I'm not sure if this is a new policy being employed by BioWare Austin only, but this report on Star Wars: The Old Republic fansite TOROZ is more than a little bit disconcerting. Apparently BioWare has sent out an agreement to many of The Old Republic fansites out there and asked them to sign it if they'd like to continue to have a direct line of contact with the development team and receive "official promotion" from the company. However, the agreement also requires that the website have no advertisements whatsoever, which means that any site that signs the agreement is going to have to run at a potentially significant loss (depending on server costs and if any editors are getting some sort of reimbursement). I really don't know what to make of all this, so I'll quote TOROZ's summary and a short Q&A that they did with BioWare's David Bass about it:
This agreement does contain a bunch of reasonable stuff around intellectual property, trademarks and hate speech etc. There's no argument there and Bioware, LucasArts and EA absolutely have the right to protect their commercial interests at that level. What has surprised me with the email is the assertion that those who don't sign the agreement will receive no official promotion from Bioware. They of course don't have to promote anyone, but what they're saying here is that even if you write the most glowing review of SWTOR in existence, if that review is on a site with advertising, then it won't be linked to. What do you think? Is it reasonable for BioWare to expect all of their fansites to run at a loss in order to cover their game to the fullest extent? It seems crazy to me that they're actually requiring people to sign an agreement, but I suppose that's the nature of the modern-day world wide web.
It also ignores the fact that most mainstream gaming sites are commercial interests, so I'm assuming Bioware will not be officially promoting IGN's review of SWTOR, or a Wired Magazine feature on any impact SWTOR will have on MMO gaming culture. If such promotion does occur, then the so-called '˜fansites' cop a double-whammy from Bioware. First. they have to agree to not make any money from their site and second, their larger competitors get a free run. Yes, I understand that for most '˜fansites', trying to take on the big players is not the focus. It certainly isn't for this site, but it's probably safe to say most sites want as many people to read their work as possible. A percentage of those may like to at least cover their costs, or like yours truly, raise enough revenue to pay more writers and/or increase the very modest pay of the current writers. That's my gripe and the basis for me today shooting some questions off to David Bass at Bioware, with a very prompt response:
TOROZ: Are you requiring mainstream sites such as IGN, Wired etc etc to sign the agreement? If not, why do smaller sites with a journalist on staff such as mine, need to sign an agreement preventing running a game- specific site as a commercial concern? Put another way, aren't you preventing competition by restraining small sites that rely on word of mouth when compared to the mainstream sites.
David Bass: There's a big difference between press and fansites. Fansites are those who cover SW:TOR exclusively, as TOROZ does. 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).
TOROZ: Given the requirement of signing the agreement in order for Bioware to link to a story, what mechanisms will be in place to ensure fairness in promotion i.e. isn't there an inherent risk that sites critical of the game will receive minimal coverage officially anyway and those sites who unquestionably repost Bioware info get all the traffic?
David Bass: There are no (mechanisms) in place to ensure fairness; everyone's entitled to his/her own opinion, of course. Clearly we're not going to link to an article that's four pages of non-stop bashing of SW:TOR. But if an article is detailed, well-written, and fair, there's no reason why we couldn't promote it.
TOROZ: Will sites who sign the agreement have preferred access to new information from Bioware i.e. different embargo times, earlier briefings etc?
David Bass: No.