World of Warcraft: My thoughts on the RealID debate.

I don’t tend to write a lot about World of Warcraft, only having played it for a month or so in its first year. Still, as the biggest MMO by far, what happens over there matters, as you’ll generally see it happening 6 months later everywhere else. So it is with WoW’s new RealID.

Essentially, your real name (or at any rate, the real name you gave when you signed up years ago, having no idea that it would later be made public), is going to be made public. Your real name is now visible to WoW plugins, and will also be used when you post on the forum. Not having WoW, I’m a little vague on the exact technicalities, but that’s the general gist.

What’s bothering me most though, as is so often the case, is the response from the public. As usual in these situations, you have the people who are concerned, and you have the people who are calling the first group “chicken littles” because the issue does not personally affect them.

There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to use their real name on the internet, or in WoW. Some of those reasons are good. I’m not going to list them, because anyone with an ounce of empathy for their fellow human beings should be able to think of several. I might also suggest that the simple fact that WoW players were not told that this information would be made public if they signed up at any point before this month ought to be reason enough to make this an outrageous breach of privacy.

An awful lot of folks out there in the blogosphere consider the loss of anonymity to be a good thing. Mostly because they, personally, have no need for it. They hope that it will lead to greater civility on the forums, and perhaps it will. That would be a pleasant side-effect of a diminishing of freedoms, in a similar way to how removing the right to free speech would quieten down all those annoying opposing views, or how ending the right to strike would make the trains more punctual.

What it comes down to is that it is much easier to give up the freedoms other people find important, than the freedoms you find important for yourself. But here’s the thing. If you start giving up every freedom that only a minority of people find useful, very soon you start finding you don’t actually have very many left. Giving a corporation the right to tell everybody what your real name is, when you did not agree to that, is not something, looking at the wider picture, that I think is good for the future of the internet. We are the owners of our personal information; not Blizzard.

I don’t need to preserve my anonymity, but some people do, and for good reasons, and that is all that is required for me to oppose RealID.

Forbidden Planet Monsters From The ID

Monsters from the RealID

In which my artistic intentions exceed my artistic ability.

Celestial Steed Jumping Shark 500x266

WoW jumps the shark.

Update: This confused the heck out of a non-MMO playing friend of mine. Sometimes I forget such people still exist. My lovely drawing was a reference to World of Warcraft’s new 25 dollar Celestial Steed which is making the MMO news at the moment.

My views on this sort of thing are pretty well known (hint: I dislike them profoundly), and I’ll resist repeating them again, today at any rate, especially as I don’t actually play WoW these days.

What the arrival of the $25 mount says to me is that Blizzard have decided that WoW’s best days are behind it, and are moving on to milking their players for all they can, until their next MMO is released.

Thinking too hard.

It is not a new phenomenon. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Someone trained as an ecologist, such as myself, is prone to look at things through the lens of environmental adaptation, and competition. When you’re a sociologist who specialises in religion, everything starts looking like religion.

I was reading a New Scientist interview with a chap called William Sims Bainbridge, who has written a book called The Warcraft Civilization.

In the past, you’ve done a lot of work with religion. What does religion in WoW tell us about religion in the real world?

The horrendous question that always troubles me is, what if religion is factually false but necessary for human well-being? What does science do then? Could there be some other stage of development in which we express ourselves through a kind of protean self in numerous realities with different levels of faith or suspension of disbelief appropriate to each of them?

That, on a much smaller scale, is what is happening with the fictional religions in WoW. The overwhelming majority of the people that play WoW don’t take its religions seriously.

And we actually have good reason to believe that people who play computer games are, on average, much less religious than the average person in society. I tend to think that fantasy literature in general inspires people to believe that the traditional religions are fantasies too.

Maybe we will move to a time when we no longer make a distinction between belief and the suspension of disbelief. The difference between faith and fantasy might not have been very distinct in ancient times, and it’s possible that we will move towards a time when instead of religion, people’s hopes can be expressed in something that’s acknowledged to be a fantasy but also, on some level, sort of real. WoW might exemplify that kind of post-religious future.

People do not take the religions in WoW seriously because they know they are not real. The majority of people that play WoW ignore most aspects of the lore and backstory, not just religion. It is no more a guide for what is happening to religions in the real world, than it is a guide for the state of our dwindling dragon population.

MMOs are certainly a fantastic laboratory for scientists. Through them you can examine many aspects of game theory, economics, and ethics. But from what I read above, the writer is trying to squeeze his own favourite subject into something that I don’t think has much to do with it, perhaps in an attempt to make his subject matter appeal to a wider audience.

I’ve not read the book itself yet. I suspect it is quite fascinating, and no doubt covers far more than just religion, but the interview suggested to me that he may have vested online gaming with a great deal more philosophical weight than it deserves. He needs to use his gamer eyes, not just his philosopher ones.

World of LordCraft – Don’t Play, My Lord.

After my last post on Lordcraft’s theft of the Warcraft IP, if I had any remaining doubt in my mind that World of LordCraft is by the very same people behind Evony, that doubt has been extinguished.

I don’t know if this is a new advert. I’ve certainly never seen it before today, but if it did not have a big “World of LordCraft” logo, anyone would assume it was an Evony ad, complete with the “Come Play, My Lord” line that has been roundly mocked across the internet. Heck, it probably was an Evony ad, but they just switched the logos.

LordCraft Come Play My Lord

LordCraft - Come Play, My Lord

What’s a “Formal Operation”? What does that even mean? Why would we need to be told the operation was formal? Will I need to wear a tie to play? Are a group of mysterious tuxedo-clad gentlemen going to turn up at my house and steal my kidneys? (The joke would be on UMGE, as my wretched kidneys would not be worth the plane ticket.)

They’re not even trying any more. Sure, they’ve created a shell company called GSprite that nobody has ever heard of, and another one called Thunderstorm Entertainment, that as far as I can tell is just there to take the piss out of Blizzard Entertainment, but feebly trying to cover their tracks would have worked better if they hadn’t made almost every other aspect of their design identical. They were already a parody of themselves, but now they’re a parody of that parody.

The picture of that lady in the advert is almost certainly stolen from somewhere. I’ll give an UNPRECEDENTED Epic shoutout to anyone who manages to figure out the original source.

And again, please don’t let these scoundrels get their hands on your credit card details, or use the same login details as you do for World of Warcraft.

Update: Jason correctly identified the model. It’s a lass called Joanna Krupa, and a bit of a rummage through Google imagesearch finds that the picture is from a Maxim magazine photoshoot. That link may not be safe for work, but if you’re reading my blog at work, you’re either already sure the boss isn’t watching, or work in the gaming industry and can claim it as research!

I find it comforting to know that nothing changes with the way that UMGE finds pictures for it’s advertising.

World of LordCraft – Evony decides to take on Blizzard

There is much to say about World of LordCraft, the latest addition to the world of browser games. Little of it is good. It is essentially an Evony reskin, though with the addition of a Might and Magic type battle system, and the hero-equipping features of Kingory. It also has the kleptomaniacal tendencies of Evony, having plundered World of Warcraft for every ounce of lore they can manage. Races, placenames, and history have all been pulled directly from World of Warcraft. Just as an example, this is character creation:

World Of Lordcraft Character Creation 500x301

World of Lordcraft Character Creation Screen.

Sadly, Tauren appear to be a race you have to unlock somehow, so I go with a boring old Alliance human. You’re then offered the chance to start in such interesting sounding locations as the Barrens, Stranglethorn Vale, or the Swamp of Sorrows.

The Lordcraft forum has this little disclaimer stickied:

Players have been discussing about the source of World of Lordcraft recently. We consider that a statement should be made here to clarify the issue.

World of Lordcraft should be regarded as a fan game of WoW. All the creators and staff members of this game love WoW and we thank Blizzard for such a brilliant work. WoL is not a replica of WOW. WoW is a MMORPG while World of Lordcraft is only a browser game of building, strategy and simulation. They are totally not the same kind. All the artworks in World of Lordcraft are the original creations of our art team. However, some elements were similar to WoW and some other games. Likewise, WoW also borrowed some elements from Tolkien’s novel. We hope that WoL can provide an interesting alternative for those players lacking time for WoW raids and arenas. Or you may also insert a few clicks between raids or wipes in WoW.

We’d appreciate your support if you like World of Lordcraft and wish you have fun in the game.

Well, that all sounds quite reasonable (To me. Not to Blizzard’s legal department), if it really was just a fan-based game, with no intent to make profit. However, it appears to be a rather professional operation, and is funded in exactly the same way as Evony, through buying ingame currency.

Also, there’s the small snag of this passage being in the LordCraft terms and conditions:

All rights and title in and to the Service (including without limitation any user accounts, titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialogue, catch phrases, locations, concepts, artwork, animations, sounds, musical compositions, audio-visual effects, methods of operation, moral rights, any related documentation, “applets” incorporated into the Game Client, transcripts of the chat rooms, character profile information, recordings of games played using the Game Client, and the Game Client and server software) are owned by Thunderstorm Entertainment Inc. or its licensors. The Game and the Service are protected by United States and international laws, and may contain certain licensed materials in which Thunderstorm Entertainment Inc.’s licensors may enforce their rights in the event of any violation of this Agreement.

I don’t think Blizzard’s lawyers are going to like that terribly much. Who are Thunderstorm Entertainment anyway? The only Thunderstorm Entertainment I can find on Google is an Los Angeles based small film company specialising in recording weddings.

Wait a moment. Thunderstorms and Blizzards are both weather events. It was then I realised that the terms and conditions for World of Lordcraft were extremely extensive. Far too extensive for a simple browser game.

World of Lordcraft’s Terms and Conditions.
World of Warcraft’s Terms and Conditions.

Yes. World of Lordcraft is so impossibly unoriginal that they have stolen WoW’s Terms and just done a search/replace for every mention of Blizzard to change it to Thunderstorm.

That’s pretty special.

I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to give LordCraft a playthrough. I’ll let you know if I do. Just watching this trailer drained enough of my will to live that I think I’ll put off actually playing it to another day.

The narrator sounds like he has been drugged and locked in the bathroom. Either that, or he is doing a particularly poor Sean Connery impersonation.

“Never Surrender You Freedom!” I want to build an UNPRECEDENTED Epic Castle! Why is it UNPRECEDENTED, you ask? Castles have been known to appear in both the real world, and in games, but perhaps they just weren’t as epic as LordCraft’s castles. Or maybe they build them out of all the cease and desist documents they receive in the mail.

The person who made this trailer clearly has a decent amount of talent in animation. A tragic waste. The same might perhaps be said for World of LordCraft as a whole. It is not a terribly hard thing to create your own Tolkienesque fantasy world. I could probably knock three of them up between breakfast and lunch. An ounce of creativity (or failing that, a random fantasy name generator) would have let them avoid the incoming legal storm.

Update: I charge World of LordCraft with being another of the heads of the Evony hydra. As evidence I present the welcome screens to both games. You can click the images to enlarge them to read the text.

World Of Lordcraft Welcome Screen 500x263

The World of Lordcraft Welcome Screen

Evony Welcome Screen 500x249

The Evony Welcome Screen

Apparently they’re both “The World’s Best Web Game”. Which is lying? My money would be on both of them.

So many aspects of the design are identical that I’m fairly confident that David Guo’s UMGE, the company behind Evony, is also behind World of LordCraft.

This is not the first MMO that the Evony gang have committed grave crimes against, as Maltheas reported.

The same advice I gave that you do not give Evony your credit card details applies equally to World of LordCraft. It is just not worth the risk, as they obviously have a problem distinguishing between things that belong to them, and things that do not. Even more importantly, if you must play, absolutely do not use the same password you use for WoW, unless you want to end up assisting UMGE’s goldselling division.

Update: I’ve posted some more about LordCraft’s obvious ties to Evony, and the source of the buxom lass for one of their recent adverts.

Update of June 2010: A little housekeeping, as this post seems to be getting a lot of attention at the moment. The video seems to have stopped working. They’ve actually got a new version of it on their website with a less incoherent narrator now, and fixing the typo. Happily, I found the original trailer has made it to YouTube :)

They had also changed the address of the Lordcraft Terms and conditions. Changed the web address, but not the fact that it’s a direct copy of WoW’s terms. The link has been updated.

The Warhammer Online Wikia rethemed to promote World of Warcraft

The Warhammer Wikia has received a new look. Or maybe I just didn’t notice until today. Either way:

Warhammer Online Wikia promotes WoW

That is more than a random advert. That’s a whole deliberate theming of the site portal, clearly specially designed for the purpose, and whether it is the owners of the wiki, or wikia themselves who have done this, I consider it to be pretty poor behaviour. I wonder how much Blizzard are paying them for such base treachery. A wiki is put together by a great number of people willingly sharing information and content, because they love the subject. How many of the contributors would be happy to see their work used in such a cynical way?

Maybe the privatisation of wiki, by companies like Wikia, was not such a good idea. Far better to use some of the perfectly functional public domain wiki software. By ceding control to a company that is quite naturally in it for the money, rather than out of love of the wiki-subject, something has been lost of the spirit of the enterprise. At any rate, I don’t see me ever contributing to a Wikia wiki ever again.

Neither the Age of Conan wikia, or even the WoW one has received such an extreme makeover. The whole thing smacks of a dirty tricks campaign by Blizzard. Certainly, as Lum recently pointed out, there is little love lost between the two companies.

Greetings from Azeroth! Wish you were here.

Well, I said I’d quit if they didn’t stop all this silly exchange nonsense. Apparently my single account didn’t scare them too much. Particularly sad, as I was rather enjoying Norrath, and I wish the best to the guild I leave behind. I shall continue to keep an eye on whats going on in EQ2.

Never fear though, for there are always other adventures! I picked up WoW, and am enjoying it. Something like a dumbed down version of DaoC, but my friends who have been playing a while tell me it has hidden depths. There’s also Guild Wars out on the 28th, which I’ve had on pre-order for a while.

Oh, and I hear the plague has been cured, at least on some servers. Good.