Anyone who has played PC games online knows cheating is a real, and at times rampant, problem. So much so that people are actually deterred from playing online at times. I remember back in the earlier days of Diablo and the original CounterStrike how the constant battle between cheating and patching kept everyone on their toes, but there were times when the games simply stopped being fun because it was impossible to find a legitimate game. Blizzard has unfortunately often been the target in these, with cheating issues appearing in many of its online games. Preventing cheaters from ruining the game experience for others is a great thing to do. It's the scope and method taken by Blizzard that gives me, and should give many gamers, reason to be concerned.
Is there any real harm in using cheats in a single player context? Putting aside the philosophical debate about the nature of play, the answer seems clearly to be "no." You cheating on your own time doesn't harm Blizzard, and it doesn't harm the play experience for any other players. In fact, is there any real harm to having a multiplayer match where all parties knowingly consent to everyone cheating? No, and in fact, I've been involved in some local "cheating" matches of some games in the past that have been extremely entertaining. The issue was, and in my mind will always be, one of preventing cheating in matches where no one is supposed to be cheating, where you want to play the game as intended by the creator.
In a bit of an unusual way, the advancement of technology has created a bit of a rift in the law here. At least in my mind, the court need not only consider Glider, but also the much older Game Genie case. To quote a key part of the decision, "Having paid Nintendo a fair return, the consumer may experiment with the product and create new variations of play, for personal enjoyment, without creating a derivative work." That case revolved around whether Game Genie violated copyright and created a "derivative work," that is a new game by use of the product. Not a small part of the decision revolved around the Game Genie's complete failure to modify the original game cartridge, never fixing a work but only creating something temporary, unlike previous cases involving speed up chips in arcade cabinets or a subsequent case of selling new levels for a PC game.
As cartridge technology has largely been left behind, other than the DS, the ability to create these temporary derivative works has largely fallen by the wayside. But do we really want to see cheating squashed entirely? Or, the better question is, if the developer fails to include these kinds of elements, for example the built in cheats that have always been a fun distraction in the Civilization series, should the player then be completely precluded from using something to modify the game on their own time, for their own entertainment, when no other players are being harmed?
It is fair to assume that Blizzard will be successful in this suit, and to the extent it protects legitimate multiplayer online, that is both in Blizzard's best interest and the StarCraft 2 player community's best interest. The more important question is how much further the use of copyright will be pushed to police player behavior. The easy answer is for developers to include robust game modification tools such that the only players who want or need to hack the game are those set on ruining the experience for others, but that may be easier said than done. And to the extent it's not done, I think the idea presented in Game Genie is pretty compelling, even if a technical copyright infringement may be taking place. Having paid the developer/publisher a fair return, the consumer should be able to reasonably experiment with the product and create new variations of play for personal enjoyment so long as it doesn't interfere with the game experience for other players.
[Image Credit: smgoller]
Mark Methenitis is the Editor in Chief of the Law of the Game blog, which discusses legal issues in video games. Mr. Methenitis is also a licensed attorney in the state of Texas with The Vernon Law Group, PLLC and a member of the Texas Bar Assoc., American Bar Assoc., and the International Game Developers Assoc., where he is a board member of the Dallas chapter. Opinions expressed in this column are his own.
Reach Mark at: lawofthegame [AAT] gmail [DAWT] com
The content of this blog article is not legal advice. It only constitutes commentary on legal issues, and is for educational and informational purposes only. Reading this blog, replying to its posts, or any other interaction on this site does not create an attorney-client privilege between you and the author. The opinions expressed on this site are not the opinions of AOL Inc., Weblogs, Inc., Joystiq.com, or The Vernon Law Group, PLLC. As with any legal issue that may confront you in a particular situation, you should always consult a qualified attorney familiar with the laws in your state.