Ethical discussion on private servers

The aim of this thread is to have a sober discussion of the ethical issues involving private servers. I really hope the mods do not ban this topic. The spirit of this is to foster healthy discussion rather than advocate rule breaking or unethical behavior. We adults should be able to have free discussions on ethics without fear of banning over words that may trigger people.

I think at the basis of this is the observation that we have gone through the peak of MMO development, which peaked around 2011 or so with many wildly popular high quality MMOs. Since that point in time the investment dollars have moved on to action RPGs and things like Counterstrike etc, and the MMO development has stalled. In fact the present business model for MMOs is to remain in beta for as long as possible as they can continue to take crowdsourcing funds in beta mode and have no obligation to deliver on anything for that money. So you see a slew of MMOs in perpetual beta mode, never releasing, and not coming to the market. And I find myself as a MMO consumer seriously disappointed in how few good offerings are out there.

The Asian gaming market is releasing a lot of gaming titles, but the fundamental issue with those titles has been the monetary model is pay to win. The Asian gaming market is completely comfortable with people buying end game items with real money to have an edge, and typically they have world PVP in the end game so as to apply pressure to the player base to buy their way to parity. This funding model is anathema to western gamers, who categorically hate pay-to-win, but the reality here is much of the MMO development is coming from Asia now.

So we are stuck with a limited number of releases, many of which stay in perpetual beta, and we are painfully aware of some old games that had a lot of appeal. And what is happening now is that some people will hack into these old games and update the code or tinker with it to give a fresh experience.

So City of Heroes had a huge following, and the parent company released a Warhammer game and shut COH down with the assumption all those super hero gamers would hop genres to the new release. They did not, the new game failed, and COH went into memory. Some fans resurrected this dead game that nobody wants out there and was deliberately shut down in a coercive fashion to manipulate people to buy the new game.

Blizzard/WoW is facing a number of private server startups. They recently prevailed in a law suit against one of the most popular offenders, but the legal process for tackling this involves years of court fights overseas. I am aware of one game that has about 3 servers out there where they make all the WoW items BOE, and you get random skills as you level up. I am not playing it, but there are 3 servers with waiting queues.

Now I have been gaming so long now that I remember well MUDs, which were text based games on servers that sprung up in the late 80s early 90s. Every one of those games was usually a ‘pirate’ operation where you had some computer guy who worked for a big company hosting a MUD server on the side for the world to play. These MUDs would routinely go down as the private companies would find out someone was hosting a MUD on their server. They all freely worked on the old MERC code and developed their own variants of MUDS, and they also freely borrowed some of the game mechanics from Rogue-like games that were also popular (note Blizzard did exactly this with Diablo, making a graphical Rogue-like game that borrowed heavily from both MUDs and Rogue-like games).

So online gaming itself has had a roguish past of people hosting servers and altering code and stealing things, and even companies like Blizzard have freely stolen or emulated breakthrough ideas in the rest of the industry. Nobody wears a white hat. Everyone borrows. And all of it started with a lot of stealing and borrowing of company server time.

Against that historical backdrop, we now look at these private servers as a 2nd wave of the wild west in online gaming. And this is where I am torn ethically. One can not pretend any of these companies was an island that honored the property of others and did not heavily steal from each other and perhaps even adopt large blocks of code. Yet we have big boys like Blizzard bringing the full weight of their muscle to shut down a lot of these pirate like private servers, behaving as if they have a pristine moral authority to do so.

Now if you think about all of those kids out there who hack code and try stuff out…many of them will go on to be great game writers and develop our next wave of great games. Are we actually helping the MMO world stagnate by fully backing companies like Blizzard in their desire to shut down these private servers? Had that attitude prevailed in the early history of online gaming, would we ever have had the MMO development we have now?

Now I think Blizzard makes a judgement call on when to go after these guys. It takes a lot of time and money to prevail and it is hard shutting these servers down. I think they let the small guys be, and save their guns for the big problems.

But then we come back to dead games like COH. Is there really any reason at all to oppose revival attempts at dead games such as the private servers there? I for one am really very unhappy with the state of release for super hero games. DCUO has had a lot of cynical abuses and corruption, even though the original game is great, it has changed hands and management to something that is far from ethical, and it is stagnant. I think Champions online failed miserably in delivering on a point based system, and in the end came up with a boring game that tanked. Marvel seems to be doing OK, but there are content issues in that game. The whole genre feels dead, people want more of it, nobody is developing it, and so what happens when fans in their enthusiasm try to revive it on their own?

So again I return to the original statement. I am not saying go out and play these private servers. What I am saying is that are we as a gaming community eating our seed corn by denying amateur coders their initial attempts to get into the field with private servers? Do you have confidence that MMO development will keep pace, or have we moved on?

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I think that a copyright is a copyright. And, the ToS for most games does not include any “ownership” in the game. Since breaking copyright law is illegal everywhere, there is no reason to ever advocate for illegal behavior. It’s really that simple. If I buy BLIZZ stock, I surely don’t want my investment diluted by my own guild breaking copyright law!

And… @dreadhead is now replying… so maybe this topic will go the way of the dodo bird…


Discussing the concept is ok, though specifics would not be.

Snydalee, you raise some interesting ethical points. But OTG’s stance–as Juulz suggested–isn’t based on ethics, it’s based on what’s legal. So we strictly enforce our rules against discussion of illegal private servers, emulators, etc. We’ll loosen up as soon as the law changes. :stuck_out_tongue:

When a company invests time and money into creating a product, they have the right to protect that product. Some of those companies allow and even promote private servers. Many however, do not allow for them. Each of these companies are generally clear on what is and is not acceptable use of their intellectual property. The important part of that statement is “their intellectual property”. The companies own that product and have the right to distribute it how they choose.

If a company has decided they do not want people to create private servers using their intellectual property, they are well within their rights to do so. When they elect to do so, anyone who chooses on their own to violate that is subject to the consequences of that decision. Any person who sets up a private server is knowingly and willingly stealing the intellectual property of another company. Just because an individual does not like what a company chooses to do with its own intellectual property does not give them the right to steal it.

Intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime as many like to claim it is. Every time someone stands up a private server and the company needs to take legal action, it costs the company money. In some instances it costs a significant amount of money. That money doesn’t come out of thin air, it has to be offset elsewhere. Generally speaking this is handled by factoring that into the overall budget for creating a game resulting in a lower effective budget for the game itself. The other option is to simply increase the overall cost of new products. Either way, the consumer is the one who is actually paying for it.

In regard to armature coders, there are countless open source projects they can jump in on if they want to try their hands at game development. They do not need to steal another companies product just to get experience. That would be like telling kids you should feel free to steal cars so you can get practice driving.


A few points, the laws do vary based on what country you are in on IP, case in point, when I was in Singapore, I could buy pirated copies of most software for very cheap right in stores. I didn’t but it was there in spades. Furthermore, countries steal US technology, most specifically China and Russia, but I wouldn’t doubt many others do as well, or at least try.

That said, what is legal and what is ethical are not the same always. There are things that are legal that I definitely do not think are ethical and vice versa, but ethics and legality depend on the person and where they live, their culture and their moral code.

MMOs, not sure what to say different about that genre, but lately I have been supporting those games that allow private servers like Conan Exiles and Atlas. There are MMOs in the past which I still wish were around like Tabula Rasa and Firefall as examples, though I am supporting EM8er which is being developed by Mark Kern who was lead on Firefall and was a Blizzard employee way back, worked on the original WOW. Hopefully they do private servers.

CoH, yeah there was/is a server that was running in secret for about 6 years till that lid got blown, and I think it just recently got shutdown. I have to agree that if the original owner doesn’t want private servers, that is fine. I may not like it but it is their property. I don’t think that IP should be forever though, and I think current US law is like 50 years, which I think is too much as that covers much more than just games and other artsy stuff but actual technologies that could benefit humankind but is stuck under wraps by greed. To me, greed isn’t good. Sure it is a pretty effective motivator, but it isn’t the only motivator and maybe not the best motivator either.

I actually like Champions Online and recently started playing it again. Sure it is dated, but then so are all those other games mentioned or eluded to. Did I really love playing SWG? Sure did, but while I could probably play it again, I won’t. Not because it is illegal but because that was the past and it is nice to revisit the past occasionally, I don’t want to live in the past. Plus, I have a few games I currently play that I enjoy, and I have a few on my radar like Bloodlines 2, MW5 and Cyberpunk 2077 that I am really looking forward too.

I do believe every person needs to make up their own course, and I am fine with that as long as their course doesn’t entail in being destructive to others. I am not talking about name calling or disagreements in philosophy, but actual destruction of people or property. I think people are far too thin skinned nowadays and any offence is tantamount to killing someone. Killing is killing, not calling names or disagreeing. If you can’t disagree, then basically all you would have is groupthink, and that is bad.

Which as the OP stated, everything is pretty much an iteration on everything that came before it. That is history in a nutshell as far back as you want to go. The first person to make a fire most likely iterated from seeing a fire start probably by accident and refined the process and each generation thereafter. Same with the wheel, weapons, housing, food storage, food preparation… you get the idea. The point is, while I agree in principle to IP, I also think that we are all on this world together and as such need to share, or kill each other… which well we have been doing for thousands of years… I guess not successfully since we there are still a lot of us alive… or maybe we share more than we don’t…

Just a few thoughts on ethics and law…

You fundamentally misunderstand me if you think I advocate IP theft. As per Bastiat/The Law the entire purpose of the law is to protect life liberty and property. Here IP falls under property, and the law should be there to protect it.

I fully understand that what motivates innovation is the ability to keep profit, and IP is an important part of that. If you work hard on a creation, someone else steals it, then monetizes it, and you get nothing from it, you have been robbed and the law has failed you.

I also understand and support the guild’s policy on the law.

Those aside I was asking a larger question. When Blizzard had random levels and monsters and loot drops in Diablo, did they nod to the rogue-like games they ripped off for those concepts? I think the entire achievement concept was lifted from another MMO. World quests and participation in that seems to be a lift from Rift. They put enough of their own spin on it to call it their own, but there is a pattern at Blizzard of stealing from the best…this is how they keep pace, by finding out where their competition is, and making a competitive entry or adding their concept to it.

The entire mod system for Blizzard represents crowd sourcing interface solutions to the playerbase, and frequently the most important mods get normalized into the game. Here I think they have actually struck up a healthy balance, where amateurs can get a start at coding for games, and overall the game grows in that area without Blizzard devoting a lot of their resources to a project.

Much of this Classic WoW is as response to the fanbase desire for a return to some of the previous properties of vanilla WoW, such as allegiance to your sever without sharding. IF Blizzard profits from Classic WoW, a huge amount of that profit will be from those who started those servers up pointing out to Blizzard what their game lacked, and the desire of players to return to that.

So for me I would think it would be in the strategic interest of Blizzard to continue to let the little fish go, see what they come up with, then see how to bring their game back in line with what was discovered. Drawing the line at massive playerbases is reasonable, as at that point the monetary immediate damage of the rip off server outweighs the seed corn value of the ideas that spring from that server.

I also wonder why they are OK with the addon code. It seems like a looser posture their has paid off grandly.

But I still question the dead games like COH. Nobody is profiting from that title. It was pulled off the market to drive up support for another game. Nobody is seeing their player rolls decline because die hard super hero gamers are going there. It is like an out of print novel out of copyright…at some point that information should become public domain. If there was an active COH/COV server up with a company behind it, OK, it makes sense to get mad over the revised effort there.

If you think about the entire catalog of old dead games we will never see again, what problem would you have with the fan base bringing them back? I just can not see where anyone has any standing if those become private servers. Maybe the solution here is to have open source gaming code (isn’t one of the shooter engines open source, which is why so many new games use that old engine? eg Diablo clones).

Brohawk says the IP limit for games is 50yrs. 50yrs? We will be long dead before we see those old games again. Surely there is a better standard for making this public domain.

I wanted to touch on these 2 points. In regard to the little fish, that really is not an option Blizzard or any company really has. They have to protect their intellectual property. When you cheery pick when to protect your intellectual property you run the risk of losing it. The simple act of not protecting known uses can result in courts not upholding your rights on the instances you want to protect.

In regard to addon code, they do not actually own the addon code. They provide an API which they do own, all code that uses that API is owned by the author.

Actually I was guessing, after I looked a bit (and I am not a lawyer) which isn’t too hard, I found this…

The term of copyright for video games is no different than those of other media in the United States. Most popular video games are works of corporate authorship and have copyrights that will expire 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first.

So heh, might as well be forever.

It is a far cry from borrowing a concept to standing up a customized, commercial grade implementation of something. Also, how you embellish and/or rearrange the “pieces” matters.

As an author, I might borrow the concepts of dwarves and elves on epic journeys from , say, Tolkien, but there’s a huge gap from there to my own best-selling high fantasy book. It’s still my work, and the public isn’t entitled to run with it just because it’s somewhat derivative.

(I get that some are just opposed to copyrights in general, but I am not one of them.)

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Even this is under debate because IP can be seen as a form of thought control. When you patent/copyright an idea what you’re saying is that other people cannot think or express that idea. This is another rabbit hole and I don’t have time right now to get into it.

But I wanted to bring this up, the idea that “It is their property, they can protect it” and “you don’t own the software” might not be true. There’s this video which makes the case. Yes, it is long, but he covers a lot of bases from ethical to legal.

The TL;DW version is that software is a product, not a service, and that the intentional disabling of software after an undefined amount of time may constitute fraud. Also, a large part of his argument stems from the very real problem that software, as art, is in danger of being the first art form which cannot be preserved. That is a dangerous precedent to set.

Quick edit for one small clarification - My opinion on game servers run by people other than the original company is as follows. Is it a game that is currently live and supported? Verboten. Is it a game that has been shut down? As long as it isn’t run for a profit, that should be acceptable. Especially when it comes to games which are not capable of being run without a server.

I suppose I still regard all of this video gaming stuff as a hobby. Most definitely what once was a hobby and a sharing enterprise by passionate gamers has turned into a business. If you look to the homebrewing industry, there was a hop shortage one year, and big boy Sam Adams distributed their hop supply to all of the other microbrewers to keep them all going. I think we could use some of that spirit back in gaming, where success of others is not viewed as threatening, but as generating interest in a genre which benefits all.

I can understand the point logically that they should go after small fish, but there is in our legal system a very much bottom line is it worth it to pursue or settle mentality, and these small fish locate the servers in non-US markets where it is hard to get at them legally. From a pragmatic standpoint I think it likely that Blizzard should not go after all, and we will not see them pursue the small fish. Metallica had a huge backlash when they went hard after piracy.

I do see clear patterns of Blizzard borrowing and lifting and retooling concepts from other gaming companies, and they encourage employees to play other games for this purpose. There is a fuzzy line here of when something is borrowing and when something is independently derived. Blizzard right now is in the mega company status where they can legally squash competitors if they wish. I would hope they would take a more Sam Adams view to the industry as a whole.

That’s the thing … there tends to be few legal ways to obtain the original software needed to play even on the private servers. SWG, CoH, all require original media which isn’t sold anywhere but the grey market. CoH, the bigger deal was that when they shutdown the private server, the force behind the private server released the source code for free on GitHub. It wasn’t out there for very long but it’s known that many people got parts of the code and started hacking it up and making multiple private severs based upon now partial code. Further diluting the IP patent of the original holder.

We only moderate these things that talk specifics. Just like we don’t condone posting about how to do exploits, but we allow discussion that there was the existence of one and if it was fixed or not.

Hope you understand this “C-Y-A” point of view. :slight_smile:

Oh I certainly understand the policy position. My concern is with the broader direction MMOs are going. It feels like they are going underground as development stalls.

I have original COH/COV disks which I keep for sentimental reasons. Even the box the game came in.

Not just MMOs. FPSes with no personal server support are facing a similar fate. If EA was nuked tomorrow the latest version of Battlefield you could play is 2142. Remember that Halo2 MP server were shut down by Microsoft? Any game which requires checkin online to operate is affected. And more and more those are not just MMOs, they are even single player games.

Yeah that is what I really hate, games should have a standalone mode.

I’m just sad the age of MMOs seems to have come to an end…

(I am having fun in Runscape these days)

I think the monetization method was part of it. You had the early MMOs with a subscription basis, then as the juggernaut of WoW took over, most of those competitors went free to play. Some had restricted features that could be unlocked with a subscription, or others had pay to win unlocks to finance the games. Of all of them, I think GW2 got the monetization right, with a flat $60 for the game and money thereafter going into cosmetics. They keep chugging along and that model is sustainable.

But this huge glut of semi to un-successfull games is out there, with a playerbase expecting free to play, and I am not sure it is easy to enter this market now with a new offering.

The ideas pertaining to what may be argued for and against about the idea of private servers, the owners of copyrighted code, the history of who has done what and more are I guess interesting but the bottom line is very simple.

Any violation of copyright law is theft.

One more time…

Any violation of copyright law is theft.

So all other points suggesting reasons why or what is right or wrong are all moot points. This is extremely simple without a shred of ambiguity or complexity.

Now, turning to a legal point of relevance and benefit to gamers, there are rare times when certain companies opt to release old code that no longer generates any significant profit to those with the skill in the gaming community to make use of it. That’s very nice of them and has resulted in some great projects for folks to enjoy creating new projects with, learn from and even update the original title when permission to do that is expressly given by the rights owner.

An example of the above that relates to MMO gaming is Daybreak Games allowing free use of EverQuest with 3rd party developed server code I believe. I forget the specifics of this but essentially they have given permission for people to create their own original EverQuest servers and modify the game rules, etc. as they like. This move surprised me some as EQ has roughly double the servers of EQ2 to this day and must be making them some income or they would have sunset the game. Then again, I don’t think they have the resources nor the will to pursue enforcement of copyright on EQ given its age and minimal value to them I suppose vs new projects such as their recent investments in Planetside 2, etc.

The above example is the only kind of discussion about private servers that ought to be on these forums in my opinion. This doesn’t represent a suppression of speech. It simply enforces our moral code here which is right and good. Otherwise though, the discussion of the current state of MMOs, new development or lack thereof, etc. is fine of course. Certainly, I am not the forum police around here but frankly, it surprises me this topic exists. Please don’t take this personally Syndeelee. I like you. You contribute a lot of great information and more. So I don’t want this to feel like an attack. It isn’t. I simply disagree with the idea of even discussing this here. I feel it would be better to break out some of the other individual points, none of which relate to anything against our code, and discuss them instead.

From reading the OP, I gathered that really the greatest concern was the current state of MMO development, market concerns by reference and how these impact available options to play and enjoy. I think a closure of this and a new topic on that would be ideal. However, I am one of the Indians and not a chief so that’s simply a suggestion based on my own feelings about this.

The MMO market has long been saturated not for lack of choices but for lack of players who enjoy this genre which is noted for its many carrots on sticks at the end of grinding treadmills. The majority of gamers have zero interest in this. Some of us love it but we are not legion actually. What is more, a game like World of Warcraft that both you and I play pretty much represents the EverQuest formula greatly expanded upon and perfected. I think at some point there is not anywhere else to go with these and there is not a sizeable enough market to support many more at any one time. Still, games like ESO come along and for our crowd do bring something special.

I apologize for my always failing to be succinct but you know, on the topic of games as a service that also came up, that’s a complete discussion unto itself as well. Perpetual beta is not limited to crowd funding by any stretch of the imagination today. Major publishers now do this with AAA but they are finding out through examples such as Anthem that maybe this is not such a good idea after all.

At the end of the day, the consumer market will exert control despite what people tolerate now all too often and the market will right itself, not to worry. The opening and closure of wallets in vast numbers reigns supreme and ultimately dictates what is to be over time. No matter how we individually feel, this will be the defining factor in what is to come. Personally, I am not worried about it at all. Time is finite. I cannot handle more than one MMO at a time and sometimes I need a break from that to enjoy other things. There is not a shortage of them. There was a glut of them. This is the reason that only the best one existing or at least the one best liked is able to require a monthly subscription to play and that of course is World of Warcraft. In a scenario like this, we don’t need more titles. We need a few very high quality ones that justify a subscription.

Thanks for reading folks! Thanks in advance for your patience with the builder of text walls too!

Correction: I forgot that Final Fantasy Online also requires a sub but then it earns it or Square Enix couldn’t do that. There may even be more but obviously, these are very few and far between. Other edits are typo fixes, etc. because I never learn and don’t proofread what I post until after the fact.

The admins are involved in this discussion and know all about it. On the old forum, you couldn’t even posted the letters “Swgemu” together, it would star them out like a profanity filter. Honestly, I think that and “CoH” should have the same thing done while they are in IP limbo. However, as adults, I think we can discuss them being a thing, just definitely not how to get to that thing.

If anything crosses the time, fear not, I’ll moderate it myself. :smiley:


Watching that video was really interesting, it is long. The one thing that does bother me about games is it really is a good as the guy explains. As a good, it should last pretty much indefinitely, one example he gave was that of your car. If you buy a car, you own it. Same with a program (even though the EULA says one thing it has not held up in court, watch the video), it is a good. Now if after a set time the dealer came and took your car back, you would say that is stealing. So when a game manufacturer removes the ability of your ability to play that game because the “service” is turned off, well that is the same as taking your car. I agree with that analogy, whether you do or not. There are games I wish I could still play that I did pay for and some, a fair amount when you look at microtransactions, and my value is nil. To me that is wrong.

I thought I posted this yesterday but obviously I didn’t so here it is. Also, no one is condoning violating copyright law, however the law states that if you sell a product, that gives the owner the right to use that product. When a manufacturer removes the use of that product, then you have been frauded. So, I don’t see anyone saying that copyright isn’t legit, but that when you lose the capability to use a product that you paid for, something is wrong with that scenario.