Whose line?

A couple of weeks ago a WoW player created an addon to inject a little pizzazz into quest giver voiceovers. You can read more about it here and here, but the basic story is this:

The player created an addon that substituted player-created voiceovers for standard Blizz voice-acted quests. The community was invited to upload their own voice renderings of quest dialogs, and these could be added to the repertoire in the addon. I did not use the addon, nor did I submit any voiceovers, so I cannot speak with any authority about the details of how it worked in practice. But the bottom line was, this was an attempt to inject some player whimsy into the game.

Predictably, Blizz shut the project down pretty fast. Here is the Blue post explanation, courtesy of MMO-C:

Hello TioMiklas,

I’m Josh Allen, from the World of Warcraft Community Team. We came across your Voice Acted Quests project, and I have to say, the work you’ve put into it is very impressive!

Unfortunately, I’ve been told that this project infringes on our intellectual copyrights in a way that we can’t allow. You may recall a similar situation with an addon called “Warcraft Tales” a few months ago. While your project is slightly different, it’s still considered a re-performance of our established works.

Because of that, we have to ask you to stop production and distribution of the Voice Acted Quests project. Rather than going straight to delivering a legal notice, they’ve asked me to contact you directly to deliver the news and answer any questions you may have. Like I said, it’s a very impressive project and we recognize the amount of work you’ve put into it, it’s just not the sort of thing we can allow to be created using our copyright.

Sorry for the bad news.

Hey again, sorry for the delay in getting back. I managed to sync up with the higher-ups here again with your questions.

The issue isn’t about any potential monetary gains. The issue is simply that Blizzard doesn’t want third parties to create in-game story content for WoW, and creating a vocal performance for existing lines falls inside that. No one here thinks you’re trying to be malicious – I’m being completely honest when I say we found your work impressive!

That’s about the extent of what I can comment on myself. Anything further would need to come from our legal team.

I am completely with Blizz on this one. The addon does seem to me to have been an infringement on their copyrighted intellectual property. I suspect they were more or less amazed to find out such a project could be created using their approved API. I think there was some back and forth between the author and Blizz about the author making money off the project, etc., but I believe Blizz when they say the main issue was copyright infringement. And it appears that they handled the whole thing with understanding and finesse — they simply told the author to cease and desist, they did not bring any legal proceedings against him, did not ban him for life.

Having said that I support Blizz in this, I can’t fault the addon author for giving it a try. Perhaps I am being naive (it would not be the first time), but it strikes me that his project was exactly what he said it was: a chance to inject some community fun into the game. Maybe he was trying to make a few bucks off it, maybe not, but it doesn’t feel like he was deliberately trying to infringe on Blizz’s copyrighted material. He saw that the addon interface made the project possible, and he went for it.

Couple of thoughts on this. First, it is clearly a gray area that Blizz did not anticipate. I suppose that is one of the reasons they have an army of lawyers on staff. But when you think about it, the project was really only a tiny step over the line that represents Blizz’s intellectual property. For example, anyone engaging in RP is essentially adding to Blizz’s copyrighted story line. Same with some of the fan fiction.  And addons like DBM and Bigwigs inject additional voice drama/warnings into the game. The difference, of course, and the part that put this particular project over the line, is that none of the examples I cited actually alter existing game art or story. But the Voice Acted Quest project did.

The other thing that strikes me about this affair is that it shows how engaged in the game some of the community remains, and how attracted they are to enhancing whatever escapist fantasy the game represents to them. This desire is not something Blizz should treat lightly. We have seen it manifested time and time again. It is the foundation, I think, for such things as:

  • The desire for player housing
  • Tailored music (the WoD jukebox)
  • Individual interpretation of “class/spec fantasy”, and how Blizz implements it
  • The push for classic/vanilla servers
  • Much of the dissatisfaction with WoD’s “time wrinkle” story
  • The not-yet-dormant question of flying

All these examples, in one way or another, have their roots in how each player perceives the fantasy of the game. Of course, it is not possible for WoW to be all things to all players, nor is it possible to allow every player to configure major aspects of the game as they wish. Each small player option has the potential to bring the game to a halt by virtue of the cascading complexity of permutations it introduces. I get that, and I can see why Blizz is often reluctant — if not downright mule-headed — about allowing more player options. Still, I wonder if they truly understand the almost-primal desire many players have to make the game their own, to put their personal stamp on some part of it. That is a powerful force, and Blizz would do well to heed it whenever possible.

So yeah, Blizz was right to put a stop to the Voice Acted Quests addon. And from a personal standpoint, I am not big on listening to any kind of long drawn out NPC speeches no matter whose voice it is. But you gotta admit, it was kind of a cool idea.

5 thoughts on “Whose line?

  1. I was discussing with my best mate, yesterday and the day before, role playing games and mmo’s. We were discussing what made it fun, and as I was creating a new character for ESO, what is his story? I took personality, interests elements from a couple DnD characters, I had played with him, and while I loved the character concept, it really wouldn’t translate into ESO.

    Not to get bogged down, some context is appropriate. Like wow and other MMO’s, the vast majority of the “game” part of the game is combat, doing damage (or supporting others who do) to overcome challenges. The skills/abilities setup is highly organized towards this end, to the exclusion of abilities that are useful or impactful outside of combat.

    So, any character idea outside of this mold of highly combat oriented, is working against the system. Sure, you “can” do it with some careful justification, mental footwork, and willful overlooking of quests/situations that would be far outside the character’s acceptable encounters. This is required for nearly any character concept, as there is always a % of actions/activities that don’t align with an aspect of a fully flesh character rich with nuance.

    Solving this issue is IMPORTANT! There is a very primal motivational energy moving through modern gaming, personalization. You see this need to personalize, link or connect, to a game, environment, etc. The ever improving character visual creation options nearly every game, player housing, skins for their characters, collections, mounts, titles and many more MMO based solutions to give players ways to personalize. We see this passion transcend genres as well, Minecraft, Overwatch, League of Legends, Mobile games, Sims, etc. One common thread is that they are very object or visually based solutions. They are a certain house or chateau, some cool skin that speaks to the player, some collection of items, toys, mounts, costumes that can be shown off. Gaming is designing for “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, which I can understand.

    I want something more, and I think many of people do as well. I want more personal connection to the experience. Developers talk about immersion, but fail to understand, immersion isn’t about the single galactic, world breaking, story they’ve written. Its about a person’s relationship with his or her character and how they are moving through, interacting with, and connection to that over arching theme of events. I think TOR (The Old Republic) really came through on this point. For those that haven’t played, their main quest lines often have 3 or so different actions, responses that don’t usually affect the end result, the questline resolving, but they do affect the way the character interact and get responses from the world.

    You don’t need a quest with 3 or more seperate end results, they can be the same, but for each step along the way simply recasting the tone, tenor and words on how a quest or event is occurring, empowers the player to express their character. By giving that power to the player, you are allowing players to invest more of themselves into the character, a bond that I believe is much stronger than, “but I have this huge collection of stuff and don’t want to leave it.”

    In practical terms, its just giving more options, a heroic traditional formal response, a snarky go along with it, etc, and then have the response from the quest giver take that into account in how they move you from point A to point B in the quest. It seems from my layman’s perspective to be a minor cost when compared to balancing systems, review, testing, art asset design etc. From a business perspective, having players more invested and connected to their characters is only going to increase the opportunities for them to invest in our cash side purchases, mounts, DLC, housing, etc etc etc.

    And mark my words, when AI is intelligent enough to start having reliable genuine conversations, the game that takes advantage of this need to personalize your gaming experience, will be as big as wow was and then some.

    1. Well said, thank you. As I was reading through your comment, it struck me that Blizz’s failure to keep pace with this very basic player need may in fact be the one thing that more than any other factor marks WoW as an aging and possibly outdated genre. Maybe the new AI they will use in BfA Islands scenarios will subsequently serve as a basis for a modern player-NPC interface? I don’t know, but I do know that so far Blizz has seemed to not value — at least not enough to invest significant development resources — most of the things you wrote about. I can only hope they value the game’s continuing existence enough to realize that “player investment” is becoming more and more of a factor in modern games.

  2. Oh to be able to have my character say in game, any time I fly over Broken Shore and an Illidan WQ pops up, say shut up Illidan, your drunk, or reply to Khadgar, fine I’ll go kill the thing, lazy Mage, you teleported a city, go kill them yourself.

    I would seek out quests.

  3. Back when I saw Bellular speak about the Warcraft Tales, it made me want to level all over again. For me, all those voice dialogues etc. makes it a lot easier to immerse myself in the game, and feel connected to it. I’ve even gotten use to it now. Sometimes when I do an old quest, where the NPC says something in /Say, but it’s not voiced, I sometimes check my sound, thinking it’s volume needs turning up!

    I didn’t know of this AddOn though, I stay away from all WoW-related sites that might contain spoilers these days, so thank you for keeping me updated! Shame it got shot down. But yeah, I understand why that is. One can just hope, Blizzard might see, why these AddOns continue to pop up and perhaps adopt an idea or two along the way.

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