The WoW Annual Pass is probably one of my favorite things ever to come from Blizzard. I'm going to be playing World of Warcraft for the next 12 months anyway, right? Now I've got a free mount, guaranteed access to the Mists of Pandaria beta, and a free copy of Diablo 3 waiting for me on release day. It doesn't get much better for a die-hard Blizzard fan like myself. This deal is so awesome that I wouldn't be surprised if more games were added to the bundle at some point in the future.
Many players have sent in questions to me about the legality of the commitment and how binding the 12-month commitment really is. What happens when you cancel your subscription to the WoW Annual Pass before your 12 months are paid for? What happens to your Tyrael's Charger, free copy of Diablo 3, and beta access? Where do these perks go if you fail to meet your commitment?
Here's one email from a reader who wants to know the skinny on the nature of the WoW Annual Pass:
Hey Mat!The answer is actually deviously simple, and the truth to how the WoW Annual Pass works lies in licensing and a commitment that isn't really a commitment. The truth is that you really aren't committing to anything, per se, with regards to the items you get to use or game licenses that you are granted. Nothing really actionable, anyway, unless after your commitment Blizzard doesn't give you what they promised. Your are still signing that contract, however, so if you're going to sign up for the Annual Pass, be ready to pay for it.
Quick question about the 1-year pass deal that's currently active: In theory, we shouldn't be able to break the commitment. In theory only, because, in practice, it's as easy as canceling a credit card.
In other words, the deal doesn't seem that binding. I haven't read the whole contract (booh me), but as far as I can gather, the only downside to stopping the payments is that Diablo III is no longer available.
Have I got this right?
What's really binding, per se
Here's how it works: I am making a promise to Blizzard that I will pay my WoW subscription for 12 months. I can pay that 12 months all up front with a 12-month subscription or pay monthly at the regular monthly rate. For my commitment, Blizzard will allow me the use of a license to Diablo 3 and allow me the use of a license of Tyrael's Charger. The player never owns a copy of anything, much like how we never own copies of our software now. This is the beauty of licenses. Blizzard sets the terms of which we use its products and services because we are only granted a license to do so.
Let's look at the relevant language from the WoW Annual Pass Terms of Service. Here's the paragraph on what happens if your payment lapses or you fail to make a payment during your 12-month commitment:
Provided that you fulfill the requirements stated herein, Blizzard Entertainment will: (i) Upon the release of World of Warcraft Patch 4.3.0 to the public EU World of Warcraft servers, add a Tyrael's Charger mount to your Account; (ii) upon the EU retail launch of Diablo III, add a standard edition Diablo III retail license to your Account, where you may download a standard edition version of Diablo III that corresponds with your country settings; and (iii) flag the Account so that you will automatically receive an invite to the beta test for the next World of Warcraft expansion product.When you are engaged in the 12-month commitment, Blizzard grants you a license to play Diablo 3 and a license to use Tyrael's Charger. That is Blizzard's end of the bargain -- the use of a license in a limited capacity. There is no ownership being transferred, no goods changing hands. Once your 12 months are up, you get to continue using those licenses. It is as simple as that.
So really there is less to the WoW Annual Pass than you think. You aren't signing a contract that will get Blizzard to knock down your door if you don't pay your WoW subscription that month. In fact, there really isn't anything terribly binding here at all. Everything you are committing to results in Blizzard granting you a license to use a product or service and nothing more. That promise is binding in the sense that Blizzard has sole rights over the Diablo 3 and Tyrael's Charger licenses and can revoke them at any time if you don't pay, so it is in your interest as a paying customer who wants to keep using those licenses to pay up.
Update: I wanted to include a quick update, just for the sake of clarification. The article was intended to answer the question of what happens to the stuff that you get if, for one reason or another, you cannot continue or do not continue the monthly obligation. If you sign up and commit to a year, obviously you're on the hook for a year, and varying countries will have their various rules which say one way or another. The bottom line is that while Blizzard has remedies available to it if you don't fulfill your commitment, the licenses and other goodies attached to your account are not something that has to be "returned" because you've never really owned them in the first place.
My fellow lawyers reading this article have been gnashing and scratching at their computer screens, waiting for me to talk about partial performance. Partial performance is when a party breaches a contract by only performing part of the stated obligations, but there is the potential for the breaching party to still collect on the part of the contract performed. For instance, if someone contracts with me to build him five houses and I only build three, I am still entitled to the costs of the three houses and payment for what I performed. Does this apply to the WoW Annual Pass, if I pay for a majority of the commitment but fail to make some payments? What am I allowed to keep? How much of the commitment do I have to perform in order to "pay for" Diablo 3?
The concept of partial performance does not apply to the WoW Annual Pass. Everything that is being offered for the 12-month commitment is extra to the base subscription cost of World of Warcraft. You are not putting in any extra money. The commitment to play for 12 months does not cost more because Diablo 3 comes with the package. Your commitment to pay also has no value, considering you can cancel that at any point as well. There is nothing here binding Blizzard from having to give you anything if you only perform your commitment partially. That's the beauty of the situation, isn't it? The costs are the same for you, and the only way that your licenses stay attached to your account are if you fulfill your commitment to Blizzard.
I hope this article helped clear up some of the mysteries of the WoW Annual Pass. Just think of it as a promise that you're making to Blizzard, and in return of the completion of the promise, you get these free licenses added to your account. You have no other costs to furnish -- just keep going on as you are going on. Your consideration in this case isn't really that expensive.
The future of the Annual Pass?
Personally, I'm a huge fan of these value-added services Blizzard is adding to commitments to yearly WoW time. It is the simplest and cheapest way to retain subscribers while providing the die-hard community with the freedom to not make a choice.
One day, I expect to see the WoW Annual Pass morph into the Battle.net Annual Pass, where a monthly fee gets you access to everything Blizzard has. Hopefully with the release of the Blizzard Battle.net Arcade, we will see some cool new tie-ins. Perhaps free heroes in Blizzard DOTA? Cool subscriber skins for StarCraft II units? More WoW pets and mounts? The sky is the limit, and it might not cost you extra at all.
Remember, if you've got a question for The Lawbringer, shoot me at email at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask me on Twitter (@gomatgo).
See you guys next week.
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 email@example.com.