Apparently, crime does pay — that is, until you get caught! Private servers in-and-of-themselves aren’t a pox on the gaming community. For instance, they’ve been used by die-hard fans of certain titles to continue playing online long after official servers have been shut down. But that changes when you’re jacking users from a still-active, and very popular MMORPG.
Such was the idea of one Alyson Reeves, who operated her server under the name of Scape Gaming. There are plenty of private servers out there, so you might be wondering why Reeves was singled out by Blizzard? Well, not only was she allowing her users to circumvent the customary subscription fee normally required to play the game, but she was charging them money for effortless level-ups and rare items, all under the guise of “donations.” According to data obtained through PayPal, this makeshift cash shop earned Reeves at least $3,052,339 in revenue.
Blizzard submitted perhaps an even more interesting number into evidence: the 427,000 players who were members of the Scape Gaming community at its peak in June 2008. Reeves, herself, had apparently admitted (via an alias) that about 40,000 people logged into her server on a daily basis. Now those people will never get their “donations” back (and they shouldn’t), while Reeves has been told to pony up a cool $88 million+ in damages. That’s the roughly $3 million in revenue combined with an extra $200 for each of the 427k players cited above.
With that amount of money at stake, you can see why Blizzard made their move, but it brings up another interesting question: could private servers be where World of Warcraft‘s phantom population has migrated? They haven’t posted a “milestone subscriber base” in quite some time and, while exact numbers aren’t made public, maintaining what they currently have seems to be an endless struggle. Sure, there are plenty of people who are simply tired of the game, been the victims of hackers, or have stopped playing because they don’t enjoy where it seems to be headed, but just from one prominent private server, we’re looking at what edges on nearly half-a-million users that can’t be used in an official tally. If Blizzard managed to shut all of these operations down, who knows how many more they’d find?
Of course, if they were playing on private servers, there’s no guarantee that they would’ve bothered paying a subscription fee, anyway. And with Cataclysm on the horizon, might we actually see more private servers pop up, allowing nostalgic WoW fans a chance to play around in the old world once more?