February 7, 2009

Not “Cricket,” Maybe, But Illegal? [9:56 pm]

Judge Grounds Glider in World of Warcraft Suit (pdf)

Of the more than 11 million people who play World of Warcraft, most do so legitimately; they actually play the game themselves. The whole point of a massively multiplayer online game like WOW or EverQuest is that players can take pride that their virtual accomplishments and wealth reflect real human effort, determination, ingenuity and skill. Even though I haven’t played WOW regularly in more than a year, I’ve still racked up thousands of hours in that world since 2004. To have the few unscrupulous players use a “bot” program like Glider makes a mockery of that effort and contributes to ruining the entertainment experience for me and everyone else.

But should creating and selling a program like Glider be illegal?

That is the question that has been winding its way through a federal court in Arizona since 2006, when Blizzard Entertainment, WOW’s creator, first locked legal horns with Glider’s author, a programmer named Michael Donnelly, and Mr. Donnelly’s company, MDY Industries.

[...] Let me be blunt: I, like the vast majority of gamers, feel strongly that bot programs like Glider are abhorrent and people who use them should be banned from the games they bot in. I agree wholeheartedly with Judge Campbell’s assertion that “the public interest may favor full and honest competition, but MDY ultimately is an exploiter, not a competitor.”

But I also recognize a powerful argument on the other side, which contends that it is dangerous and improper to allow a software company to dictate what other programs may be used in conjunction with its products. Glider does not hack into Blizzard’s systems or alter World of Warcraft’s programming code. And it does not actually copy the game’s programming or visual assets. It “merely” interacts with the game, like a player, only with inhuman stamina and precision.

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