Announcement on the official forums
Which sucks for these guys. Also, apparently, for this guy, who plans to cease development of a mod which, though donation-ware, has supported him as a full time job. Possibly because his addon has more users than most MMOs.
Speculation is that this was sparked by Carbonite, the most popular for-pay addon, recently offering a free in-game ad-supported version, and some have pointed to a new terms of service that went live that includes a reference to in-game advertising through Massive’s in-game ad service.
Note that this is not, in and of itself, concrete proof that World of Warcraft is about to slap Mountain Dew billboards in Darnassus – the TOS above is actually for battle.net, which already sells advertising. Paul Sams of Blizzard has already clearly stated “Uh, we’re not THAT stupid” when Massive originally announced the Battle.net contract; the reason why the battle.net TOS shows up in World of Warcraft now is due to Blizzard moving their account system to a unified structure under battle.net. Still, given how insanely large the World of Warcraft market is… never say never… although many subscribers might . Even with a juggernaut like WoW, there is only so much that you can ‘monetize’ a player base before they revolt in disgust.
But, moving back to the original topic – what is motivating Blizzard’s addon crackdown? Probably a few reasons:
No more obfuscated code: the reasons of which would hopefully be clear. If an addon figures out how to exploit some bug in WoW’s LUA sandbox, it’s hard to replicate if you can’t see the code. Yet at the same time, without obfuscated code, selling addons is fairly pointless. Clearly, Blizzard decided addon safety trumps addon sales.
No more in-game advertising or donation solicitation: the reasons for which are somewhat less clear. It may have been that Blizzard wanted to shut down adware like Carbonite simply so that no player thinks Blizzard is selling ad space to, say, Transdneister Gold Farmers LLC. Perhaps they don’t particularly like the idea of addon users making money from a secondary market created by WoW. It’s difficult to say until we get a clear statement as to their intent, which hasn’t happened yet (but given QuestHelper’s high visibility, we may see shortly).
No more addons: the alarmist view seen in some of these discussions, that Blizzard simply wants to shut down addon development by making sure no one can collect donations. This is silly for a couple of reasons. First off, if Blizzard wanted to shut down addon development, they could simply remove the ability to load external addons in the next patch. It’s not that difficult. Second and most importantly, a lot of WoW’s value comes from those addons, and it’s an effective force multiplier in client development that later games have sought to emulate. Much of Blizzard’s live team patching of the client is ‘inspired’ by successful addons, such as MobHealth, ScrollingCombatText and Omen, all of which are now at various levels of implementation in the game’s basic client.
My view on the subject?
Prohibiting in-game advertising via addons is extremely justifiable. If anyone sells in-game advertising, it should be Blizzard itself. Not that they should. But for others to is pretty clearly skeevy, on a level with web sites that yoink news stories from RSS feeds and wrap ads around them pretending to provide their own content. (No link provided – I don’t feel like rewarding them with page views.)
Prohibiting direct sales of addons is somewhat dicey but justifiable, mainly due to what I wrote about code obfuscation. Still, simply making code obfuscation against the ToS would have the same effect and be less chilling.
Prohibiting in-game solicitations of donations isn’t as justifiable. It’s difficult to see what Blizzard gains by this, and it’s very easy to see what the player base loses. If the fear is that addons will become obnoxious with donation nags – this is a self-correcting problem.
Selling in-game ads in World of Warcraft is apocalyptically bad. To the degree that if they actually are planning on doing such a thing (which mind you, I don’t believe they are), I hope that Blizzard’s subscriber numbers fall at such an alarming rate that they immediately yank them back out. I am extremely tired of game companies selling advertising in games I already paid for ONCE. Selling advertising in games I pay for ON A MONTHLY BASIS is not acceptable. Period. End of sentence. There is no justification. None. If you don’t make enough off my subscription fee, raise the subscription fee. I will not pay a monthly fee to be a pair of eyeballs for you to make still more money off of.
Not that Blizzard has already done that or anything.