Magic Online: The Terms Of Service

Have you ever read the MOL Terms of Service? Do you know that, legally speaking, you don’t own the cards – even though you’ve paid money for the packs? Abe dissects the ToS and finds some legalese you might want to think about before you play.

On Friday night, just after the release, I was playing in the second round of an eight-man draft when the game hit extreme slowdown mode. Now, for those beta testers out there, we all remember times when the server would crash, or become unbearably slow, and so forth. In this case, I would hit the”OK” key, but it would take thirty seconds for the server to respond; therefore, thirty seconds would go off my clock every time I hit”OK.” Now, my internet connection is fine. I have a T1 line, and I tried loading a website – no problem. So, the issue was one of the software or the server. Plus, my opponent was also having the same problem.

I go into the Support Room and simply ask if it’s possible that some time could be added to our match. I was told that was not possible. I explained that it was an issue of the server or software, not my connection, but the support staff said that they wouldn’t do anything.

Needless to say, I lost due to time.

Why couldn’t they help me?

In a real-life tournament, if something should occur that causes the game to go more slowly, the judge can add time easily. Take a deck check, for example; it might take ten minutes, and so ten minutes are added if you need it. I have seen a window break during a storm and all of the cards get flung about; the judge added ten minutes to the round, and so I wondered what was different here. Which led me to other questions:

What happens if the server goes down while I am drafting? Do I lose my cards? What happens if the power goes out during the finals? Do I get a refund for the tournament entry? Who exactly owns those digital objects I call cards – me, or Wizards?

So I hit the Terms of Service.

Now the Adepts always said,”You have to read the Terms of Service”… But nobody really does. And to be honest, Wizards doesn’t want us to either. Now, I have spent two sessions working for legislative committees, and I know a little about legalese. The Terms of Service is chock-full of terms of art – words that have specific legal meanings; meanings which can sometimes be different than what the average person reads it to mean. Therefore, Wizards doesn’t want you to understand the Terms; they just want it to cover their ass.

I would like some lawyer to examine the Terms of Service in detail… But until then, I will bring my amateur understanding to bear. Here are a few of the more interesting points from the Terms of Service.

The”Gotcha” Clause

“Your continued use of the game constitutes your agreement to all such terms.”

This is at the very beginning. Basically, if you play the game, then you agree to this legalspeak you cannot understand. It is a logically flawed, and morally bereft claim – but nevertheless is legally binding.

The”What’s Yours is Ours” Clause

“You will not acquire any ownership interest in the digital objects.”

Whoa. Seriously, you are spending money for cards that are not even yours. Wow. All you purchase is the right to use the cards. That is like me going to a tournament, when you need cards for your deck, I sell you a limited usage – right? But there is an obvious difference between Online Magic and my making money on the side by selling you the right to use my four Rages in that Type 2 tournament. In one case, I am just a private owner. The other case has the entire tournament structure as a racket. This is serious bad.

The”You Are Stuck” Clause

“The Account is personal to you and may not be transferred, sold, or used by anyone else.”

So the only way to achieve any real life value from this game is to exchange the digital cards you don’t even own for real ones via the full set trade. Maybe you could sell a card or two as well. Other than that, you can never sell your account. Players of Ultima Online and Everquest can sell their account when they get tired or bored. It allows them to recoup many, of not all, of their costs… But not so with Magic Online, apparently.

The”Not Applicable in Thirteen States” Clause

“Rules governing sweepstakes, contests, and tournaments with entry fees and/or prizes are established by individual states. Based on these 50 sets of laws, the Site cannot offer fee-based tournaments with prizes to resident (sic) of the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.”

I have several comments here: Firstly, they used improper grammar. Heh.

Secondly, really? I wonder if these laws apply to real-life Magic as well? If they do not, I wonder if it is because Online Magic has enough changes that it is legally another game altogether. In other words, Online Magic is just disguised as real-life Magic.

Thirdly, are they going to enforce this clause? If you register from Arkansas, do you still get packs? If you do, is Wizards in violation of this law? Since they knew Arkansas residents couldn’t receive prizes, and they knew you were from Arkansas, would they be liable? I find that to be an interesting question.

The”Casino” Clause

“It is the policy of Wizards, in compliance with the United States Internal Revenue Service regulations, to send a Form 1099 to any person who wins in excess of $600 (USD) in any given year.”

I wonder how this is interpreted. Does it mean actual, real-life prizes? There are none, though – so why include this clause if that were the reason? Or does it mean that digital to real life set exchange? Could it even be applied to those packs you win in a draft? You know, the ones you don’t even own. If I compete with others on Ultima Online, and I win a prize that could sell for 30 million gold, with a $25 per mill gold rate, I would have won $750. I doubt, though, that EA would turn in a report to the IRS saying that I won a Tower on the Catskills shard in UO. Why, then, would Wizards do the same with virtual cards?

The”Gotta Trade Faster” Clause

“The Game Service provides a mechanism whereby layers can voluntarily terminate a portion of their limited license to use certain digital Magic: The Gathering cards for a corresponding set of physical Magic: The Gathering cards. A player must have obtained the right to use all of the online cards in the set and made his or her request within 4 years of the first release date for that set”

I didn’t know that the exchange was limited by time. If I had, this would not have surprised me. I am merely including it because, since I didn’t know, I thought others might not as well.

The”Etiquette” Clause

“Wizards may change the Rules of Conduct at any time.”

This is in reference to the official Rules of Conduct. In the Rules, it outlines what types of words may not be used, and so forth. This is a large discretionary power. What happens if I have a perfectly acceptable screen name, but in a year or two, it is deemed inappropriate? For example, there was a character named”Bin Laden” in Ultima Online on the Chesapeake Shard. That was his last name, and he used it. The character has been around for several years, with no complaints. Recently, his account was terminated for having a character’s name that offended others. Obviously unfair. What stops it from happening here?

The”$19.95, for a Limited Time” Clause

“From time to time, Wizards may release such Game Products, which may be obtained for a separate fee. Wizards may update or otherwise enhance the Software at any time and in doing so incurs no obligation to furnish such updates to you pursuant to this License.”

Know what scares me here? If Wizards wants to, say, charge for you to access Onslaught, they can. Same with every expansion set. Maybe they will charge extra for the ability to buy older cards at some point in time. Or if they expand to 5-Color decks, Type 1, peasant Magic, Emperor and so forth. You can get that, download it real quick. It’ll only cost you an extra $9.99.

The”You are Screwed” Clause

“To the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, Wizards hereby disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to the CD, the download, the software, the game service, the game products, the game, the account, and all other services”

So Wizards wants to eschew all responsibility. Oh yeah, except for:

“Wizards’ liability to you or any third parties is limited to $15.”

The original price of the game, if purchased in a store, is all you can get back. If the servers get hacked, if they go down at the beginning of a draft before you get a chance to draft that foil City of Brass you saw opened, if your account is deleted, or anything else – here’s $15, sorry for your troubles. Wow, that really is ballsy.

The”Light at End of the Tunnel” Clause

“Some states do not allow the forgoing limitations of liability; as such that may not apply to you in their entirety.”

So some states out there have laws that keep you protected from blatant corporate greed, such as this. They listed the states that couldn’t get prizes. Why not list the states here? I mean, after all, this is a list of your rights as well. Would that have been asking too much? Apparently. So go check your local states’ code, boys and girls. You know what? I bet 47 states are protected or something. And they just want to screw the people in those three other states. Again, lawyers please chime in.

The”Not Me, Pa” Clause

“You agree to indemnify and hold Wizards, its parent company, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, and employees harmless from any claim, demand, or damages”

So again, I guess they do not want to assume responsibilities. Notice that this is no matter what. If their software has a virus in it that nuked your hard drive, no damages here… Well, they’d probably hand you $15 and apologize for your troubles.

The”As-Is” Clause

“Wizards does not ensure continuous, error-free, or virus-free operation of the Game Service, the Game, or your account. Wizards shall not be liable for any delay or failure to perform resulting from technical difficulties.”

In other words, if a storm hits Renton (and far be it from Washington to rain), and the power goes out around their server, ah well. No split milk. They are not liable. After all, you simply lost a limited license to use a few of their digital objects. No biggie. It doesn’t matter how much money you paid or anything.

As you can see, reading the Terms of Service just gave me more questions, not any answers. I can tell you, however, that until I see some serious changes, I am going to leave Online Magic well enough alone. Again, I hope someone with greater expertise can shed light onto this whole thing. As for me, I am signing off. Maybe I’ll sign on again, later. Maybe. I just want to leave you with this thought, from my West Virginian upbringing:

“Whoops, sorry the servers were hacked. They weren’t your cards anyway. Here’s a coupon for $15, good for any product at our online store.”

It’s like scrip. You can only use it at the coal company’s store.