Tag Archives | World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft Joins the Free-to-Play Craze

Why, it was only last week that I wrote about how Valve and several other big video game publishers are lovingly embracing the free-to-play business model. Now you can add Activision-Blizzard to that group, because World of Warcraft is going free-to-play.

The new program is called World of Warcraft Starter Edition, and lets players explore the massive multiplayer game for as long as they want. Eventually, they’ll hit restrictions that can only lifted with a full, paid account. Those restrictions include a level cap of 20, a gold cap of 10, a trade skill cap of 100 ranks, no trading, no guilds, no public chat and no voice chat.

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World of Warcraft Cheating Isn’t Illegal, Still Banned

The old question of whether you own or merely license software got another answer in a U.S. appeals court, which ruled partly in favor of World of Warcraft maker Blizzard.

The court was ruling on a two year-old lawsuit by Blizzard and Vivendi Games (now Activision-Blizzard) against MDY, whose Glider software automatically plays the game on behalf of users. The point is to get through the grind of leveling up in World of Warcraft without paying attention or exerting effort.

Blizzard argued that Glider violated the game’s terms of service and should be banned, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed, upholding the decision of a lower court. But Blizzard also wanted MDY — and by extension, its users — to be liable for copyright infringement. The Ninth Circuit wouldn’t go that far, and overturned the lower court’s decision. While the Ninth Circuit agreed that MDY violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by circumventing Blizzard’s anti-bot detection program, “WoW players do not commit copyright infringement by using Glider in violation of the [terms of use].”

What does this mean for WoW’s unscrupulous players? Exactly what it should: If you cheat at World of Warcraft, you run no risk of getting sued, however unlikely that was in the first place. But you are playing in Blizzard’s house, so if you get caught breaking the rules, you might get kicked out. As with any online gaming service, membership is a privilege, not a right.

Of course, with the court upholding an injunction against MDY, World of Warcraft cheaters will have to find another way to coast through the game.


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Can Blizzard Build Another World of Warcraft?

As the most subscribed-to massive multiplayer online game in the world, World of Warcraft is a tough act for any game developer to follow, let alone the company that created it.

But in a recent earnings call, Activision-Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick revealed that Blizzard is indeed working on something new. He didn’t reveal much about the game, but said it will be an entirely new intellectual property, which means no Starcraft, Diablo or Warcraft branding. That’d be the easy way out.

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Four Lessons From Blizzard's Real ID Snafu

Blizzard became the target of its own flame war after deeming that its forums would soon require the use of real life names. The Battle.net community backlash forced Blizzard to backpedal, removing the Real ID requirement in forums for World of Warcraft and Starcraft II. However, Blizzard head Mike Morhaime’s language (“we’ve decided at this time”) leaves the idea on the table. Here are some things Blizzard should keep in mind if it wants to try Real ID in its forums ever again:

Anonymous doesn’t always mean “troll”

Maybe Blizzard didn’t consider the legitimate reasons a person might choose to remain anonymous: Teachers may want to escape from their students during leisure time, government officials might not want to be stigmatized as avid World of Warcraft players and some people just aren’t comfortable being identified online. I likened Blizzard’s Real ID push to Facebook because both services have a desire for their users to embrace a single identity, whether it’s online or in real life. But right now, that’s not the way things are.

The forums are important, warts and all

In announcing the Battle.net forums’ switch to Real ID, Blizzard’s attitude seemed to be “don’t use it if you don’t like it.” The problem is that Battle.net forums serve as a kind of instant customer service, where people can reach out to the community and to Blizzard itself.  Changing the conditions on which that service is offered made people feel cheated. Which brings me to the next point:

Incentive works better than force

If Blizzard wants to shift people towards Real ID, it should take a page from Amazon, whose “Real Name Attribution” system for user reviews is not mandatory, but allows writers to collect badges for their work. Wouldn’t a reward system like that translate nicely to game built entirely on collecting loot?

Don’t test an angry mob

To prove a point, Blizzard forum moderator Bashiok revealed himself to be Micah Whipple, and outraged gamers immediately got to digging up as much embarrassing or otherwise personal information on him that they could. Whether the information is accurate or not is beside the point; this incident showed an ugly side to the Battle.net community that Blizzard was wise to pacify.


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What Facebook and World of Warcraft Have in Common

Starting later this month, World of Warcraft developer Blizzard will require its Internet forum members to post under their real life names, using an ID system that is otherwise voluntary for players. The goal is to fight flame wars and banish trolls, using the logic that people wouldn’t be so incendiary if everything they wrote on Internet message boards left a searchable trail.

Within Blizzard’s forums, this is a pretty big deal, even for perfectly civil people. The most reasonable concern I’ve heard is that requiring real names would also force peaceful forumgoers to shed their identities as private massive multiplayer gamers, or at least merge those identities with real life. To paraphrase one forum poster, his World of Warcraft habit could be immediately discovered by any romantic interest or potential employer.

Reading that argument, my mind jumped to Facebook’s privacy approach. For entirely different reasons from Blizzard, Facebook has pushed to make its users’ information more public, notably by defaulting status updates to be shared with the world.

The cynical view is that Facebook seeks more money by opening up user data, but chief executive Mark Zuckerberg also has an atypical worldview, which he shared with David Kirkpatrick in “The Facebook Effect.” To wit:

“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Now, I don’t think Blizzard’s new policy has any broader goal than to stop people from spamming and trolling message boards, but it’s hard not to see a bit of Zuckerberg in Blizzard’s actions. Here’s a game developer saying your real life identify and the one you assume as part of World of Warcraft’s Internet community are actually the same. No more hiding one persona from the other. Facebook, it seems, is guided by the same principle.

Whether we’re talking World of Warcraft or Facebook, the merits of this argument will be debated for years to come.


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World of Warcraft, The Magazine: What an Idea!

world-of-warcraft-aYou know a video game is popular when it spawns its own magazine.

Such is the case with World of Warcraft: The Magazine, debuting this weekend at the BlizzCon gaming convention in Anaheim, Calif. The quarterly publication has the blessing of publisher Blizzard, and it’ll be run by former Official Xbox Magazine Senior Editor Dan Amrich. Instead of being ad-supported, the magazine will subsist on straight sales, with $39.95 getting you a yearly subscription.

Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera has a pretty good rundown of the reasons and roadblocks for the magazine, including the token “print is dead” disclaimer. But I actually think World of Warcraft: The Magazine has a decent chance of surviving.

It’s at least got a better shot than than another upcoming pring gaming mag, Electronic Gaming Monthly. If you missed that news, EGM will relaunch under new ownership after shuttering last January. While both magazines will ride on the strength of their respective brands, World of Warcraft: The Magazine has a distinct, dedicated audience, while the general gaming crowd sought by EGM is pretty fickle. We’re likely to go anywhere for our information, provided that it’s accurate and timely. Print magazines try to argue that they provide deeper commentary and perspective, but there’s plenty of that online as well.

WoW: The Magazine’s strategy is a classic one: Fill the niche market. It’s doing the same thing as platform-specific gaming mags, like Official Xbox Magazine, but it’s even more targeted. If the magazine can nail down the interviews, profiles and insight that’s being promised, it’s got a solid product no one else has.

Indeed, Wow: The Magazine will face the same struggles as other print publications, but WoW fans could use a reason to take their eyes off the screen anyhow, and this way they don’t even have to disengage with the game.


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Can Aion Dethrone the King of MMOs?

aioncrop1When NCsoft showed me a demo of their soon-to-launch, massively multiplayer fantasy game, Aion, at the E3 show, I saw a lot of reworked themes common to this fairly mature genre: A pair of at-odds races, each vying to wipe the other from their common home planet; user interface elements familiar to anyone who’s played any of NCsoft’s titles; and a persistent world that’s as dangerous as it is beautiful.

But what I didn’t expect was a discussion about the game’s launch in Asia, which happened some months ago, and how rapidly the game has caught on and expanded in China.

aion2The game’s International Development Manager (international, that is, for South Korea-based NCsoft), Yong Taek Bae, explained that the game’s initial launch broke all kinds of records. On Aion’s Korean launch day, beginning at 6am local time, when the company switched on servers and began allowing paying customers to join the game, 11,000 players signed on each hour. By noon, the company had to turn on four additional servers — in addition to the 21 running at launch–to accommodate the crowd. Each server is capable of supporting 7000 simultaneous players.

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