Runescaape DCMA update

Back in October, I wrote about the “Bot Nuke” of the online game called Runescape, which I had just recently started playing again.   Runescape was built by two college age brothers from England around 2001 and had grown to be one of the largest Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) in the world – competitors include games like The Sims, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Everquest – make believe online places where 10s or 100s of thousands of people meet and compete in skill building activities in real time.

Runescape is growing old – its game engine and graphics engine are Java based (not to be confused with JavaScript) – it carries the “legacy” of 10 years of storyline that is difficult to follow – long time players – some who started playing at 8 and are now in college – feel they need a more and more complex challenge, which leaves brand new players overwhelmed.  In all the time I’ve played it, I never met another player who was truly a “new” player – all the new players were long term players creating multiple accounts.

The “Classic Runescape” was replaced in 2005 with a new and improved version – I had heard about it elsewhere and started playing in 2006.

As the game started to fall behind its competitors, the better players drifted off – mostly to WoW, leaving behind a planet filled with little more than “bots” – computer programs that run 24 hrs a day “making money”  (in many cases literally).   Many human players were focusing their energy on hating bots rather than on playing the game and being open to the possibility that the bots were saving them from doing repetitive mindless labor – even if they themselves did not use bots (see:  UAW and car making bots)

Earlier this year, a Venture Capital group injected money into Runescape, and probably were appalled to see how few real people were playing the game (in addition to a large population of children under 13 years old who aren’t supposed to play at all.    So they apparently hired good enough talent to research and track down the makers of the bots – and their customers.

On Bot Nuke day, Jagex canceled and banned millions of accounts, and has effectively blocked the most advanced bots from working at all.   Jagex went to court and won an order to have PayPal turn over the contact information of everyone who had purchased a bot product and matched them with their own records, and sent out a draconian letter informing their customers that if they were identified as using a bot, Jagex would name them in an existing John Doe DCMA lawsuit and seek statutory damages of $2,500 per occurrence (for a game that costs $5-7 per month to play).   Statutory damages means Jagex doesn’t have to prove that your actions cost them anything – just that you violated the Terms of use of their Copyrighted material.

———  End Background —————-

So a couple months have gone by, and time for an update.   I refused to renew my account and now am a “Free to Play” account, meaning only a small portion of the activities are available to me and the game shows my advertisements to pay the costs, but it allows me to keep in contact with what is going on.

The day after Bot Nuke day, a few things were apparent.   Most of the high level players were gone (those who probably either purchased their accounts from others or built their “wealth” using bots).   Most pronounced was the complete absence of “Player Moderators” – the members who are trusted by Jagex to enforce the rules of the game.    All of this supports my belief that Runescape was only so popular because the most trusted, longest term users were those who used bots – while also complaining that others were using bots (perhaps more effective bots?)

Users from Asia have almost completely vanished (the human ones).   Most of what is left is teenagers in the United States and college students who started playing as children.    Adults are almost non-existent.   Bots have been replace by wave after wave of gambling games and scams designed to cheat children (or teach children how to be better thieves).

Jagex being a UK based company first had to establish that their software and copyright were protected by the DCMA sanctions and US Copyright law.   Most of the bot makers are located in the United States.    After not getting what they wanted from a judge in California because they didn’t hold a valid US Copyright, they filed another suit in Massachusetts.   The three PE/VC firms who invested in 2011Insight Venture Partners, Spectrum Equity Investors and The Raine Group are located in New York, Boston, and New York respectively.

Customers of Jagex have been made aware that the PE/VC firms now own a controlling interest in Jagex, and Jagex is now from a legal standpoint an “American” company, meaning the issue of whether the DCMA applies is now a non-issue.

On the heals of this announcement, Jagex is announcing a price increase – the number of active accounts online ia probably only about 1/3 of the number before the “Bot Nuke” and that has to be a problem for Jagex.

Now with an “American” company, access to the financial resources of Goldman Sachs and their like, the new owners of Jagex found a friendly judge in Boston who gave them everything they asked for:

In addition to shutting down this bot making company and getting monetary damages, an injunction against the defendants against making any public comment on the case (1st amendment – hah!) – including the amount of damages, the company was ordered to turn over the customer information of every person who bought a bot, wrote a script for the bot, sold or bought a script of the bot – likely to be 100s of thousands of people.

Runescape has ceased being a child’s game about killing dragons – it is now a litigation engine to name 1,000s of former customers in John Doe lawsuits for cheating at an online game in a make believe world – with the proceeds going into companies with motivations similar to Bain Capital.

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