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The Lawbringer: Mailbag 3.0


Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

Since last weekend was my stepsister's bat mitzvah, I was incommunicado down in Florida celebrating with family, eating a ton of delicious food, and getting sunburned within 30 seconds of stepping into the punishing Florida sun. The emails to Lawbringer never stopped, however, and I picked my favorites to answer while lounging next to the pool, happily oblivious.

A lot of people sent me emails about the Blizzard earnings call that has been making the rounds in the gaming news cycle this week, for a few specific reasons. First, Diablo III's beta is coming between August and September, which is super exciting to me because of how much I want to be playing that game again. BlizzCon was not enough. Friends at Blizzard, send all beta invites to

Second, Mike Morhaime revealed that World of Warcraft is currently boasting subscriber numbers mirroring pre-Cataclysm subscriptions. Subsequently, the internet went crazy and collectively, shall we say, made a mess in its pants about the state of WoW's prominence.

Let's mailbag.

Earnings call

Johndicrabby hits us with our first email this week. (Can I say that I love the name Johndicrabby? John D. Crabby. I wonder what the "D" stands for?)

Hey Lawbringer.

Activision Blizzard recently had their earnings call and Mike Morhaime talked about WOW subscription numbers (as I am sure you have already heard about) and said that they had dropped about 600,000 subscriptions. This got me thinking, but I had no idea what an earnings call was. Can you explain what that is and why information like this is talked about? I would think that Blizzard would want to hide so many subscribers dropping from the game and stuff? Plus, as I read on Kotaku, this was the month that Rift released. Did Rift take all of these players from WOW?

Thank you,
Thanks for the email, Johndicrabby. It does not come as a surprise to me that people don't exactly know what an earnings call is, so let's educate the masses in a succinct and timely fashion.

An earnings call, like the one Activision Blizzard had with its investors and financial analysts, is basically a time immediately before or after a company files its earnings statement for the year, quarter, reporting period, etc. Companies have these calls to discuss strategy and the earnings statement as a whole, rather than letting the numbers speak for themselves. Numbers are terrible with adjectives and strategy, as well all know.

Some companies choose to use this time to discuss debts or oddities in their reported numbers or, as in Morhaime's case, use the time to relay information about what is upcoming for World of Warcraft as a business, from a new premium mount in the pet store to the "new" subscriber number. Some companies also choose to have this call after trading of the company's stock has closed, so that investors and analysts can hear out the organization's heads and directors before making a decision to trade stock.

So that's what an earnings call is. Activision Blizzard personnel get on the phone with each other and investors, get asked questions by analysts and business-type people, and explain their reporting period and give updates on how business is going. Transparency is fun.

As to what Morhaime said about the subscription number and where those people went, we have little to no information other than the number and supposition. First, Cataclysm content was run through pretty quickly by the general populace. Blizzard took a gamble with Cataclysm, putting a good chunk of the development time and muscle behind recreating the original game for the sake of progress and keeping things up to date. Also, Wrath of the Lich King made things a bit easier for players in terms of heroics, which Blizzard definitely wanted to make feel more important. Did this drive players away? We don't exactly know. Further, no where does Morhaime say that these 600,000 accounts were from North America -- they could be a total number of accounts from all regions.

Did the Cataclysm gamble pay off? Most likely. It pushed the genre forward for better or for worse, which is what Blizzard is known for doing. Revenues are up. Ironically, World of Warcraft seems to be settling into the model that every other MMO these days succeeds off of: a stable user base and sizable premium purchases. New mounts and pets, along with a dedicated user base that doesn't fluctuate very much, is what makes a successful MMO these days. We just don't know.

As for where the players went, Rift is a good bet for people who've left Azeroth physically but have not canceled their subscriptions. I know a ton of people who play Rift but still pay for their WoW accounts because they have raid nights to make. Plus, not every MMO player is a WoW player, and not every Rift player was a former WoW player. I think it is a little early to say the sky is falling.

The guild bank

BlackMetalVeganChef asks:

Who "owns" the guild bank?

The predictable short answer: Blizzard owns your guild bank, since you don't own anything in WoW.

The less predictable and more rambling, fun answer: Your guild master probably owns the guild bank, but one could take issue with that. It depends on how you see the guild bank and what the theory behind adding or subtracting to the bank bases itself in.

What type of organization is your guild? Are you a corporate structure in which a very few officers have decision powers and own the stock and thus the benefits and profits of the guild? Are the guild initiates and raiders your employees who work for epic items and the chance to raid? Is your guild more like a family-run business in which the structure is loose but the ownership rights are still embedded in the original owner?

Well, to me, guilds don't have a real-life equivalent because we don't operate that way in WoW. There are no salaries from being in a guild. Could there be? Sure. But it isn't an institutionalized thing. In fact, the only faux ownership right in the game as pertaining to guilds is the guy or girl who can disband it at will.

As for the guild bank, the only ownership associated with that would be the rules your guild sets forth for its use. Who makes those rules and sets the permissions on what goes in and out? That's right: the guild leader. He owns you and your stuff that you add to the guild bank, permissions depending.

Don't sell your account

@DiscoPriest on Twitter asks:

@gomatgo Are there any legal ramifications, outside of punishment by Blizzard, to selling your account? (Not planning on it, just curious!)

There are, in fact. Fraud is a big issue with account selling and can get you in trouble if the buyer of an account is scammed out of the money he used to purchase that account.

Here's the scenario: Seller "sells" his account to buyer. You cannot change the account name on a Blizzard account, and most likely, this WoW account is tied to a account. The seller still has the information and identity necessary to deal with Blizzard support and get that account activated or changed in any way. The most common thing to happen is that seller then goes back to Blizzard, says the account was hacked or whatever, and gets the password changed. What is the buyer going to do?

Seller has committed fraud. He sold something he had no rights to and scammed the buyer out of money. If the buyer wanted to begin some fraud proceeding or fight for his money back, you better believe it could come around and bite the seller.

Check out my Lawbringer on Consequences 2010 for a delightful story about a nice boy in Florida who sold WoW accounts.

@trimbleirl on Twitter asks:

@gomatgo how to make the perfect scrambled eggs?

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at

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