«media matters Battlefields of Negotiation Control, Agency, and Ownership in World of Warcraft rené glas amsterdam university press Battlefields of ...»
Looking the other way As a stakeholder directly benefiting from a committed and involved gamer community (active players stick to a game longer, which means larger revenue), Blizzard is well known for nurturing player creativity. The company has set up a fan sites programme, which brings out reports on community news, player-organized events and hosts many examples of fan art on its official site alongside its own artwork. Throughout the years, it has also hosted fan fiction and art contests, some of which were oriented towards machinima films. The way Blizzard probattlefields of negotiation motes machinima filmmaking has nevertheless remained somewhat vague in terms of the affordances players are allowed.
Even though many machinima and other non-fiction player-created videos (like recordings of raids, pvp action or walkthroughs) have been around since (and even before) World of Warcraft’s release in 2004, Blizzard published its first official endorsement information dedicated to making machinima only in September
2007.95 The stated goal of the information was to ‘nurture the advancement and
growth of this young artistic community’ and to ‘say with resounding clarity:
Blizzard is a fan of your works’ (Blizzard Entertainment 2007c). It is made clear, however, that the information should be considered as a ‘guide for fair-use video creation: a new reference document which outlines the rules and guidelines that should be followed when crafting your videos’ (Blizzard Entertainment 2007c).
The guide assists in helping to ‘avoid "grey area" decisions for which there is no definitive answer out there for whether a course of action is permissible or not according to Blizzard’ (Blizzard Entertainment 2007c). This grey area as well as the rules and guidelines provided to avoid getting there reveal Blizzard’s stakes regarding machinima moviemaking. Machinima artists may use a game like World of Warcraft as what Lowood calls a ‘found technology’ (2008: 184, a reference to Duchamp's object trouvé) to produce new creations but are not allowed to fully appropriate the game. While the guide stresses that it wants to assist machinima filmmakers to ‘provide inspiration and show what the art form is truly capable of achieving’ – including creating machinima for educational purposes or sending them in for consideration to film festivals – there are nevertheless very clear “don’ts” filmmakers should avoid; for instance commercial use, R-rated content, or more than ‘10 seconds total of sponsor promotion per production’ (Blizzard Entertainment 2007c).
An example of a third-party programme used to make World of Warcraft machinima is WoW Machinima Tool, written by Mads Hagbarth Lund alias Malu05. It gives machinima artists access to a host of fully controllable in-game cameras, part iv claiming the game time control (changing from day to night), weather control (instant rain if needed), expanded animations for characters and the ability to spawn NPCs and objects which can also be animated at will. None of these options exist in the main game software and can be readily considered an exploitation of the game’s design.
I argued earlier that we should be hesitant about calling all forms of fictional appropriation resistance and the modification of games using tools like the one described above are, as game scholar Robert Jones points out, indeed ‘part of the intended use of the product – as indicated by the source code being made available to gamers’, and as such ‘hardly seems resistive’ (Jones 2006: 267). In the case of World of Warcraft, with its closely guarded source code, modification beyond the user interface is certainly not the intended use of the product, making a programme like the WoW Machinima Tool a potentially resistive force.
In many cases, machinima filmmaking using private servers and modification tools can nevertheless be considered involuntary rather than deliberate forms of
resistance. The creator of WoW Machinima Tool is fully aware that his programme does not sit well with World of Warcraft’s exploitation policy:
It ONLY uses simple direct memory modification to gain access to its features and ability to change variables in the game memory. It does not use any form of code / dll injection or attempt to call functions in any other way. It currently accesses playerbase, playercam, speccam, worldtime and weather soon too. The World of Warcraft Machinima Tool does not alter any gameplay related features.
Even though the aim of the tool is to give machinima audiences the possibility to explore Warcraft’s fictional universe indirectly through the medium of film and to provide machinima filmmakers more means of expression, the tools could be used by those with a view to exploit or cheat. Fearing this, Lund states that he is ‘still not 100% sure’ whether he should keep the project open source, ‘since I know it in the end can cause more damage than good for a project like this’ (ibid.). He concludes his discussion on the tool’s legal status with an open question addressing Blizzard: ‘I respect any word from Blizzard about this project and will take any word to consideration’ (ibid.).
could not have been made without them. Tales of the Past III’s creator Falch recognizes this situation from the Blizzard-organized Blizzcon community events:
By remaining vague or ambiguous about what is allowed and what is not, Blizzard has created a situation wherein it can act, or refrain from acting, at its own discretion when it disapproves of certain machinima productions.98 In the next section, I discuss a machinima that crosses the line between what is deemed acceptable by Blizzard, both on the levels of game design and game contract.
part iv claiming the game Exploration or exploitation Not all machinima poach the existing fictional universe or even present a narrative setting in Warcraft’s fictional universe. As explained earlier, publication platforms such as warcraftmovies.com host many other types of video productions ranging from recordings of play sessions to walkthroughs and much more. Such films have their historical roots in the replay culture of real-time strategy games (like the original Warcraft games) and the demo scenes of early first-person shooters, and they are usually of little interest to those viewers who are not also players. Those who are interested in these videos, says Lowood, ‘watch them incessantly as a means for bringing detached analysis to bear on the improvement of their own skills and strategies’ (2006: 364).99 On the popular Warcraftmovies.com, less than ten percent of all submitted films are “traditional” narrative-based machinima, the rest are recordings of in-game performances (ibid. 366-367).
Not all machinima or related video productions are in line with Blizzard’s EULA or fair-use guide. You can, for example, find parodies of real commercials lampooning real-life brands with World of Warcraft-oriented humour, Warcraftthemed remakes of music videos, or mischievous films showing nude characters in various stages of implied sexual conduct. In some cases, Blizzard acts on machinima of which it does not approve.
One of the machinima types Blizzard sees as particularly unwelcome, in some cases triggering the company into action in order to get them removed from hosting sites, are films focusing on extreme forms of exploration; free play practices often looking for ways to exploit the game’s design. The process of making these productions not only violates the EULA, the final film might also teach other players how to do so. A machinima can, for instance, show in detail a discovered bug in the game‘s software that allows players to reach areas in the game world they are not supposed to visit. Such a video can subsequently cause a surge in copycat behaviour but also result in new ways to exploit such a bug that the initial discoverer did not conceive of, which then are also recorded on video and distributed to the community.
The more extreme explorers, always looking for the limits of the game’s design, are seen by Blizzard as unwanted ‘culture jammers’, participatory culture’s opposite of poachers, and in Jenkins’ eyes ‘classic avant-gardists’ celebrating their ‘own freedom from media control even as they see the “masses” as still subjected to manipulation’ (2002a). By spreading their practices among the community through machinima, they entice others to join the uncontrolled fun. Jenkins disagrees with the originator of the term, Mark Dery, who sees jamming as a practice actively perverting existing mass media productions as an almost political act of counter-culturalism (Dery 1993). In his discussion on television fandom, Jenkins emphasizes that ‘fans do not see television content as “ugly, dull and boring” or necessarily see themselves as acting in opposition to dominant media 154 battlefields of negotiation institutions’ (2002a). The same goes for World of Warcraft explorers; they usually do not want to resist the game but at the same time they want to show its hidden marvels to the rest of the community.