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Someone Call Merry Maid Guide

The FnF or “Friends and Family” alpha is now running and the leaks have already hit the Internet, again. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, but it’s something that is strange on many fronts. It’s an interesting look at how the leaks happen, why leaks are bad, and opens us up to a simple question: is Blizzard at fault? Let’s take a look at each of these subjects, but first, I do want to go over a major security warning.

Security Warnings – Don’t Download that Alpha
It’s very true; the news that you’ve read on many sites is not a lie. The alpha downloader has been leaked and a server emulator has been created. Yet, these materials are not for you. DO NOT DOWNLOAD THEM. I do not give you this warning because I want to stop your curiosity, I give you this warning because now is the time that the ner’do’wells prey on those who want alpha access.

Let’s give you a quick rundown of what the software can do for your average enduser. First, it will not give you access to the alpha. That’s limited to friends and family and if you aren’t expecting an invite then you are not going to get one. Next, you can’t actually play the game. There is no way for you to play without an invite. So obtaining the software is useless for the majority of the playerbase.

The best case scenario is that you download a useless client that will not allow you to have access to the game and take up your hard drive space. The worst case scenario is that a hacker gains access to your bank accounts, your game accounts, and other information available on your computer. So, considering that, you shouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

Leaking Information – How Leaks Occur

We can't show you Deathwing, but our artist said it looked something like this.
Developers will go to great lengths to make sure their game is not leaked. Many place watermarks over their game client in order to identify you as the user. In-depth logs are usually kept to make sure any screenshots from the game can be traced back to the original player. Yet, with WoW, Blizzard allows their client download to be open. So basically, one person in the beta has to take their downloader and send it to someone else who can spread it across the Internet.

A group of inquisitive players, with a penchant for coding, can take the client and emulate the server allowing them to view all of the new areas in the game. Additionally, content can be datamined from the client’s files themselves in order to pull out sounds, textures, and models. This information can be disseminated throughout the Internet and Blizzard is left without the ability to trace back the original player while information that’s under the NDA is spread like wildfire throughout the net. The consequences can be major.

Security Concerns and the Failing PC Market
The word “consequence” is not inherently positive or negative, but is a way to express the phrase “cause and effect.” The consequence from the leak can either be positive; drumming up interest for the game, or it can be negative and highlight the games early failings. More often than not the latter is the problem many developers run into. You can lose a lot of interest in a game from bad press on an early release of an alpha client, especially when it’s plagued by bugs and graphical glitches.

The PC gaming industry has almost ground to a stop. You can gauge the health of a gaming industry by its position in Wal-Mart, a major international retailer. Wal-Mart will dedicate space to whatever is selling well to the mass-market. PC Games used to take up several isles in Wal-Mart, much like CDs and DVDs do now. Yet, most stores have delegated it to a single isle with Blizzard having the majority of the shelf space.

One of the big reasons is that it’s hard to keep things secure on the PC. DRM (Digital Rights Management) is overridden without fear by pirates, no matter how hard software developers and publishers try to prevent it. Even Ubisoft’s controversial “always on” system requiring constant access to the Internet has fallen to the might of the Internet pirates. Yet, the console market isn’t plagued by such nonsense. The PlayStation 3 has yet to see a working hack to it while the Xbox 360 bans the majority of pirates without much hassle.

Leaks like this hurt the industry, even if they have a positive consequence. It just proves how weak PC gaming is when it comes to the power of transferring simple binary files. It’s yet another nail in the coffin of PC gaming.

Conspiracy Theories – Marketing Ploy?
Like I mentioned earlier, leaking an alpha isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. In this case we’ve seen a massive amount of interest across the Internet in the alpha as players get extremely excited about what they’re seeing. Interestingly enough, Age of Conan is releasing an expansion on May 11th as well. Could Blizzard have purposely sent this leak out to drum up some interest for a stagnating playerbase?

Possibly, but we’ll never know. There will never be any proof and we’ll never get an answer. We could argue that their Scorched Earth policy on the leak (where every person posting about it got a quick and swift permaban) is proof that they’re fighting back but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that they just don’t want people talking about on their forums outside of the official announcements. An alpha is an alpha, it’s a piece of unfinished software, and comments/opinions now won’t matter in a week.

Personally, I believe that yet again another random user has taken the time to swift their game install client off to their friends like some mafia don. I believe, perhaps, that someone is violating their NDA to spread information out, like a pigeon inside of an organization. Personally, I don’t care either way, but I have a feeling that Blizzard would just lift the NDA if they really wanted to let everyone know what’s going on.