Blizzard Responds... It's Not Pretty

I have several posts scheduled in the pipe, but thanks to an email I just received, I had to write this post. Keep in mind that it took me three hours to write this. It means a lot to me if you would please read it all the way through.

I have received the following short letter from an unsigned Blizzard employee.

"Hi Christopher,

Our Terms of Use, which players agree to prior to playing the beta, make it clear that using the game for commercial purpose, such as for selling unlicensed game guides, is prohibited. Violating the Terms of Use can result in a ban, as was the case here."


It was from "donotreply@blizzard.com", with the subject "Follow Up," and was not sent from their normal help support desk. Who knows who actually wrote the email, but it has made me decide to write the following post. As of right now, the only official email I have from Blizzard is that I was banned for "exploiting" the economy. So now I have two emails that conflict supposedly both from Blizzard. Understand, even I know how to write a simple php script to send an email to someone from an address other than my own, so this email could be fake. I, however, believe it to actually be from an employee at blizzard, as only they know my email that I used for their beta account.


Here is my response to Blizzard's emails:


Dear Blizzard,


We live in changing, incredible times. The internet and in particular the gaming community is no stranger to this concept. As game manufacturers work to create intricate, fun experiences for their players, there are going to be companies which profit from making those experiences easier to traverse. That is the nature and evolution of the business. Before the past decade, it was impossible for sole proprietors, like myself, to successfully market and sell game guides to players.

What I do, however, is something much greater than just sell guides to games. What I actually do is create real competition for the "licensed" scammers of this world. Guess what? You actually benefit from this. Allow me to explain...


Three years ago I walked into Bestbuy and saw a "guide" to world of warcraft. It was nothing more than a review of the game's lore and a terribly basic analysis of which items were the most common in warcraft at that time. It was outdated, with areas of the game listed as present that had been removed. I walked out of that store with an idea, one that eventually blossomed into a blog. That blog became a business, and I found ways to create real, powerful strategies for gamers to use to make virtual currency in a video game.


These "secrets" were marketed as such, but they weren't really secrets. I wasn't putting together a list of exploits or broken mechanics, I was instead showing people what I thought was going to be in that book I picked up three years ago. Factual, researched methods for playing the auction house. I taught people how to think, and that's what made me so successful. Where do I come up with this stuff? Well, I try to answer the following question: "How can I intellectually analyze a situation so as to find the best methods for making gold?" Does this item sell for more when you disenchant it and then craft it into something else? Well then, that's a method for making gold. What I did in Diablo 3 a few days ago, taking gold from a 145% gold find build and then using the money to buy materials from vendors for the purpose of salvaging, that was just a method. It wasn't a secret or an exploit. It was using in game systems in a complicated way, but nothing against the TOS.


My actions caused you to look into my account, and upon finding this blog linked to it, you assumed that I was selling a guide. As of right now, I am not, but obviously I intend to in the future. This is your beta, and I respect the fact that you don't want someone using the beta to improve their chances of selling gold guides.


This was actually not our first meeting, as you have changed your games numerous times before because of the strategies I've made public, whether on your forum or within the confines of my blogging. I've been on dozens of podcasts, posted on nearly every fansite you are affiliated with, and am friends with many of your MVP's. I love the community and take pride in the fact that I don't shy away from it because I have faith in the services I provide. You have a great community within your gamers, and I am honored to partake in it and make it even better.


Getting back to the topic at hand, the concept of selling a gold guide is no different than the millions of how-to books written by passionate hobbyists for every fun activity under the sun. The only difference here is that I'm not licensed, just a man on the internet using his brain to produce content so valuable that people will pay for it. Not exploits. Not secrets. Simplification. Thinkers like myself take complicated systems and break them down into easy to manage chunks for our audiences. That's exactly what I was doing with the Diablo 3 Beta.


Remember how I said that I did something more, that I actually brought competition to the market? I am different from those that wish to scam players; you know, the same people who are selling exactly what I picked up in Best Buy and was disgusted by three years ago. The difference between me and them, is that I am open, honest, and deliver on my promises to those who buy from me. I teach players to be better players and I'm very, very good at it. Due to this fact, I am in many ways not the same animal as those companies that try to make a quick buck off your games. However I will always be labeled, by outsiders and your company, as such.

Blizzard, if your TOS is against profit, then why do you allow fan sites to have ads? Why are fan sites allowed to profit from your game? What is the difference between a fan site making $17 from google ads off a person in a year and a gold guide doing the same thing? The gold guide is more efficient, when done correctly, and often more valuable to the buyer. At least one of my gold guides is. I'm the future of this industry. Just look at people like Day[9], who teach players to be better players, in the truest sense of the word, and get paid to do so. I'm not like the Athene's or Swifty's of this world, selling basic information and entertainment all bundled into a deceptive pile of seemingly useful garbage.


I cannot think of a single, popular fan site that does not have ads or even a forum membership. They make no effort to disguise the fact that they are compiling information into a single location and making money in the process. A gold guide, is the same thing, but better for the buyer. Maybe the problem is in the fact that the marketing sells one thing, and the buyer gets something else. I market a gold guide, but what I actually do is convert an exploit seeking player into a better thinker who can succeed without breaking the TOS. In many ways, I am helping your business by showing people how to have more fun playing your games, which keeps them playing longer. That's right, you actually benefit from what I do. To give you a number, I have helped over 6,000 wow players with paid guides and have had over 3,000,000 hits to my previously owned and free gold blog. That's a lot of players I've helped to stay interested in your games.


Blizzard, I believe that I am the perfect candidate for testing the RMAH through a Beta Key. If you wish, I will report every single idea that enters this brain of mine to your support staff and the beta forums (should you wish that). Why not bring on board someone who has literally dedicated himself and made a living off of analyzing your economies? Think of me as the Mad Money guy for Diablo 3.


That being said, I am not currently selling any gold guides, as I have sold off my previous business and am in the process of creating a new one for Diablo 3. The guide is called Diablo 3 Gold Secrets, and it is not complete, nor am I going to sell a single copy until I have had enough time to analyze the retail version of the game


Good day to you, and I look forward to the release of your game.


Thank you,

Markco



PS: Can you change the spelling of the "Marko" that the one guard talks about letting die in the first level of the game? That would be awesome ;-)

To you, the reader, this is the last I will speak of this ban. I have plenty of articles written from the short time I was in the beta (I spent 40 hours writing/editing videos) and hopefully I will continue to post daily up to and beyond the release of Diablo 3.

19 comments:

  1. Food for thought..if they banned you in beta, they are gonna do the same with retail if they are aware of your actions. You have to understand in thier eyes you are not promoting thier game, you are an unnecessary headache, not to mention violating thier terms. They make no money from you and you use thier products names.

    I really think Blizzard with take a proactive stance in D3 against sites like these and others that attempt to sell thier property and or represent thier products in ways they deem inappropriate/violation in order to preserve the integrity of thier auction house. I am willing to bet that this could be thier test model for future games and they will want to keep a positive image, as well as profits.

    They still have the stigma of D2 to recover from. The game was rampant with bots, hacks, dupes etc., and now they are keeping transactions safe and "in house". And in my opinion keeping it safe requires crack down on third party sites, if they are selling items, gold, or even information.

    You have to understand, it's Blizzard ball and they can take it home anytime they like. Something to think about if you wanna make a buck off thier game.

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  2. That's an awesome letter man. Unfortunately they have a mindless policy against things that they don't understand and probably won't even take the time to read it. Thanks for publishing it though it helps legitimize what you, myself and others are doing in the realm of information site which all add significant value to their games.

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    1. "Unfortunately they have a mindless policy against things that they don't understand" is an odd statement to make. Would you prefer that Blizzard simply allowed actions in their games they don't understand?

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    2. It's hard to say that they know what's going on here when it comes to products like the ones Markco has sold. They probably gloss over his website and product sales page and categorize him as a "gold seller."

      Yes, they should strive to understand what they are banning.

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  3. If that email is real, it sounds fishy. I mean, they didn't have a problem with you selling the WoW guide and now all of a sudden they ban you for something that you haven't even released yet?

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  4. It sounds like the 'exploit' they banned you for wasn't exploiting the gold system, but rather exploiting Beta access to create/advertise your Diablo 3 Gold guide - which makes a lot more sense. Yes, you're not selling it at the moment, but your intentions are clear, given your many advertisements.

    They want players to use the Beta as a preview/test, not get an edge up on creating a guide to sell for commercial gain (and possibly compete with their own guides that they profit from) - as they clarified in the second email. It's in the terms of service, and in their rights to put a stop to it.

    You've also been twisting the ban itself into its own advertisement of sorts, claiming you were banned for making too much gold - when it sounds like this may not be the case. You were banned for trying to turn your early beta access into a head start on commercial profit.

    Of course, once the game comes out, more power to you. There's nothing inherently wrong in selling info to others that don't wish to spend time following all the forums where people figure out/discuss these tips, and I applaud your ability to turn farming into a profitable venture. HOWEVER, it sounds like you'll need to closely read the terms of service or contact blizzard to make sure that they won't ban your account for selling 'unauthorized guides' in the full game too.

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    1. Here's the thing, I don't know if that second email is really from blizzard. The firs definitely is because it was on the support page. The second could easily have been a fake.

      I know that I was banned for exploitation, and then warned by possibly blizzard that using the beta to promote commercial gain is prohibited.

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    2. Aren't there tons of sites that make money off WoW information: Curse, Wowhead, EJ? Seems like a policy they're finding their feet with and administering somewhat arbitrarily.

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    3. That's my point, and why I believe that the second email may be a clever fake. It's clear that they found me for making so much gold so quickly and that the ban was initially automatic.

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  5. my two copper is they saw you buying blues from vendors and salvaging them, which lead them to investigate your account. Upon further investigation they realized whom you are. I'd assume that they might not actually like you despite your openness. You have after all caused a fair share of hotfixes in World of Warcraft. In this case, some poor bastard has to fix the salvagable vendor blues.


    on a futher note blizzard is in support of SOPA, which if passed i can garentee that every fansite, gold guide, game guide that is connected to one of blizzard's franchises that makes money in anyway will be wiped off the internet or sued. It is very possible that they'd love to sue you, diablo wiki, diablo inc gamers, Diablo fans, and anyone esle making a dollar off their namesakes, so they don't want to do you any favors.

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    1. ^^ that is a very good point ^^ if sopa is passed i can see blizzard having offical (read paid for) fan sites that the owner has to subscribe to blizzard to use the names. this is were the act will be used for the wrong reasons

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  6. Found this in the TOS: [You may not] "exploit the Game or any of its parts for any commercial purpose". The WoW TOS also has something similar that says "exploit the Game or any of its parts, including without limitation the Service, for any commercial purpose". The keyword here is exploit, not commercial purpose such as a guide. Otherwise the WoW guides would have been an issue a long time ago.

    So what is considered an exploit and what is not in Diablo 3?

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  7. This is a very interesting story, this action by Blizzard (if true) opens the door for some very interesting scenarios when the game is live and we are talking about real money. For instance, at what point does an individual gain a legally recognizable interest in "digital property that has cash value"? When a player sells some awesome armor for real money doesn't Blizzard lose the ability to negate that transaction via a ban? If all digital creations are the sole property of Blizzard, what exactly is person A selling to person B? Person A has to have some kind of property interest at stake in order to be selling that interest to person B. At what point might a court of law decide that a ban by Blizzard was a violation of property rights of an individual? Considering this is a murky area where there is not a lot of precedent I think the RMAH may end up having more far reaching legal consequences than Blizzard or anyone foresees. Maybe you should consult with a lawyer Markco, before the game goes live. ;)

    Anyway food for thought, what if any, is a player As property interest in digital items, and if none, what exactly is that person selling to person B?

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  8. I am a lawyer and I thought I would clear up a thing that some of you guys are confusing. There are two things going on here. One is the issue of whether Markco is within his legal right (with regard to copyright law) to publish a gold guide. The second is what in-game action Blizzard can take.

    Publishing a gold guide is probably fine. This is akin to publishing a guide on Microsoft Excel. You can sell a guide to using Excel, you can sell an Excel macro, you can sell an Excel spreadsheet you have created, and you owe Microsoft no royalties. A guide doesn't really copy anything. To the extent a writer references the things in the game, this should fall well under fair use.

    The second issue is the TOS and what Blizzard can do within the game. I cannot predict what will happen if someone legally challenges a ban based on some ownership claims to virtual items, though I suspect the terms of service require the player to disclaim all such ownership rights. Outside of this, Blizzard can ban you for any TOS violation, and in fact can ban you for any reason at all, so long as it is not some form of discrimination against a protected class of persons (religion, race, gender).

    So it seems to me that Markco just needs to not associate his in-game player ID to his public persona, and he should be fine playing the game and writing the gold guide.

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    1. Exactly Grue, I will have to keep my account email and character names completely secret from the public. I am actually looking into getting a license to sell guides to Blizzard games. Not sure if I will go that route but it is an option.

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  9. Kind of a jacked situation all around. My guess is you have enough info to keep you going until retail is released. Good luck with the new venture.

    Kauzmo
    www.gtfootf.com

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  10. I agree with Grue. I think your strongest argument is citing the precedent of the legal sale of hobby guides for hundreds of years, which is all you are doing.

    If Blizz wants to challenge your definition of "exploiting the game or its parts for commerical purposes", tell them you're quite happy to let a judge define it.

    Selling licensed guides to Blizzard games will obviously require you to submit to negotiated terms, but that's another matter.

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  11. I know this is old, but you can ALWAYS see who sent an email by looking at the header.

    You can spoof an email address but you can never completely hide it's true origin, just check the email's header.

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    1. Wrong. With php you can easily hide that.

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