Friday, March 21, 2008

Legalese and other rambling unrelated to Warden

Okay, first things first. Some blogs and websites just picked up on news about a subpoena I was served in relation to the MDY (Glider) v Blizzard case. My attorneys filed a motion to quash the subpoena, as I was given 9 days to retrieve information not related to Glider, with an overbroad scope. Blizzard opted not to pursue the information that I did not want to present them, and I of course am humbled that they did not feel the need to pour bags of money over my head and suffocate me. While their option to not respond to the motion to quash was reported as a blow to Blizzard, it would not have affected this case one way or another if they did so, and this is probably the reason for such a passive acceptance of the motion to quash.

They could still attempt to suffocate me in their cash at a later date, but I try to tread lightly and hopefully they continue to extend me this courtesy. The information they asked for would not have been relevant to the Glider case in particular, as I have never used Glider -- sorry to disappoint. I think my deposition was shortened by an hour or two because I wouldn't have been able to answer general questions about the use and function of Glider, much to the surprise of Mr. McGee, who represented Blizzard. And I appreciate his professional and respectful manner.

So I've been notified that motions were filed on both sides of the case today (or rather, yesterday, since it's now after midnight). After all of the hullabaloo with my subpoena, deposition, motions to quash, providing documents they probably already had seen from other sources, I'm reduced to a sentence in Blizzard's Statement of Facts and an exhibit (being the portion of video record from my deposition referenced in the SOF. Update: I hadn't actually seen the exhibit at the time of this post, but had assumed that it was the video record. The exhibit documents have been made available at http://gameactivist.blogspot.com/2008/03/legal-filings-from-blizzard-vs-mdy_26.html and my exhibit may apparently just be the portion of transcript from the deposition, not including any video record). But, it's now shown in court documents that I provided Mercury with information on defeating Warden, and that's bound to add fuel to random flame wars between my most vociferous customers and his customers who hate being patronized by my customers. Actually I'm kind of flattered that Blizzard decided to toss my name in the documents in the first place, considering I never got a response to sending them my resume other than the postcard that says "if we are interested you'll hear from us, please never call us or email us." It's almost like I got promoted.

All that aside, I find it hard to side with Blizzard on their arguments in this case, even ignoring my personal conflict of interest. I'm going to mention a few things, and certainly not the most important points, but not going to go into full detail, so forgive me for not wanting to go down the whole list or picking the most important points. One problem is that there are numerous assertions made that are implied or stated to be specific to Glider, when in reality, it could not be verified to actually be. Blizzard has included statements from average customers making complaints that may have been about botting in general, that specifically mention Glider instead. They mention Glider because it's the most well-known bot for WoW. Some customers purport to have identified players using Glider, that could have been using one of dozens of other bots. One in-game petition they quoted from October 2006 says "He's busily spinning around like WoW glider does." The first thing I thought of when I read that was a bug in (some?) bots using ISXWoW, (link is a forum post from October 2006 about a spinning bug in WoWBot) which does not include Glider, which caused the character to spin in circles instead of going anywhere. It's impossible for me to say one way or another whether it was indeed a Glider or someone using any other bot because the quoted text is ambiguous. Then there's a handful of others that also specifically mention Glider, but with no indication of how, or whether, the customer positively identified the bot as being Glider. It seems to me that the analytical ability of these average players could easily be called into question. These people are not experts and although I have no doubt they could have identified a botter, I'm not sure they are reputable enough for their statements with regards to Glider to be taken with anything but a grain of salt.

There's also numerous statements that imply Glider gives players the ability to do various things they would not otherwise have the ability to do, where it is simply not the case. For example, "Glider players have special advantages because they can play multiple accounts simultaneously . . ." -- people have been playing multiple accounts simultaneously in MMOs for years, long before Glider was conceived of. They do it with or without any software or hardware assistance. Some people use WinEQ 2 to help them, because it provides features to help facilitate playing multiple characters on the same computer, without being considered a cheat or hack (e.g. Picture-in-Picture, hotkeys to switch to specific sessions, and so on). Blizzard even un-banned WinEQ 2 users that it had inadvertently banned as part of an attempt to hit Inner Space users, and gave them a couple days on their WoW subscription for the inconvenience.

And then there's "Players that buy gold have an immediate and sizeable advantage over other players, because they can use that gold to buy goods, including armor, weapons, potions and other items, that make their character(s) much more powerful in the game compete at highest level." That's actually fairly ridiculous, and is not much different than having a high level friend. Replace "buy gold" with "receive gold from a high level friend" in the quote, and observe the similarity. The sole difference is that one is for money, and the other is for social currency or in exchange for something else entirely. In either case, the gold had to be acquired by roughly the same methods. One may or may not have been automated, and I would actually wager that more of the supposedly illicit currency being sold or otherwise transferred was generated by human power, or dupes or other exploits, rather than bots. I used to do it myself in EverQuest, manually farming and only using EQWatcher to provide me with an alarm to wake me up to kill a rare spawn or its placeholder every 20 minutes or so. I probably made $10,000-20,000 over a couple years just doing that in EverQuest every couple weeks to help pay the bills. And I knew a lot of people who did that, some of whom tried to hide it from guildmates. I regularly sold platinum to a guild leader, and so on. The people who play the game the most are going to have a surplus, and if they need extra cash, selling that surplus is a wonderful option, and I will stand up for that, even in the face of kids who whine and say it's unfair.

The fact of the matter is that the fun of gaming is different to different people. There is no way to write a policy on RMT (selling/buying gold, etc) that makes everyone happy. The poor kids come into the game thinking they have a level playing field with the rich kids only to find out that capitalism is still in effect, and if the rich kid wants a tradeable item he could get it without spending all of those hours grinding, by instead giving up some of his real life money to another player. This is called opportunity cost. Player A has a job making $20/hr. Player B has more time than player A to spend playing games, and acquires item X with 8 hours of work. Player A could choose to spend 8 hours making $20/hr, or spend 8 hours acquiring item X. Player B is probably willing to part with the item for less than what Player A makes in the same time interval, and player A would rather spend the equivalent of 4 hours getting the item, rather than a full 8 hours, so he pays $40. What exactly is wrong with that?

There is no way to write a policy on botting that makes everyone happy either. For a lot of people, designing automatons is more fun than the tedium of doing the repetitive work that others enjoy. I've been doing it since I was a kid, and I'm no stranger to the debate as to whether botting is cheating. I've been kicked off of local BBSs for automating their games. My crime is that I'm a sort of inventor, and being an avid gamer, I tend to explore lots of ideas relating to games, tinkering and developing new toys I can use to learn more about the games, to speed up repetitive tasks, and so on. I made tools to reverse engineer game databases, revealing the data to players for analysis so they could identify the best equipment to use for their character to do the most damage. I made tools to track the progress of other players and compare how fast they were advancing compared everyone else (you could check the top 100 list and see how much experience each character had). I made tools to automatically map and explore maze-like space games, analyzing the data to find the best spots to build my base and the most likely places to find other players' bases. I made tools for BBS operators to make changes to their game databases and provide a user experience unique to their operation. But what I did the most back then was automate those games, and help others do the same. And none of this was to harm the games or the other players -- in fact, I only started doing that automation at the time because it was the only way to keep up with the people who were already automating it. Other people never automated, but actually had the time to sit around and play the games manually, day in, day out. And some people do that to this day even in World of Warcraft. I'd like to make it clear here that a lot of people really enjoy creating or using bots, and they don't want to harm the game or other players. I would like to see an experiment with WoW with a new server where bots are explicitly allowed, and I'm certain that the people playing on it would have just as much fun, if not more fun, possibly willing to pay more to play, including owning multiple accounts (yes, people do that, but this is not a behavior exclusive to botters!). Granted, I don't think Blizzard will do this, because it would put a positive light on botters or providers of bots, and would have positive commercial impact on those providers, and I assume Blizzard wants to have neither of those things.

The funny thing about it is that there's a lot of fun to be had in messing with other people's bots. In the games I used to automate as a teenager, the bots people used were very primitive. These were text based games, so you'd enter a command to check your health, and it would spit out some text like "Health: 50 / 100". Well a lot of bots were so poorly coded that you could say in chat "Health: 1 / 100", and the bot would think it had 1 of 100 health. Typically in those days that meant hanging up the modem to terminate the connection, and the character could have been left online for several minutes and subsequently killed by random mobs or other players. Or when you entered a room and it lists mobs, the game might say "Also here: a giant rat". This could also be exploited in chat to make a bot think that something was there that really wasn't. For example, "Also here: ^Mw^Mw^Mn^Mn" could be interpreted by a bot as the name of a monster in the room, and to attack it, it might enter "attack ^Mw^Mw^Mn^Mn" -- ^M is a code for Enter in the right context, so a bot vulnerable to this exploit would enter several commands:

  • attack
  • w
  • w
  • n
  • n
This made the bot move to the west twice, and to the north twice. I can't even count the number of bots I made wander into towns where guards would kill them on sight, or I made them run into a room full of monsters that would just plain destroy them, and so on. And people do the same sort of stuff to bots in WoW; you can find videos on youtube of people having fun at the expense of someone else's bot. That used to be all part of the fun. Do you want to give that up? ;)

Okay, I've digressed and this post is way too long and I've spent so much time typing it that I can't think of anything else to write at this point anyway. Good night!

1 comment:

zwerg said...

Hello,

I completely agree to your point!
I'm a teenager and like to write applications that automate the gameplay in WoW and it's much more fun for me than to do the repetetive tasks on my own. Also, I don't want to harm the players nor the game by itself.

Oh and you haven't written too much, it was a good read!