If there is one game that has changed millions of lives, energized the migration of man from real to virtual worlds and established real time interactive online game playing as “the cat’s meow”, it would be World of Warcraft. Game publishing juggernaut Blizzard opened the door to its virtual world in 2004 and the rest (as they say) is history. While copycats spawned out of nowhere hoping to dethrone them with online game offerings and worlds of their own, World of Warcraft (or WoW) remains the undisputed King of the World.
Saying that WoW has changed my life is an understatement. I’ve been playing the game since its launch and, modesty aside, know Azeroth’s every nook and cranny like the back of my hand. I’ve played both Alliance and Horde, done every quest and raid imaginable, and earned (almost) every cool in-game item for which I’ve yearned, plotted and toiled. My achievements came with a price: the monthly subscription fees for two accounts, late nights, and weekends that saw me barricading myself in my room forgetting that I had parents, grandparents, two sisters, one nephew, and one old dog that doesn’t recognize me anymore (I have the bite marks to prove it). My social life has been limited to interacting with other online players in the game, trash-talking opposing teams and discussing schedules so we can find a convenient time for all of us spend even more time and energy playing the game.
So, given such sacrifices rendered in order to improve my game characters as much as possible – three of them have reached the highest experience level allowed (80) – and realizing that it’s high time I spend more time with REAL people (and get real with my finances), I am at a crossroads (no, not the one in Durotar). I must choose between playing only one account and leaving the second account in limbo (which saves me the hefty monthly subscription fee)…. or selling the second one to a friend who’s dying to get his mitts on my level 70s and 80s so he can play with the big dogs. And the most difficult part is…he’s willing to pay a premium for them.
Selling the account will have purists screaming at me: “It’s against Blizzard’s End User License Agreement!” Read: You, Player, do not own your account. You have no right to it. You merely paid to play it. But everything else is Blizzard’s.
While their claims are not really new to me, I find it irksome (and beneath them) that Blizzard, which is otherwise a fine company with really excellent entertainment products, can’t find some more “inclusive” stance on this matter, some stance that recognizes my contribution to the account. I suspect there is a “general counsel” behind their current language and position, warning about dire consequences should they take any less harsh a stand. But let me tell you. People like fairness. People reward straight talking and fair business practices. Companies built on fairness tend to stick around for centuries. And…from the perspective of a person who bought a software application (not a Hell of a lot different than buying a word processor except that the Blizzard application allows me to create game characters and other kinds of user generated content instead of bestselling novels), I think a more “fair” approach is to recognize the creativity, work, customization and other unique contributions I have made over several years of game play.
It’s an unfair EULA that tells the player that he has zero rights. This is not film. I’m not sitting here watching the product of thousands of hours of other people’s work with no personal involvement other than laughing and crying on cue. It’s my work! In my mind, it’s really no different than the novel I may someday write using a word processor. It’s going to be my novel. And with that, the law agrees.
I’m sure Blizzard’s team of attorneys say there is no parallel between the two. Right. I’m sure they claim that the game code only allows stuff that is designed to be allowed by the game, therefore it is all derivative stuff and Blizzard owns it, all of it, and that my only right is to enjoy the experience. Gee, I’m not sure that’s fair. How would I feel if Microsoft said…our word processor contains every character in the English alphabet…so all words and works are derivative and we own ‘em. How is that any different from me not owning my character names? I made them up. I created them. They are unique to me in some special way. But, again, here come the lawyers…
I’m sorry but I do think I have both earned the right and paid for the right to claim some level of ownership in these game accounts and content. Without my work and effort, they are just some game code, with nothing more than some potential. These fully realized accounts are the result of a long and happy collaboration between Blizzard and me; their vision, their game design, their code, our pocketbooks, my brain, my work in the game, my guilds, my character names, my contribution to user generated content, etc. That is the way I see it. And I’m willing to bet you that someday, voyagers in virtual worlds will have rights that are recognized by the courts, a broad and meaningful basket of rights, not just those that landlords and architects of virtual worlds allow.