This is an open letter to Blizzard containing some of my thoughts and my feelings about a game of theirs I played for some 6 years. I don’t expect anyone to read it, but in case they do, understand that these are only my specific desires, wishes, or opinions. You don’t have to agree. Some whining may be present ahead, so read at your own risk.

Also, I’ve yet to proof-read this nonsense. I hammered it out late this evening, but I’m too tired to continue and want to go to bed. I’ll re-read it sometime in the coming day or two. I just wanted to publish this for review.

Dear Blizzard,

I’m not a paying subscriber of yours, and I haven’t been for nearly 5 years. I used to be, all those years ago, and payed for a World of Warcraft subscription for a good chunk of the 6 years I played (minus a month or two break here and there). I quit mostly because of the changes introduced in Cataclysm, and mostly because I had other things consuming a majority of my time. Actually, if I were to be completely honest, I was mostly distressed with the changes to the old world made in Cataclysm. I understand why they were made (outmoded content), but it doesn’t mean I have to like them.

Frankly, I miss that old content. Maybe that’s a stupid thing to miss, but I do. And I think I know why.

You see, in this day and age of perpetual push-updates for everything (your browser, your phone software, your games), there’s almost nothing that stays static for long. Everything is in a state of flux. Tons of MMOs have succumbed to this progression-at-all-costs mindset, and for the longest time, I would argue that WoW was immune to it. Content was added as entirely new zones for the better part of two expansions (and Cataclysm to an extent). Sure, the game mechanics changed and grew more complex over time (maybe that was a bad thing?) as talent points increased, spells became more numerous, and the developers struggled to find ways to make use of all the new cruft they added with each release. But by and large, the Old World remained constant–a static reminder of the immutable nature of the old WoW. It illustrated to me that WoW would always be there–unchanged, unphased by competition, and unwavering in its appeal.

Cataclysm changed that.

I eventually played it about a year after its release, and while some of the changes were welcome (simplified talents, removed or deprecated spell sets merged together), the absolute devastation of the Old World ruined it for me. I realize it had to be done–things change, of course–and it would be difficult to have included Deathwing in any part of the story without such destruction. Though, I think at least part of the underwhelming nature of Cataclysm was due in part to the defeat of Arthas. Another dragon trying to destroy the world? Color me surprised.

While I’m not a loremonger–I seldom get interested in the story lines of video games, and I normally abhor the fantasy genre (science fiction is where it’s at!)–I think that even to someone like me, the build up of Arthas as the series final antagonist was perhaps the inevitable failure of the franchise once his demise was certain. Sure, there were minor distractions in the interim (think Burning Crusade), but the festering evil of the Plaguelands was ever-present in the minds of all the early players. We knew what was there. We spent hours–days, in fact–farming in these zones, running Stratholme and Scholomance before the larger raids saw the light of day. Those were the bread and butter of our nighttime entertainment. The Lich King was, at the time, an unseen villain whose influence surrounded us and ate into our very being.

Then we killed him.

With Arthas dead, the not-so-surprising ending of “There must always be… a Lich King,” and the inability to eliminate the Scourge entirely underfoot, there wasn’t really anywhere else for WoW to go. So you added Deathwing. Great. He, like Onyxia, were just distractions to what many of us felt were the main thrust of the WoW storyline, and in many cases we were somewhat disappointed that other avenues weren’t taken (Emerald Dream anyone?). Instead, Deathwing felt like an excuse to make a reboot of the early starter zones and revamp Azeroth’s oldest content. I’m not wrong.

But I’ll tell you this: There’s a way you can sell me on WoW again. It’s not easy. In fact, I almost hope you don’t do this, because I can’t imagine any way of doing it easily (or cheaply), and there’s always the potential to screw it up such that ex-players like myself will just drown in a sea of disappointment, never to return. Here’s the thing: Remember Caverns of Time?

Yeah, you know where this is going.

See, that’s another thread I never felt was sufficiently explored. You used it to take us back in time, back before the plague, but it probably never crossed your minds for very long that you could use it to win back the older players. All you have to do is this: Give us a way to play the old expansions, the old original content, complete with talents, level caps, and original zones as they were so that we can relive the glory days (so to speak). I have friends who skipped TBC or never played “vanilla” WoW. They wanted to, of course, but by the time they got into it, the level cap was substantially higher and the game was dramatically different. All that content was wasted keeping it around. Sure, you could re-roll a new character, play through it as it was intended (sort of), but the dungeons would never be the same.

Remember Magister’s Terrace? We played that a few times. But then Wrath of the Lich King sort of steamrolled that, and it was swept under the rug, forgotten to history. I even know some guys who played WotLK with us who didn’t even know what it was, yet they remembered most of the dungeons from vanilla. It’s just that they skipped BC, dropping off of the planet for the two years or so that content ran, and then came back. It’s as if Outlands never happened except for getting you through those pesky 10 levels from 60-70.

Yet the astounding thing to me is that much of this was good content. Even better (for you), it’s already paid for to a large extent. Repurposing it shouldn’t cost much in the way of man hours to retweak it, and if you somehow manage to reintegrate the older expansions in a manner that makes the player’s view of game mechanics more or less analogous to the expansions that content was designed for, I can’t imagine it would be that difficult. But hey, what do I know? I don’t write games for a living, either.

Franchises like Guild Wars 2 have you beaten in this area. With the down-leveling for earlier content, even at the level cap (80 as of this writing), and the attribute balance ArenaNet included, it’s difficult to get bored with boss encounters just on the merit that you outleveled them three months prior. All of the Harathi Hinterlands content is still very much playable (and challenging) at level 80. Orr is a perpetual pain in the neck (it is max level content for the most part). And even the old dungeons don’t get any easier.

Yet Guild Wars 2 is missing something WoW had. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it’s there. It’s like a painting that never really looked quite right until you saw it in the proper lighting. Maybe it was a smudge or a bizarre shade of blue.

But I think where WoW really shined was its social interaction. I made a lot of friends in WoW (that’s where I met my girlfriend, too). I still talk to nearly everyone I talked to whom I met in WoW with few exceptions. I’ve become great friends with them in real life, talking everything from politics to toiletry habits (just kidding). So, shout out to Hunter and Jonathan, two great guys whose friendship I owe thanks to WoW.

The kicker? I’ve played GW2 off and on for a couple of years (or is it 3?). I can’t remember a single damn person I’ve run into in that game. I have a friends’ list that’s pretty full. Yet you know what? Aside from one or two encounters, I’ve never talked with them again. There’s got to be something to it, Blizzard. I don’t know what you guys did, but you had a formula going that was arguably superior to the competition.

Then it went south.

I don’t know what the change was, or why it happened, or even how the “old” WoW was better than the “new” WoW. Two expansions since Cataclysm have come out, and I’ve not played a single one. A few of my friends have, but it held their collective interest for less than a few months before they moved on to other games. Why? I have no idea. The magic vanished, and I don’t know if it can be recovered.

But I guarantee you one thing: If you come up with a way to let me play the old content, more or less as it was intended, I’ll be back. I loved it that much. But it has to be fairly true to the intent of that content, with a few exceptions (getting rid of the absurd requirements of 40 man raids was a good start), and I think some modernization would be useful. Maybe the talent trees really were getting a bit out of hand. Yet… I find that they had a certain charm to them, even still.

Ideally, I’d love to be able to go to the Caverns of Time, pick an expansion, have my character transformed to the level cap that accompanied that expansion, and go get gear true to that period in WoW’s history. Even if those instances of my character(s) were isolated from each other in some manner, I wouldn’t care. It would just be nice to be able to go back to zones like Darkshore before they were destroyed and hang out in Auberdine while watching new players run by again.

I don’t know how that would be possible, if it would be possible, but I think at least part of the charm of WoW was hanging out with some friends in low level zones just to pass the time. Then going off and helping some lowbies with a rough boss or two.

Poor Hogger.

Most sincerely,

Update September 6th: Some weeks ago, a few friends of mine alerted me to the “timewalker” feature wherein Blizzard will make available old content, specifically old dungeons, as part of a holiday weekend. You’ll be able to obtain era-specific weapon skins, appropriately leveled for capped players, while your effective level is dropped in a manner similar to Guild Wars 2. It’s a good idea, but the fact that it’ll be limited to random dungeons only rather than content, and only on specific weekends is a letdown. I’d love to see something akin to an expansion-specific selection where players would be able to select which expansion they want to partake, or some sort of leveling system similar in nature to what GW2 has implemented.

I don’t play games very often these days outside a brief excursion into Minecraft or the rare flight simulator, so it’s interesting to experience the “joys” (scare quotes!) of modern gaming after having been out of the loop for somewhere north of 6 months. (Or was that a year?) As it turns out, the Chicken Little sky-is-falling predictions made years ago regarding the looming threat of online-only/online-required game play weren’t so far off. The anti-consumer behavior cropping up across the entire spectrum of game genres and studios is just a little frightening. I’m actually not sure what’s worse: Gamers happily tolerating repeated insults or that they willingly fork over money for the games that insult them! I don’t understand it, so I’ll just wave my cane and yell at you to get off my lawn. I feel out of touch. Or maybe I’m a relic of a bygone age.

(If you believe that last bit, you’re free to stop reading. In fact, I’d implore you to spend your time somewhere else. My drivel is really not that exciting.)

I started to formulate this rant in my mind a few days prior when my girlfriend bought a copy of Dying Light and sent it my way. I’m not keen on zombie games, neither am I much of a gamer, but for her sake I wanted to try it out. She was rather looking forward to having something to do together while she’s at veterinary school during her rare spats of free time. It couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words, right?

Dying Light has received substantial praise since its release, but in my opinion, it reeks of everything that’s wrong with modern gaming. I won’t touch on the game itself: While it looks nice, it won’t work well on my hardware under Linux, so I can’t provide much of a review besides the bits I suffered through at a lowly 15 frames per second. However, the game play isn’t what I think is the most important feature of the game. Nay, what I feel is important, and what I will discuss herein, is a much more subtle misfeature of the game that is sufficiently detracting that it caused me to immediately lose interest, and so it made the fact it was nearly unplayable under Linux on my hardware moot. In short, while the game’s multiplayer and cooperative modes are generally well received, you cannot play with others until you “unlock” cooperative mode by completing the first mission. It doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy wasting time in games, if I can’t jump right in and play with a friend, the game is going to rot on my shelf.

I’m serious.

It’s an insult, in my opinion, to advertise the game as having an active multiplayer capability while preventing players from playing with each other until they each unlock a basic feature that shipped with the game. What’s next? Are we going to charge gamers to unlock multiplayer mode? (You could argue most MMOs already do this.) I’m sure the studio would counter with requiring players to unlock multiplayer allows them to learn a bit more about the game mechanics. I don’t agree. I subscribe to the school of thought that experience is the best teacher, particularly with gaming, and sometimes the most satisfying way to learn how to play a game is to jump in, have at it, and make mistakes. Why drag me through a grueling series of so-called “tutorial” missions disguised as the start of the game’s campaign mode just so I can play it with a few friends? If I’m putting a limited amount of time into playing games and it takes me between one to one-and-half hours just to unlock an advertised feature (one that was proclaimed rather loudly, I might add) before I can play with someone else, that’s time we’re not able to play together because your studio decided it was a great idea to waste my evening with false promises. I’d almost suggest it’s narcissism, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s just unadulterated stupidity.

Fortunately, I came upon an easy solution: I uninstalled it. I feel bad my girlfriend wasted money on me like this, and if I were rich enough to have a legal counsel on retainer, I’d demand a refund. (I’d also probably buy her a boat.) But I’d be dumping more money into paying lawyers than I’d get back in return for her purchase. C’est la vie. I never trusted games published by a movie studio. This simply proves why.

Unfortunately, the story won’t end here. Because there’s a subset of the hardcore gaming crowd who believes that anyone who doesn’t have 8 or more hours a day to readily sink into a game has neither the right to play the game nor the right to complain about it, people like me are vilified for our opinions, and my opinion is that games like Dying Light are not worth $10–much less $60–and probably not much more than $5. The response from these “hardcore gamers” is so bad now that in many gaming communities the term “casual player” is used pejoratively to deter new players–and paying customers–from participating (and vocalizing our complaints). Then again, I suppose the casuals are at least partially at fault here: If a game requires a substantial investment in order to play, the easiest solution is to simply not buy it. If enough people voted with their wallets, it’s plausible that the studios might learn a valuable lesson. Either that, or they’d go belly up and blame the players anyway for simply not understanding what a great product they had, and how the free market system is inherently evil because they’re somehow owed the money.


Sometime after this experience with Dying Light, my father remembered I had purchased a copy of Planetary Annihilation for him. Yet, once more, the genius insight that only a gaming studio full of self-righteous idiots could invent presented a curious challenge. He couldn’t play the single player mode because he had to sign-up through PlayFab for an account–on a Steam title–for single player. Wait, did I say single player twice? Yep, that’s how stupid this is.

I get that Steam is essentially nothing more than polite DRM wrapped up in a shiny package with a fantastic store and loads of great deals on thousands of games. I don’t like DRM, but I’m willing to live with it if it stays out of the way, which Steam does reasonably well. However, if you release a title and expect me to sign in to your service just to play the single player mode, you’re only going to upset me. Your game is going to be shelved like Dying Light and the two or three dozen other games I’ve never touched, either because they’re terrible or because I bought them twenty-to-a-pack from one of the various holiday sales, Humble Bundle, etc., and I won’t be back. It’s very unlikely I’ll buy your sequel, if your studio lasts long enough to make one, because you’ve already proven you have no respect for my leisure time. The only thing that burns me more is that you now have my money, and I therefore cannot meaningfully vote against your product for a design that I feel is fundamentally flawed.

The thing is that these aren’t just isolated incidents. This is a problem that’s endemic to the entire gaming industry. Take Torchlight II for instance: Single player mode works great, but the moment you want to play it in a multiplayer capacity, you have to first sign up through Runic Games, create an account, and then figure out how to get your friends into your game. I realize the intent was most likely an effort to provide a third party platform for multiplayer matchmaking that allows them to sell the game through channels other than Steam, but I honestly feel that (as a player), Steam’s built-in multiplayer APIs are so much easier to use and so much more convenient (I already have a Steam account), that it’s outright infuriating to be required to jump through a series of hoops just to waste a few hours with a buddy.

And what happens if their services go offline or they go belly-up? That’s right: You cannot play their precious game anymore.

As much as I hate the Left 4 Dead series (see my comments on zombie-related games), Valve has it right. Stay out of the way when people want to play. You’re not selling an MMO. Your game isn’t that important (no, really, it’s not). Heck, your studio doesn’t mean squat to me. I just want to spend some time with a friend or two, and if you’ve demonstrated that you aren’t even going to afford me the courtesy of using the APIs of a service I’m already signed up for (hello, again, Steam!), you’re just going to piss me off. Flip me the finger, and I’ll toss you in the can.

Of course, I realize I’m in the minority. No one these days gives a second thought to signing up for a flavor-of-the-month service every time a new game or product comes out. Yet at the same time these are likely the same people who’ve expressed moral outrage that the United States has collected information on its own citizens via the auspices of the NSA.

Yeah, I’m really angry about them collecting all that information about who I talk to, where I go, where I work, what time I eat my dinner. But, oh, hey, look at this shiny new game. Did you say you want my social security number, too? No problem! How about my credit card, too, while we’re at it? Oh, baby, it comes with DLC, too? I’ll take five if you take my firstborn.

Like the causal gamer, I guess we’re part of the problem. Or rather, complacency is.

For years now, privacy advocates have been beating on the drums, shouting loudly, and doing much arm-waving, yet their voices have fallen on deaf ears. As angry as the public gets about certain privacy infractions, we nevertheless happily hand over whatever information nets us our next free service. We’ll sign-up for whatever it takes to sink 50 hours into a half-finished, bug-ridden, over-hyped triple-A title from one of the major studios who, as an added bonus, run their programmers through a high tech sweatshop. Coffee in, code out. If we want things to change, we have to stop encouraging these companies. To do so, we must stop purchasing their products. The problem is, Steam makes it so easy. Too easy, in fact.

On the other hand, there’s a rather vocal group of people whom I assume is a relatively small minority, but like most such minorities, they’re so absurdly vocal, they drown out contrary opinions. Criticism of these game studios, like mine, is often lamented as misguided, stupid, or old fashioned. “What’s the big deal?” they’ll insist.

Then the next time another PSN-style hack occurs, they’ll take to Reddit and complain loudly about the studios’ misuse of their private information. You can’t win.

How dare those companies have this much information on me! I even used that same password on 20 different sites, and now I have to change it! While people in Africa are starving to death, I am morally outraged that you would charge me $10 a month to sell my information that I happily parted with to advertising firms who now want to interest me in asian brides and sexy underwear that’s 4 sizes too small!


Maybe the problem really is that I’m too old fashioned. When I see “single player” stamped on the side of the box, I see that as a feature. I don’t expect the game to require a sign up. Likewise, when I see “supports cooperative play,” I expect to be able to fire up the game, possibly start a server if need be, and jump in it with a buddy. If the game requires too much more of me to play it with someone else, it’s going to be forgotten.

In retrospect, I’d be inclined to call this “laziness” on my part, but considering I’m more than happy to spend an hour or two setting up a private server to play with others on, I don’t think that’s quite the case. Is selective laziness a thing? It’s probably a thing. I’m sure of it.

Back to the point, let’s take Minecraft as an example. Minecraft was (and still is, mostly) independently marketed. It wasn’t sold through the usual channels, like Steam. It required a sign-up (for the most part, although you could still play it in offline mode), but the sign-up was required to purchase the game. If you received a gift copy, you had to create an account to activate it. Creating an account was an artifact of obtaining and activating the game. It wasn’t an afterthought by a game studio that was so convinced it had such a great product no one would ever say “no.”

Humorously, some of the third party services required by certain games on the market are so terrible you almost have to wonder if the studio even bothered to dog food their own product. I’m sure there’s nothing more fun than being booted out of a game just because the studio’s authentication servers went down! (The Sim City developers could have taken a lesson from Mojang here early on–it would’ve saved them 3-4 months of trouble.)

But, what do I know? I just write lots of code these days. I don’t take the time to play games all that often, but on those few times that I do, I want to be able to jump in with minimal fuss. If you think your game is so fantastic that I’ll be willing to waste a few hours waiting to sign up on your service or learn how to play via a pseudo-tutorial that’s more irritating than a sock full of poison ivy, I’ve got news for you: It’s not.

As an added bonus before I sign off on this, there’s a little bit of hypocrisy in my words. But it’s something tempered by youthful ignorance, and it’s really too good not to share because there’s a valuable lesson in it. I’m not sure what that lesson is, but if you’re smarter than me (and you probably are), it shouldn’t be too hard to divine.

At risk of sorely dating myself, the last game I took a great interest in and happily wasted hours and hours waiting to sign up to play was Tribes 2. I left that evening sorely disappointed and empty-handed. Dynamix hadn’t expected their authentication servers were vastly underpowered and unable handle the immense popularity of the game; consequently, many of us tried and tried again to create an account desperately wanting to play. We couldn’t. To add insult to injury, Dynamix also removed “skiing,” which soured many of the Tribes 1 vets against its overly optimistic sequel, but that’s another rant entirely. In the end, they patched skiing back in, but not until after Dynamix was disbanded and the intellectual property rights floated around in limbo for some time.

Naturally, those were different times. We knew the days of freely playable games without the need for authentication services were at an abrupt end. We knew Tribes 2 was ushering in a new generation of authentication services intended to limit cheating and create a platform where bans, scores, and other player-centric features were suddenly more meaningful. We knew it had a dark side, and we did nothing to stop it. It seemed like a good idea. So here we are, some 13 years later, overlooking the precipice where the single player game is dead and where third parties want enough information to supply healthcare coverage before authorizing players to play. Yet others have taken strides in the opposite direction, forbidding you from playing cooperatively until you’ve unlocked it by yourself, all while advertising the game as having incredible cooperative play.

I’ve seen the future, and it looks bleak.

Update, February 19th: So, a buddy of mine (hi, Hunter!) linked me to some interesting information about 2K/Turtle Rock’s latest game Evolve. Apparently studios are narcissists. Here’s a game where the publishers are so convinced you’ll love it that they’ve split the game’s DLC into 44 separate packs retailing for ~$130. Highway robbery is now disguised as video games. Would you believe it?

If you’re not sure what Bukkit is, you can skip over this post. Otherwise, keep reading.

In case you’ve been out of the loop, it appears that the Bukkit project is in self-destruct mode now that the two dozen or so core contributors have all announced their departure over circumstances I’m not entirely sure I understand.

The opinions here are therefore my own and are reflective of only the information I currently have and are subject to change. If you find them upsetting, then direct your frustrations to an organization that probably deserves it.

First, I think this is entirely weird and probably equal parts selfish and self destructive on the contributors’ behalf. Second, I’ll predict what’s going to happen: In a year or two, no one will remember any of this, Mojang will be motivated by recent actions by the Bukkit contributors to fast track their own API, and every single one of the Bukkit contributors will fade into obscurity.

Essentially, the upshot is that if you throw a tantrum and collectively elect to take your ball and go home, your actions will galvanize the community into factions that strongly support and strongly disapprove of your behavior. History has suggested it’s unlikely to happen any other way. The faction that supports your activity may be most helpful in constructing a new community from scratch while the opposing one will seek to destroy it. Though, I would urge caution to anyone who strives to build a community upon a foundation of vitriol and anger.

But let’s back up for a moment and discuss this obscurity I mentioned. I’ve been running Bukkit off and on for probably two years or so (maybe three, I honestly can’t remember–I first used it when the project was quite young). And let me be frank: Aside from some of the big names (Dinnerbone, EvilSeph), I can’t remember anyone else’s name. Sad? Maybe, but that’s the reality. As a consumer of the Bukkit source code (speaking of it as a product), I was exclusively interested in using it because it made my life a bit easier as one of the administrators of a small server for a few friends of mine and I, and because of the numerous (and useful) plugins. Selfish? You bet.

Unfortunately, Bukkit’s substantial memory requirements over the stock Minecraft server and local lack of interest in Minecraft in general, I’ve since shut down the server we were using indefinitely and may or may not elect to start it up again. This is going to sound harsh, but as someone who might administer future Minecraft servers for my own personal use, I’m not really going to care in the long run what happens to Bukkit. It was a great project, but when open source projects die or fork, I don’t have the time to fuss with internal project politics. I’m going to pick one that does what I want, and I’m not going to fret about who did what. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

Second, as I understand it currently, this is largely due to the departure of EvilSeph from the project for various reasons. It’s also due to the activities of Wolvereness whom I understand used the DMCA to take down specific parts of Bukkit code. I’m not entirely clear on which parts were removed, but a response from a Mojang employee is suggestive that it was a fairly important part of Bukkit and likely the parts that attempted to reimplement the Minecraft server software. So, legally speaking, the activity by Bukkit was already on shaky grounds, even though Mojang had no interests in doing anything to the project (at that point in time).

Finally, it appears to me that the community has decided to circle the wagons around Wolvereness, essentially working themselves up into a tizzy about this perceived smack-in-the-face by an evil, profit-making company (without which, I might remind you, Bukkit wouldn’t exist). I find it oddly ironic that certain posters on the Bukkit forums have plainly stated that community members are uninterested in working for a for-profit company “for free.”

Do you guys have any idea what you’ve been doing the last three years? I really shouldn’t have to spell this out. At least it hasn’t degenerated into Youtube-level stupidity, so that’s a plus, but the night is young.

(Aside: It may surprise you to discover that you can make money from GPL licensed software; you just have to supply the original sources and any modifications you’ve made thereof to any party that asks.)

The other side of the coin is that there was a huge debate about the legality of Minecraft existing, simply on the merit that Bukkit is licensed under the GPL. I recall no less than two or three individuals arguing that, because of the GPL’s nature, since Mojang “owns” Bukkit, the Minecraft sources must therefore be released or else it will be in violation of the GPL. I am not a lawyer, but this is outright nonsense, and I’ll explain.

First, Minecraft by necessity of causality predates Bukkit. If Minecraft didn’t exist, there would be no Bukkit. Second, you cannot control what third parties will do with your own product; if a third party produces software that is GPL licensed and relies on interfacing in some manner with your closed source product, they cannot then demand that you open your product under the GPL or face legal action. It simply doesn’t work that way. Yes, it’s a problem that Mojang now owns some rights to Bukkit, but I’d argue that the nature of Bukkit’s interaction with Minecraft is such that it is legally dubious to argue that Minecraft is in violation of the GPL simply on the merit that Bukkit requires it to exist. (This is for a court to decide, not armchair lawyers.)

Second, I’ve seen a few comments from people who are essentially encouraging the Bukkit contributors to “take back” their contributions so Mojang cannot use them. This is equally absurd, because these contributions have already been licensed under the GPL, presumably with the intent of being part of the Bukkit project. While possible, it’s very difficult to backtrack a contribution made in good faith under a copyleft license like the GPL, because to do so flies in the spirit of the license. The GPL is intended to protect the consumers of such code (that’s you and me), and as such, the copyright holders give up some rights so that we may freely make use of the code, freely modify the code, and freely give back our own contributions without fear that the original sources will be closed or otherwise pulled out from under us. This is why many popular projects over the years have been forked: Community members grow frustrated with a lack of maintenance or the stewardship of the project maintainers/owners, and so they fork the project to drive it in a direction they want for themselves.

In spite of Richard M. Stallman’s intentions, there is nothing altruistic about open source or open source stewardship. It is almost always entirely driven, even if only initially, because of inherently selfish desires. The desire to scratch one’s own itch isn’t something that materializes out of charity to an as yet unknown community. Thus, licenses like the GPL strive to protect us all from inherently selfish drives, particularly those activities by people who would rather take their own contributions and run for the hills.

To put it more simply: If anyone from Bukkit attempts to reverse their GPL licensing, it will only apply to any code they write at the point after which the GPL licensed code was written and existed.

A final point that comes to mind is one that I’ve been musing about myself for my own projects, including one that I intend to have distinct commercial and F/OSS versions that will live simultaneously but with the intention that they may accept source code contributed to me by other individuals. It goes something like this: If Mojang did in fact buy the rights to Bukkit two years ago, they should have made all contributors sign a Contributor License Agreement. Such an agreement would provide protections to Mojang and to the individual contributors by 1) ensuring that contributions made to Bukkit are given to Mojang under a perpetual non-exclusive license with the rights to relicense and sublet the sources as Mojang desires and 2) protects the contributor by authorizing them to reuse their contributed code in their own projects (or commercially) as they see fit. CLAs are fairly common among open source projects and provide a means for contributing to F/OSS projects that may have commercial backing or commercial versions based in part on community-supplied sources without leaving the projects in legal limbo.

This would have afforded Mojang the options to do whatever they see fit with newly contributed code while making clear Bukkit’s legal standing. It may have also prevented someone from torpedoing the project via the DMCA (or similar). However, unless the agreed upon CLA were retroactive to previous contributions, it would most certainly not have prevented someone from poisoning the well with contributions made in the months prior to the implementation of a CLA. It’s plausible then that even with the protections of a CLA, things may have worked out the same way. Regardless, it’s better to have some protections than not enough, and I think the events that have transpired this week should serve as a warning to all F/OSS projects. If you do not have sufficient legal protections, a malevolent actor can use copyright law to irreversibly damage your project.

Beyond that, I’m sure there are still a few lessons to take away from the Bukkit fiasco which we’ll discover in due time. For now, the best we can do is sit back and wait.

After the Games for Windows Live shutdown debacle, I was confident that my own gaming habits would be largely immune to the fallout coming this summer. As it turns out, I was wrong. One such game I periodically indulge in will soon be the latest victim in a long string of mass digital killings perpetrated by Microsoft’s gaming division*. While the GfWL shutdown did stir up something of a tempest-in-a-teacup, I can’t place the complete blame on Microsoft. I think their fault is substantial, don’t get me wrong, but it should at least be shared among the game studios who are willing accomplices.

* Note: I’m not sure precisely who controls the GfWL division at this point. As I understand it, the intent is to bring everything under the Xbone’s black flag of doom. I guess it’s succeeding.

First, I should divulge that I own very few GfWL games. I never installed Microsoft Flight. I’ve never touched the Fable franchise or any of the other fantasy games slated to be shelved, either. Neither have I played those games for which DLC is no longer available thanks to last year’s marketplace shutdown. I can say with relative impunity that I’ve been well insulated from the impact Microsoft’s recent decisions have made. I doubt I’d be the only one to observe that Microsoft’s diminishing influence on PC gaming has relegated it to niche markets. Of course, whether or not GfWL games exist in niche markets precisely because Microsoft has done almost everything it could to force players onto the Xbox is another matter entirely. And let’s not kid ourselves: Few of the top PC sellers came from the Windows marketplace anyway. We’re in the minority here, folks. If it weren’t for Steam, I almost have to wonder what the landscape would look like.

That said, I learned of the GfWL shutdown through the somewhat ironic twist that I had been looking for a Microsoft Flight Simulator replacement. At that time, I remembered from a year or two prior that Microsoft had indeed released a successor, for free, along with DLC that could be purchased for a modest fee. Searching Steam at that moment yielded a surprising result: Only the trailer videos were available for download! Puzzled, I searched around and came across the rather disturbing news that Microsoft had been planning on shutting down the GfWL marketplace and took with it nearly every PC game that used Windows Live, including everything on Steam that wasn’t actively maintained and ported to use Steamworks. Oops.

Needless to say, Microsoft lost a sale. I ended up buying X-Plane 10 instead.

However, FSX is in a strangely fortunate position. It enjoys a highly active modding community with dozens of available addons (free and otherwise). And Lockheed Martin (yes, that Lockheed Martin) owns the rights to continue developing an FSX-compatible flight simulator under the Prepar3d moniker. I suspect that those of us who own FSX and plan to play it for many years to come will not be impaired by Microsoft’s idiotic decision. We might even be thankful. With Flight more or less out of the way, the arcade-ization of an otherwise realistic franchize will be forgotten as an unfortunate blip on the radar. It’s almost as if the FSX community is thriving in spite of Microsoft.

Sadly, other games aren’t faring so well. Lack of community influence, developer interest, and consumer willingness have pushed many franchises into the wastelands. It’s doubtful they’ll recover.

Thus, I return to Fuel. Ignoring for a minute some of the inane bugs in the game, like the moon rising in the wrong cardinal direction, it’s quite good and Fuel is one of the few–if not only!–racing games with a fully open world. Sure, it has races and challenges, but the real innovation is what happens between the races. Exploring is paramount to unlocking zones in Fuel, and it’s almost a requirement to progress. For that reason alone, Fuel certainly deserved more exposure in the PC gaming world, but its existence as a game ported from the Xbox undoubtedly hurt its reputation. I’d also wager that it wasn’t well marketed.

This is to say nothing of the endless Al Gore-isms and almost insulting environmentalist propaganda for each of the zones that made a tenuous plot laughable. I can ignore that, because the game is fun. I still can’t forgive them for a west-rising moon, however.

Code Masters’ reaction when pressed for Fuel’s current status by a player on the Steam forums was pathetic. Ridiculous but unsurprising, the studio has absolutely no intention of issuing a remedy. Their excuse? The game is too old. Never mind that it was ported to PC only a few short years prior! I can’t imagine it would take many man-hours to strip all of the GfWL dependencies, possibly replacing them with Steamworks, but who am I to judge? I think Code Masters simply doesn’t want the money.

I can’t really blame them, either. If you’ve been following the Flappy Bird nonsense, some developers lose their marbles over the idea that they’re literally swimming in cash. Imagine, for a moment, Scrooge McDuck but with a keyboard. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Maybe not, because some developers get cold feet when they imagine their player base as addicts continuing to hit up their game. Straight into the veins! Hey, now, I won’t judge. I think addictions are unhealthy, but if spending hours tapping away on an iDevice to maneuver an inept bird between pipes gets the dopamine flowing, more power to you.

Awful allegories aside, I think Code Masters isn’t that much unlike Dong Nguyen. They’re almost appalled someone wants to play their games. It’s a tragedy, really. I mean, heaven forbid that some idiots might actually want to buy their products, right? Except in this case, Mr. Nguyen took the moral high road, possibly because he felt it unfair to be so successful while his players were so addicted. We’d probably be in a much better world if drug dealers had this kind of empathy for their customers.

Actually, I doubt the Code Masters thing has anything to do with money. I think they’re headed the same was Electronic Arts was five, maybe ten years ago. That’s the real shame.

It’s here that I’ll take the liberty to offer a brief aside that’s killing me, because I only saw it a few days ago. On the title screen for Fuel, the developers had the nerve to include a little blurb of loading text that encourages the player to take a break. After all, they say, it’s not like the game is going to disappear. I’m serious–it actually says that. It’s almost as if the developers reached into the future to taunt future consumers, promptly flipping them a middle finger, then slipping a hand in their back pocket.

Don’t mind me. I’m just here to collect what you owe me. Yes, I know you already bought the game. No, I’m not going to give you anything new. Oh, and I should probably tell you that this game has a shelf life of two years. Thanks! And don’t forget to buy our new games coming out next fall. Suckers! [The mysterious hand retracts and disappears back into the void from whence it came.]

Anyway, I digress. Back to Microsoft. I’ve suspected for some time that the intent behind the GfWL coup de grĂ¢ce had more to do with product cannibalization and consolidation than improving some vague metric for customer satisfaction. Indeed, I wrote about precisely that last year. In particular, I strongly suspect that Microsoft–through some ray of brilliance or stupidity–is electing to destroy PC gaming entirely in the hopes that it forces consumers onto the Xbone. I really hope they’re not so myopic, because in spite of the supposed rampant piracy blamed by some developers as incentive to develop for consoles first and foremost, PC game sales certainly aren’t diminishing. Perhaps among the triple-A developers this may be true, but indie studios are doing relatively well.

On the other hand, according to Paul Thurrott, blamed by some to be a Microsoft shill, a certain Steven Sinofsky has been branded as the front man for everything wrong with Windows 8 and was removed shortly thereafter in effort to contain or otherwise mitigate the damage he wrought on the company’s cash cow. Or, so you’d hope. The simple fact that Microsoft has essentially killed off dozens of PC games that had active communities and active DLC sales is suggestive of a problem more systemic to Microsoft’s culture and less of a single so-called visionary who drove Windows careening into a side ditch in a career-ending joyride.

I suspect that the GfWL services and marketplace will be reborn under something that provides a certain degree of cross-platform support for PCs and the Xbone. I doubt Microsoft would be quite so stupid as to discount the PC market entirely with competitors like Valve making a pretty darned impressive living off digital downloads. Then again, considering the company’s less than stellar excursion (repeatedly, I might add) into the world of mobile devices (lol@Windows 8) I’m not quite sure what to believe. Given Microsoft’s track record as of late, I’m more inclined to believe they’re going to be Xboned.

It’s sad that the teardown of a single online service can almost literally wipe out dozens–if not hundreds–of games overnight, rendering them completely unplayable in spite of having been legally purchased even as few as six months prior. But then, that’s exactly the sort of thing that pundits, technophiles, gamers, indie developers, and myriad others have been warning us about for the better part of a decade or more. Draconian DRM, particularly that requiring online activation, is the bane of consumer freedom. As was brilliantly demonstrated by UbiSoft’s repeated failings insofar as online activation is concerned, DRM is the enemy of the consumer. Perhaps the shutdown of GfWL will refresh this debate and bring it back into the collective consciousness of thousands of consumers, angry that their games purchased with hard-earned cash are no longer playable.

I don’t have any such delusions that the average gamer is going to purchase subsequent games based on a notion as silly as consumer freedom, but I do hope that the fiasco might be memorable enough to give them pause for thought. It’s also a great time to remind everyone that indie developers seldom include DRM, because they value their time–and yours. For one, even the best DRM scheme will eventually be broken, and for two, several indie developers have repeated time and again that draconian DRM is outright insulting to their audience.

You know what you should do? You should support people like that. Better yet, it’s easy to do right now: Steam has available tons of indie games that have appeared independently on Humble Bundle and elsewhere. Ignoring for a minute that Steam itself is DRM (though it’s most certainly not the insulting kind!), you can do a whole lot more good for yourself and others if you buy indie games from platforms like Steam than to buy the next triple-A title from $bigassCompany.