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The Almighty Buck The Courts Games

Blizzard Sues Private Server Company, Awarded $88M 356

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-such-a-good-business-model dept.
Cali Thalen writes "A private server company, Scapegaming (aka Alyson Reeves), was ordered to pay Blizzard Entertainment over $88 million in damages after losing a lawsuit that was concluded last week. Scapegaming was operating unauthorized World of Warcraft servers and using a micropayment system to collect money from the servers' user base, which according to the lawsuit amounted to just over $3 million. $85 million of that settlement was for statutory damages, and surprisingly only $63,000 in attorney's fees."
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Blizzard Sues Private Server Company, Awarded $88M

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  • by Allnighte (1794642) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @12:59AM (#33255280)
    Does anyone know what that private server was giving when you paid them?

    I can understand playing on private servers if it's free, but if you're going to pay money to play on a private server, why not just pay Blizzard and play on official servers? Usually the private servers are a little behind on content anyway.
  • Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZDRuX (1010435) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @12:59AM (#33255284)
    I don't think there's really a way to turn it around and make excuses for the hosting company. I'm generally in favor of the small guys doing their own thing, even using someone's code - but in this case, it was purley for profit and not for fun any sort of personal enjoyment.

    I do have a problem with the damages awarded though... I mean - How in the world did they come up with this figure?
  • by Kenja (541830) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:00AM (#33255290)
    Often they include things like +10,000 strength items and the like. Its the same reason people cheat at any game.
  • Re:Blizzard? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zephiris (788562) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:02AM (#33255304)

    The difference here seems to be that they were explicitly soliciting money for in-game stuff, rather than accepting donations purely to offset hosting costs. (Eg, most private servers aren't going to be needing 3 million dollars just to host it.)

    Some of the language that Activision/Blizzard uses in the briefs are unnerving (such as 'unauthorized client' and 'you must be connected to blizz servers onlien to patch, not use blizz-provided offline patcher files').

    If you also RTFA, it was a default judgment, meaning scapegaming was served, and chose not to respond at any point during the whole proceedings.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:08AM (#33255334) Homepage

    What I'm wondering is whether or not anything significant was actually copied. Was the private server just duplicating the game's protocol, or was the game world actually duplicated?

    Looking through the information linked to in the summary, it looks like there was no actual debate on anything. The judgement was default.

  • DEFAULT JUDGEMENT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by carigis (1878910) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:16AM (#33255364)
    there was only $63,000 is attorneys fees because it was a default judgement and they did not have to present a case in front of the court. Likey the person will claim they were never served and demand there day in court. the judge will overturn the default judgement and the case will start over... or she will declare bankruptcy and the judgement will be discharged.. but maybe they will recover some of the 3 million
  • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:17AM (#33255370)

    Why anyone would pay micro-payments towards a private server is beyond me. If you have ever wasted precious minutes of your life attempting to play on one you will soon see why it's just worth it to fork over 10-15 bucks a month for the real deal.

    People pay money because of what you can parts of the games whole you can alter. Remove level caps, allow learning more then 2 core skill sets and then the real "fun" mode when you die, you can stay dead. Like Diablo 2 online's Hardcore mode.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:27AM (#33255404)

    Played on it a long time ago when it was still known as WoWScape. It was the whole reason I actually started playing on retail, me and a good portion of my friends. Blizzard would have lost out on thousands of dollars from me and my friends if it wasn't for them.

    Scapegaming actually was good enough that it got me (Feral druid), my best friend (Rogue), his roommate (Resto shaman), his roommates friends (Enhance shaman), their wife (Arms Warrior), neighbor down the road (Ret Paladin), Another friend (rogue), step brother (Rogue), another friend (Mage), and a few others. WoWScape actually got enough friends playing retail that we could host our own personal raids if we wanted.

    Since then, all of us left. Scapegaming brought Blizzard a lot of business, but The Wrath of the Lich King ran them off. Only way I can tolerate WoW anymore is if I find an old TBC server now. Lasted till just before ICC was released on retail, but I just can't stand it anymore, it just isn't fun. Was fun back in the day raiding Kara, SSC, and the Eye just playing around, talking shit in Vent and having fun while half of them were wasted and still able to hold their own. Then 3.0 had to come and ruin it.

    I honestly wonder about how much did Scapegaming make blizzard compared to how much it cost them. Wouldn't be surprised if it did them more good than harm. And don't try and mention the trail accounts on WoW, they capped you at level 10 and a bunch of other stuff, none of my friends were willing to try it like that. Actually downloaded the software off the internet months before we ever thought about registering a retail account.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:32AM (#33255418) Homepage

    I'm intimately aware that protocols can't be protected by copyright. I figured they were probably including files, though from TFA, that's never clear. Being a default judgement, it's altogether possible that the actual material being copied was never even looked at.

    Patents also do not apply to protocols, since they must cover a specific mechanism, such as an algorithm. Now, if the protocol requires encryption or encoding using a patented algorithm, that's a problem.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:32AM (#33255422)

    What I'm wondering is whether or not anything significant was actually copied. Was the private server just duplicating the game's protocol, or was the game world actually duplicated?

    WoW private servers generally do duplicate the game world found in Blizzard's game. Much of the graphical data is stored client-side, but all data about where things are and what they're doing is on the server. Many of them try to keep their server software as up-to-date a copy as possible, though some will allow you to do things which are not allowed in the real game.

    There is zero question that this copyright violation: it's as open-and-shut a case of copyright violation as if you stole a copy of a Hollywood blockbuster from a movie studio, duped it, and sold tickets to see it in your backyard.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:38AM (#33255442)

    Private servers require a user to have a copy of the full game in question. The "player and enemy models, sound effects, and all that" are handled by the client.

    However, the private server generally has its own copy of the game data in order to maintain the state of the world, where things are supposed to respawn, etc.

    I suppose it would be theoretically possible to create a server emulator which didn't use any of the original game's data files, but nobody as attempted it that I have seen.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:02AM (#33255496)

    Duplicating a protocol though is not wrong or illegal;

    But it does breach the contract(s) possibly signed with Blizzard if it asserts the removal of rights including reverse engineering, maintaining or connecting to an unauthorized server (as Blizzard does claim); and a possible DMCA violation if claimed that access to a non-authorized server constitutes copyright protection circumvention (as Blizzard does claim).

    EULAs & TOUs have been upheld in the past, so he's probably screwed on count #1 (if appealed). The second argument is new to me, so I don't know how that would pan out. This is what Blizzard has to say in their complaint [google.com] (direct link [mmoglider.com]):

    Blizzard's Anti-Piracy Mechanisms
    ...
    51. When the user runs the game client software, the game client displays a login screen in which the user must enter his or her unique account username and password. The client then sends information, including information derived from the username and password, to the server. If this information passes certain authentcation tests, the server allows the game client to enter the WoW gaming environment and access the copyrighted material resident on the server, as well as opening access to the copyrighted material on the game client.

    52. As such, access to the copyrighted content on the game client is predicated on access to the authorized WoW server. In this way, the server "unlocks" the copyrighted information on the game client.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlieNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:47AM (#33255620) Homepage

    Well, true, sound effects are client-side, my bad. But server needs map data, quest data, stats of all items, enemies etc, world triggers, and atleast hitbox dimensions if not the whole model. That's still a lot of data and would take forever to replicate without using WoW's own data files.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:22AM (#33255698) Homepage Journal

    And those data files would be installed upon EVERY COMPUTER WHICH HAD WoW INSTALLED. Which means a legitmately-bought game could have the server protocol emulated, and it wouldn't infringe because theoretically everybody has the same WoW-sanctioned and installed patches/updates. (of course, there are pirates/crackers as the exception, but this is given.)

    I doubt ANYTHING is handled server-side besides coordinates and flagbits. Everything else, from physics to animation, is done client-side, from locally-installed files (local as in you initiate the download and installation, not a game server.) To stream such insane amounts of information with the limited bandwidth of our connection speeds pretty much prohibits this. If we had 100mbit solid connections, MAYBE.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cyberllama (113628) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:36AM (#33255754)

    No its definately all server-side, though cached client-side on occasion (which is how the server operators are able to get their hands on it).

    If you've ever been playing WoW when the server goes down, you can keep running around cause the client doesn't time you out right away as its still waiting for the server to communicate with it. When you do this, if you keep running far enough in one direction you'll eventually just hit a place where the world 'ends' because you don't have the map data beyond that point.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Golden_Rider (137548) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:51AM (#33255782)

    Blizzard charge for the client, plus separate subscription fees to hook up to their servers. There is a clear separation of the money you pay for the client, and the money you pay to access Blizzards servers. The client is typically bought or downloaded and therefore once you've bought it you are free to use it as you wish, provided you don't distribute copies.

    In theory, there should be nothing unlawful against hooking up to a different server as there is a clear separation here. The protocol can and has been reverse engineered The only question is whether any of Blizzards proprietary data is held on the server and "distributed" to the clients.

    Presumably, the in-game items are not transferable from a private server to Blizzards server, so no issues there either.

    This judgement was not defended, so the question arises as to whether it would be possible to mount a defence so as to make non-Blizzard servers legitimate?

    The client is free, but when you download it, you agree (license agreement) to only use it to connect to official Blizzard servers. So there is no "I paid for it, I can do whatever I want with it".

    To be honest, I can't really stand all this "private server operators aren't doing anything wrong!" crap anymore. It's just BS. I can understand it for games like Starcraft 1, Diablo 1 and 2 and others which you buy once and then the connection even to the official servers is free. You are doing Blizzard no harm when you make a server emulator for those (apart from less players on the official servers, which maybe makes them less attractive), and to play on those private servers, you need to have bought the game anyway (or you are using pirated copies, and that's a whole different problem). But for WoW and other games like e.g. Lineage 2, the clients are free and the company makes money via the monthly subscription. It is so blatantly obvious that it CANNOT be OK to provide free servers for those, common sense tells you that, you are hurting the company if people download the FREE clients from the company website and then turn around and play on private servers - maybe even paying the private server admins for in-game stuff. I just want to /facepalm every time I read those "it's not illegal to reverse engineer, blah blah" comments - how can it be ok to act as a direct competition to a company, by offering exactly the product they created and which they are selling? It does not matter if the server code is not exactly the same, if a player can just download the free client which is intended for the official servers, point it to a private server and then play WoW without paying Blizzard, that's just wrong. "Thanks for creating WoW, Blizzard, but we'll play it for free - by the way, when will you give us the next expansion?"

  • Re:Blizzard? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aim Here (765712) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:57AM (#33255802)

    Thing is, there's a bnetd-derived server running now, called iCCup [iccup.com] which is the server of choice for almost anyone playing Starcraft (BroodWar, not 2) these days. Not only does it ignore CD checks but iCCup will offer you a chopped-down copy of Starcraft to play on, if you look hard enough. There doesn't seem to be any great rush from Blizzard to stomp it off the net, either.

    Blizzard seems to be ambivalent about iCCup. It has called it a "pirate server", but it has also linked to ongoing iCCup tournaments from the battlenet homepage, which is probably because it has realised that the vast majority of people still playing BroodWar (legitimately as well as otherwise) much prefer iCCup to battlenet, to the extent that if you don't know your iCCup ranking, you really can't call yourself a Starcraft player.

    Likely, that's because iCCup has a functioning ladder system, and the admins do keep iCCup relatively free of cheats, and the worst of the foulmouthed little brats you get playing online games, unlike battlenet, which is a cesspool in comparison. The "pirate server" offers, for free, a better service than the one that Starcraft players generally paid for, and Blizzard has realised that allowing overt (if discreet) piracy is a small price to pay for keeping a functioning community centred around some of their products.

  • Re:Blizzard? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Vaphell (1489021) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:14AM (#33255864)

    lol, imagine the unrecoverable loss of loyalty among the sc fans if blizzard tried to do anything with iccup. That would be a PR suicide and they wouldn't sell a single copy of any game to the hardcore sc players, ever. I remember how people on sc portals reacted when that explicit 'iccup is a pirate server' talk happened. Everybody felt offended to the bone.

  • Re:Normally (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:21AM (#33255892)

    Well as a founding memeber of scapegaming which back in the day was WowScape lol. They would use microtransactions to automatically level, or special gear that would give you advantage was well as mounts and much more....

    But yeah I know back then when it first started they were making a couple grand a month in profits, which they originally turned into server improvements, but then they started pocketing it as profits got higher... and I can easily see them making way bigger profits... I know back then they had a 4000 person player base when i got fucked over... Think if each of those were paying on average 10-20 bucks and except some percent of growth, I know way back when instant lvl 70 (bc) + the epic fixings was a 250dollar package that people actually bought.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlieNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday August 15, 2010 @06:09AM (#33256152) Homepage

    I doubt ANYTHING is handled server-side besides coordinates and flagbits.

    Actually, there's a lot of stuff the server still handles that clients don't. For example client doesn't calculate whether a hit lands or misses, nor does the client calculate damage done. There's been loads of scams sold to unsuspecting players that have modified the way the numbers are displayed so that it seems like you have 9 million points HP and what not and unsuspecting players have fallen for it, but as soon as they've actually engaged in combat they've dropped dead just as fast as before: server still holds the correct HP values. Note that the server still needs all stats on items etc to be able to calculate everything.

    Movement, physics etc. is done in cooperation with the server: client does some of the work, server does some. It reduces the impact of latency somewhat, but it also means hacks that allow you to move faster or go underground are possible. For this the server still needs map data.

    I did once try out setting up a private server of my own (though I was the only user) just out of curiosity and heck, it sure weighed several gigabytes in size even without texture data and sounds.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lehk228 (705449) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @07:44AM (#33256360) Journal
    the monster stats and behaviors are copyrighted, you can't reverse engineer a copyright work and claim it is not copyrighted anymore.

    if a server operator gave the clients new map and monster packs just using the WoW engine that would be a lawful reverse engineered product.

    however i am unaware of any servers that do that.
  • by Devout_IPUite (1284636) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @08:34AM (#33256494)
    As the expansions came out the content generally gets more 'accessible'. People who like doing things others can't don't enjoy new expansions as much, casuals enjoy expansions more. Blizzard realized casuals are a bigger group.
  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @09:05AM (#33256618)

    The way WoW's server/client model works, a lot of the data about how the game works is client side and your client simulates a lot of it without the server's interference except to get final resolution. You can make a surprisingly effective WoW server emulator just by telling the client whatever it wants to hear, with the server not actually doing anything. In my experience, the majority of players who would play on an emulated server are people who have never played "real" WoW, and often players who have not played any for-pay MMO. They play some betas or trials, and a bunch of really bad free MMO's. They're not used to good or sophisticated games so it doesn't bother them or they don't realize how dumbed down combat and such are on the emulated servers. Either that or they don't care about that and just like how overpowered or unbalanced their character can be when left to the devices of a 17 year old with zero game design experience.

    Either way, they made money off of Blizzard's game data files and more importantly their good reputation. It'd be a bit like if Disney sold some pieces of old rides at auction, and I bought them all up, left the Disney logos on them and built a theme park right next door called "Free Disney World" and instead charged people per-ride instead of just an entrance fee. I'd be abusing their trademarks/copyrights and good name to name a buck with a generally inferior product.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sabernet (751826) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @09:30AM (#33256696) Homepage

    Nonsense. There was a tool years ago called "WOWMapView" which allowed you to, completely offline, fly through the map without any clipping. It was an awesome way to see how it was built as well as see things which were not part of world proper(GM Island, the skeleton from the boss in WC3, a developer map that had the words "Chow is my Love Monkey" written in the grass and even a prototype for a map that would later be in the Burning Crusade. No PCs or NPCs, but the entire world geometry was laid bare.

  • Re:Blizzard? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jordan ez (1270898) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @11:50AM (#33257314)
    A surprisingly coherent and cogent discussion. I expected a flame war, but really, it's a pretty good discussion. I doubt Blizzard will do anything about it, but I'm still impressed.
  • by JockTroll (996521) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:59PM (#33258622)

    To fowl thinks up you need a duck.

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