My girlfriend got me addicted to this Facebook game called Hammerfall. Usually I post links when I first mention a product, but in this case I will not and you will momentarily see why. It’s got the empty-calorie feedback loop of most Facebook RPGs (Mafia Wars was my last offense in this genre) where the dynamic goes something like:
- Click on things.
- Fight monsters.
- Get XP. If you haven’t leveled up, Goto 1. Else Goto 4.
- Viral time: Invite friends or you can’t progress for some reason.
- You can try any number of shady marketing gimmicks (sign up for Gamefly! do a survey! buy acne medicine!) to waive the requirement in step 4. You can also pay money via PayPal.
Besides this soulless grind, I found the game to be a lot of fun. I even invited my friends to play, not just because of Step 4, but because I found it to be enjoyable. There was a light story unlike the straight min/maxing of other Facebook RPGs and while the mechanics were limited, there was some depth. And the production values seemed high rather than having clip art for everything. I had been playing this game about two hours a day for the past week.
I was about to write a post today about that very dynamic and how I thought it could be altered to not only make the game more fun, but bring in more money. However, when I was playing I came across an odd error. One of the images was replaced by a Photobucket File Not Found banner. I laughed to myself that any developer would use Photobucket’s free hosting. Then I started noticing the art more. The landscape art seemed to be photographs while the characters were hand-drawn. That was an odd art direction choice, right? Then I started noticing how the hand-drawn images didn’t seem to have the same style. Was this a case of no art direction?
No, actually, according to a Deviant Art forum post, the developers had just lifted the images whole from DeviantArt members and iStockPhoto with no permission requested. Not one or two images, but hundreds. Links in the comments that follow show overwhelming evidence to support the claim.
The linked article says that the app claims over 230,000 users. To take some stab-in-the-dark numbers here, let’s say that a third of these users actually play and didn’t just click on the install link and quit. This is around 75,000 users. Let’s say that 3% of them had been monetized in some way. This is 2,300 users.
I unfortunately admit that I did use the Spare Change system to send them $5 since I was enjoying the game so much. I do this for a lot of free-to-play games that give me the option when I thoroughly enjoy the product. Let’s say that the $5 was the average monetization from marketing partners and PayPal-ing since $5 is the minimum one can put into a Spare Change wallet. This ignores transaction costs, but stick with me since I’m just throwing numbers out. Certainly there are some fanatics as there are in many communities that have spent a lot more on beefing up their guild.
So we are talking about around $11,500 in revenues. Not exactly barn-burning, but this value is highly sensitive to changes in the inputs. Is $11,500 worth a hundred counts of copyright infringement? I’ve never done a Facebook game before so maybe the developer gets a cut of ad sales, but even then we are talking small potatoes.
Despite really enjoying myself with the time I spent playing the game, I cannot support such shady practices. When I donated money, I thought I was helping support the little guy when in reality, I was helping a little guy screw littler guys. To all my Facebook friends I sent an invite to, I apologize and request you remove the game as well. Do not let it be successful and encourage this kind of illegal and immoral behavior by developers.