money or real money?

@UberBryan on Twitter had a great question about Blizzard using real dollars instead of some type of company currency like Turbine Points or Riot Point (for League of Legends):
@gomatgo why does blizzard use dollars for it's cash shop instead of company scrip like almost all other developers? ie turbine points
For the Diablo 3 real-money transaction auction house, Blizzard chose to go with real money instead of some kind of middle currency because of the nature of the exchange it wants to be making. This is not about revenue generation in terms of providing items for a price, but rather about supplanting an already established marketplace with a similar, yet safer, version.

When game companies want to set up a revenue model where an intermediary currency is used to purchase items from a store, as League of Legends does, making batch currency purchases make sense because you buy points to spend in a store and then purchase more when you need them. With Diablo 3, Blizzard is not trying to build a store where you purchase items. Rather, the Diablo 3 auction house is intended to replace the already huge marketplace for Diablo items out there in the grey market, where cash transactions run rampant outside of Blizzard's control and outside of Blizzard's granted rights as per the Terms of Service.

Real cash is used because real cash is used on the gray market. It has nothing to do with the amount of money being made or even the rules necessary to make the whole thing work. It has to do with the nature of the system Blizzard is intending to supplant and also to pay for running Diablo 3's massive infrastructure.

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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