Microsoft, Riot Games Eventually Embrace Amateur Developers
In the world of gaming, talented but amateur creators have a complicated relationship with the brands they love. Sometimes, they create new content on top of an existing game, and that content is embraced by the original developer. Take the example of Counter-Strike, a mod built on top of Valve's hit first-person shooter, Half-Life. The creators were eventually hired by Valve and are very influential figures in the gaming industry.
Sometimes it doesn't go so well. Lawyers get called in, cease and desists get served, and a promising piece of content gets wiped out and is never experienced by the public.
This week, it looked like the latter was happening at the hands of Blizzard, which took down a video demoing World of Starcraft, an ingenious mod that a Starcraft II fan had created to mimic the MMO gameplay of World of Warcraft using Starcraft II as a platform. The above-linked video was served with a takedown notice by Activision, Blizzard's parent company, but came back up after it was clear that Blizzard wanted to ensure that the mod was done only with the tools Starcraft II provided without any hacks, and that the name would be changed to something less evocative of existing Blizzard properties.
The buzz around the World of Starcraft mod led to some good things for the fan in question. Riot Games, which made its fortune developing a game based on another Blizzard mod, Defense of the Ancients, offered the developer a job opportunity.
This phenomenon occurred again this week, when Microsoft tried a gambit similar to Riot's. Hacker George Hotz, aka GeoHot, who is famed for cracking the security features of Sony's Playstation 3 and Apple's iPhone, announced he was working on a jailbreak for the Windows Phone 7 platform. In spite of, no doubt, the deafening howls of the Microsoft legal team, Brandon Watson, who runs Microsoft's developer platform product management, tweeted that Hotz would be welcome to a free Windows Phone: "#geohot if you want to build cool stuff on #wp7, send me e-mail and the team will give you a phone--let dev creativity flourish #wp7dev."
The tech and gaming sectors seem to be better at this than other industries, probably because many of the people who work as developers for Microsoft used to be modders themselves. Often the first step into the gaming industry for a budding game developer, artist, or designer is creating code, art, or systems for games on one's own time, using what's already out there. So when people within the industry see amateur developers doing the same thing, they see an opportunity, not a threat. Other industries should take this cue; when talented amateurs create something amazing with your brand, your first call shouldn't be to your lawyers.