Plaintiff's Attorney in Player-IGE Lawsuit Speaks to The Escapist

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Plaintiff's Attorney in Player-IGE Lawsuit Speaks to The Escapist

Richard Newsome is the plaintiff's attorney in Hernandez v. IGE, a lawsuit recently filed against the notorious real-money trade company. The Escapist's own Alexander Macris, a Harvard-trained lawyer who's written on virtual reality law, spent some time on the phone yesterday with attorney Newsome discussing the lawsuit.

The Escapist: What's your background, Richard?

Richard Newsome: I was a federal prosecutor and then worked for a civil litigation law firm. I defended DuPont, Ford Motor Company and other large corporations. Eventually I decided my heart was on the other side, and that I wanted to represent consumers. I've been doing that ever since. My firm represents consumers in complex litigation on a contingency fee basis. We've done product liability, class action, multi-district litigation. RMT [real-money trade] seemed like an area that none of the consumer lawyers had waded into. It seemed like a worthy cause and we decided to jump in and see if we could help out.

TE: So what is the actual lawsuit - in layman's terms?

RN: The actual lawsuit is Hernandez v. IGE. We filed it in Miami, where IGE has offices. In layman's terms, the core of the complaint is a consumer class action for unfair trade practices. Guys like Tony [Hernandez, the plaintiff] have paid their $15 for some entertainment, and IGE is polluting that entertainment. It's kind of like, if someone pays for a ticket to go see a movie, and if someone else comes in behind them and kicks their seat, you can get them to stop doing that. We're just trying to get IGE to stop kicking the seats. This is not unlike other consumer complaints where someone has paid for a service, and someone else is interfering with it. It's really very simple.

TE: What do you hope to achieve with this lawsuit?

RN: We want to make IGE stop kicking the seat - stop polluting the service that's been paid for. We're going to get an injunction. We pleaded for money damages, but the No. 1 goal that we really want is to make them stop. And that's obviously going to be an intense fight.

TE: No doubt about it. What makes you think this will work?

RN: Oftentimes, to me, it seems like the best cases in the court are when an injustice is being done - when somebody isn't playing by the rules. And that's what's happening here. There are clear provisions in the terms of use that everybody agrees to, and IGE is just violating those rules.

TE: So then why haven't the industry firms or other consumer law firms done this?
RN: That's a very good question. I think the consumer law firms are simply unaware of the problem. And I think, with respect to the industry, there are pros and cons of filing a lawsuit when your business model could be affected by the outcome, and the uncertainty of that is causing them pause.

TE: That being the case, do you expect the industry to get involved? And if so, as an ally or as an enemy? Or not at all?

RN: I am obviously hopeful that the industry will get involved one way or another as an ally. What I'd like to do is reach out to them to see if we can't get some support, even if it's behind the scenes. But publicly it'd be nice to know that Blizzard was behind us. Clearly their resources are getting gobbled up by this. The time CS has to spend chasing down gold farmers, banning accounts and dealing with angry customers - those are huge resources. And to the extent this action can lessen those problems, we'd like them to support us. Our clients love the game and love Blizzard.

TE: Even if you get no help from Blizzard, do you have the resources to win this?

RN: Yes, we do. The bulk of my practice is handling complex litigation for catastrophically injured people. We handle class actions and complex product liability, and we go to trial. The folks on the other side of us on these cases know this. We don't think twice about putting a million dollars in costs and thousands of hours of attorney time on a contingency fee basis. So if we can't work out some deal to the benefit of players, we are prepared to go to the mat. And even if we lose, they will spend a ton of dough fighting us.

TE: What if they want to settle, pay you off?

RN: Well, if there's a way that we can resolve this case quickly so that players have a way to play in a pollution-free environment, then that's really what we want. If IGE said, "We're going to agree to stay out of WoW," then that'd be great. We're not in this for a settlement that's only about money. This is about them needing to be a good public citizen.

But if they make us go to trial, then we will collect. A consumer case takes money. My client doesn't have the money to pay for this. We're spending our own money and time on this. We'd like to see some of that money recovered, and if they make us go the distance, let's recover the damages.

TE: How can you enforce this against a Hong Kong company?

RN: You follow the money. Everything goes through the pipeline of Paypal and credit card companies. They have to go through legitimate institutions to further their conspiracy. So we can hit them in the pocketbook. We would take our injunction and enforce it against the payment companies so they can't do business. That's a real means to get them where it hurts. If we win, it's Armageddon for them.

And IGE will try to claim they aren't liable, that they are just facilitators. But as a former Federal prosecutor, I've handled this before. We had drug dealers say, "Hey, I never touched the drugs, so you can't touch me!" Although it's usually used by prosecutors in the criminal context, civil conspiracy is a recognized cause of action that lets us get past the shell game. IGE facilitates gold farming, and that's the conspiracy. And we think the evidence will prove to a jury that they're liable for it.

TE: So you feel you have precedent on your side?

RN: There's no other case that's been filed like this with respect to gold farming, but there is a ton of precedent with consumer protection law that has been created to protect consumers from illegal conduct. The law says you have to be fair and follow the rules, and when you don't, and you adversely affect other consumers, you're subject to a law suit being filed against you. It's very straightforward consumer protection law.

All of the lawyers who've approached this have looked at RMT from the jurisprudence of intellectual property. That's not what this is about. This is about a consumer who makes $8 an hour and for whom $15 a month is his whole entertainment budget. It's for guys like him that we're bringing this suit.

TE: What do you think the ramifications of winning this suit would be for the MMOG business overall? Does it introduce concerns over taxes, property ownership, EULAs?

RN: As I said, we are approaching this from a consumer protection standpoint. I don't have an opinion on IP or tax jurisprudence. For me to give a legal opinion on those issues, I'd have to study them. But from a consumer protection standpoint, we think we can demonstrate that if you're paying your subscription fee, you have a right to enjoy that experience unpolluted by people who are breaking the rules. I think that's something everyone can feel good about. I think the players of these games will support us, because this is for them.

Permalink

I have little experience with it, but have a question for WoW players.

Do the goldfarmers and IGE prevent WoW from being fun, or prevent the game from running its course as it was intended by the developers at Blizzard?

Just from personal experience in observing my roommate, WoW in itself is more of an addictive, grind-it-out game than it is about being simply fun. If the best, or most fun, in-game features occur with a high-level, well-equipped character, then isn't IGE actually providing a more fun experience for the casual WoW player with disposable income?

Correct me if I'm wrong, or if IGE is ruining your WoW experience.

Gold farmers inhibit fun for some people. People strongly morally opposed to it. People trying to make money off the economy as it stands, in-game. People who've dumped thousands of hours into the game, who are then out shined by people who spend money to get the items they camped for weeks to acquire.

All in all, there's not a significant, palpable negative impact for the average player.

Now, in terms of "Are their actions taking place within the 'intended' gameplay of the game itself?" No, they're not. And while they do certainly affect the economy, it is gradual enough to be relatively transparent.

Your statement could easily be considered valid. I stopped playing WoW, because every level I gained, I still felt just as far from the top as before. I hit 40, and I was still referred to as a newbie, because 60 is the level when you actually get to play the game, as opposed to working it. Having said that, I can see the other side too - as I used to play a game, where I played my way to the top, and players who bought their way to the top, always irritated me.

a2SkinneeJ:
Just from personal experience in observing my roommate, WoW in itself is more of an addictive, grind-it-out game than it is about being simply fun. If the best, or most fun, in-game features occur with a high-level, well-equipped character, then isn't IGE actually providing a more fun experience for the casual WoW player with disposable income?

That would be personal observation, not experience. The difference is in the level of your understanding. For example, you really don't know why your roommates have fun playing WoW, you're just guessing. Do they enjoy the grind? The social experience? The higher level encounters? Who knows. They may not even be able to put it into words. I don't play either, so I can't even begin to understand. But that doesn't change the central issue here: that IGE is facilitating a mass violation of the ToS.

Should people with more money than time be allowed to spend that money to gain an advantage over those who don't, or shortcut to the fun parts of the game? If that was allowed in the rules, then I'd say "yes." But it isn't. Hence the lawsuit. Whatever you get out of the game - or don't - it's really that simple.

Beyond that, to where the existence of people in the game space who have used money or influence to short cut their way to where most other folks have to work to get, and how that effects the play experiences of the people who can't afford or don't choose to play that way, I can't say. I can understand how they'd feel cheated and put at a disadvantage, but I don't know how much less "fun" their experience is.

Maybe the root of this issue is that since so much of our real world operates that way, offering favors and shortcuts to people who can pay for them, that folks who spend money to escape into a game feel like their play world, their escape world, should maybe cut them some slack on that front. And on that score, I'd have to agree.

Russ Pitts:
That would be personal observation, not experience.

Is observation not experiential? I didn't know it wasn't...apparently neither did Merriam-Webster...
EXPERIENCE
Main Entry: ex·pe·ri·ence
Pronunciation: ik-'spir-E-&n(t)s
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin experientia act of trying, from experient-, experiens, present participle of experiri to try, from ex- + -periri (akin to periculum attempt) -- more at FEAR
1 a : direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge b : the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation

I'm directly observing my roomate and his mood, actions, and vocalization during his WoW sessions. I know he enjoys the comraderie of WoW because he plays with his brother and sister-in-law who live in another state. He doesn't laugh, he doesn't smile, he doesn't give off an air of happiness. He just spends hours and hours and hours at his PC directing his group. I can only guess that he gets satisfaction in his escape-world leadership post that he lacks in the real world.

And as far as saying they feel cheated, I think that's the wrong word. How were they cheated? IGE does not practice discriminatory sales practices. If you want it, you can buy it. Maybe it's their in-game hubris or sense entitlement that makes them think that, because they put in the man hours, they're better than the IGE-purchased character. Maybe it's because they can't personally afford to pay a service like IGE.

Either way, I think a lawsuit on the basis of IGE "ruining" the playing experience is a waste of our judicial system's time and resources.

Right. My mistake. Your observation equals direct experience, if you wish. I disagree, but it doesn't change the fact that since neitehr you nor I actually play, our opinion of what makes the game fun pales in comparison to that of those who do.

As to IGE, they provide a service that is illegal according to the rules of the game. I'm not going to debate the relative merits of capitalist society. I can see where your opinion would lead you in that debate, so suffice to say, here, again, we disagree.

But it doesn't matter. IGE is breaking the rules, they're getting sued. The courts' time is wasted on any number of things at any given time, but the beauty of our system is that any person, no matter how rich or poor, right or wrong they are, can file a suit. They can't always fight it through, but they can file, and the court decides if its time has been wasted.

Given that the lawsuit ultimately speaks to the legality of a multimillion dollar business and the validity of EULAs to control in-game behavior, I simply can't accept that it's a "waste of judicial system's time and resources".

Whether or not the plaintiff class has been harmed is for the courts to determine. Making this determination is why we have courts. Using courts for their intended purpose is hardly a waste of them.

Archon:
Using courts for their intended purpose is hardly a waste of them.

Agreed.

Russ Pitts:
Right. My mistake. Your observation equals direct experience, if you wish. I disagree, but it doesn't change the fact that since neitehr you nor I actually play, our opinion of what makes the game fun pales in comparison to that of those who do.

When did I ever qualify my experience as direct? I defined it as personal experience in direct observance of another...never direct experience.

a2SkinneeJ:

Russ Pitts:
Right. My mistake. Your observation equals direct experience, if you wish. I disagree, but it doesn't change the fact that since neitehr you nor I actually play, our opinion of what makes the game fun pales in comparison to that of those who do.

When did I ever qualify my experience as direct? I defined it as personal experience in direct observance of another...never direct experience.

You're absolutely right. You did not say that. Again, my mistake. I still disagree with you.

My first impression is that there is no legitimacy to the claim that it's "immoral" to sell fake money to people who want it. That's just silly. It's immoral to scam people out of something that they want, but this is called bartering and it's pretty much the staple of civilization. Like it or not.

As far as 'they facilitate breaking rules' well so do the Goons of SA. They coordinate violations of the TOS on a regular basis, and have a grand time doing it. Is the population of Mal'Ganis going to start a class action against lowtax because they like to have fun in their game? I would venture to guess that anyone who's ever played the game for more than 10 minutes has violated the TOS. I know everyone i've ever played with sure has. Is this justification for someone with too much time on their hands to sue me? I should hope not.

The people who complain about the economy fail to realize that the more gold IGE sells, the better business is for EVERYBODY. There's more money in the economy, so crafters can sell their goods for higher prices. The average player can sell their BOE drops for more, and everybody wins.

If you're going to go on a witch hunt because of people collecting gold, then distributing it as they see fit, why not go for the guild masters? They have guild banks. These guild banks distribute money, items, etc. The difference? None at all, really. If you just consider that the guild mates are working at minimum wage for the time they spend raiding. So 20 hours raiding a week, they get X amount of stuff from the guild bank. They obviously aren't all this simple, but it's the basic idea, guildies work for the guild master. IGE customers work for another company. Both the guild masters and IGE distribute money based on the hours of work dedicated to the respective entity.

If it's just a matter of breaking the rules, then how many guilds have members that share accounts? We need a tank, Frank is out of town, John logs into franks account to act as tank. This isn't an uncommon occurance. Is this worth a lawsuit? Frankly, if IGE is worth one, then this definitely is. Breaking rules is breaking rules. In this line, what about people who swear in a public channel? Should the FCC jump in and file suits against these individuals for breaking the TOS? They're not just facilitating, they're actually COMMITING the act.

Finally, anyone who's ever played wow knows that you can't buy the best gear in game. It's all BOP. So unless you're buying an account, that's a non-issue. On the same note, how many gold farmers are involved in raiding guilds? I'm going out on a limb when i say virtually none. Here you're talking about individuals who are selling their accounts to IGE to sell to someone else. If you're going to blame IGE, you have to blame the original account owner. And hell, you may as well blame the guild who let them get all the epic gear, because they clearly facilitated the whole thing.

In conclusion, this is not a moral issue. This will at some point be an IRS issue. What this is NOT is a justice department problem. This is the internet, we have moderators and GMs, and admins to deal with people who are breaking the rules. This is a TOS, not a bloody constitution. And by Mr. Pitt's logic, it'd be okay for me to start making characters on RP servers, then filing suit against everybody who broke my immersion. That's against the rules after all. What comes next? Squad cars rolling around azeroth looking for jaywalkers? They can just tack the fine onto your account billing.

In my experience playing MMOs, WoW included, gold farmers are extremely disruptive to the normal gameplay experience. Even though a lot of farming in WoW can be done within instanced dungeons a major portion of it is done in open-world zones. Harvestable materials will be next to impossible to obtain in some regions, semi-rare drops of stackable items used in crafting will be perma-camped etc.

So access to certain aspects of gameplay are hindered. To go a step further, most gold farmers will do all in their power to force you out of their chosen 'farming area'. They will spam you in chat / spam you with group or raid invites / spam your in game mail etc.

It's also common practice for many farmers to use third party programs to run "bots" to do their farming or fairly commonly to provide their "powerleveling services".

All of the above are violations of the ToS / EULA for nearly all MMOs in the US currently. This is the basis for the vast numbers of accounts that are closed / banned. If a company's EULA was not binding to that degree then someone like IGE could have sued Blizzard for each of their gold farmer's accounts that were closed but they have not because they have no grounds to do so, as the services they provide are based off of illegal activities etc.

I will be watching this case closely, and hope that the gaming industry does indeed show their support in one form or another.

WoW, for me, had so many little botherances that saying gold farming was a _major_ problem would be a tough call. It certainly was a problem. It's very frustrating to have a quest lengthened because someone is farming the MOBs you need to kill to get your drop.

They also affect the in game economy. Essentially their actions inflate the entire system, so those of us that wanted to play within the rules were at a disadvantage at the auction house. There are professions that are good for making money and others that aren't, so things don't balance out if you're in one of the more self-improvement oriented (as opposed to money making) professions.

If it is a wider problem that I think (more farmers that I would guess) then we run into server load issues. People that play the game to make money in a game where making money is illegal then the servers are being stressed because of illegal activity. Personally I'd doubt it has that big of an impact, but it's possible.

RMT definitely had an impact on my experience in some ways, and for more hardcore players it might have a more drastic impact. I have a lot more problems with the fact that World PVP was light at best, fighting rogues in PVP was frustrating with my Warlock, and getting the best gear (in order to have a chance in PVP) required giving up a day a week, every week, in order to raid a dungeon for the slight chance that the boss mob would drop my set peice (not to mention the odds of getting it over the other warlocks in the raid). Raiding is probably fun for a lot of people, but if you aren't the most hardcore player its an experience you won't be able to enjoy (and it will probably anger people around you if you screw up a pull or something like that). RMT was a problem, but only a slight problem for me, a mostly casual player.

a2SkinneeJ:

Russ Pitts:
That would be personal observation, not experience.

Is observation not experiential?

It's an experience of observing the thing observed, not an experience of what the thing observed is experiencing. Unless you've got one of those squid things on your head like in _Strange Days_.

Your roomate's "mood, actions, and vocalization" are his *reactions to his experience,* which while part of his experience, are not the entirety of his experience itself. I don't think Russ Pitts was talking about your experience observing someone experience WoW--my guess is he was talking about the difference between observing someone having an experience, and having that experience yourself. It looked to me that he was questioning your "direct observation of...events" as a *sufficient* "basis of knowledge."

I can't see Hernandez winning this lawsuit simply by the fact that the process of farming the gold falls well within the rules of the game. The act of camping spawn points or any other method of obtaining gold is what the game's about. If IGE isn't farming the gold, it's a million other players. Nothing will change with IGE out of the picture.

Richard, Hernandez's lawyer, uses the analogy of kicking the back of a moviegoer's seat. Um, yeah. Sure. Can I get a court injunction against all griefers and players in my way then? ;-)

IGE does the same thing that any other individual player does in the game at one point of another... so it must be because they are a large organized body that makes it worse, right? Guilds, anyone? Oh, right, it's about the money. So it's okay to camp a spawn point and ruin someone else's game as long as your not earning real money for it. That doesn't sound convincing enough to me. Am I missing something here?

Yes, IGE is breaking the licensing agreement with Blizzard, but that's with Blizzard, not Hernandez. I think Blizzard is not suing IGE for reasons that Hernandez's lawyer doesn't understand... or won't admit.

I have never played WoW, but I'm familiar enough with a variety of MMOs to understand that it's impossible to achieve an online utopia. Hernandez needs to have an intervention... there's more to life than WoW.

Eggs:
It's immoral to scam people out of something that they want, but this is called bartering and it's pretty much the staple of civilization. Like it or not.

Actually, that's called 'fraud' as to distinguish it from bartering.

Eggs:
If it's just a matter of breaking the rules

I don't think it's a matter of just breaking the rules. I think it's a matter of conspiring to break the rules with an effect on the general playing experience committed by people who have no real interest in the game.

It's one thing to look the other way when someone decides to enjoy a game in a way that violates the ToS; it's something very different when it's someone who couldn't care less about the game and is only looking to get a profit out of it. You can give someone who is there to enjoy the game some slack because to some extent they'll police themselves. Someone who just wants to make money, though, is someone who has no more interest in the game itself than a commodities trader has in a good BLT.

Personally...I don't have enough experience with MMOGs to say whether gold farming ruins the experience. Personally, I think MMOGs should be designed in such a way that gold farming and grinding are incapable of having an effect on the play experience. Didn't that basically happen in "Kingdom of Loathing" where there was a huge influx of gold, so the designers put in incredibly expensive--but basically useless--items? Sort of a modern day potlatch? The real problem I see here is in the design of the MMOG, but, that's another discussion. If two people contract to something I think is dumb, that doesn't mean they don't deserve justice.

In any case, however right you are about the things you said, they really don't have a bearing on this case. This case isn't whether the ToS should be enforced or whether the ToS prohibits these activities. This suit is about who can act as the enforcer of the ToS. If your're right about the things you said, *no one* would have the right to enforce the ToS. However, that's not what this case is about. I don't think the plantiffs seek to extend the reach of the ToS any further than Blizzard already has. They are just looking for the right to bring a person who breaks the contract to court the same as Blizzard is in suing "Peons4hire," and the same as every time Blizzard broke the ToS contract with someone who violated it by banning them in retaliation.

Eggs:
This is a TOS, not a bloody constitution.

It is, however, a contract, and therefore legally binding.

It's like if someone owns a well, and he sells us all the right to use the well, subject to a ToS that you don't poop in the well. This suit is about the other people who contracted with the owner having the power to enforce the contract you signed with the owner against you not to poop in the well.

This suit is basically about whether the ToS is a contract against pooping in the moonwells. That is *exactly* how the plaintiff's attorney should start his argument.

Echolocating:

IGE does the same thing that any other individual player does in the game at one point of another... so it must be because they are a large organized body that makes it worse, right? Guilds, anyone? Oh, right, it's about the money. So it's okay to camp a spawn point and ruin someone else's game as long as your not earning real money for it. That doesn't sound convincing enough to me. Am I missing something here?

I agree with you about camping a spawn point being just as bad--maybe even worse--but it's not about someone's game being ruined because of someone else's actions. It's about someone's game being ruined because of someone else's actions *that violate the ToS*. I haven't seen the ToS, but I'm guessing it includes "I won't trade in-game items for money" but doesn't say "I promise not to be jerk" or even "we, Blizzard, promise people won't be jerks to you." However, my guess is that the reasoning is that by making you accept the contract in the form of the ToS that says "I won't trade in-game items for money" that means you don't just promise Blizzard you won't, but also means you promise everyone else who accepted the ToS that you won't.

Maybe there's a suit there against Blizzard for offering a defective product regardless of the ToS because they designed a game where people can camp spawn points. That's another issue, and maybe you're right. The argument here though, is that the ToS isn't just meant to benefit Blizzard, but to benefit the players. It's the same argument Blizzard uses when it bans people itself: that it's for the sake of other players (and not just so the IRS won't start looking into MMOGs).

Echolocating:
Yes, IGE is breaking the licensing agreement with Blizzard, but that's with Blizzard, not Hernandez. I think Blizzard is not suing IGE for reasons that Hernandez's lawyer doesn't understand... or won't admit.

My guess is it'll involve this subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_party_beneficiary

Also, my guess is Blizzard isn't suing anyone unless they've got a rock-solid legal case--like they probably do against Peons4Hire--because they're making a bajillion dollars as it is right now. You don't risk killing the goose to get the golden eggs.

(edited to add: actually, there's a link to the suit--and why they think this suit will fly--off of another The Escapist forum article: the article is here and the link to the suit is at the bottom of the article. Guess there's no more need for my guesses :-D )

Great links, Cheeze!

You make very valid points. I read the case document from the previous article. A small fraction of it is simply because of the licensing agreement breach by which IGE is making their money. The other 80% of the claim is about the disadvantage "honest players" are subjected to and the annoyances caused by IGE within the game. If the annoyances Hernandez "suffers" at the hands of IGE are a factor in this case, I'll be amazed.

I think the reason why Blizzard doesn't want to sue IGE is that a good portion of their player base deals with ill-gotten gains. Shut that down and people may have to progress in an "honest" fashion. Translation: not very many people have the time to actually earn the items in WoW, so they'll feel discouraged by their lack of progress with their "insignificant" 20 hours invested each week and they'll quit.

If Blizzard backs Hernandez, the case has merit... if Blizzard doesn't, then they are basically condoning IGE's actions and Hernandez's "pain and suffering" will look like a minor grievance... which I think it is.

They are disruptive to other players in WoW.

First the game has always had spamming. They create a new account, and begin flooding tells to people until the GM bans them. It got so bad recently, people were having their screens filled with spam four times an hour, and not just one tell, they would have their screen filled with junk. It got progressively worse, and Blizzard was forced to code in anti-spam features.

That's not as bad as account hacking. The gold sellers became desperate after long-time gold-farming employees were banned repeatedly. So now they'll post nefarious webpage links in the forums, people will follow them and be hit with Keyloggers. Accounts are hacked, they'll sell all of people's things and mail out the gold, then they'll take the compromised account and use it to post the bad webpage on the forums again. LOTS of people were affected by this.

As Blizzard took tougher actions against the gold farmers, they became increasingly disruptive to normal players.

Echolocating:
Great links, Cheeze!

You make very valid points. I read the case document from the previous article. A small fraction of it is simply because of the licensing agreement breach by which IGE is making their money. The other 80% of the claim is about the disadvantage "honest players" are subjected to and the annoyances caused by IGE within the game. If the annoyances Hernandez "suffers" at the hands of IGE are a factor in this case, I'll be amazed.

Thanks! I would say, though, that the "other 80% of the claim" isn't just "about the disadvantage "honest players" are subjected to and the annoyances caused by IGE within the game." It seems to be about this being a violation of various unfair trade practice statutes. Which means if his lawyer can prove these were violated by IGE, Hernandez's grievance--however minor it may appear--is prohibited by well-established law.

Remember, they're mostly looking for injunctive relief here so IGE can't use PayPal or cash checks at banks. And of course huge attorney's fees...

Looking at the causes of action section, I'd say the percentages would be 40% unfair trade practices, 30% third party beneficiary based on the ToS, and 30% based on tortuous interference with the overall contract between Blizzard and Hernandez.

Funny thing is, as crazy as it may sound to sue someone because they're disrupting your game, this one looks like it's not seeking to create any new legal theories. Quite the opposite--it seems the plaintiff wants the court to forget this is a game as much as possible, and treat it as any other service contract.

Echolocating:
I think the reason why Blizzard doesn't want to sue IGE is that a good portion of their player base deals with ill-gotten gains. Shut that down and people may have to progress in an "honest" fashion. Translation: not very many people have the time to actually earn the items in WoW, so they'll feel discouraged by their lack of progress with their "insignificant" 20 hours invested each week and they'll quit.

Definitely. In a way, gold farmers are the best subscriptions of all. They pay the same amount of money each month and really have no demands. They could care less about cool new content that Blizzard has to pay people to design.

Echolocating:
If Blizzard backs Hernandez, the case has merit... if Blizzard doesn't, then they are basically condoning IGE's actions and Hernandez's "pain and suffering" will look like a minor grievance... which I think it is.

Thing is, Blizzard has already backed Hernandez by way of their actions. They've been banning gold farmers for violating the ToS and patting themselves on the back for keeping the game balanced for years now. It's kinda hard to say one day that "we enforce the ToS so you have a good time playing" and then next day say "the ToS was never meant to make sure you have a good time playing," you know?

And there's no way they're ever going to say the ToS isn't a contract--if they do, that means all those people they banned for violating it could sue *Blizzard* for unfair trade practices.

Personally, I won't be amazed if this winds up being an open-and-shut case. A player who enjoys a game suing people who are only using a game--in a way prohibited by the ToS everyone agrees to when they sign up--to make money by ruining that game? That's a pretty unsympathetic defendant.

Hey all,

I don't play WoW, but I play FFXI... and anyone who plays MMORPGs as a hobby knows the RMT problem has infected all games.

And yes, it does diminish the quality of our gameplay.

1) Gilsellers will bot, hack and even have several people play on the same character (unless they've figured out how to stay awake 24/7) to monopolize valuable, in-game drops. No matter how good of a player you are, it is nearly impossible to compete with someone who is using bot programs and computer hacks. Some of these hacks allow the monster to be "claimed" by the gilseller before it even appears on your screen... and once a monster is claimed by another player, you cannot attack it. Anyway, the presence of RMT makes it much more difficult to get the gear/items they need without... you guessed it... buying it from RMT, often at inflated prices.

Which brings me to my second point...

2) The economy. Any "benefit" RMT have on the economy is artificial... RMT will flood the economy with gil, creating massive inflation that is difficult for many players to keep up with. (example... at the peak of FFXI's RMT problem, I was trying to save up for an item that cost 1 million gil... by the time I saved up $1 million, the item then cost $1.2 million... a few days later, when I saved up $1.2 million, then the item cost $1.4 million... I had to borrow gil from a friend so I could actually buy the item, because I couldn't legitimatly farm gil fast enough). On the flipside, when RMT money is removed from the economy, the results can be so staggering as to cause a gamewide economic depression, as we've recently seen happen in FFXI (that item that cost $1.4 million a year and a half ago now costs about $300,000).

Now, though, RMT have been severely hampered in FFXI, and prices are FINALLY starting to level out, and the economy is stablizing, as it should have been in the first place. But the economic impact of RMT (hyper inflation followed by dramatic economic recession) is undeniable... and, both the inflation and recession has made life extremely difficult (and not fun!) for legit players.

To answer concerns from one of the early posters in this thread, there are aspects of MMORPGs that are not affected by RMT.

For example, FFXI offers a series of complex storyline missions, which tests players skills in several challenging battles while giving gamers a rich, compelling story to follow.

However, a big part of MMORPGs is having a "job" within the game to finance your adventures. In FFXI, my character mines for ores, platinum and gold. I also craft alchemy items (potions to recover hit points and magic points, etc), and sometimes I kill monsters to sell the items they drop to other crafters.

Well, I had to stop mining because RMT characters were camped out at every single place where mining was possible... many of these RMT characters are bots, meaning they are ran by computer programs, programed to mine that mining point 24/7... not only could I not compete with them, but the RMT bots/characters flooded the market with ores, causing the prices to plummet to nearly rock-bottom.

Crafting became pretty useless too, for the same reasons. RMT characters go so far as to INTENTIONALLY flood markets and cause prices to bottom out, in an attempt to price-out legit players. The prices get so bad that players can't craft items without incurring a net loss in gil.

And, because crafting went down the toilet, so has farming. If nobody is crafting, then nobody needs to buy the materials these monsters drop.

So, I'm currently trying to save up another $1 million gil to buy an item for my character. If the game's economy had not been so badly damaged by RMT, it probably wouldn't take an unreasonable amount of time to save up that much gil. However, all I can save up now is $15k-30k per day... and at that pace, it's going to take a hell of a lot longer to save up my $1 million.... and there are many things I'd rather be doing than farming for gil.

The RMT problem affects different players in different ways, too. Some players don't enjoy the "experience grind" of MMORPGs, but they love crafting and playing the market. Some players don't necassarily get into the large-scale "endgame" activities, but they love camping the rare monsters that drop valuable items. The list goes on... and RMT clearly makes it more difficult for these players to enjoy their games.

And let's not forget: yeah, when camping one of those rare monsters, it sucks to get beaten to the claim, whether by a legit player or an RMT bot. However, there's a huge difference... the legit player is playing by the same rules you are, and the RMT bot isn't. For every time the RMT bot gets the claim, that's time you and other legit "campers" have wasted trying to claim that rare monster. I don't mind so much when I get beaten by legit players, because most of the time, legit players won't come back after getting the item they need. But RMT characters don't sleep, don't take dinner breaks, don't stop to use the restroom. They're operated by computer programs, they use illegal cheats, and they'll keep coming back over, and over, and over again.

So, yes, in conclusion, RMT definitely diminishes the fun legit players have in these games. The impact of RMT on legit players is cumulative, and undeniable.

Hope this helps explain the positions of MMORPGers!

Cheeze_Pavilion:
Thing is, Blizzard has already backed Hernandez by way of their actions. They've been banning gold farmers for violating the ToS and patting themselves on the back for keeping the game balanced for years now.

Actually, I meant if Blizzard backs them up in court. You know, if they got a Tauren Shaman (or a relations manager) on the stand to bring even more credibility to Hernandez's claims.

I know Blizzard has banned accounts in the past, but that's more about persona than anything else. If they really wanted to ban accounts, they could cripple IGE, but they won't; they're a good customer and they support other good customers. Money is money.

However, it does look like Hernandez has a chance with the way you've explained things. Good going, I'm usually tougher to crack than that. ;-) Despite his claim for not seeking money for himself, I can see a little money for Hernandez happening. You know, for consulting costs in aiding the law firm he hired, etc.

This has got to be one of the most nerdish lawsuits ever. Move over reality; there's a new kid in town. ;-)

Echolocating:

Cheeze_Pavilion:
Thing is, Blizzard has already backed Hernandez by way of their actions. They've been banning gold farmers for violating the ToS and patting themselves on the back for keeping the game balanced for years now.

Actually, I meant if Blizzard backs them up in court. You know, if they got a Tauren Shaman (or a relations manager) on the stand to bring even more credibility to Hernandez's claims.

I'm not sure if Tauren Shaman can be subpena'ed, but I'm pretty sure relations managers can.

Echolocating:
This has got to be one of the most nerdish lawsuits ever. Move over reality; there's a new kid in town. ;-)

I don't think so at all--it's not suing other players who you think are playing the game wrong. That would be nerdy.

It's suing people who are pretending to play the game and have no interest in deriving any amusement out of the game, only real world profit. That's just trying to have fun. I don't see anything nerdy about it. Why do you think it's nerdy?

I agree, this lawsuit isn't nerdy at all. It's actually very important.

What IGE is doing is clearly wrong, and it's about time that lawyers begin searching for a way to bring this practice to an end. If the problem isn't solved now, it will grow and infect future Internet mediums.

The Internet isn't going anywhere, and neither are people who will do anything they can to profit from it... even if that means profiting off of copyrighted intelectual property, and doing so at the expense of others.

Better to find a legal precedence to stop this now, than to let it go on and get worse.

I don't know. The whole thing smells of pocket protectors and zit cream.

But hey, if Hernandez wins and IGE is out of the picture then we'll all sit back and watch others feverously farm gold and interrupt our enjoyment... for the right reasons. Hallelujah! ;-)

When's this thing going to trial?

This lawsuit affects too many people to be brushed aside as nerdy. Just in my online "guild" (or linkshell, as it's called in my game), we've had musicians, journalists, corrections officers, psychology grad students, meat-packing workers, warehouse managers, Web designers, advertisers, social workers, real-estate agents, etc. Basically, hard-working people from all walks of life, who simply want to enjoy cheap entertainment without disruptions from companies like IGE. Studies have shown the average age of MMORPG'ers to be in the mid-20s, although I know people who play in their 40s and 50s, too. I know several couples who play this game, and know of at least one couple that even got married after meeting each other through the game.

Like I said, MMORPGs (which stands for Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games) are not going anywhere. And, contrary to what some may believe, they appeal to many different types of people... not just the high-school age shoppers at GameStop (in fact, that demographic is a minority). The Internet is growing and evolving at an amazing pace. What will it offer us next? And, what kind of legal protections are future consumers going to be offered?

Hopefully, this case gets the attention it deserves.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Eggs:
It's immoral to scam people out of something that they want, but this is called bartering and it's pretty much the staple of civilization. Like it or not.

Actually, that's called 'fraud' as to distinguish it from bartering.

What's called fraud? To clarify, scamming is immoral. Trading legal tender for products or services to an informed customer who knows exactly what they want, is just that; trading.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Eggs:
This is a TOS, not a bloody constitution.

It is, however, a contract, and therefore legally binding.

It's Blizzard's legally binding contract. I never agreed to anything with any party other than Blizzard. This is like me suing my dentist's patient because I wasn't able to get my appointment on the day I wanted.

Last thoughts:

In the lawsuit happy society we live in today, this kind of frivolous litigation just lends legitimacy to other absurd lawsuits. Once, long ago, in a land far away, lawsuits were used to settle serious disputes between parties. If someone had built a house on my property, a lawsuit would have taken care of it. But this kind of suit just brings in a whole new level of abstraction to the laws, which are themselves not intended to be nebulous.

While I understand that the internet is a new frontier for judges, I don't think this is the appropriate way to introduce the issue to the legal system. If Blizzard wants to sue them, that's just fine, they are violating a legal agreement that they had with blizzard. But this whole "they're ruining my fun" basis is just obscene. I derive half of my pleasure in this game from ruining other people's fun. I break rules regularly. Blizzard is welcome to ban me, sue me, whatever. But the mages I camp have absolutely no grounds to sue me for disrupting their gameplay.

And I know it's beeen said before, but it's worth saying again. If gold farmers aren't farming that resource node, mob spawn, whatever, then somebody else in game with an entrepreneurial spirit will be doing so. Face it, someone in the world is always going to be a greater catass than you. Get over it.

Yes, I could see how people would call this frivolous.

On the same note, though, it's also incredibly stupid that a company like IGE is able to blatantly break the rules of a service which millions of people pay for, without any possibility for recourse. That, to me, is more absurd than the frivoloty of the lawsuit (which I personally don't believe is frivolous... as I've stated, it could actually set a very meaningful precedent for other online services).

Cheaters like the guy who posted above me will always exist in any game. In FFXI, steps are being taken to aggresivly remove cheaters from the game... so really, I don't give a crap whether normal players choose to cheat. If they want to keep paying for new software and content IDs every time they get banned, well, it's their money! But RMT companies operate differently. They have big budget and seemingly endless resources. You can't simply ban the cheaters and expect RMT to stay away. There must be a threat of legal recourse.

Eggs:

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Eggs:
It's immoral to scam people out of something that they want, but this is called bartering and it's pretty much the staple of civilization. Like it or not.

Actually, that's called 'fraud' as to distinguish it from bartering.

What's called fraud? To clarify, scamming is immoral. Trading legal tender for products or services to an informed customer who knows exactly what they want, is just that; trading.

Right--bartering, not scamming. That's my point. You made it seem like the two were the same.

Eggs:

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Eggs:
This is a TOS, not a bloody constitution.

It is, however, a contract, and therefore legally binding.

It's Blizzard's legally binding contract. I never agreed to anything with any party other than Blizzard. This is like me suing my dentist's patient because I wasn't able to get my appointment on the day I wanted.

No, it isn't like that at all--you would be at best an incidental beneficiary. That's different from an intended beneficiary: check the link I provided in my response to Echolocating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_party_beneficiary

For those who are wondering about the impact that IGE is *really* having on the majority of online gamers, please read this. I hope to give a better example to you than can be found in WoW.

From what I've seen from my roommate playing WoW is that goldfarming plays the part of a minor annoyance. The only times I've ever heard him complain about it is when he gets repeated tells (private messages) from goldfarmers/sellers directing him to a website that markets gold.

Personally, I play Final Fantasy 11 (FFXI) and have had an active character for over 3 years now. I've watched the enterance of gilfarmers (aka goldfarmers, RMT, gilsellers...I will use the term RMT from here on out for "real money trade/traders") and have seen the volitility of the in-game economy due directly to RMT activities.

The impact on each person's experience in-game from RMT is much more direct than on WoW.

For a very long time, RMT have almost entirely monopolized an endgame area, only allowing players to experience this part of the game either by A) purchasing items used to spawn important monsters from RMT at severly inflated prices or B) use RMT services to spawn the important monsters in order to get the items and gear that the player wants, which costs quite a bit of in-game money (gil).

Farming (killing monsters for saleable items) has been monopolized by RMT at times, forcing legitimate players to compete with RMT players who often use unfair practices (i.e. using programs to unnaturally move or warp directly to the monster, programs that will automatically 'claim' a monster [once a monster is claimed, it is normal for only the claiming player and anyone in his group to make any action against a monster], etc). Farming is where many players, especially players who are not at the max level of 75, gain the largest chunk of in-game income.

Farming, as stated above, includes the monopolization of Notorious Monsters (NMs) that drop rare and expensive items/equipment, and spawn rarely depending on the difficulty/type of monster. NM spawns times can normally range anywhere from 15 minutes to 72 hours, and nearly every NM that drops an item or items that are worth large amounts of gil are regularly camped and monopolized by RMT, forcing legitimate players again to buy the item from RMT at inflated prices.

Crafting (taking items and, through an in-game process, creating a new item/items) was also a large income for many legitimate players and has also been detrimentally affected by RMT activity. Either severely raising prices on ingredients, or severely lowering the price on any item that isn't a high-quality result, causing many people who've chosen this path for income to lose gil instead of gain it.

As a result of this control over the economy and the average player's income, there is heavy pressure on the casual player to buy gil from companies like IGE because it becomes increasingly harder for players to legitimately acquire gil.

Square-Enix (SE), the company that produces FFXI, has taken many steps toward removing RMT activity from the game. Mass-bannings from using cheats in-game, monopolilzation and 'holding' (claiming a monster without making any attempt to damage it), having known affilliations to RMT activities, etc, are all now under heavy scrutiny by SE.

The problem here lies in the fact that SE can only do so much in keeping RMT out of the game. Credit card numbers and IP addresses used to register accounts are checked for previous registrations on banned accounts, but those that are causing the largest problem in FFXI are using dynamic IPs and rechargable credit cards (can't think of the actual term for this, but they act like rechargable gift cards). SE can do nothing about these RMT that get banned, change IPs, get a new card, and create a new character, and these RMT are the ones that are hurting SE's playerbase.

From what I understand, and from what has been addressed, is that the actual RMT in-game and IGE as a corporation have no 'direct' affiliation. IGE purchases the farmed gil or gold from a 'farm' and then sells it at inflated prices. The analogy of the drug dealer is an apt one in this case. IGE, in this case, is only in violation of one area of the ToS; unauthorized sale of copyrighted intellectual material, which in some cases may be as much of a crime as selling illegally downloaded .mp3s and other cases of piracy. This last statement is my personal belief and I have absolutely *no* prior knowlege of copyright law, so please take it as you will.

This law suit if successful will just create a void for the next big RMT company to take up IGE's market share. The difference will be that they will be smarter and more savvy to base themselves outside the scope and reach of the US legal system. I think the greater issue here is that Blizzard do not want to eliminate gold farmers or RMT companies such as IGE.

Blizzard has the money/resources to take legal actions themselves for the contravention of their TOS/EULA. They own the game and all the intellectual property so they should be launching their own law suit. Ok so they don't sue but if they were so concerned about the unethical nature of RMT and the degredation of enjoyment for their "genuine" subscribers, then they have access to all the necessary information to ban accounts when they want without recourse. If they decided to they could wipe out RMT within days but do they want to?

Of course not!! To Blizzard, RMT = money for them. Imagine how many accounts are created daily by farmers - money in Blizzard's pockets. They know the farmers won't give up and will continue purchasing cd keys and subscriptions which naturally means more money for Blizzard. Also, how many subscribers would leave the game if they had to grind for that gold? Hundreds? Thousands? Well definitely there will be a huge drop in new subscribers without the farmers.

So think about it..... Blizzard are owned by Vivendi Universal - a huge multinational conglomerate who are accountable to share-holders. How are they going to explain the loss of revenue and reduction in subscribers to their Executve Board and Shareholders? Blizzard publicly will be stating their "we care about game-play, ethics etc" but secretly cheering for IGE as the management know their bonus and share options depend on RMT supporting WOW. Imagine when in years to come gamers have stopped playing WOW, Blizzard will be turning around to RMT companies and say "Please sell gold in our game".

jiggywithmrbiggy:
This law suit if successful will just create a void for the next big RMT company to take up IGE's market share. The difference will be that they will be smarter and more savvy to base themselves outside the scope and reach of the US legal system.

Don't know if that's possible--remember, the strategy here is as much about cutting off the supply of money as it is about getting to the actual company. Like the lawyer in the interview said: "You follow the money. Everything goes through the pipeline of Paypal and credit card companies. They have to go through legitimate institutions to further their conspiracy. So we can hit them in the pocketbook. We would take our injunction and enforce it against the payment companies so they can't do business."

Kinda like how they could never get Capone on murder, but they followed the money and got him on tax evasion.

Cheeze_Pavilion - I take your point and it is valid. However, using that principle about severing the funding/revenue for these RMTs, why hasn't Blizzard complained to Paypal? They have managed to remove the majority of WOW gold auctions/sellers from Ebay. Doesn't Ebay own Paypal? Why would Paypal still accept business from IGE if Ebay wont allow gold sellers at all for copyright infringement?

jiggywithmrbiggy:
Cheeze_Pavilion - I take your point and it is valid. However, using that principle about severing the funding/revenue for these RMTs, why hasn't Blizzard complained to Paypal? They have managed to remove the majority of WOW gold auctions/sellers from Ebay. Doesn't Ebay own Paypal? Why would Paypal still accept business from IGE if Ebay wont allow gold sellers at all for copyright infringement?

Might be harder to prove that this is actual 'copyright infringement'. Remember, the IGE lawsuit isn't based on intellectual property law, but on Unfair Trade Practice statutes, Third Party Beneficiary law and Tortuous Interference With A Contract law.

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