Instead, we opted for making the basics, and making our stuff as customisable as possible, and in due course, you guys will make the rest. This, of course, is where the modder's marketplace comes in.
Easy, so we thought. We make a site, you upload stuff, we take people's money on your behalf, we take a cut, and everybody wins. Except it's not that straightforward. This is where everyone jumps up and says, "yes it is, look at XXXX.com". Well, you're probably wrong. Unless you're a lawyer, you probably have no idea how tangled the law is in this regard. In fact, even if you are a specialist international IP/tax/commercial lawyer/accountant, you'll have problems making sense of the legislation. Bear in mind, since we're operating a global business, we're talking about transactions for virtual goods that may involve people and companies from several different jurisdictions. That immediately complicates everything. And just because XXXX.com is doing it doesn't mean it's legal, and we don't want to find ourselves sued or shut down.
Here are a few things we're having to bear in mind.
- You upload a mod. The customer pays us. Who are they buying from? Us or you? That makes an immediate difference. If it's us, then as the vendor, we have a bunch of responsibilities under EU and UK law, and a different bunch of responsibilities under US law (and who knows what under Australian, Brazilian, Chinese or Indian law). If it's you, then we have to make you aware of those. In many ways, resolving this one issue clarifies a lot of the rest of the issues, in that we can then say categorically "it's our problem" or "talk to the modder". However, it's not even clear how the law stands on this, and whether we can easily assign the role of vendor. It's likely that we have to be the vendor, and that we would have to require to to sign a warranty which allows us to come after you if anyone has a go at us. This, of course, then begs the question of what happens if you weren't entitled to sign that warranty (say, you're a minor). And, indeed, what happens when we get sued for squillions but you only have six bucks and a Gnarls Barkley CD to your name.
- Your mod causes Moviestorm (or the user's computer) to crash. How do we deal with the irate customer? Who's going to sort him out? Should we require all mods to go through our QA and be certified? If so, are you prepared to pay for it?
- Your mod isn't what it claims to be, or doesn't work. How does the customer complain, and how does he get his money back? If we've already given you your money, how do we get money back from you?
- Our server goes down and we can't sell anything for a while. So what? Well, if you're doing this as a business, then this is affecting your trade. Can you sue us? Are you expecting a guaranteed level of service?
- Tax - what taxes apply? Applying VAT (or not) is complicated enough, but we need to figure out what we have to report to the tax office. And if you're the vendor, then you may have to charge local taxes, which we don't know about.
- How do we apply special offers to a mixture of our content and yours? If someone has a "buy one get one free" offer, and they get yours free, do you get any money at all? Or are mods excluded from special offers? In fact, is 3rd party content treated completely separately?
- Your mod infringes someone's copyright. How does the rights holder deal with this? How do we avoid being sued? How do we allow you to respond to allegations? Do we have final say?
- Your mod has a different license to ours. Our content is licensed for people to use in commercial productions. You can mash it up with footage from other sources. You, on the other hand, may want yours to be non-commercial. Can you do that? If so, how do we make that clear to the user.
- Your mod contains content that is offensive to some people. What mechanisms do we have in place to address this? Is it up to us to decide what gets sold through our site, and if so, do we have to vet everything before it goes up, or only respond when someone complains? What standards do we need to put in place?
- Your mod contains content that is age-restricted in some countries. How do we ensure we comply with local legislation, and what legislation applies anyway? Do we have to be aware of what restrictions exist everywhere?
- Taking the above to extremes, your mod contains illegal content. (This is the really tricky one.) Does that mean illegal where you are, illegal where we are, illegal where the servers are, or illegal where the user is? How are we supposed to know what's legal? How are you supposed to know? What jurisdictions can you be sued in?
Let's take an example. A few years ago, at a previous company, we made a mobile phone game that contained an image of a Nazi soldier with a swastika on his helmet, and sold it to a major global telecoms company. They distributed it throughout Europe. We then discovered that images of swastikas are banned in Gemany, and we had in fact just broken the law without knowing it. Fortunately, we were able to change the image before we got taken to court in Germany, along with the telecoms company, and we managed to talk them out of what could have been a very nasty breach of warranty. (We had had to state that the content was legal, which, in the UK, it was.)
On a similar note, while watching Burn After Reading, I noted that Americans use the word "spook" to mean a spy, and asked why the British TV series Spooks was renamed MI5 for the US market. I wasn't aware that it was an offensive slang term for a black person in the US.
In other words, there are a whole bunch of issues where you can act in complete good faith, and find yourself in an unexpected and tricky situation. The law's a minefield, and so we're treading carefully through it. Yes, it's frustrating. We'd love to have had the modder's marketplace up and running a year or more ago, but until we get the OK from the lawyers and accountants, we're not prepared to take the risk.
But be assured, we are working on it.