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Blizzard Asserts Rights Over Independent Add-Ons 344

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-least-there's-no-wow-app-store dept.
bugnuts writes "Blizzard has announced a policy change regarding add-ons for the popular game World of Warcraft which asserts requirements on UI programmers, such as disallowing charging for the program, obfuscation, or soliciting donations. Add-ons are voluntarily-installed UI programs that add functionality to the game, programmed in Lua, which can do various tasks that hook into the WoW engine. The new policy has some obvious requirements, such as not loading the servers or spamming users, and it looks like an attempt to make things more accessible and free for the end user. But unlike FOSS, it adds other requirements that assert control over these independently coded programs, such as distribution and fees. Blizzard can already control the ultimate functionality of add-ons by changing the hooks into the WoW engine. They have exercised this ability in the past, e.g. to disable add-ons that automate movement and facilitate 'one-button' combat. Should they be able to make demands on independent programmers' copyrighted works, such as forbidding download fees or advertising, when those programmers are not under contract to code for Blizzard? Is this like Microsoft asserting control over what programmers may code for Windows?"
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Blizzard Asserts Rights Over Independent Add-Ons

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  • by TimTucker (982832) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @11:26AM (#27279017) Homepage
    Just skimming through the changes, it doesn't look like they forbid advertising or donations: just in-game advertising or requests for donations. (i.e.: an add-on developer would still be perfectly free to solicit donations or include advertising on the site where they offer the add-on for download)
  • QuestHelper (Score:5, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @11:40AM (#27279137) Homepage

    I'll chime in here.

    I'm the current sole author/maintainer of what I believe is the world's most popular World of Warcraft UI Mod, QuestHelper. About half a year ago I took it over from an abandoned/unmaintained and rapidly degrading state, and I've treated it like a full-time job since. I'm perhaps two or three weeks ago from releasing Version 1.0, which is a huge set of changes to dramatically reduce CPU and memory usage, as well as produce better output from the mod and be far, far easier to maintain and modify in the future.

    I used to be fully donation-supported - that means my apartment in the Bay Area, food, gas, utilities, all of that, thanks to the generosity of users.

    The funny thing about donations is that a lot of people will gladly donate, but you have to remind them. Depending on how you count it, adding a simple unobtrusive message on logon saying "hey we're donation-supported, if you really like QH please donate" increased income anywhere from five-fold to hundred-fold. That said, even with that message, my income was starting to drop below sustainability levels - I was hoping that v1.0 would fix that, as well as breaking some code in the Wowmatrix client that was actually disabling my donation request.

    (Ironically, it seems like the message may not have been noticable enough, as a large number of people have told me that they never even saw it after using QH for months. So it goes.)

    Now, I'm not donation-supported. I can't put that message up, and I know from experience that I won't get enough without it. I can keep up the donation box on the actual website, but the fact is that just won't provide enough for me to keep going - most people don't even look at the website. I should mention that I fully believe this is within Blizzard's rights to do - I don't have any grounds to sue or anything - but I do believe it sucks. So I'm going to be releasing version 1.0 (watch for it in 2 or 3 weeks, it'd be sooner but I'm going to GDC and that will eat a week), and then just putting it in a mothballed maintenance release, as the remaining donations I'll get anyway should be enough for that.

    I think this is a mistake caused by Blizzard's overzealous legal team. I think, for some reason, Blizzard is terrified at the idea of anyone besides them making money on anything related to their game. I'm not sure why they're banning donation requests ingame but not out-of-game - I think they're just confused. However, they've killed off a good number of UI mods thanks to this, and I think ultimately this is going to hurt them quite a bit.

    I'll field questions, as long as they're sanely-written.

    If you'd like to donate, I'd love for a little bit extra to cover the 1.0 release - here's the link [quest-helper.com]. Anything you can give is appreciated, of course, though not expected and not required.

    Also, if there's any business managers out there who have a clever idea for how to still make a living off this, let me know. I'll pay you with a reasonable fraction of the results ;)

  • Re:Good choice (Score:5, Informative)

    by rob1980 (941751) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @11:47AM (#27279187)
    All this will do is reduce the number of addons available.

    No it won't, it'll just reduce the number of addons spamming your message window with "OMG PLZ SEND MONEY". TFA specifically says you can solicit donations on your website for your work, you just can't charge for it or advertise in game.
  • by Nakor BlueRider (1504491) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:03PM (#27279301)
    It's just conjecture of course, but from poking around a couple wow-specific boards and discussions going on there, it looks like the only two well-used add-ons this will affect are Carbonite and QuestHelper. QH apparently had a minor request for donation in-game that they will likely just remove. Carbonite however has full-on subscription plans they require for their "full" version. I looked around their site and forums [carboniteaddon.com] but couldn't find anything official as to what they're planning to do.

    Possibly impacted by this also is the bejeweled add-on; I don't believe this was open source?
  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:4, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:10PM (#27279363) Homepage

    As an added bonus, offer some sort of special add on to donation users only (IE, donate and you get access to a new addon). Or, have a beta version of your newest add-on available before the official release with the use of donations.

    These specific things are not permitted - in general, I can't tie *anything* UI-mod-related to money, in any form.

    I cannot offer any sort of in-game incentive to donation. I cannot offer beta versions, I cannot offer unlocked features, I can't even make a little sprite that says "THANKS FOR DONATING" that you can right-click to turn off.

    As for a question...How fast do you think this change will be noticeable for the average player?

    There will be a chunk at the beginning (QH, Carbonite, nUI, Mappy et al), but the bulk of the effect will be a largely-unnoticable reduction in the number of people who bother to write UI mods. I'm pretty sure it'll be impossible to actually calculate, and largely impossible to detect.

  • Don't like it (Score:3, Informative)

    by illegalcortex (1007791) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:20PM (#27279455)

    I may be in the minority (everybody loves free, right?), but I think this is a bad move. I really don't see it as fundamentally different from Apple deciding that all iPhone apps must be free.

    Banning users from charging for their addons is questionable. Banning users from even mentioning in-game that their addon relies on donations is just stupid. If you are familiar at all with WoW addons, you know that the author's site is in the minority of the places people get the addon from. There are a lot of 3rd party collection sites, and there a lot of 3rd party addon installers that install and update the addon for you. Basically, this is like if a different group made Windows Paintbrush and tried soliciting donations on their website. How likely is that that people will go there, see it and donate? Now imagine it was far more useful than paintbrush.

    The reason this is colossally stupid is twofold. First, if someone makes a commercial addon, other addon creators will see it and realize it's possible to clone. If it's a really good addon, they will clone it and release it for free. Sounds familiar, no? This is basically a large part of the way OSS works.

    The second reason is that addons become work, if the addon is at all complex and popular (aka useful). At some point, you're spending a lot of time supporting the addon that could be spent doing other work for money, playing WoW, or just actually enjoying your life. As codebases age, they definitely fall out of that "enjoying your life" category. This is why donations can actually motivate you to work on an addon when you would have otherwise abandoned it.

    The people who take a simplistic view that "other people shouldn't be making money off of Blizzard's hard work!" either do not understand or are too dogmatic to consider the reality. Addons add value to WoW. Blizzard makes money off of addons, be they free or pay, through increased subscriptions. There are numerous users who would stop playing if addons weren't around to make up for the deficiencies in WoW's UI. Addons also very frequently serve as their research department, as you will often see a new version of WoW incorporate the concepts of a popular addon.

    This will result in many popular addons being discontinued. It will result in many addon authors losing interest in the game (I used to build addons even once I had lost interest in actually playing.) It will result in many players dropping out of the game because of lack of addon support (WoW updates and UI code changes typically mean that an addon will stop working within a year of being abandoned).

    This is financially bad for Blizzard. However, if it's only 0.01% of their income, they will likely not care. I guess the new policy will be a good form of market research to see just how important the addon community is.

    BTW, this has already been discussed [worldofwarcraft.com] in much more detail by the people who actually make addons. For those who aren't in the community, I'd recommend you read it to see how it has already killed some popular addons that relied on donations.

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:22PM (#27279467) Homepage

    Carbonite is far more dead than QH is. Very shortly, your option is going to be QH or nothing.

    (That said, try it out again in v1.0. Most of the issues should be fixed then.)

  • by jombeewoof (1107009) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:26PM (#27279501) Homepage

    FTFA or website rather.

    Paraphrased because I don't want to open the site up again.
    YOU CAN SOLICIT DONATIONS FROM YOUR WEBSITE OR DISTRIBUTION METHOD, BUT NOT IN GAME.

    sorry for the caps, but I think you're not smart enough to read small letters.

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:5, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:27PM (#27279513) Homepage

    Actually, all of those downloads occured after I took over development - curse.com did a major site redesign a month or two after I started things up, and as part of that, they reset the download count.

    I'm rather proud to have broken 20 million. That's a lot of downloads. :)

  • by Detkloo (1496433) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:52PM (#27279727)
    5) Add-ons may not solicit donations. Add-ons may not include requests for donations. We recognize the immense amount of effort and resources that go into developing an add-on; however, such requests should be limited to the add-on website or distribution site and should not appear in the game. Hardly the same thing as "forbidding download fees or advertising"
  • Re:Good choice (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 21, 2009 @12:57PM (#27279753)

    Except it happened already. The single most popular quest assistance addon, quest helper is officially discontinued because of this. Author stated his reasons in the update log very clearly - money loss due to inability to request donations in-game.

    Frankly, the reason why "asking for money on homepage/download page" is very simple - there are thousands of add-ons for WoW all made by different developers. As a result, the addons are downloaded from large portal sites such as curse gaming or wowinterface, which for obvious reasons prefer to keep advertisement space and money coming from it to themselves. As a result, addon makers who make complex addons, or addons that require large amount of maintenance which they did on donated funds are screwed.

  • by illegalcortex (1007791) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @01:53PM (#27280195)

    Your post speaks of a complete lack of experience with how addons wind up on WoW users systems.

    The minority of an addon's users get it from the authors website. Most get them from 3rd party websites (that may or more likely may not be good about providing some donation link) or they get them through 3rd party addon management programs that allow the user to never have to glance at the original author's website.

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @01:55PM (#27280207) Homepage

    Oh, I'm pretty sure they can't touch me. I indeed doubt there's anything they can do *me*, besides ban my account. Of course, they could also ban the accounts of anyone who uses Questhelper.

    It doesn't matter if I can write it or not - what matters is whether people are able to use it, and that, indeed, they have full control over.

  • by Rabbitbunny (1202531) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @02:08PM (#27280315)

    No one sees the addons website. Most addons are installed and distributed by a third party tool that's very keen on keeping its' money.

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 21, 2009 @04:02PM (#27281533)

    Auctioneer's main distribution is from their own site, you don't see the real stats.

  • by illegalcortex (1007791) on Saturday March 21, 2009 @05:48PM (#27282503)

    As you say later that you don't play WoW, it's understandable that you don't know how addons work. They have no capability of communicating any stolen information to the outside world other than through in-game chat. This communication would be visible to the user and such an addon would be quickly be blacklisted. As another user pointed out, the only way they could get around this is to have the user download an EXE, and at that point it has nothing to do with Blizzard because that EXE doesn't even need to actually be an addon.

    And all of this is moot because these new rules wouldn't apply to anyone who was breaking the rules, anyway. It's like saying you're putting up a stop sign to prevent people from running a red light. Though for the analogy to be complete, you'd also have to not have any such thing as cops or red light cameras.

  • by Kalriath (849904) * on Sunday March 22, 2009 @01:15AM (#27285725)

    You know, I don't think they'll be putting ads in World of Warcraft any time soon. The games on the Battle.net platform which they don't field a monthly subscription from (Starcraft II, etc) are the candidates for this.

  • Re:pedantry (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cederic (9623) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @06:18AM (#27286795) Journal

    They're communicating with the game client. The client is communicating with the server.

    That's a subtle distinction, but an important one.

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Monday March 23, 2009 @09:48AM (#27297351) Homepage

    For the vast majority of people, this hasn't been true for months. For a small minority, it's still true, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it - the Blizzard UI code doesn't provide any way for me to fix it, and it's not just a problem with QH, it's a problem with their addon framework in general. I've sent them suggested improvements to solve the issue, but so far they haven't.

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Monday March 23, 2009 @10:55AM (#27298287) Homepage

    I'm actually coming up with some ideas that may sort of fix the problem, so that might not be necessary, but thanks :) Note that QH would end up using a few terabytes per month, so I'd actually need a lot - it's well past the point where people would be easily donating bandwidth ;)

  • Re:QuestHelper (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Monday March 23, 2009 @11:33AM (#27298839) Homepage

    Really, the problem isn't hosting - I've already got that for free on curse.com - it's figuring out how to make money off it. I haven't come up with a good way to realistically make money with my own hosting yet. If I do, though, I'll keep this in mind.

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