Video Game Too Awesome: The Smallwood Saga

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Today we bring you the saga of Craig Smallwood- a Hawaiian man who loved video games too much.  Smallwood sued NCSoft, the makers of the video game “LineageII.”  NCSoft is also somewhat notorious for having certain staff members jailed for leaking information about the video game “LineageIII.”

According to his Second Amended Complaint against the South Korean company, Smallwood

played LineageII during the years 2004 to 2009, investing 20,000+ hours of his time and achieving great success in accumulating game points . . . [Smallwood] experienced great feelings of euphoria and satisfaction from persistent play . . . [u]nknowingly, [Smallwood] became psychologically dependent and addicted to playing . . .

Smallwood’s argument was basically that NCSoft knew about how awesomely addicting their game was and failed to warn him, thus causing him to get hooked.  But his gripes don’t end at the game being addictive. What appears to have been the emotional impetus behind the lawsuit was NCSoft’s banning him from playing his favorite game.

In September 2009, [Smallwood] attempted to log into and play LineageII and discovered that he had been locked out of the game, i.e., that [NCSoft] had “banned” him from further play of the game . . .

Why did NCSoft ban him, a paying and loyal customer, you might ask?

Something fascinating and altogether common in the world of online gaming- he was accused of being in a LineageII black marketeer!

Let us explain- in plenty of online video games, people spend thousands of hours collecting special items and building up their online avatars.

Most games (like LineageII) prohibit players from actually selling their items or avatars to other people for real money in their End User License Agreements.  Some games embrace and support the concept of letting players sell things to each other for real money, but the ones that do not permit this kind of real-money commerce will actively police their systems to locate and ban online black marketeers.

The world of the online gaming black market is darker than you may think – allegedly, Chinese prisoners are forced to farm gold online to sell on the World of Warcraft black market.  Even the FBI  investigates online gold farming, and raided some college students’ apartment as part of a gold farming investigation.

Once NCSoft pulled the plug on Smallwood, apparently he didn’t fare so well off the online gaming-grid. Smallwood alleged that he was unable:

function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing, or communicating with family and friends . . . [Smallwood] suffered psychological damage of a heightened state of anxiety, severe paranoia causing an inability to participate in outdoor activities . . . severe hallucinations . . . [requiring] three weeks of hospitalization and [Smallwood requires] therapy three times a week.

Smallwood’s lawsuit got some press when he unexpectedly survived a motion to dismiss.

Where the lawsuit went from there gets a little murky.

NCSoft filed a motion to seal some of its filings, based on the fact that NCSoft would be detailing some of their tricks to catch black marketeers (and on the grounds that these methods are trade secret information), as well as the fact Smallwood’s medical records were at issue.

Smallwood’s response to the motion to seal shows that there was some kind of confidentiality agreement (or agreements) between Smallwood and NCSoft, which would explain much of the silence. The motion to seal was granted, so we weren’t able to find much on the docket.

The end of the saga involved the case suddenly being dismissed with prejudice, and it looks like the case might have been settled between the parties.

Perhaps NCSoft gave Smallwood a free copy of LineageIII?

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