Recent developments in the Star Wars: The Old Republic Community have taken a slightly worrying turn this week with news that Bioware are not going to grant access to their community team if a ‘fansite’ is deemed to be commercial.
In an email sent out to fansites, which are usually run and funded by individuals, Bioware has stated that any fansite that runs ads will not receive support from Bioware with regards to updates and information direct from their community team, probably the most important contact for any fansite.
When asked why it was OK for larger networks sites to run advertising by blog site toroz.com.au, the response from senior community coordinator for Bioware David Bass was:
“There’s a big difference between press and fansites. Fansites are those who cover SW:TOR exclusively. IGN and Wired are press, and therefore they have a completely different process (and have to go through EA and Lucas in order to get anything). The benefit of being a fansite is that you get a direct line to BioWare (i.e. Me)”.
The law that’s being laid down goes even further than advertising, fansites are apparently not allowed to run a donation system either. This means that fans wanting to support the game will have to self-fund their websites or be removed from receiving updates direct from the Bioware community team. Fansites will instead have to go through the mainstream press PR channels which could prove difficult for a fansite as more often than not they are run part-time by numerous volunteers.
In recent years developers and publishers have set down more and more guidelines for community fansites. Blizzard are one example where they ask sites to sign contracts that have strict guidelines heavily stacked in Blizzard’s favour and are in fact very risky for an individual to sign. However, if ‘fansites’ don’t sign the contract they will receive no support from Blizzard, despite huge efforts to support their game and communities.
Developers and publishers have become increasingly wary of community websites over the past five years, but even as far back as 2000, Blizzard were uncomfortable with written content being created outside of Blizzard where they had no control over the editorial. This appears to be a tact Bioware could also taking, wanting control over content created by communities and the more vocal by gagging criticism.
However, this doesn’t mean fans can’t run a successful fansite without a developers support. IncGamers has been doing it with sites such as Diablo: IncGamers and WoW: IncGamers which receive no support from Blizzard, a decision that was made by each site team following increasing pressure from Blizzard who were unhappy with critical editorial content. The IncGamers sites were not prepared to compromise on being frank and honest about the games and the sites no longer work directly with the developer. This now allows the sites to maintain editorial integrity without any pressure from the developer.
Bioware can have a certain level of control over content with larger media outlets who will tow the line to make sure they get content from Bioware for their mainstream audience. According to Bioware’s David Bass, sites who do sign the agreement won’t receive any preferential treatment on information or embargos over what they class as mainstream media sites. Therefore signing the agreement appears to be rather pointless unless sites are utilising the fansite kit or Bioware trademarked materials.
The bottom line is, if you want to run a fansite and deal with Bioware’s community team direct, you are going to have to fund it yourself. If a site grows and hosting gets expensive then fans will have to throw in the towel or find other sources of finance.
In light of recent press regarding Star Wars The Old Republic and increasing competition in the MMO market from games such as World of Warcraft and TRION’s upcoming RIFT, this move with fansites appears to be a little short-sighted. Bioware are going to need all the support they can get from the community so access to the community team for fansites should be assessed on a case by case basis by the Bioware community team, whether a site runs ads or not.