In continuation of our coverage on the lawsuit Blizzard filed against MDY, creators of WoW Glider, a popular World of Warcraft botting program, we were able to sit down with Marcus "Markee Dragon" Eikenberry, owner of MarkeeDragon.com and friend of Michael Donnelly, owner of MDY. Marcus has been blogging about the lawsuit, speaking out in Donnelly's stead, as Donnelly hasn't spoken about the case publicly.
We asked him a bit about WoW Glider, Michael Donnelly and what implications a decision against WoW Glider may have on the third-party software and real money trade industry.
The Escapist: Would you mind giving us some quick background on yourself?
Marcus Eikenberry: Yeah, let's see. I've been a videogamer since the late '70s, and I've been a big fan of the Ultima series in the '80s, and first online game, Ultima Online, when that came out in '97. And I've been buying, selling, trading, wheeling and dealing online games ever since '97, supporting those communities.
TE: As far as I know, you were the first to really get into the UO side of the real money trade business, is that right?
ME: I mean, I never call myself the first, but I haven't found anybody else out there that's been doing it longer than me. I might be the founder of that, I don't know.
TE: So, how do you know Michael Donnelly?
ME: Michael is a friend of mine; got to know him through his website WoW Glider, and I've been doing business with him, with his products that he's developed, and that's simply how I know him.
TE: Right, and how would you describe WoW Glider, I mean what does it actually do? I've read the site but ...
ME: WoW Glider is a tool that is used for automation and it will perform actions that a human can do, that's able to do them repetitively and for long periods of time. It could, but it doesn't, do anything that a person sitting in front of a computer couldn't do themselves.
TE: How much of his business is WoW Glider? Is this just a side project of his, or is this his main line of work?
ME: He originally started out as a consultant for different companies in the business world, as a programmer, and I believe that he does not have any clients anymore and he's just been focusing on glider for at least the past year.
TE: So this legal battle pretty much striking right at the heart of his business, then?
ME: Oh absolutely, yes. So you know without WoW Glider, well, it would be just like [he] had to go out and get another job.
TE: What has Michael's reaction been to the lawsuit so far?
ME: Well, his first comment to me was, "I wonder what took them so long" So he has known that Blizzard would not appreciate the product. He has known that Blizzard has reviewed the product, that they have purchased it and that they have actively used it, and that they are in his forums.
TE: So this is something at least he thinks they've been aware of for a long time.
ME: Correct, and I have another site that shows off the botting technology, warcraftbot.com. And that one, when we put up the first bot online there for broadcast, showing everybody what it could do, our number one viewership domain name was Vivendi. We had a whole bunch of IPs coming from there, so we know they were our biggest fan.
TE: So who do you think would actually use WoW Glider. Who would you say an average customer would be?
ME: Well an average customer, I believe is someone, who has spent a great deal of time in the game already, in WoW, and they are seasoned people in the game who are looking for some easier way to perform some mundane tasks that they've already been doing, such as going out and [harvesting crafting materials] and stuff like that. Or you have a brand new character you want to start that's level one, but you want to run with your guild that's all [level] 60s, so it could be quite a long trek to get him up to 60 so that you can go do those events you're wanting to do. Glider helps make that a much more accelerated process.
TE: A lot of people call botting cheating. What would you say to that?
ME: I would say that they are at least partially right. It is an advantage; WoW Glider gives people an advantage to do something that is not humanly possible, and that's the endurance portion of this. Anybody can sit down and farm for hours just on their own, or do whatever they're doing, but glider allows it to be automated. It does require skill: You have to know how to do this stuff beforehand, so it's not letting an unskilled person do this, per se. [But] there are some people that just won't like it, and I know that.
I've run plenty of bots, and I've been irritated by other bots sometimes, but at the same time, I can tell you this, at least in World of Warcraft, it kept me in the game an extra six months. ... I didn't have time to play anymore, but I was able to set a laptop on my desk and run a bot, and I had a great amount of enjoyment just watching him run along. I've been one that's been typically doing attended botting, because I don't like my bots doing robot-type stuff, which sometimes happens. You want it to look as human as possible, so it doesn't get busted, and so it doesn't tick off other people around you. That's just been my style. And then, of course, I've done the Warcraft bot site, where we did a whole bunch of bots on there, and I do that for fun.
TE: Like you said, you think Blizzard's been aware of this for a long time. What do you think prompted them to finally crack down on it?
ME: Well you know I'm not sure. They list a whole bunch of things in the case, a lot of which I can tell you I don't understand what they're saying. And some of the other stuff, like they've taken losses from WoW Glider ... I'm not really sure about that. I mean, just because I've been in touch with the botting community, stuff like that, and typically botters, if they get banned, they turn right around and buy another account and fire it up right again and start all over again. ... I think it's not unusual for somebody who's not good at botting to have owned five or six accounts. Then there's the other people out there who have never been caught. They're very cautious about it, and they write scripts really well for controlling their bot, and nobody is ever the wiser.
I think Blizzard has probably known about this since the beginning of WoW Glider, and a lot of companies will use irritation level before they take action. They'll poll their customers to see what's irritating them the most, and they'll pick the top 10 percent, and they'll address those issues. Maybe botting has come up to that - farming has probably been up there high on that list - that's probably what you hear about equally, farming and botting, and of course bots can be used to farm. I'm sure Blizzard's known about this a long time.
TE: From your point of view, is there anything you think Blizzard could actually do about botting programs, or is it just something in the design of their game?
ME: Well, can you stop a person from creating a robot to drive a car? I mean, maybe there's some decent technology put in place to defeat that, but the problem is that it's just like - I don't want to say that creating this bot software is the same as hacking or scamming or fraud and stuff like that, but it's kind of along the same lines when you look at it. The people who develop these products tend to be one step ahead at innovation from the people trying to defeat the products, and this is common with phishing and scams and stuff like that. And even if they come up with something to block [botting], it can still come out again. So their only recourse on this is to legally shut them down, because right now, even per the case document, Blizzard states in there that they have not been successfully able to shut him down, and in that he's been able to successfully bypass Warden [Blizzard's anti-cheating program].
TE: From reading the claim, it looks like they say that since players accept the EULA and TOS, using Glider is a violation of that. And then Blizzard loses money from banning people who use Glider. The FAQ from the Glider site even says Glider is against the Terms of Service. Hasn't he pretty much admitted guilt already?
ME: Well, is that admitting guilt or is that saying truth? I see that, OK, I run a lot of websites that have products that game companies don't like, and we always put on [our sites] that purchasing this product is a violation of the Terms of Service, and that's because we ... don't anybody who is not aware of what they're doing to get involved with that. We don't want to have a customer upset because they thought that something was OK, [only] to find out that it's not OK.
None of what Gider does ... [is] against the law, and so you know that when somebody uses this product, that they are going to violate their terms with the game company. I don't know whether that's encouraging them to do that, however, and I'm not sure whether that's admitting guilt, so it's just a fact.
TE: Just to jump ahead, can you tell us about the representatives from Vivendi that showed up to Donnelly's, house because Blizzard is kind of iffy on that subject. They admitted someone showed up to his house, but they wouldn't say who it was. Do you know anything about that?
ME: I do know a bit about that, and of course, I was not there; this is just what I was told from Mike. I got a call from him that morning, and he was very excited, you know, excited like nervous excited, and he said that three people showed up at his door, one of them stated that they were an attorney for Blizzard and Vivendi, the other one was a private investigator, and the third one was a vice president from Vivendi. ... So those three show up at his door and had a talk with him, showed him the paperwork - would not let him take copies or anything - and stated that unless he shut down immediately and paid them a huge sum of money, you know, like all the profits they had made off of [Glider], that they were going to take action against him in court.
TE: Then Donnelly filed suit against them. Was he just making the first strike so he didn't have to wait for them to do it?
ME: He made the first strike to primarily keep the court case in his same state, because he's in Arizona, and we believe they would have filed in California or Washington DC. ... And also, it was because they could not get an initial court judgment that he was being harmful to the game.
TE: What does this mean for you? I mean, obviously you know him, you've worked with him as colleagues, but you also deal in the same kind of business. Is this something you think could affect you?
ME: I do work in similar business. The majority of my business would not be affected by this at all. In fact 95 percent of my business would not be affected by this. We do have one product, it is a map for World of Warcraft that allows you to display map information on a second monitor, or even on a second PC, and be alerted of your environment. It is a different type of product, whereas it's not playing the character for you, it's just displaying information. But you know, third-party applications are a violation of the Terms of Service for World of Warcraft, and it is a third-party application.
And if Mike were forced to shut down operation on WoW Glider, because the court deemed that was required, we would shut down operations on the map as well. ... We would do that, not because we think we're doing anything legally wrong, but because we are very respectful of the law, and we're not interested in crossing that particular line. As far as the other stuff, sales of virtual goods and stuff like that, it's not going to have any impact on that whatsoever.
TE: Ultimately, you know Donnelly. Do you think he has the resources and the willingness to fight this all the way, or do you think Blizzard will just crush him?
ME: No. You know, Mike is in a really good position. He is an incredibly smart guy, and even before WoW Glider, he was an incredibly successful person, and he saves money well, and he has more than enough funds to fight [Blizzard] and to put on a very long extended fight. So that's one of the reasons why it hasn't shut down already.
I think that if they were to come after me for the map, I would just shut it down. I would not be interested in any court battles or anything like that. I certainly make enough money off of the map to warrant a large case. But Glider, it does very well for itself, and so he has the resources ... to defend himself and to do it very well.
Shannon Drake and Tara Derveloy contributed reporting.