The “Kudos & Calamities” column was the brainchild of its original co-authors, AdamTheTech and Tyler Thompson. The idea behind the column was to be able to alternate authors every week who each tackle an interesting personal topic or news headline related to technology. The column was inherited by PCM members Kram and Ryan Passey, and was eventually retired as PCM evolved into more of a blogging format.
Blizzard’s suit against an independent open source software developer poses an interesting question about their business practices.
This past week, Blizzard filed a suit against a group of open source software developers who reversed engineered a portion of Blizzard’s Battle.net multi-player gaming service (against the fine print of the EULA customer license). The result was a separate, independent application called “BNetD”. This application performed a similar function as Blizzard’s official Battle.net service, but it contained many community-requested features, as well as fixes for many of the issues found under the Battle.net services (one of which includes high latency issues; the ultimate bane of multi-player gaming).
The main issue that Blizzard had with BNetD was that it bypassed the copyright protection feature that the Battle.net servers included. The impact of this would mean that there would be the opportunity to allow pirated multi-player games that connect to a gaming server, where pirated copies would not be differentiated from legal copies. Blizzard did not like that, and although they stated that it wasn’t the only reason for the lawsuit, it sure looks like it was the red flag that drew their attention.
Here are three articles that address some of the legal aspects of this situation:
- http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1040_22-5845905.html (archived link here)
Being a web application developer myself, I understand Blizzard’s reasoning in protecting their intellectual property (namely, their bread and butter). However, if someone were to create a plug-in or extension for a web application that I had created, I would be pleased that someone had taken the time to create something for it that would increase the application’s lifespan, usefulness, and simply just to go to make it a better product.
If such a modification was released for free (either as closed or open source), as the owner of the core application and intellectual property of the product, there are a few things I could do.
- Sue them for copyright infringement and infringement of the license agreement.
- Offer to purchase the modification for a reasonable price.
- Offer to hire the developers.
- Do nothing.
Option 1 does nothing but create bad press, create disdain against the company, and keep an inferior product on the market when there is a possibility to make it better. Option 2 would allow the company to gain ownership of the modification and profit from it. Option 3 would allow the company to gain ownership of the modification, profit from it, and profit from the skills of the developers to produce an even better product. Option 4 would allow the company to indirectly benefit from the modification, but would have no control over it other than with option 1.
Personally, I would try to shoot for 3, 2, then 4. If these developers were actually *profiting* from their modification, I would have qualms with it and would most likely issue a “cease and desist” letter. Nevertheless, the point is that this modification would be released as a non-profit feature.
Apparently, Blizzard does not have the resources or necessary insight to listen to what their customers want. If they went with the flow of things and developed features that many customers expressed interest in, it probably would be beneficial from a marketing standpoint to do so.
The lifespan of a software product is rather limited as Operating System platforms change, and as interests shift. Valve, unlike Blizzard, was smart. Valve released Steam last summer, and many gamers have not become bored with it because the various bugs that pop up are always addressed, as well as requested feature additions from the gaming community.
Blizzard needs to get more into this frame of mind, if they really want to do well: the more people that are pleased with the product, the more that they will suggest it to their friends, and the more people that will buy the product.
I, for one, will not continue to use a product from a company if it has issues with it and the developers turn a blind eye to bugs and other issues (Please note that although this may appear to superficially describe Microsoft, it does not. So, those of you rearing to debate the MS argument; don’t. That isn’t the point of the issue here). I would also not suggest the product to anyone I know because of that fact. The most important thing about a product is that it works and does what it is supposed to do.
The people who created BNetD developed this working application in response to Blizzard’s inactive state of product development, as well as the inability to open their ears and listen to their customer base. Without that customer base, they would have no reason to exist on the market. It is this fact that many companies and developers forget about over time. Customers are people too, each with wants and needs, and it is good to be reminded of it every once in a while.