Consolidation of the big fansites

Today brought the news that Curse Inc has added mmo-champion to their portfolio of popular gaming sites.

Curse, if anyone recalls, started off as an addon repository produced by a top WoW guild which then went commercial and has been picking up popular fansites and forums for a variety of games. For example, they own Warhammer Alliance and Aion Source. Now that LOTRO has announced that they will allow LUA scripting, we will probably see Curse expanding into LOTRO addons as well in the near future.

I have no issues with Curse, they provide a good gamer-centric service to players and to addon writers. I hope they turn a decent profit.

The other big player in the fansite-conglomeration world is ZAM (previously Allakhazam if you were around in those days). ZAM owns wowhead, wowinterface and tankspot as well as EQ2 Interface and mmoui, and they have a big Free Realms site. Their site also indicates interest in Final Fantasy Xi and XIV.

ZAM had a spotty reputation due to its association with IGE, known mostly for goldselling and buying thottbot (ZAM and IGE were both owned by the same asset holding company). That’s all in the past now and has been for several years, but gamers have long memories.

From the lists of sites, it’s clear that both ZAM and Curse are looking at similar markets. They’re looking to the addons, to the user communities, and to the popular databases. I assume that advertisers provide a lot of the funding – a site like mmo-champion or wowhead gets thousands of hits per day.

Amateur -> Professional

I always feel a sense of loss when an amateur run fansite sells up and goes pro. Sure, it’s great for the people who put all the work into it, and it’s probably even better for users if the new owners help create a better service.

It’s even a half decent business plan to start a site from the very beginning with the aim to monetize, look around for buyers, and grow a business. There’s nothing wrong with that. It also happens in every single hobby based endeavour – providing communities and services to fans is already big business.

And yet, something changes as the commercialisation takes hold. It isn’t necessarily bad, but it is different. It’s great to have access to software like the Curse client which takes so much of the work out of updating addons, and knowing that some of the money goes toward paying the addon authors. It’s great to have access to sites like wowhead.

But it’s also great to have the huge range of amateur writers and sites as well. I don’t hate that my hobby gets more and more commercialised, but I do value even more the people who hold out and speak with different, non-commercialised voices.

Long live our corporate masters! And vive la difference!

Blizzard finally flexes some NDA muscle

Yesterday Blizzard decided to clear up what  a Non Disclosure Agreement actually means, and asked mmo-champion to remove the Cataclysm Alpha information.

Two points come to mind first:

1. The NDA isn’t just a legal agreement

When a beta is under NDA, in the gaming world it mostly means in practice that people agree not to talk about anything they have seen or heard from anyone else about it. Think of it as a gentleman’s agreement with the vague possibility of legal action behind it. Truth is, any legal action is going to ask, “how much damage in $$$ did this leak actually do” and it would be hard to  justify that a gaming NDA leak made much of a difference to the bottom line. As a lot of people have commented, it may actually raise interest and awareness.

So if we keep the NDA, it’s either because we can’t get the information or else out of a sense of goodwill. So for all Blizzard have likely sent legal letters to Boubouille (owner of mmo-champion), they equally could just have asked him formally to take the information down without any threats at all. Most fansites would comply.

So what does an NDA really signify? Just that the game is at a stage in development when the owners would rather people not discuss the details – probably because they’re either still in flux or they’re worried about bad reviews. In this case, bad reviews won’t be an issue. WoW is WoW.

And if you run a blog or fansite, all you need to decide is whether you support that or not. It’s nothing to do with whether you actually signed a legal agreement. “This game is in NDA” signifies a stage in development.  I’ll prefer to comply with NDAs –– obv. much easier when I’m not in the beta anyway – unless they’re doing something which I feel I need to break in the gamer public interest.

2. You know, Blizzard have actually released a lot of OFFICIAL information about Cataclysm

If we could stop talking about half-cut priest talents and new screenshots of Mulgore (which look surprisingly like the current version) for a moment, there is a lot of official blue information around about Cataclysm.

  • We’ve had class previews – which did mention a lot of the talents that people are busy ‘analysing’ from alpha build.
  • We’ve had previews of zones.
  • We’ve had previews of instances.
  • We’ve had previews of the new races.

I don’t see any special reason why people need to go searching out alpha data on warez sites that will infect their computers with dreaded lurgy (this was one of the arguments in favour of leaks being on ‘official’ fansites). What more could they need to know? You really want to see half-baked talents that are probably going to be tweaked several times even before beta?

Also, I freaking hate the argument that ‘well, if we didn’t leak it they’d just go and get it anyway from more dangerous sources’. It’s like saying that software vendors should just give away their code because people will only go pirate it and the poor pirating babies might pick up a nasty virus along the way.

Hello? If you go pirating software or poking around for alpha leaks, then don’t complain if you pick up a computer virus.