Monday, July 26, 2010

Is Forge Legal?

I’ll summarize the whole article right now, “Forge is probably illegal and could be taken down my Wizards of the Coast.”

The “devil is in the details” and there are always details when it comes to programming and life. “Is Forge Legal” is a complicated question and truthfully only a trial with a jury could rightfully make that decision. Even if Forge was technically legal, it doesn’t mean that Wizards could sue me or Google.

In my opinion Forge is probably not legal because Wizards owns everything related to Magic. They own the rules, the card names, the artwork, and anything else that I forgot. (As I understand it, a game’s rules are not copyright-able in Europe, so Forge might be legal over there.)

On the other hand, Forge tries not to be “very illegal”. The card pictures aren’t included. Wizards seems to care about this since they complained about this issue to Wagic, another Magic program like Forge. Forge also does not implement a whole bunch of new cards, so Forge tries not to steal money from Wizards. (Granted, Forge can’t implement many complicated cards because of its primitive architecture which I designed.)

I doubt Forge prevents people from spending their money on Magic cards. I believe that Forge actually encourages people to spend money because they can “use the card” and see how good it is. Magic is a social game and Forge is purposefully non-social.

Even if Forge is illegal, Wizards does not seem to be hunting me down. When Forge was hosted on, I did receive one DMCA notice which bummed me out until I figured that I could just change servers. (This happened after I applied for a job at Wizards, thinking that they would be impressed with Forge. I only got as far as the phone interview.) In the last 6 months I received another DMCA notice about my blog, so I removed the link to Forge from my “What is Forge?” article. Somehow having a link to the program in the right corner of my blog doesn’t matter, go figure?

(DMCA stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright. The DMCA is supposed to fight piracy but in reality it allows anyone to shut down someone’s webpage or server by sending their ISP a notice saying that the information on that webpage is copyrighted and therefore illegal. The problem is that the sender does not have to prove that the information is copyrighted and illegal.)

Like many derivative works, Forge was written because I enjoyed Magic very much. I liked Magic Online but I was constantly annoyed at the high prices for good cards like Wrath of God and irritated at people who would drop their Internet connection in the middle of a game. I didn’t know anything about programming a good AI, so I created one to the best of my abilities, which is another reason that I don’t think Forge is stealing money away from Wizards, because Forge’s AI is very basic and not nearly as intelligent as a human opponent. (Having a weak AI is good in a sense because people enjoy winning.)

I’m glad Forge exists because it allows players to use a great bunch of older Magic cards. Where else could you get your hands on Juzam Djinn or Ali from Cairo? Where else can you create a Necropotence deck? Most of the cards in Forge are eating dust, even good cards like Meloku the Clouded Mirror which is really fun.

In my phone interview with Wizards I was asked why did I program Forge and I answered, “Because I wanted to use expensive cards that I didn’t own” and the guy said, “Randy Buehler would have a cow if he heard that.” Ha!

I have this insane idea about creating a new card game. The biggest difference is that you would choose which of your opponent’s creatures that you are attacking. The goal would be something like Magic Online and instead of buying individual cards, you would have access to all of the cards for your $5 monthly fee.

Since the whole card game is online you could do crazy things like allow the weekly tournament winner to ban 10 cards which would shake up the metagame. (The banning would only last a week until the next tournament and the winner would choose 10 different cards to ban.)

Since you have access to all the cards, drafting and sealed deck would be free.


Michael said...

Rules themselves can't be copyrighted, in the sense that the "rule" for flanking is "when two units are involved in combat, and the first has flanking, and the second does not have flanking, the second unit experiences a particular disadvantage"

But calling it "flanking" is copyrightable, and for Forge to call it "flanking" is to infringe.

Calling an ability "flying" probably isn't, because how else is WotC supposed to get across that the unit is flying? "Hover"? "Float"? "Aero"? Those just don't cut it.

But there are a lot of ways to express "flanking" "trample" "deathtouch" and "wither." Using WotC's names for those things is a violation.

Having a mana pool that's designed to hold colorless, RGUBW and snow mana is a violation. You use the color scheme invented by WotC. That's a violation.

You have taken the names of the cards and the gameplay mechanics for each particular card. Tundra Wolves are 1/1 with first strike. Even if WotC can't copyright the idea of 1/1 to represent attack/defendant, and even if WotC can't copyright the idea of "first strike," WotC can copyright a card called Tundra Wolves that's 1/1 with first strike. You copied their combination, and the mana cost.

I think you have the right idea with "Forge is illegal, Wizards does not seem to be hunting me down." They could if they wanted to.

Each card is a violation (as well as the tokens), so you're talking about 3,000+ violations, each one worth at least $750, for a minimum liability of $2M. And that's every time anyone downloads a copy of Forge. Your liability is probably in the billions at this point.

For Forge fans in general, if you have a lot of money, I would strongly advise AGAINST distributing Forge or card pictures. Give a copy of Forge to someone --> $2M liability to WotC. If you actually have $2M lying around, WotC just might try to grab it.

Mtgrares, if you win the lottery, take the lump sum payment and move to Switzerland before WotC catches on.


The longer WotC waits to shut you down, the stronger your claim is that WotC let you have this project. If a company does not enforce its copyrights, they can lose the copyrights.

Sooner or later, the lawyers whispering in their ear will convince them that allowing your project to exist is damaging to their copyrights, which are the core of their business model, and WotC will force Forge underground.

Forge won't go away completely--people will still trade source code over torrents--but its development will slow down if not stop, new cards won't be as frequent, and there might be branches instead of a single main version. WotC won't care enough to stamp it out because all they need to do is make an effort now and then so they can prove in court that they weren't completely asleep.

WotC PROBABLY won't bother going after you for money, though it might threaten it as leverage to make you stop developing, distributing, or even talking about it. And if you flagrantly continued to violate their copyrights, they might try to get money from you just to force you to stop.

That's one reason why you should distribute working source code with each distro of Forge--each one could be the last, and your fans should have access to a stable version.


In a few months, WotC will chase you off this blog, and off google code. You will go someplace else, and WotC will ignore you for another year. WotC's lawyers will tell them that the copyrights are safe because they made an empty show of force. And WotC employees can continue to play Forge at home.

By the way: this is not "legal advice." You can go out and get a lawyer for that, if you ever feel that you need it.

Forge said...

"The longer WotC waits to shut you down, the stronger your claim is that WotC let you have this project. If a company does not enforce its copyrights, they can lose the copyrights."

Well my blog and Forge has been up since Dec 2007, which is a fairly long amount of time.

Gregg said...

I've written WOTC a few times suggesting they come out with a monthly online subscription to use their cards and platform. All I want is access to all the cards in their library and game mechanics for $10 a month. I'll build my own casual decks and play with friends from around the world. If they want to host some tournys for prizes or fame that's cool. If not I'll just play casual.

I guess they weren't interested because I never heard back.

wololo said...

Gregg, why would they do that when they can sell you the same cards on a per-unit price ? a person who plays regularly for 6 months will bring them much more money than someone who pays 10$ a month for 3 years...

The Turquoise Mage said...

The legality of Forge issue aside ... I for one hope that Forge stays around and continues to grow and get better!

I play paper Magic, Duels of the Planeswalkers for PC and the odd tournament ... but spend way more time questing in Forge.

Long live Forge!

Or as they would say in my country (South Africa) "Viva, Forge, Viva!"

Forge said...

I love the idea of creating an online card game that allows the users to access ALL of the cards. Of course I have to invent my own game...

Forge said...

Well if you play Forge in Africa, that makes Forge an international hit.

On a side note, other than the USA, where in the world are you (the readers and players of Forge)?

wololo said...

Hey forge, I'm French but I live in Japan. This should help bumping the international stats for forge ;)

Forge said...

A French Japanese guy, wow, that is out there. I bet if you made a Japanese version of Wagic people would go crazy for it, they seem to love portable gaming (because they have to ride long trains?).

By the way, Wagic's "Brother's War" campaign looks very interesting. I'm going to post a link to it in the Forge forum. Keep up the good work. :!)

E-mannen said...

Swedish Forge-player here. I guess there are Forge-players in almost all countries that MTG has been released in.

Anonymous said...

A Dutch forge player here. Yes even in this small below-marine level country do ppl play forge.
Thnx for the splendid program, I hope the interface will improve over time as well.
Grtz Chris