Monday, 30 January 2012

Diablo 3: Selling gold guides

We can't be 100% certain but it now seems that Marcko's ban from the Diablo 3 beta was on the grounds that he has stated an intention to produce a gold guide which he would intend to sell.

There's a few interesting points to consider.

Firstly there's the point that Marcko, famous for his Just My Two Copper blog and its associated WoW gold guide, was given a Friends and Family invite by a Blizzard employee after he mentioned how much he'd like one on his blog which is called Diablo 3 Gold Guide Blog. Blizzard then discovered (shock! horror!) that he is planning a gold guide and banned him.


Of course it wouldn't be the first time the left hand knoweth not what the right hand is doing at Blizzard but it's certainly very silly on the face of it.

Let's have a look at what this latest message said:

"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."

OK there's a few points that aren't clear. First, is this only a beta restriction? Because Marcko didn't sell anything during the Beta and as far as I know didn't plan to. Or are they planning to prohibit commercial fan sites when the game goes live?

It would be a huge change of direction for Blizzard to suddenly start actively banning players who are involved with commercial enterprises. For there are lots of commercial WoW sites including Curse Gaming, Wowhead, Thottbot, several hundred blogs that are monetised and hundreds of thousands of Youtube videos. If you put something on the internet it's normal for your content to generate money. That's just how Google and Youtube work. This blog is actually non-commercial but I suspect that it will be harder to put out non-commercial blogs in the future as I'm freeloading off Google and I'm sure they'd prefer it if they got paid.

Next, is there something specifically about farming gold as opposed to playing the game in other ways which is commercial? I can kind of see how people might think so because we all instinctively feel that game gold is "money" even though it's not. Virtual game currency is simply a meter, getting richer is like getting higher level. It's an aspect of gameplay and not actually real money. (Although D3 makes this murkier with the prospect that gold can be cashed out). I don't buy the argument that gold is real world dollars any more than killing power is real world dollars - both can be cashed out, converted into money but they aren't money, just the potential to earn it.

So is it wrong to give people tips on playing the game? There's certainly a lot of bitterness towards theorycrafters but it's never before been something the games company has joined in on. Advice on how to level, where to farm gold, what talents to pick all has money-making potential in a game that will be for many people about making real world money. Is it unfair to help people optimise? Immoral even? I don't really think so either.

Is it wrong to sell information in third party transactions? Well it's not an IP violation. There's no copyright in information. If you think about this it's obvious. Ford own the design of their cars but they don't own "knowing how to turn left". Information about a game isn't property of the game company, there's no legal infringement.

It is (apparently) a terms and conditions violation which doesn't surprise me at all. EULAs are one-sided, not negotiated and have grown over the years to give the issuers more and more powers. Legally an online game is basically a private club that can admit anyone it wants.

In the end banning players for making gold guides is hopelessly futile. It's pretty obvious that you can make a gold guide and not connect it with your in-game character name or the real name they have on file for you. In fact there's so much information around you could possibly make a commercial gold guide without even playing the game, just by doing online research. It's possible they could use cease and desist orders but I'm not sure on what legal grounds they could ask for people to not sell guides to their game. There's no copyright in strategies. Trademark violation, maybe. But any legal remedy they use won't stop these guides from mushrooming up again. The internet has proven remarkably resilient to being told to shut up so far.


  1. There's something a bit seedy about gold guides - not as bad as RM gold selling, but still on the slippery slope, in that the intention of such guides is to circumvent the dev's mechanisms for limiting rewards in order to ensure the game's longevity:

    Beta testers should really be reporting gold farming methods to Blizz as exploits rather than writing guides about how to do it. So I can see why devs wouldn't want such people in the beta.

  2. What if Blizzard were planning to sell it's own gold making guides or levelling guides? In that case, I think they'd be more than justified on cracking down.

    (Actually I've often wondered about how the licensed game guide writers feel about the masses of unlicensed guides that are sold for profit. ie. why exactly did they bother paying for that license if Blizzard isn't going to help police it?)

  3. @ Roq I know what you mean but I think it's a false positive thrown up by our gut reaction that gold is money (which it isn't it's progress). I don't think one can draw an ethical distinction between a raid boss guide and a gold guide, both are about selling game strategy.

    As to who you want in betas I'm old school, I would want the people who try to break the game in my beta.

    @ Spinks I don't think they can sell gold guides without people crying fix. Imagine if they nerfed gold income then shortly after advertised their guide. Everyone would assume a connection and be outraged. It might undermine the credibility of the game.

    Regarding licenced guides they're nothing like the internet information. Those old Prima guides really are relics of the pre-internet age.

    If a modern guide like Marcko's got a licence then what degree of protection could it reasonably expect? If Blizzard go after every strategy site on in internet with lawyers it's not going to shut everyone up.

  4. I wonder if this is part of a tighter IP crackdown. Previously Blizzard have been fairly lax about their IP, allowing people to sell fan art and make YouTube videos. Is all this set to change?

  5. @ Gazimoff It's quite likely. It's part of the normal lifestyle of a popular product that it goes through a period of seeking alternate ways to profit on the same work. There's some very shrewd business people at Blizzard.

    On the other hand, as Roq said, gold guides are perhaps seen as being at the tacky end of fan sites, somewhere between EJ and gold selling RMT sites.

  6. I'm quite certain he did not get banned for the intention to create a gold guide.

    It seems much more likely that he got banned for buying the basic magic items from the vendor, salvaging them, and selling the raw mats on the RMAH en masse.
    He calls this the 'secret strategy' on something like that on his blog, I'm pretty sure Blizzard calls it 'exploiting' though, hence the ban.

    I do think that a ban is kinda harsh, cause he was actually doing Blizz a favour by uncovering this before release, but I also think he is whining way too much about it.

  7. You are correct that abstract information cannot be copyrighted. If this went to court, my guess is that it would be a trademark case - i.e. that there's no way to market the information without infringing on Blizzard trademarks.

    In the context of a terms of use/service/etc violation, however, the discussion is generally moot, because the language generally states that the customer is always wrong.

  8. @Scarborn,

    If that's his secret technique, that's just stupid. That's exactly the sort of thing that Blizzard should *want* players doing, so they can fix the game. If it's possible to make money breaking things and selling components that way, there's a fundamental flaw of game design being exposed.

  9. IF Blizzard sells a guide then the third party sites would have a HUGE advantage in selling their own:

    "Get the Secret Methods that Blizzard isn't including in their guides."

    That email you're quoting was received when I asked to get my beta key back two days after the initial ban. What I don't get is why I got the first email about exploiting the economy in the first place. I'm not really sure if the two were the same ban or the second a reasoning for the first or... I dunno. Like you said, this isn't going to stop third parties like me from selling anything.

    I do however agree that I should have been contacting support (as they emailed me and asked me to do when the game is in retail) before attempting strategies that could be against the spirit of the game.

    Honestly though, how is buying vendor items and salvaging them against the spirit of the game? It's all up to interpretation on their part and not even worth worrying about imo.

    I have to thank Blizzard for doing this. I have received quite a bit of traffic and buzz despite all the news about 100,000 beta invites and patch 10/11 happening at the same time.

  10. Didn't they say they are removing the ability to salvage whites from the game? Or was I mistaken?

    I think in Marcko's case, he was ruining some of their test numbers for the AH. Given that the Beta is a small sample of the actual population, gold farmers have more of an effect. I would say that its better for people like marcko to "break" the system in beta though. This way they can minimize the effects once IRL cash is involved. Since, they can't just hard reset the AH at that point.

  11. @ Marcko Ha ha, glad it's worked out well for you.

    @ Degrin yup, from a technical point of view Marcko is quite a loss to their beta. I shudder to think what the guys who are worried by a player salvaging vendor greens in the beta and respond with a ban are going to do when the game goes live and half a million people do the exact same exploit (plus a dozen others). Remember D2 was, for mainstream players, all about trading duped SoJ for duped high level items then pwning with the most broken cookie cutter build on the strat sites.

  12. blizzard has always had a screwy way of looking at these things. If they just viewed people that find these exploits as a resource and source for their patch list they'd have less bad publicity and a better game. I think the devs get too personally upset when people keep finding bugs in their software and they overreact. Sounds like bad management who fail to set proper expectations to me.