Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

The Lawbringer: Contracts and the achievement tracker

Amy Schley

Welcome to this week's episode of the Lawbringer! Each week we'll dive into the intricacies of law and the World of Warcraft. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to slay demons of ignorance for the benefit of your fellow denizens of Azeroth. Demons of ignorance slain: 1/4782*.

*Number of ignorant demons may be subject to nerfing.

So last week I introduced y'all to a bit of legal theorizing about how law and WoW might mix if they got pugged together. (Hint: not very well.) Y'all also were clamoring for my dissertation on gold farming. I want to give a big thank you to commentator Arnold for his excellent suggestions for improvements to make, and I promise I will be making those corrections soon. This week we'll be moving into some more concrete topics, prompted by a email from my mailbag:

The new armory prints out date and timestamps for every little move you make in game. Run a heroic, it will show the date and time for every boss you kill. I didn't mind when it printed a date for achievements. But such fine-grained detail being so publicly available is .. invasive of privacy.
This is an excellent issue, Wendy, and a subject of much qq-ing on the forums. However, before we can look into what privacy Blizzard may be invading, we need to understand our relationship with Blizzard; to do that, we need to look at a bit of contract law.

Basics of Contract Law

Contrary to popular belief, contracts don't need lawyers, signatures, or even paper. To be binding and enforceable in court, a contract just requires three things: offer, acceptance, and consideration.
  • Pro-tip I: Use a lawyer to ensure the contract says what you want it to say.
  • Pro-tip II: Write the contract down so everyone knows to what you are agreeing.
  • Pro-tip III: Make sure everyone signs the paper so you can prove that the other party agreed to it.
  • Pro-tip IV: I am not your lawyer, so don't send anything to me. (See disclaimer below for additional details.)
Offer is a pretty simple concept in most cases. An offer is a request to do anything that a person is not legally prevented from doing in exchange for another legal service or legally exchangeable objects. "Can I mow your yard for $30?" – valid offer. "Can I blow you for crack?" – not an offer that can become a contract enforceable in court. For WoWers, our relationship with Blizzard started with them saying, "If we let you have accounts on our servers and play in our world, will you pay us and agree to our End User License Agreement and Terms of Use?" Our responding, "Yes!" is the next step in the process – acceptance.

Acceptance is the point at which the other party agrees to the offer, though it should be noted that instead of accepting, the other party can make a counter offer which then has to be accepted by the other party before a contract has been formed. Now, to accept an offer, you generally have to be a legal adult and of sound mind. Some of you of a devious bent might see "sound mind" and wonder about what happens if you agree to an offer while drunk. For the record, "high as a Georgia pine" is not intoxicated enough to void one's acceptance. Now, our acceptance of Blizzard's terms is done by clicking the "I agree" box after we have scrolled to the bottom of the terms.

The last step in the process is consideration, which is the exchange of money, objects, or even just mutual promises to confirm the agreement. For example, "Will you marry me?" is an offer, "Yes" is the acceptance, and the exchange of the rings and promising "I do" is the consideration. It's important to note that by forming a contract, you are losing control of something that you had, whether it's your money (if you've bought something), your property (if you've sold something), or your time (if you've agreed to mow the yard instead of playing WoW). When we agree to the EULA and TOU, we give up certain rights we might have had otherwise. This is why, when you have a question about your rights regarding World of Warcraft, you should go directly to the EULA/TOU, do not pass Go, do not beg for 200G for [Legal Advice].

Let me repeat: If you have a question about legal issues in World of Warcraft, you should first look at the contracts you agreed to: the End User License Agreement and Terms of Use.

So back to Wendy's email: "Such fine-grained detail is .. invasive of privacy." Now, Black's Law Dictionary describes privacy laws as federal or state statutes that "restrict public access to personal information such as tax returns and medical records." Now, you own your tax returns and medical records. Pop quiz: who owns the information posted on WoW Armory? Hint: open in new tabs the links in the last paragraph.

Go on, I'll wait.

Okay, now that you (hopefully) have the EULA open, scroll on down to section four, letter A.

All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the Game and all copies thereof (including without limitation any titles,...characters, character names, ... character inventories, ... animations, ... character likenesses...) are owned or licensed by Blizzard.

Now, tab on over to the TOU, and scroll down to section four again.

All rights and title in and to the Service (including without limitation any user accounts, titles, ... characters, character names, ... animations, ... character profile information, ...) are owned by Blizzard or its licensors.

You could even look at the bottom of the Armory website.

The data contained herein is proprietary to Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. You are granted a limited license to make personal use of the information contained herein for non-commercial purposes only.

Got that? Blizzard isn't posting your information on; they are posting their information. And what's more, you agreed that the information is theirs.

Now, Blizzard cares a great deal about securing your information that is actually personal: check out their Privacy Statement certified by the ESRB and Terms of Use, Section 9, B, v. Your information is secured to the industry standard and disclosed only to third party vendors with an option for you to opt-out. Furthermore, it is a violation of the Terms of Use to "[c]ommunicate or post any user's personal information in the Game, or on websites or forums related to the Game," The only way to connect a player with an avatar is for that player to reveal their avatar names, (say, with a Facebook app), and anyone who discloses a player's personal information is in violation of the Terms of Use.

Now, the provision goes on to say "except that a user may communicate his or her own personal information in a private message directed to a single user." Strictly speaking, you may violate the Terms of Use by disclosing your own name or address in guild or even trade chat. Remember, before you can get Zaboo'd, you violate the Terms of Use.The point remains that no one can stalk your every move on Armory unless you told them the name of your avatars. If you told your parent/spouse/teacher/therapist your toon's name and regret that they are now able to see what you've been up to, that is neither Blizzard's fault nor Blizzard's problem. That said, as a player myself, I do hope that they will give the same options to restrict publication on the Armory that are available on the Facebook/Twitter application. I'm less concerned about my privacy than that I want to only see all the achievements I've been racking up working on [Loremaster] and [World Explorer] in anticipation of Cataclysm.

Stay tuned for next week when we examine the legal kerfuffle around bans like Ensidia's.

This column is for your entertainment and enlightment only. Information handed out in this column is not to be considered legal advice. If you have real legal questions, please consult a real lawyer.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr