Legal Gets Their Waaugh On

Dislike the latest trend in EULAs that ‘force you to read them’ by checking to see if you scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom before clicking “Yes, I agree to everything you put in this tiny dialog box, including having no virtual property rights, you can ban me at will, installing this game means you actually own my computer now, I’m now forbidden to have children until I unlock a tier 5 dungeon YES YES YES LET ME PLAY”?

Irked that World of Warcraft makes you do that every patch, even though the turgid legalese that actual humans are discouraged from reading hasn’t changed since 2005?

Well, Warhammer Online makes you do it EVERY TIME YOU CONNECT.

Get knocked off the server for whatever reason? You get to read the EULA again!

Oh, and there’s two. A EULA *AND* a Code of Conduct. So the installing this game means you actually own my computer is in the first dialog, and the forbidding you to have children until you get realm rank 17 is in the second dialog. And you have to scroll down, then click accept *every time you log in*.

No, really. This is a feature!

This is intentional for legal reasons. Each time you play WAR, you’re actively using a service and must therefore agree to the terms of that service. Adhering to the EULA and COC is not a once-off flare; it is a continuous commitment. So why not make the procedure of accepting these terms more user-friendly, such as having the ‘agree’ box checked by default? One answer to this is that the less effort required to agree to something, the less is its juridical weight.

 

Whereas being annoyed about this feature is understandable, it may be useful to put things into perspective. It takes me some two seconds to scroll down, check the box and press the button. Repeating this for both the EULA and COC is a five second procedure. Repeating this a couple of times a day and even crashing a few times still only adds up to half a minute of your day. A small price for hours and hours of glorious WAR I’d say.

Personally, I thought my subscription fee was a small price to pay for hours and hours of glorious WAR.

 

In most enterprises open to the public, since the public contains Bad Actors by definition, there is a constant war between security and usability. Password security is a good example of this. If you have no password policy set, your accountant upstairs will keep using “sexy” as his password, never change it, and then three years and five unamused secretaries later, someone will clean out your bank accounts. If you have the Bastard Operator From Hell managing your servers, you have a password security policy that requires it to be at least 16 characters long, contains mixed-case letters, at least three numbers, and at least two punctuation characters, thus ensuring that the only way you can actually get a valid password is using BOfH’s secure password generator keyfob that he ordered from ThinkGeek along with the Darth Maul nerf light saber, and also neatly insuring that no one ever logs into the servers (thus saving the BOfH a lot of time better used playing with his new light saber).

The point being that when you institute a policy clearly concieved and approved by lawyers, you forget that the purpose of your product isn’t to make your company safe for lawyers, but to actually deliver a fun experience for your customers. Forcing 100% of your customers to suffer continued poke-in-the-eye level inconveniences like wrestling with a ha-ha-made-you-scroll EULA boxes every time they connect to your servers on the off chance that when the one pinhead who thinks he can unleash his brother the patent lawyer to litigate back your Cloudsong from that ninja looter comes calling, you’ll have 23% more chance to quash his frivolous lawsuit? That’s just bad math. And bad service.

Although not as bad as EA’s current poke-me-in-the-eye annoyance of sticking ad banners in games without even bothering to disclose it any more. Mercenaries 2, I’m looking at you. I’m pretty sure Venezuela does NOT have a cult of personality revolving around the latest Al Pacino flick, but you wouldn’t know it from turning a corner in Caracas and seeing 5 billboards for the same identical movie. Luckily, in Mercenaries 2 I can blow up those billboards with my tank. To date, I have not been able to burn Warhammer’s EULA with my Bright Wizard.

Update: “Hey, let’s only poke the customer in the eye ONCE.”

First, let’s start with a change to our Code of Conduct. After reviewing the CoC, we’ve decided that it is not necessary to have you click through it every time you enter the game. However, you will need to continue to scroll through the EUALA for the foreseeable future. While we are making it easier to do that it will remain as it is. I’m truly sorry that it is necessary but for now, due to legal reasons, it will still need to be scrolled through and accepted when you enter the game.

Emphasis in the original. Clearly, the law treats EA Mythic MMOs different from Blizzard MMOs, and due to those very real legal reasons, you will continue to have to pretend to read the EUALALALA every time you pretend to kill orcs.

 

Also, apparently I am a whinybutt.

Perspective

Half of the Austin Conference Center houses AGDC this week.

The other half houses refugees from Hurricane Ike.

Extra Special Bonus Commentary On The Human Condition:

Watching people meander on 6th Street (Austin’s pub crawl) wearing official Red Cross issued survival supplies backpacks.

A Programming Note

If your comment is “held for moderation”, that means the spam filter thinks it is spam. Most likely I will never see it, so if you want it to be seen drop me an email (sjennings (a) brokentoys.org) and I’ll bump it back into rotation.

As a general rule comments are never moderated for content. There are very few exceptions:

– obscenity (and it has to be really obscene)
– beating a dead horse (as in, a forum invasion flooding a months-old post)
– spam (“Hi, I run this consulting company and would like to link to it 30 times in this comment”)
– thinly disguised gold-farming ads (personal perogative)
– virulent ad-hominem personal attacks (and again, it has to be pretty bad for me to bother)

If any of this happens, I mark your comment as spam. Which means that anyone using Akismet’s spam filter will block you. Enjoy your stay on the rest of the internet. (Note: this is a joke.) (Further note: maybe.)

Belgiumgate!

How about some Warhammer news not involving Mark Jacobs’ blog? Leave the man alone, he is allowed to blog just like the rest of us! Instead we have Tobold’s blog. Tobold is a guy who blogs about MMOs, in a fairly drama-free fashion. (This last bit differentiates him from… well… the rest of us.) Recently he made a fairly innocuous post:

In the interest of full disclosure I’d like to tell you that I accepted a free subscription for the US version of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Yeah, I know, it smells like a bribe, but my reporting on WAR is not going to be influenced.

This isn’t particularly news, save that someone at Mythic (or most likely Goa, Tobold being European) was clueful enough to toss Tobold a media account. “Media” is an account type – people who write about games for a living generally aren’t expected to pay for them. Web sites have had a history of kind of fudging that standard a bit – the gold standard of course being the web site that exists solely to gain its writers E3 passes – but in general if someone has a published byline, and more to the point, can get the game company in question some publicity, they get tossed a comped account.

 

This is, if not a secret, not really talked about that much. Writers don’t like to talk about it because it makes other people jealous and, of course, seems like a bribe. Which is funny, since game companies have a history of offering MUCH BETTER bribes. MMO companies don’t like to talk about it because, well, if you have a not very successful game, a significant portion of your subscriber base may well be media accounts!

And after this week, bloggers aren’t going to talk about it, because, well, it takes away your street cred from raging at the man or something.

We are simply gamers here, not press. There is no reason for anyone to give us free stuff. We aren’t trying to get gigs in the game industry, so we don’t care if we piss them off either.

Given the layoff news from the gaming industry of late, you might want to keep that writing gig anyway! And then you have some folks that are just plain jealous that someone is saving $15 a month:

Looking for 1.8 million more visitors and 1800 more subscribers. Apparently this might qualify me for a free Warhammer Online subscription…

From this insider’s perspective, Belgiumgate is kind of silly, and not just because I like typing the word “Belgium”. If you think a blog author is going to be bought off by a comped account worth a bit more than what I paid for a bowl of pho this afternoon… that must be damned good pho. And it wasn’t. I’d want AT least some Pad Kee Maw before I give up all my principles.

 

Full disclosure, since apparently this is something really important in the blogging community: I do not have a comped account for Warhammer Online. I do have a comped account for Dark Age of Camelot. You know, because I like, worked on it and stuff. I used to have a comped account for City of Heroes, too, but that got turned off. Sad face! I’m now going to write mean things about their next patch. That’ll show ’em.

Smashmouth

Warhammer Online moved from Closed Beta to Open Beta this weekend, and Goa, Mythic’s longtime European partners, had servers that melted under the stress.

Apparently, European Warhammer players were unhappy about this. Warhammer is Quite A Big Deal in Europe, and the players who couldn’t, well, play, were quite miffed. The newest Warhammer blogger, especially, blamed the Internet.

Why do some people feel it is okay to threaten, curse, abuse and be downright hostile to other people over a game, especially in this case when it is only over access to a game that is still in testing (Open Beta Test = Not Yet Ready For Prime Time Players)? While I’ve become quite cynical over the decades, I still find myself amazed at times at certain people’s reactions to stuff like this. I don’t mind when people get upset but to treat other people in such a callous, mean and immature manner is really a bit much. Again, it’s not the complaints I mind and nor am I excusing GOA or Mythic when we mess up but to apparently take things like this so personally is just hard for me to understand even though I know that most of the very hateful things are being said just for effect. However, I’ve worked with online communities for a long time and I do know that some of what was being said around the ‘Net was really coming from people’s hearts. I won’t quote any of it here, since doing so would simply encourage more of it, but I would ask anyone who said those kinds of things and who reads this blog to look at yourself in the mirror and ask how you would like it if you were treated this way in the real world? Are you really the kind of person who thinks it’s socially acceptable to threaten people just because you are having problems with a game? Are you and your life so perfect that you don’t have your own issues or make your own mistakes?

First off, one quibble – when you start an “Open Beta Test” one week before a game’s release? If it’s not yet ready for prime time, even bad SNL references won’t save you. Let’s be honest here – this isn’t a beta test. The game’s locked down (at least it had better be), and you’ve moved to a marketing preview/encouragement of pre-order sales. Once you let effectively anyone who wants to kick the tires and light the fires of your game, it had better be ready for prime time, because that is what your early adopters are looking to test – and badly managed open betas strangled any number of games stillborn. You don’t get the “but it’s still in testing!” excuse when you open the floodgates, any more than you get the “but it just launched!” excuse a week later.

 

More to the point, Mark is apparently rediscovering the joys of Internet discourse, where “aww, is poor widdle baby butthurt?” is considered a witty riposte. I can only conclude that he wasn’t paying attention during, you know, every single other MMO launch. I especially remember in the year after DAOC’s launch, as the DC sniper was stalking the local gas stations, our helpful wonderful players were wonderfully helpfully suggesting that people forward the shooter pictures of Mythic employees. You know, so he would know where to aim. I’m not sure what provoked this strong desire for us to all DIE. I seem to dimly remember something about clerics. Or maybe it was archers. Whatever, it was certainly cause for us to be shot.

My point isn’t that this sort of psychopathy should be excused, or even really expected. I don’t even really think it’s limited to MMOs, or computer gaming. I would, in fact, argue that in the past couple of decades, public discourse in general has become “smashmouth“. You don’t just run the ball, you run it straight down their throats and make them CHOKE on it. You don’t debate your opponents – you BREAK them. Civilized discourse is for the WEAK.

As our national – no, make that global community deals with disagreements through the strategy of smashmouth, why should our micro-community be any different? After all, if someone disagrees with you, the response isn’t merely to respond, but to respond EN MASSE, SHOUT THEM DOWN, AND DESTROY THEIR WILL TO RESPOND. Every campaign has a War Room, every public relations firm a Rapid Response Team, every challenge has to be responded to the same day in a blizzard of paper, every natural disaster an occasion to dump bad news. So how do you make yourself heard in such a microtrend-plotted environment? You amp up the volume. You say something outrageous so it stands out in the storm of thousands of responses, all demanding some sort of response or recognition. And having the President of the company complain about your post in his blog certainly qualifies as recognition.

My point isn’t that this is acceptable behavior, or even expected behavior. My point is that in smashmouth community management, our communities are simply reflecting our wider community, and these are not issues that are going to be resolved by fixing an authentication server.

EA: Running MMOs Since Back In The Day When They Didn’t Want To Run Any MMOs

Gamespot interviews EA’s Frank Gibeau on those newfangled MMO thingies.

We already have two operating MMOs. We launched a game called Ultima Online in 1997, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and that’s still in business. It’s still got hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Then there’s Dark Age of Camelot, which we picked up when we bought Mythic; we also have a situation where we have well over 100,000 subscribers.

Well, those are orders of magnitude greater than the numbers rumored for both of those titles. SirBruce, the NOTED INDUSTRY ANALYST, speculates that UO’s subs are 75,000 at while DAOC’s may be as low as 45,000. My gut feeling is that both of those numbers are low, but not *that* low. But hey, he’s in EA management and I just work on those wacky web games.

Also, he thinks that competing with WoW on their own terms is eminently doable:

 

There’s always that ultimate killer app that comes out and creates a mass-market opportunity, and WOW is that for the MMO category. And what they’ve done is create millions and millions of players who are now comfortable with the way MMOs play, they’re comfortable with the models, and they’re looking for more.

Our job is to go after that new market and really grow a business. If it’s a situation where you’re directly competing with WOW, so be it. The key is to make sure that your product is different from theirs and bring something fresh to the equation. Something that fans will find exciting, and we think we have that in Warhammer. It’s also important for us to come out with new concepts and different IPs.

Note: insert some snark about how wildly different the Warcraft and Warhammer IPs are here -> <-.

GS: An IP based on a popular science-fiction franchise, perhaps?

FG: No comment [laughs]. So, we look at the models in Asia, where there are bigger games than WOW. Now, no MMO is bigger than WOW globally, but the market is growing here in North America. And it’s not just with high-end MMOs. You’ve got a lot of lighter titles like Runescape and, hell, even Club Penguin is a bit of an MMO.

So I see it as much more diverse market than simply, “I must beat WOW.” I thank WOW for a great few hundred hours of gameplay as well as making a market. But we’re gonna compete there and we’re going to succeed there in a lot of different ways by coming at it from a lot of different angles. I see it as a very lucrative, long-term part of our business.

Sure seems to be a lot of smack talk lately coming from the EA monolith.

Mythic Entertainment: Our Last Best Hope For Peace

Mark Jacobs, in the latest of a series of interviews with the hard-hitting journalists at, um, MTV, explains that no, he really wanted Age of Conan to succeed, because, er, now it’s all on them, you see.

“At some level I wanted ‘Conan’ to succeed because for the last few years people have been saying it’s all Blizzard and nobody else can do it,” he said. “‘Only Blizzard can get those kind of numbers,’ and so far they’ve been right. But now it’s our turn.”

He added, “If we don’t succeed with EA behind us, the ‘Warhammer’ IP behind us, with one of the most experienced teams in the industry, that’s not going to be good for the industry. We need to show the world that it’s not just Blizzard who can make a great game, and that the audience is absolutely willing to try new things and to play a game other than ‘WoW.’”

Of course, if Warhammer Online does succeed, the chatterring class will point out that people are still not playing a game other than ‘WoW’, really.