Geez, the mighty sure have fallen. Blizzard, legendary house of Diablo and Warcraft, is again in headlines for all the wrong reasons. Blizzard released a pretty highly anticipated upgrade for its classic RTS Warcraft III in early 2020, branding it as Warcraft III: Reforged. Presumably, this is just a remastered version of the PC classic, with HD resolution bumps and whatnot. But it’s a bit more expansive than that, and the fans were hyped. Unfortunately, Blizzard not only fumbled the ball, it added extra drama sauce to the mix. While most issues can be repaired in time (especially for PC games), One issue with Reforged is a straight-up betrayal of fan communities, especially those who work to keep games like Warcraft III alive.
Warcraft III: Reforged launched with some pretty boilerplate technical issues. It’s never a good look to ship with problems at launch, but it is what it is. The biggest one seemed to be a glitch that messed with the game’s colors, specifically those when playing in “classic” mode. As excited as fans were for the new changes, it’s understandable they felt the option to play something resembling the original was important too. Along with that, there were also some animation and UI issues, all of which are already being acknowledged and addressed by the team. That stuff will be forgotten quickly enough.
What won’t be forgotten, however, was something not mentioned in Blizzard’s recent update about the issues. The update came, mind, after there was enough fan outrage from how Warcraft III: Reforged was released that Blizzard had to turn on automatic refund processing for it. Anyway, what wasn’t mentioned was a clause in the game’s EULA that effectively claims ownership over any user-generated content or “custom games.” This is a huge slap in the face to a game with origins back in the wild west modding days and a big ol’ middle finger at the community that fueled its longer than normal shelf life.
The EULA clause grants Blizzard ownership over any new, user-generated content presented through custom games. That includes new mechanics, features, art, designs, and whatever is feasible through that system. Even if you create something original and add it to a custom Warcraft III: Reforged game, you’re signing ownership over to Blizzard automatically. You won’t see anything in return. This may seem like an odd move, and it totally is. Companies sometimes legally restrict the ability for users to profit from content made within other games, but this is a much further step. It’s likely all because of a little game called Defense of the Ancients.
DotA, as we’ll call it, originated as a custom game built in Warcraft III. It exploded in popularity and eventually became its own product with owners and profitability. The owners eventually were acquired by Valve, which led to DotA 2 becoming one of the most profitable ventures in the MOBA scene. Blizzard sued over this back when everything was blowing up, and obviously that didn’t work out. So now, by introducing this new clause, Blizzard seems to have made a preemptive strike to prevent another, similar situation.
The problem is, this will absolutely kneecap the feature, because very few people will want to actually put much effort into it. Creators want to own their work, regardless of what tools they used to make it. And has time and technology has progressed, folks in these spaces and communities have only become more legally savvy about things like ownership. The logic powering this decision almost makes sense--Blizzard wants to avoid its framework being used by outside parties for profit--but in reality it alienates a generation of future creators and developers and totally defeats the purpose of embracing user-generated content.
Bad PR has a curious effect on company decisions. The drive to make profit regardless of outside context leads to decisions like this, and fan outcry can sometimes reverse it. But I don’t see that happening here. The brass at Blizzard back in the day clearly didn’t want DotA to be a thing, and we’re seeing the results of that bad blood take shape here. That’s probably why Blizzard’s response to everything excluded that part. Glitches get fixed, and forgotten over time. People will keep playing Warcraft III: Reforged. It’ll be fine. But this ownership issue won’t go away; trust between Blizzard and its community has been breached in a way that cuts deeper than a mobile game or patchy launch. You can’t take moves like this back, and I’m curious to see what long-term effect it will have.