If you haven't read it I suggest that you take your time and do it. It's really long, as all of his articles are, but it's worth it. This is an in-depth analysis with a lot of good points and interesting angles about Blizzard's relationship to the fansite, their acting in NDA matters and the consequences of it, and it's by tar the best I've seen on this topic in the blogosphere until now.
Tim on the other hand seems to be well informed and likely to have some good inside sources at Blizzard, or at least a solid knowledge about their way of thinking. He apparently is a bit concerned that he in writing this post is speaking too freely for his own wellbeing. With his position on "the edge", not being an official fansite, but at the same time with a lot of visitors and a great deal of respect within the community, Tim is "stupid enough" to write about how things are, as he puts it. I guess it might cost him the +1 font size link from WoW's official site to El's Extreme Anglin' at the worst, but I'm glad he's taking the risk.
Friend and family, heh?
So with this lengthy introduction I'm finally getting to my own thoughts. And they are currently mostly preoccupied with those so called friends and family. I keep asking myself: who are those people? How do the Blizzard staff know them? Are they spouses, brothers, neighbors or someone they met in a bar?
Because: what kind of friend are you if
- someone puts their trust into you, sharing their innermost secrets,
- you assure them that you won't tell a soul about it and
- within a couple of hours you nevertheless share the secret with someone who shouldn't know it, well aware of that it immediately will spread all over the Internet?
I certainly wouldn't expect it from the persons I call friends and family. And yet it happened. Blizzard really need to be a bit pickier in their acquaintances.
I suspect that it's yet another evidence of my coming to age that I react against it. After all we're living in an era when nothing, absolutely nothing is too private to expose, either it's your sex life, your lack of appreciation for your boss or pictures from your latest booze party escapades. The boundaries were dissolved years ago ago, apart from in the minds of fossils like me, and a non-disclosure agreement is a futility that no one expects anyone to take seriously. Apparently.
Reasons for leaking
Yet it bugs me a bit. And you may wonder: what's in it for them? Why do people leak this information that they agreed not to leak in the first place?
There are two possible explanations. The nice one is that they're suffering from innocence or even stupidity.
In my job as a media manager I tell people over and over again that in reality there isn't such a thing as "off record" and that you can count on that anything you tell a media person can become official. Any interview starts at the first moment you talk to a journalist and doesn't end until you're saying goodbye. Don't get lured into believing anything else.
But can those friends and family be THAT stupid, that they accidently share something they shouldn't share in a moment of "oops!"? I don't think so. I think it's rather about persons who have very small egos and lead rotten, insignificant lives want to feel - or pretend - that they're somewhat important. They probably don't get any money from leaking. But they get a kick, and that can be just as good as an incentive.
I've seen a few commenters suggesting that Blizzard themselves are behind the massive leakage, as a part of their marketing plan. Sure, in some situations you might want to give out a piece of news exclusively to a selected media in order to get as much attention as possible, or even pretend that you have accidently leaked out a secret, when you in fact did it on purpose.
But to be honest, I doubt this is the case here. It doesn't seem well timed enough and even if there's a lot of buzz going on now, I think they could have gotten a better impact if they had been able to retain control over what and when to release, portioning it out bit by bit to get maximal exposure to it.
Blizzard's doubtful damage control
However, the damage is done and there really isn't much Blizzard could do to put back the rabbit into the hat. So now they're apparently in a phase of some sort of damage control. To be honest it looks a little bit silly and futile, or even harmful, as pointed out by Tim Howgego.
For some reason Blizzard hasn't yet taken action against MMO Champion, in spite of their official declaration that the NDA still is valid.
On May 4, Boubouille writes:
"The Alpha is protected by a Non-disclosure agreement, which basically means that anything I could post could get me sued. I'm not saying it will happen, Blizzard has been fairly forgiving with everything posted on the site in this past but I think you will understand that I cannot just post everything I find without checking a few things first."
He confirms that the picture of the dragon published elsewhere is real, but doesn't want to publish it himself. About 24 hours later the floodgates open and there are screens and leaked information all over the place. I don't know if we'll ever know exactly what happened there, but Tim Howgego suggests that Blizzard is letting it pass because the owner of MMO Champion can help to promote WoW as an e-sport. A conspiracy theory! Yummie! Actually it sounds quite credible to me.
Why it might be harmful
While letting MMO Champion get away with it, Blizzard has made sure to take action to prevent any premature publishing at the official fansites. They have received letters threatening them that they'll lose their status if they publish or even link to the leaked content.
So far they keep their mouths shut, but under protest, such as in this editorial from World of Raids. The editors also point out that the benefits of being an official fansite in reality are very small. You don't get any VIP pass, you don't get any alpha invites, in the past they've at the best had two or three beta keys. The perks are "minimal at best, if any". No wonder they're pissed!
And the effect of this might be quite harmful as Tim Howgego points out. While MMO Champion has an editor with a certain ethic standard and probably wouldn't promote gold selling, hacking, account trading and such, there are way more shady unofficial fansites who do those things and now get an opportunity to get more visitors, with leaked unofficial information as a lure.
If official fansites don't publish anything but the blue approved Cataclysm material, the audience will find their way to the sites that have that information, according to Tim Howgego, and he has a point. The mainstream players may end up as clueless tourists at darkside sites with low moral standards which they wouldn't have visited in the first place if it wasn't for the NDA politics of Blizzard. And that's bad.
Punish the good guys and let the bad guys get away with it. Does that really make sense?
And who's the bad guy in the first place? In my world the "friends and families" deserve some spanking. Not just the sites that might want to spread the news.
Not a spoiler free zone
Finally, maybe you'd like to know what you can expect from the Pink Pigtail Inn when it comes to Alpha information.
Well, I can't say that PPI is a declared Cataclysm spoiler free zone, such as Too Many Annas. I write about any stuff that is on my mind, and I might talk a little bit about suggested changes that are up for discussion, as when I rant about the changes to 10/25 man raiding or the perils of underwater zones. Mind you though - both of those topics were based on official information, not on leaks. But if you're very strict and don't want to hear a single word about Cataclysm before you have it installed on your computer, you'd better stay away from my inn to be safe.
On the other hand I too like the sense of discovery and mystery, unfolding a new expansion, and I don't want to destroy my own enjoyment of Cataclysm by looking into all details in advance. So I definitely won't opt in for a beta key. Apart from this I'm still preoccupied playing and writing about Wrath, and I basically don't write any informative posts on anything ever, so if you want solid spoilers and previews, this isn't the place for you.
This was all I had to say for the time being, but I'm likely to come back to similar topics. Blizzard's way of dealing with PR challenges never ceases to catch my interest.