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The Lawbringer: Mailbag 5.0


Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, 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?

Oh my, look at the time. Mailbag-o'clock already? That means we have questions to answer! If you'd like to send me a question for The Lawbringer, point a message from your email client of choice to with something having to do with Lawbringer in the title and ask away. This week, we've got some fun questions to go through.

Our first email comes from Lee, who wants to know if the Diablo 3 currency trading on the real-money Auction House could ever be big enough for a foreign currency exchange-type of marketplace for Diablo gold.

Lee asked:

You've talked at length about gold farming and the repercussion of gold farming in mmos. Much of it is related to currency trading. You've pointed out that Diablo's new model of selling cash on the auction house will eliminate gold farming and selling as we know it by creating gold to blizzard dollar currency exchange. Do you think we'll see the development of Forex style black box trading, using a Trading API add-on most likely?

I don't think that we will see foreign market currency trading in any huge scale with the Diablo 3 real-money Auction House, mostly because I don't think the volume of currency sales is going to be as large as forex would require. The scale probably won't be there. Also, it's not exactly freely tradeable, considering Blizzard holds all the cards. Diablo gold isn't like Linden dollars from Second Life, where there is a currency exchange with exchange rates and the whole backend. Plus, there's no real way to pull out your Diablo gold other than selling it through an auction system, not a currency exchange. It doesn't retain value the same way currency does, for the most part.

Blizzard reserves the right to pull the plug on this kind of thing at any point, as well. I don't think the aim of the system is to have a robust currency exchange market and, if things got to the point that this type of trading was going on, you can bet you'd see some restrictions placed on the system. Remember that there is also a flat fee for sales and purchases, which devalues the currency a bit more, as you're never getting a perfect conversion. Also, Diablo 3 expressly forbids addons from the game, which means you won't be seeing any trading apps or addons automating the process -- not according to the terms of service or the EULA, at least.

The ultimate catastrophe

Our second email comes from Pierre, who wants to know about the catastrophic failure of World of Warcraft and what Blizzard's liability as per our stuff would be.

Pierre asked:

Hi Mat,

I really enjoy your column and especially your recent writings about micro-transactions.

I do have a suggestion for a next topic based on what I think would be the most catastrophic scenario for WoW. What if Blizzard irremediably lost all in-game data for players?

Imagine all players were to log-in to find all their characters, achievements, gear, etc... gone with no way for Blizzard to get these back.
What would happen then? Would Blizzard be liable? Would players be entitled to claim past game time back? Could players sue Blizzard for "killing" their virtual self? (far-fetched, I know, but you guys do live in America)
How could Blizzard possibly respond from a PR perspective and to avoid losing players in all of its other games too?

That's it. I think it could make an interesting topic and would be grateful if you could cover some of it.

Kind regards,


Liability is a fun thing, especially with the things that you "own" in World of Warcraft. We have to go back constantly to the license issue, since we just don't actually own anything we've collected or earned in WoW. Rather, we pay for access to a service that can be shut down at any point. Without this type of indemnity, well, there's lots of potential problems for the service as a whole.

At some point, if you did own all of your stuff or had any claims to it, Blizzard would essentially be forced to keep the servers running forever until the end of time, because you can't take the things out of the game that you "own." This is a huge onus on the part of the developers and publishers, especially with the costs associated with running, maintaining, and facilitating an MMO. Factor in WoW's size, and that's a lot of money being spent to guard against a whole bunch of liability concerns. There has to be some kind of indemnification, or WoW wouldn't be able to exist.

Now, what would happen if tomorrow Blizzard lost all data with no backups? I don't really know. There must be a total catastrophe plan in a super-secret envelope at the bottom of a bomb shelter under Mike Morhaime's home where, in the event of the end of the World of Warcraft, key members of Blizzard get together and discuss what to do in a Warcraft-less world. Honestly, it's not something that would be solved over a day -- so many people play World of Warcraft and expect a service that there would be pressure from every facet to provide compensation, even if none was really required by law. It depends. The catastrophe scenario is something that I haven't really thought about because, in this day and age, it seems utterly absurd that there aren't 9 million backups of the World of Warcraft databases all over the world in tons of different, safe places.

WoW governments

The wonderful Ashelia asked via Twitter what some of the WoW races use as governmental structures.

Ashelia asked:

It would be fun to cover what type of governments WoW races use if you haven't done that at some point.

Yes! Let's take a look at the different factions and see what type of governmental structures we can extrapolate, based on what we've seen so far.

The New Horde and Orgrimmar reminds me of a loose fascism or meritocracy-based structure. The Warchief is the supreme ruler, unquestionably, who sets the goals and aims of both the government's civilian and military arms. The meritocracy aspects come in through the fact that the Warchief is chosen either through contest or passed down to "the best." There are also confederation aspects to the Horde, as there is a mechanism for groups to join and pledge allegiance, while adhering to the Warchief setup.

Stormwind is clearly a monarchy, with a line of kings and rulership passed down through the bloodline. The Alliance, however, is a loosely constructed military alliance based on coordinated military movements outside of the Alliance members' own military interests. I guess the Alliance is more like the League of Nations than anything.

Taurens use a oligarchal tribal structure, whereas Trolls use some kind of tribal chiefdom mashup with the whole King Rastakhan thing thrown in for a supreme ruler who lives above the bounds of the tribal structure. Gnomes and Goblins both use forms of meritocracy or plutocracy, respectively, where the best or the most wealthy gets to rule. The Night Elves have a few disparate factions that each rule their own segment of the population but fall under a supreme ruler of the Night Elves, so I guess it would be an odd mix of theocracy and aristocracy? What do you guys think?

Well, that was a fun mailbag! Again, if you have a question for The Lawbringer, send it on over to and I'll try to include it in the topic. You can even send article topics you'd like me to cover. People do that all the time and some of the best columns have come from tips that people have sent me. Get sending, people.

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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