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What happened to TourGuide? Part 2


Tekkub was gracious enough to answer my questions about the controversy, sale of the TourGuide code, and other questions. Here are his answers:

Can you give us a little rundown of the events that transpired with Zygor? I've made your blog post required reading for the article, but just so people have a quick frame of reference. TourGuide's code was licensed to Zygor Leveling Guides after repeated attempts by other mod coders to rebrand TourGuide?

In short, a number of leveling guide sellers have been modifying TourGuide without my permission and using it to power their guides. None of these vendors ever worked out a licensing agreement with me. Zygor has his own addon, which he paid someone to develop for him. I've licensed TourGuide exclusively to Zygor now, and he plans to put the addon back up for free in the near future.

I want to stress that again, TourGuide will remain free. I know a number of my users are upset over this whole ordeal, and I think it's mostly because I have not made that clear. Users are under the impression that TourGuide will only be available if you pay for Zygor's guide, and that is not the case. TourGuide is just unavailable temporarily and will be back.

How long have you been in the wow addon/ui mod community? What was your first addon? Have you been coding your whole life?

Too damn long. I've been in the game since the original open beta, I've used addons since that time, and I probably started working on addons within 6 months of the game's release.

First addon was a remake of an addon called "Minipet leash". Back in those days it just printed this big annoying message after an event that would despawn your pet, like hitting a flight point. Over the years it's evolved and been rewritten a few times. The current version is Kennel, which automatically puts a random pet out for you any time you don't have one.

I've been coding since high school. I started with TI-BASIC (you know, those big ugly graphing calculators), and dabbled in java a little bit. Over the years I tinkered in C++, javascript, lua, ruby. I currently work with ruby on rails and jquery for, and I also manage their tech support.

TourGuide was an awesome addon and really helped a lot of people take the tedium of leveling alts. With Death Knights starting at 55, and the leveling curve getting easier over the course of wow's life, do you think Blizzard would open up other original classes to starting at a higher level?

I think the death knights at 55 thing was a test. Blizzard basically had two choices, ditch the old world and start everyone out with the BC content, or fix the old world. As everyone knows, Cataclysm will be revamping the old world, so it's pretty clear which option they went with. I'm happy they went this route, I like the old world quite a bit, and hate it too. If Cataclysm is anything like the changes made to Dustwallow, I think we're going to be in for lots of fun "new" zones.

Carbonite previously famously charged for a premium version of their leveling/quest helper and took down the premium subscription after Blizzard put out their revised Addon/UI Development Policy. What do you think about the reaction to Carbonite and the eventual retraction of a subscription model?

Carbonite really was the catalyst for the policy. For-pay addons were not a new thing, the problem was that Carbonite started pushing ads into their free version. Frankly, I think that was a horribly stupid move on Carbonite's part... putting ads into a game that you don't own and users pay to play? That's going to piss people off, and it certainly did. The addon policy was the Blizzard legal team's response.

The Addon/UI development policy states that addons cannot be charged for. It also states that addon developers cannot ask for donations in-game, which is common practice. Do you think these areas of the policy should be changed?

Asking for donations in game wasn't all that common before the policy, honestly. I'm impartial to that part of the policy, I never had donation links inside my addons. I only post the links on the addons web pages. I think, if the donation link is not intrusive or only fires off once ("Thanks for installing my addon, please donate if you like it!") than it's not an issue. However I'm sure this is bordering on being a loophole for advertising, which is why it was included in the policy.

The addon policy also states that all code must be free and visible. Can your original TourGuide still be open/free? Is Zygor's code open and free to be seen?

First off, the "visible" part of the policy is redundant. Wow does not let you compile lua, so all addons are plaintext and always have been. There are ways to make the code harder to read (commonly called "obfuscation" among programmers), but there is no way to completely "protect" the code like encryption. Every addon out there can be viewed as plain text one way out another. Just this last week over on WoWInterface Blizzard reaffirmed that using a script called luasrcdiet and similar "code compressors" was against the policy. I'm glad to see that, luasrcdiet claims to make optimizations that many people (including myself) question the validity of. In the end it was really only being used to obfuscate code.

As for "free", this is a sticky point in the policy, and the cause of much drama in the developer community. Many people will contest that Blizzard has no legal grounds to impose such a restriction on addon developers. The addon developer's copyright gives them rights pertaining to distribution, which would include distributing the addon only to paying customers. Developers do not forfeit their copyright to Blizzard, so many people believe that Blizzard has no say in the distribution of their work. While I'm certainly a supporter of code being open and free, I'm also not willing to give up copyright protections for that to happen. It's a bit of an odd stance, I know, but I think copyright can be used for good.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe copyright is a wonderful, flawless system. I think there are some very major flaws with copyrights, especially when it comes down to the end user. But the one thing copyright does well, and was intended to do, is prevent one party from profiting off another party's work. This is exactly what is happening with TourGuide, people have been selling guides (their work) with modified versions of TourGuide powering them (my work). While I did design TourGuide to be easy to write guides for, I always intended for those guides to plug into the official addon. If these guide sellers wanted to use a guide-less or branded version of TourGuide to power their guides, they should have came to me and licensed the addon. No one did, until Zygor. As I said before, even now after the Zygor deal, TourGuide will remain free to players and will be available again in the near future.

Blizzard really has no say in what you can do with your code out of game, so contracts dealing with your own code for licensing, etc. are fine. What's the worst they can do to an addon? Shut it down? Disable it?

I think the only thing they really can do is ban an addon. They have mechanisms in the game to directly ban an addon, and they can modify the API in ways to make addons they don't like stop functioning. They've done this in the past, stopping cross-faction communications, blocking movement, spell and target decisions, and AH bots. They have a lot of tools under their belt to keep addons behaving the way they want. The big question, obviously, is if they have the legal grounds to dictate that all adodns must be free to the end user. I, for one, don't want to test their lawyers on that... but I also don't want to sell addons to players.

Do you think there is a market for addons in a premium store? A wow app store as it were? We are already going to be getting premium auction house services in the near future.

An addon store is an interesting idea, and it's come up many times in the past, including WoWI's April Fools day announcements. I don't know if such a store would work well at this point in WoW's lifecycle, users are already used to addons being free. Suddenly having to pay a dollar or two for an addon your raid leader demands you use? That might not fly over too well with users.

Now, maybe Starcraft 2 can launch with a mod store where you can buy maps and such. I think, if it's established at launch, it could work very well. It would also give Blizzard an avenue to enforce their policies directly, much like Apple's insanely tight reins on the iPhone. No jiggly boob maps for SC2!

Are the AH services going to be a paid service? I was under the impression it would be free for all like the armory. Maybe I'm not reading enough lately. I wonder if their opinion regarding Auctioneer and similar addons will change if they start charging for these extra auction services.

And finally - what is your favorite addon? What class of addon could you not live without? (For example I asked antiarc once and he said the game is unplayable without a chat mod)

There is no way I could declare just one. As I'm sure you're well aware, I much prefer having a dozen tiny addons that do specific things over one that does it all. I think a bare necessity is OneBag... the default bag interface just plain blows. Most of the other major flaws in the UI have been fixed over the years, at this point the majority of my addons are just little usability tweaks.

I also can't live without Cork. My short term memory is... well... crap. Without Cork getting up in my face I would never buff or repair armor.

Oh, and a custom bar addon for my n52. I don't like the default bars, nor any of the usual bar addons because I use a rather odd key layout with my n52. I certainly couldn't play the game without that though, keyboards are a horrible interface for controlling a game... they're for typing!

Honestly I've spend a decent bit of time on the PTRs testing addons, and I run a minimal setup over there. Usually OneBag and tekJunkSeller are the two things I simply must install, otherwise bags are just a big pain to manage.

Thank you very much, Tekkub.

Thanks for having me... and listening to me rant and rave.
So here's where we stand. TourGuide, a once free addon and alternative to the for-pay leveling guides is now part of a for-pay package of addons designed to speed up the leveling process. At some point in the future, we will hopefully get TourGuide back as a free alternative, as per Zygor's statements. Until then, we get to wait and ponder and ask questions about for-pay leveling guides and figure out what makes a for-pay leveling guide different and immune from Blizzard's policy.

[Updated: Zygor informs me that currently, TourGuide is not being distributed to his paying customers. At this point, there is no distribution of TourGuide at all.]

I cannot make a judgment call on the usefulness of Zygor's guides, or any for-pay leveling guide for that matter, because I have never used them. At the end of the day, TourGuide is now part of a for-pay package.

For-pay addon solutions have been brought down by Blizzard's policies and willingness to change the game to disable addons in the past. Zygor's and others' premium leveling guides have, so far, not been the target of a Carbonite-esque challenge by Blizzard. In the future, hopefully we will understand more about what addons are immune from the for-pay guidelines, in addition to having TourGuide as an alternative again.

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