24 May 2010

[Literature] Who owns the mods?

Who owns the mod? was written by Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi in May 2010. They conducted 15 interviews with WoW modders (ie those who make WoW add-ons) after Blizzard had decided to forbid modders to make money with or advertise in their mods. Currently, more than 4.000 mods have been coded by modders.

Blizzard's new policies

QuestHelper has 23.000 lines of codes and has been the most downloaded mod with 38 million downloads (and counting). QuestHelper, nUI and Carbonite were popular enough to support their owners full time with in-game player donations or for-pay versions with additional features.

But in March 2009, Blizzard posted in their add-on forum section a new set of add-on-related policies. Modders were particularly furious at 2 policies: Policy 1 — Add–ons must be free of charge and Policy 5 — Add–ons may not solicit donations. Only a few modders managed to live with the revenues generated from their add-on, and most modders did it for fun and for free. However, the whole WoW modding community felt betrayed and considered the new policies were a violation of modders’ trust. Modders started to see Blizzard as a company with intimidating lawyers rather than with friendly developers.

Modders reacted on the WoW forums. Cogwheel was a forum MVP and the author or useful mod tutorials and guides. His vehement reaction against the new policies only made Blizzard remove all his posts (ie stickies and normal posts) from the forum. Modders felt that they deserved a response from Blizzard. But apart from reprimanding Cogwheel and deleting the posts of critical modders, Blizzard chose silence.

The modding community

Modders respect each other's work. The ownership arrangement was not legally enforceable, but was upheld by the community’s own mechanics: websites such as curse.com or wowInterface, two key download sites supported by plentiful advertising, were able to remove non–conforming mods from their download sites. WoWMatrix, a download site that did not recognize the community rules, was shunned by modders. After the new policies, Blizzard stood quiet and did not debate with modders. Hence, the solution came from download websites. The requests for donation were relocated from inside the game to the download page of the mod on both WowInterface and curse.com. But mods are downloaded less often than they are used in the game, so this post-policies solution was still less profitable for modders.

Mods such as SellFish, Threat Meter or Group Calendar have been integrated into the official game by Blizzard. Blizzard does not infringe any copyright owned by modders on their work, they simply take the ideas seen in the most popular add-ons. Ideas are not protected by copyrights but by patents, and filling a patent is too administratively complex for a mod developer. Hence what Blizzard has been doing is perfectly legal. And modders never complained about it. Rather, it was a sign of their work done right. Modders were also recognized in their community if their mods had a high download count.

Conflicting interests

Players sometimes complained about bugged mods, or harassed modders for additional features with little respect to their efforts. In fact, many players considered they owned the right to use a decent mod with no ads or donation requests because they had paid for the game. Obviously, this kind of players was not very supportive to the add-on developers. As seen in the figure below, different conflicting interests aroused between players, Blizzard and modders.

In late March 2009, the GroupCalendar mod was removed from distribution. Its author protested against the change in Blizzard's policies. Players came to the authors website and asked for a come back of the mod on curse.com. The mod came back.

API = (developer) community management

Decursive was a mod that automatized many actions into a single click. Blizzard found it simplified the game too much, and the modder rewrote it. Moreover, it seems modders accept updates in the API very easily - after all, code is law. Instead of the highly unfriendly “You have 60 days to comply!” software platform changes are described in neutral, impersonal programming terms. Hence, a lot of the modder community management could happen through the API. [However, I think it requires a very complex mod platform/environment that Blizzard does not have yet].

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