His­tory delet­ing

In clos­ing pri­vate WOW server Nostal­rius, Bliz­zard’s the bad guy

EDGE - - SECTIONS -

World Of War­craft is a liv­ing place. With each ex­pan­sion it sails on­wards, leav­ing old play­ers be­hind as new ideas, faces and philoso­phies keep the 11-year-old MMO cur­rent. How­ever, some play­ers would pre­fer to step back in time and wan­der the world they knew, like re­vis­it­ing the street you grew up on. Un­til April 10, Nostal­rius ex­isted to do just that. It was the largest pri­vate server run­ning WOW patch 1.12 – the fi­nal build of the base game, free from ex­pan­sions and adul­ter­ation. Nostal­gia was so strong that 800,000 peo­ple reg­is­tered Nostal­rius ac­counts, and 150,000 were ac­tive play­ers.

This took place with­out the ap­proval of Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard. The Battle.net EULA, which gov­erns every Bliz­zard game, for­bids the cre­ation of pri­vate servers, de­spite WOW’s past sur­viv­ing in no other form. So it was that Bliz­zard lawyers swooped down on Nostal­rius, is­su­ing a cease-and-de­sist or­der that gave 15 days to com­ply. Com­ply its op­er­a­tors did, and Nostal­rius is now dark – but not in the least bit silent.

The out­cry at Bliz­zard’s le­gal blow is un­prece­dented. At the time of writ­ing, a pe­ti­tion ad­dressed to Bliz­zard pres­i­dent Mike Morhaime has at­tracted nearly 260,000 sig­na­tures. Op-eds abound, and the Nostal­rius team is pre­par­ing a colos­sal post­mortem, in­tended to func­tion as a DIY guide to build­ing a record-break­ing pri­vate server. Among the team is Nano, Nostal­rius’s test lead, op­er­at­ing un­der a pseu­do­nym.

“We are huge fans of Bliz­zard, and WOW specif­i­cally,” Nano says. “We love the game and wanted to see it pre­served and felt no­body since Bliz­zard had done it prop­erly. Nostal­rius wasn’t a busi­ness, it was a pas­sion project.”

It’s the team’s bound­less en­thu­si­asm that makes le­gal in­ter­ven­tion seem like a ham­mer blow to fans. The feel­ing is that this must be a grey area – that pri­vate servers are a nat­u­ral part of the gam­ing ecosys­tem for as long as the ser­vice can’t be ob­tained le­git­i­mately. Jas Pure­wal, of spe­cial­ist videogame law firm Pure­wal & Part­ners, makes the dis­tinc­tion be­tween ideals and le­gal­ity un­hap­pily clear.

“It’s fairly well es­tab­lished that run­ning a pri­vate server with­out the con­sent of the game pub­lisher will face le­gal is­sues of both in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty in­fringe­ment and breach of con­tract – EULA breaches, for ex­am­ple,” Pure­wal tells us. “Although in the­ory there could be le­gal de­fences in favour of the pri­vate server op­er­a­tor, in prac­tice they have not been well re­ceived by ei­ther game pub­lish­ers or, more im­por­tantly, judges. In fact, it’s Bliz­zard which has led the way in help­ing to set these prece­dents.” In 2010, Bliz­zard was awarded $88 mil­lion in dam­ages from Scapegam­ing, a pri­vate WOW server that used a range of mi­cro­trans­ac­tions to profit from play­ers. There was no up­roar upon that rul­ing. Nostal­rius, by con­trast, was strictly non­profit, and the host­ing costs be­came un­wieldy as the player­base soared, at one point sur­pass­ing 11,000 play­ers on a sin­gle server – a feat un­matched by any other. As the fi­nan­cial drain rose to thou­sands of dol­lars per year, de­vel­op­ers added a low-key do­na­tion link to the fo­rums, tak­ing it down when­ever enough cash came in to keep the lights on for an­other three months. Many view the sit­u­a­tion as Bliz­zard go­ing af­ter a char­ity.

“That’s all fair enough when it comes to le­git­i­mate philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions about whether so­ci­ety should al­low these kinds of things to hap­pen where is there no profit mo­ti­va­tion,” Pure­wal says. “But, again, the law isn’t re­ally set up in that way, so fo­rum-lawyer ideas about prin­ci­ples like fair use and whether they op­er­ate here are, un­for­tu­nately, not ac­cu­rate for the most part.”

You have to won­der what Bliz­zard hoped to gain. Given its pre­vi­ous suc­cess in court, Bliz­zard may have ex­pected Nostal­rius to be snuffed out cheaply and with­out fuss (in a sense, it was). It might have been driven by the de­sire to see its EULA en­forced con­sis­tently, or to send a sig­nal to the mar­ket, but it’s likely an un­ex­cit­ing, cor­po­rate com­bi­na­tion of the lot. In the wake of the clo­sure and the surge in vo­cal sup­port for vanilla WOW, how­ever, there’s hope that Bliz­zard might fi­nally cave to pop­u­lar de­mand and es­tab­lish its own le­gacy servers.

“I don’t think re­leas­ing of­fi­cial vanilla servers would com­pletely kill the pri­vate servers that still ex­ist to­day,” Nano says. “There are al­ways a mi­nor­ity of peo­ple who will seek the cheap­est pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tive. Nostal­rius proved you can pro­vide an out­stand­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with­out re­sort­ing to mi­cro­trans­ac­tions or pay-to-win el­e­ments. The fact that Nostal­rius was the largest fan-run WOW server ever tells me that play­ers want to have a pure, au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Un­til Bliz­zard serves that de­sire, it will be play­ing whack-a-mole with its ador­ing com­mu­nity. Nostal­rius’s server-side code, along with a wealth of ad­vice, will be re­leased to fans who will go to any ef­fort for an­other walk down mem­ory lane.

“Nostal­rius was the largest fan-run WOW server ever – play­ers want a pure, au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence”

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