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The Lawbringer: Mail bag 11

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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, and esoteroic topics that slip through the cracks.

I'll beat this dead horse until it rains horse pieces -- thank you all so much for coming out to the WoW Insider Show live podcast at PAX East. There was a lot of love in that room, especially for Lawbringer, which was a pleasant surprise. More people asked me about specific Lawbringer topics than anything else I write about, so you all must be enjoying something going on here.

Speaking of you, I've got a couple of emails that you sent in that I'd like to answer. Reading your reactions and opinions about the subjects of these articles is great in the comments, since there is instant gratification, but there is something about the delayed reaction and thoughtfulness of an email. I may not agree with you -- I usually don't agree with anyone, much less myself -- but I'll read what you've got to say.

The Secret World, redux

Our first email comes from a reader who has some great points about The Secret World's pricing plans and digital content being included in the various packages of extras available for purchase after preordering the game itself, which I wrote about last week. The problem with these points is that they miss my own personal point, the real point I was trying to make, about my issues with The Secret World.
Mat,

I am a bit curious how you came to the conclusion that Secret World's pre-order packages are a PR nightmare. The article you wrote read as if you were a bit misinformed about the perks that you get.

"such as a raven flying pet, high-end weapons for your character, and leather jackets for the game's factions, lifetime discounts to in-game items, and, with the biggest pack, a lifetime subscription to the service."

The pet is a social pet, like WoW companion pets.
The high-end weapons are high end low level weapons. It would be like if you WoW character started out with a lvl 1 blue. It is selling an advantage, but not one that breaks the game, it will be diminished to nothing shortly after starting. Same with the talismans. It would be like starting out in blues. It gives an initial advantage, one that will quickly diminish.
The leather jackets, like all in-game clothing, is purely cosmetic.
Discounts to in-game items - I do not know if they changed the text on their page, but again, it makes it clear this is a discount to "social clothing items," in other words no in-game advantage.
Lifetime subscription, lots of smaller MMO's trying to get their feet off the ground attempt to draw in quick dollars with lifetime subscriptions, I'm not sure what problem you have with it.

"Extra character slots ($9.99) and name reservations ($9.99) are also available before checkout."

They sell extra character slots and you have a problem with that? People have been lining up telling Blizz "Shut up and take my money!" for new character slots for years. They are finally doing it by giving out an extra slot if you buy Mists. The reasoning behind only giving 3 initial character slots is there are only 3 factions. That is pretty much the equivalent to how WoW gives 10 slots for 10 different available classes. If you think that is unfair and think you need more slots than what they gave you, they give you the option of buying more slots.
Name reservations are nice but not totally necessary. I plan on taking the one from the pre-order to get the name I want and that is it. Maybe some people have other names they desperately want for their character, and again the option is there.

So when all is said and done, there are a couple of early game advantages, some cosmetic upgrades, a few totally optional slot/naming options, and the chance at a lifetime sub. I am thoroughly confused as to the ire in your article. Were you aware of everything I just wrote but still outraged enough to write about it? Did you really look at Blizzard's model and think it was great and different enough to require an article complimenting it?

Pardon me for saying as much, but it seemed like an angry reactionary response to not liking the pre-order deals of TSW. I have to admit to by far preferring an opportunity at a lifetime sub than the opportunity to get a statue or an artbook. Others may prefer the physical objects, I prefer the option to not need to need to worry about my sub ever again, but I am not sure I am willing to gamble $200 on a game I have never played. But I like the option being there. Could you just clarify what was so terrible about their packages? As far as I can tell, you seem to be afraid that this is a "slippery slope," which is a fallacy and could just as easily be applied to WoW's business model.
Thanks for the email. Your email is primarily focused on the rewards themselves rather than the structure. My real issue with The Secret World's monetization is twofold. The first issue is not the actual rewards you get but the fact that it feels like double-dipping because everything is something you add on. Vanity pets, items that give slight advantages early on, mounts, discounts, whatever -- those are all things I've come to expect from MMOs. The rewards do not bother me. The way the shop is set up, however, does.

Why does this feel like double-dipping when Blizzard's virtual goods sales don't? Good question. It's a feeling mostly based on a sense of scale and focus. When I purchase WoW, I don't believe I am asked to add on lots of extras with my purchase, as if I'm checking out at GoDaddy after buying a domain name. Do you want to add this service? How about this feature? Check box check box check box.

Actually, now that I think about it, the actual double-dipping isn't the most offensive aspect of the whole thing. If Funcom had instead just priced the basic game at $40 to $50 and then had a Collector's Edition and Ultimate Edition offering different rewards for different price points, it would look exactly like any other MMO launch. Instead, Funcom made everything an extra instead of something you got as a gift or reward for purchasing a different version of the game. WoW does this right now, every expansion, since the dawn of the game.

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The second reason that The Secret World's pricing plans get under my skin is because of the same argument I hear about World of Warcraft and any other MMO that includes paid content in addition to that offered with a subscription: Where is my money going? For World of Warcraft, I know that most of my subscription money goes toward patch content and some toward mounts and pets in the Blizzard Pet Store. I know this fairly certainly because Blizzard releases pets and mounts at a snail's pace, holding back from a fully stocked Pet Store and holding on to the ideals of vanilla WoW, compared to other games that have opened up cash shops.

With The Secret World, I'm not about to make real guesses about subscription money and whatever percent where and yadda yadda. It's not the strongest argument to make, because game development is not as black-and-white as that. I'd rather talk about quantity and facts. Funcom developers have said that these virtual items will at some point be retired, and new packs and items will appear in the store. It is not know whether these items will be available again, forever, or just for the limited time in the store.

If these limited-time items are going to be a regular store occurrence with each content patch or even added on their own, it seems too much like an exclusive money grab that feels like a heavy part of the game. I expect a robust for-pay shop in a free-to-play game because that is the economy that keeps the game running. I expect a subscription MMO with a store to just make those items available and not have a rotating set of items that encourages paying on top of a subscription because of limited availability.

Again, it's all speculation. We don't know what the real thing looks like in practice because it's not out yet. People also think that my concerns about the monetization system reflect my opinions about the game, which is not the case. I've seen the game multiple times and still believe that it's one of the most compelling environments in the MMO genre in a decade.

Flouting the terms of service

Our next email comes from Justin, a reader who is annoyed and upset with account sellers flaunting the very fact that they can get around the Terms of Service.
Hey Mat -

I'm a fan of Lawbringer, and while I'm almost certain you've looked at this issue before, I found an ad for an MMO account sales service that seems to be proud of the fact that it can get away with..well..basically pooping on the ToS. For some reason, this is RIDICULOUSLY offensive to me. Just for fun, here's one of their posts in response to someone saying "is your website a scam?"

My question in this case is..is Facebook in any way liable for the fact that they are allowing such a business to advertise and maintain an account? Does Blizzard have any sort of legal recourse against Facebook? If I remember correctly (and in all honesty, I could very well be making this up and even Lawbringer itself is a figment of my imagination) the Lawbringer article that addressed account and gold sales had said that it's not technically illegal to do it, it was just against the WoW ToS, so they wouldn't have recourse against the sales site, farmers, or account levelers/sellers.

They advertised a "best in the world," which was a level 85 Orc rogue with Fangs of the Father and raid gear, which was "on sale" for $1699.00...normally $4999.00. What a deal! It kind of made me sick that these people are making this kind of money on someone else's intellectual property. It also made me a little sad for humanity that there are people out there stupid enough to support them. I think I even died a little inside.

For the time being I figured I'd report the user to FB since it's pretty much a scam, and that made me feel a little better. Just not better enough. I suppose it wouldn't do any good to send an email to Blizzard, since I'm sure they already know about this particular website.

Anyway, thanks in advance for reading the venting of an annoyed WoW player.

Offended and annoyed,

Justin
Thanks for the email, Justin. You're right, sadly. Gold selling isn't technically illegal. Copyright infringement, computer fraud, wire fraud, and other intellectual property claims, however, are. Enforcement is an issue because Blizzard has no way of enforcing its rights in China to a large degree. Players continue to purchase gold and slip into bad security practices without authenticators. Gold selling is still a profitable business to be in.

Flouting the Terms of Service is an advertising move, plain and simple. One of the first things prospective buyers ask about gold selling and account buying is whether or not they can get in trouble for doing it. The answer is invariably that Blizzard could ban you. This explanation never involves court and a prison term.

By flaunting the fact that this seller, and only this seller, can slip the surly bonds of the Terms of Service and touch the face of Blizzard is pure puffering. If Blizzard finds the right criteria in the account after a sweep, it'll get banned. One day, when intellectual property enforcement and virtual goods selling is regulated, you might see some changes. Until then, rage on, brother. Be offended. Get mad! Tell Blizzard how you feel. Spread the word. Friends don't let friends buy gold.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact your 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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