Free addons, services and their cost. WoWAceUpdater and Mazzlegasms as examples of the social dynamics

Currently there is another free program upset developing in the WoW addon world. The developers of the WoWAceUpdater program included ad banners. WoWAceUpdater is a convenient program that lets you quickly update all your installed addons that are distributed by the WoWAce.com web-site. It used to have no ads at all and is distributed open source.

Users of the program posted their dislike for the ad and asked for alternative solutions. It turns out that the ads were added because the updater is, per the WoWAce hosts, responsible for 80% of the traffic, which goes apparently at over $1000 per month. In response users proposed direct advertising for WoWAce donations, making it a subscription service, or seeking ways of throttling the volume. Currently all minor beta changes will be updated, and people have suggested updating only release level code.

WowAceUpdater makes it very easy to frequently update addons hence it’s not surprising that the program itself helps amplify the download volume per month.

The WoWAce Forum contains discussion of the topic between users and developers/hosts. People also have voiced various concerns with the specifics of the solution. WoWAceUpdater launches internet explorer (and not any alternative default browser) and IE has a bad rap for allowing trojans to be installed via image links. Also WoWAceUpdater needs to elevate it’s execution privilages under Vista to be able to use IE the way needed for the ads. Some people simply object to having third party programs used at all and data exchange with them.

People have suggested compiling out the ad part (the source is open) or simply using older versions of the updater which doesn’t use the ads.

What’s interesting about this is the dynamics that developed overall. Developers and hosts of wowace became upset over the lack of support for the ad route to address this issue. They question the community, call the reactions disgusting or the overall situation sad.

In many ways however, the current development reminds me of the old Mazzlegasm story. Mazzlefizz made a very popular and nice all round addon package/interface mod that self-installed/configured in-game. The original version concluded with a dance, then a moan emote, followed with a yell about having a Mazzlegasm. Some people took offense at that part, and wanted an option to disable it. It was perceived as self-promoting advertisement by some, and as inappropriate in content by others. Mazzlefizz for a long time refused to remove it. Third parties started writing addons or patches to remove the Mazzlegasm, which in turn infuriated Mazzlefizz with arguments that the code was her intellectual property.

The displayed attitude is exemplified in the first post of the original FAQ linked above:

“If you don’t like an add-on that makes your character say something when you install it, don’t use it.”

Basically noone has the right to an addon working in any specific way. It’s free and as is. Don’t like it? Don’t use it.

The hosts/developers of WoWAceUpdater also posted a similar stance in the discussion:

The simple answer to everyone one of the people complaining here is this:

If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

The way the Mazzlegasm story actually ended was like this: Some people indeed complained that they got reported in game for having Mazzlegasms and there were claims of suspensions having been issued. If this was the reason or something else isn’t clear, but Blizzard representatives contacted the host of wowinterface who forwarded the request to Mazzlefizz for a switch for the feature. Mazzlefizz stood by her stance but added the switch.

This is a tricky situation, with lots of questions about entitlement, free content, content cost, user feedback, user entitlement, author entitlement, free code distribution.

Mazzlefizz for one could have completely avoided the whole discussion by always having a switch, or by simply not having this particular feature at all.

Same for WoWAceUpdater developers. There certainly would be no upset if they hadn’t added third party program executions and third party ads to the project. It’s likely that adding a paypal donation banner would have been much better received. But despite the objections the developers stand by their choice.

Of course the problem here is that addon development isn’t free. Mazzlefizz did invest substantial personal time into the project, which just in terms of hourly labor has a price tag attached. Even more so web hosting isn’t free. WoWAce has to pay the bandwidth, and programming the updater and maintaining the site again takes time.
Certainly Mazzlefizz had it easier. There were no running costs, just the concern that people would learn about the MazzleUI and Mazzlefizz’s own notion of fun. WoWAce has to content with running cost. It will be interesting to see how the obvious difference here will play into the overall dynamics.

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