Blizzard Takes New Stance on Custom Game IP

Following the release of the remastered edition of Blizzard Entertainment’s classic real-time strategy game “Warcraft 3” as “Warcraft 3: Reforged,” Blizzard also updated its Custom Game Acceptable Use Policy. There were two notable changes to this policy that has caused a reaction among long-time fans of the franchise.

The new policy bans any custom games that use copyright material. This is not an unusual requirement in games which permit users to submit in-game modifications, but fans have reacted negatively to the change given the history of Warcraft 3. Originally, Warcraft 3’s map editor was heralded as revolutionary, as it allowed users to creative complex and breathtaking scenarios using the Warcraft 3 engine. Warcraft 3’s map editor also allowed users to modify the textures of the game, and users quickly began to add content from their favorite franchises, such as Super Mario, Dragon Ball Z, and Lord of the Rings. While Blizzard’s approach to protect itself from intellectual property infringement liability is not surprising, it is notable that when Warcraft 3: Reforged was announced at Blizzcon a few years ago, it was announced that all custom maps compatible with the original game (that is, Warcraft 3) would be playable in the remastered version of the game (that is, in Warcraft 3: Reforged). In practice, users’ experiences have been quite different: any users that dare play maps comprising content from other franchises (e.g., Nintendo games) is swiftly banned, even if those maps had previously been playable in Warcraft 3.

Furthermore, the much larger issue that has drawn the ire of Blizzard fans online has been the change to Blizzard’s policy detailing the ownership of custom games in the Warcraft 3: Reforged engine. According to the new policy, all custom games created in Warcraft 3: Reforged belong to Blizzard, not the creators. In the same vein, Blizzard has stated that they own an instant and total copyright ownership of all custom games created in Warcraft 3: Reforged. While this move is also unsurprising, it does mark a distinct shift from Blizzard’s more relaxed attitude with respect to original Warcraft 3 custom games.

The latter policy change may be the direct result of the overwhelming success of the Defense of the Ancients custom games in Warcraft 3, which later became the wildly successful stand-alone MOBA games Dota 2 and League of Legends. Because Blizzard did not maintain a property right over the original Defense of the Ancients custom games, competing developers Valve and Riot Games both made monumental profits from these games while Blizzard was left with nothing. Going forward, it appears Blizzard does not want to lose out on the battle for new and hugely profitable game designs that emerge using their tools.

While it does not appear any new legal issues will emerge from this change, it will be fascinating to see how video game companies adjust to the new IPs their games create and how they can try to monetize the inventions they helped make possible.