A History of Plagiarism: Alganon

Massively recently ran an article reporting that Alganon, a recently rereleased free-to-play MMO, plagiarized a press release from The Old Republic. In Real Life, I’m a history graduate student who hunts plagiarists for sport. The idea of corporate copying fascinates me, and so I decided I’d reproduce a timeline of the events in question. Analysis follows that.

April 28, 2010
In a press release, Quest Online announces the official relaunch of Alganon. A copy of the press release is posted in the game’s official forums. The press release includes the following:

“Traditionally, massively multiplayer online games have been about three basic gameplay pillars – combat, exploration and character progression,” Derek Smart continued. “In Alganon, in addition to these we’ve added the fourth pillar to the equation; a story. We delivered a fun, immersive adventure that gamers expect in a top quality massively multiplayer online game. To top it all off, we’re not done yet. A whole new adventure with new updates will follow soon, starting with a consignment house, new classes, PvP and much more.”

May 5th, 2010
f13.net poster Stabs draws attention to the similarity between the above excerpt and an FAQ by BioWare on The Old Republic. Other posters originally miss his point, so Stabs explicitly draws the connection between Derek Smart’s claim of a “fourth pillar” and BioWare’s FAQ on the same subject.

May 5th – 7th, 2010
Over the next several days, f13.net posters comment on the similarity of the two releases. Poster Grumblesmurph is the first to point out that The Old Republic‘s FAQ is actually excerpted from an earlier Bio Ware press release.

May 7th, 2010
Ethic, a writer on the Kill Ten Rats gaming blog, posts about the controversy, citing f13.net as his source.

May 8th, 2010
Massively writer Jef Reahard writes a short piece on the controversy, linking to Ethic of Kill Ten Rats as  the originator of the story.

Over the next day, commentators on both Massively and Kill Ten Rats argue that BioWare’s original press release was actually plagiarized from John Smedley’s keynote address to the 2004 SOE Fan Faire.

On Massively, Warrior writes:

This wording seems to be copied from the BioWare 2008 press release, which seems to be copied from Smed’s 2004 Fan Faire keynote. The point of contact on the BioWare press release is now the principal at AdVerbum Communications. AdVerbum’s slogan? “The right words. To the letter. Every time.” LOL. Hopefully, she’s not actually self-plagiarizing and this is just a case of flattering imitation. Self-plagiarism is certainly an unethical practice and against the tenets of PRSA.

On Kill Ten Rats, Memmio writes:

Oh, by the way . . .

“Traditionally, massively multiplier online games have been about three basic gameplay elements – combat, exploration and character progression. In Everquest 2, we’ve added a fourth element to the equation; a story.”

John Smedley, *2004*

May 9th, 2010
Derek Smart comments on Massively’s article, writing in comment #50:

OK, the weekend is officially canceled!

I have not yet issued an official statement because, tbh, I don’t have all the facts yet. Being a weekend and all, I don’t expect to know what happened until Monday. I am about to rush off to church, but decided to just post this quickly to let everyone know that this just came to my attention.

I hired a PR firm to handle media relations etc for QOL when I came aboard. They were tasked with that press release.

While I’m certain that there is a reasonable explanation for the similarities in the releases, I simply do not want to speculate but only to say that we are going to investigate this tomorrow.

Next week I will issue an official statement once I have all the facts.

He subsequently posts on Kill Ten Rats:

This was brought to my attention by the good folks at Massively, Warcry etc.

I have not yet issued an official statement because, tbh, I don’t have all the facts yet. Being a weekend and all, I don’t expect to know what happened until Monday. I am about to rush off to church, but decided to just post this quickly to let everyone know that this just came to my attention.

I hired a PR firm to handle media relations etc for QOL when I came aboard. They were tasked with that press release.

While I’m certain that there is a reasonable explanation for the similarities in the releases, I simply do not want to speculate but only to say that we are going to investigate this tomorrow.

Next week I will issue an official statement once I have all the facts.

May 10, 2019
Marti of PR Sirens posts in the comments of Ethic’s article, taking the blame for the plagiarism. Her reply, and Derek Smart’s official response, are subsequently appended to the press release’s reprint in the official forums. In addition to his response, Smart continues to post comments to Kill Ten Rat’s story, echoing Memmio’s claim that BioWare took the wording of its press release from John Smedley.


Smart is of the opinion that this entire snafu is not news-worthy, and believes “Jef [Reahard] is running headlines like ‘Alganon steals press release from BioWare’ if it’s not for *hits and giggles.” What do you think, loyal readers?

For my part, I can’t find a single internet copy to John Smedley’s 2004 keynote speech. Given that no copy of said speech has been forth-coming – even by the anonymous posters who are quite certain BioWare plagiarized – I’m suspicious of the very specific claims that Smedley is the originator of these words. Personally, I think that 1) Smart took up the claim that BioWare plagiarized from other posters, and clung to their uncorroborated reports to retroactively justify his actions, and 2) I don’t think that BioWare’s actions are material to the case of plagiarism at hand. I would, however, very much like to get my hands on a copy or video of that speech, just to see this through to the end.

But I also don’t think Derek Smart is actually at fault here – the PR department/person he hired is the one who actually copied. And her account of the plagiarism – “Alas, while doing so, I made a mistake of sending Derek an earlier draft of the press release where I added temporary a quote that best resonated the thoughts I wanted to express.” – is exactly the sort of excuse I’ve heard from undergraduates before. Doesn’t make it right, but it does make it common.

Carrying this analysis just one step further – what if BioWare had plagiarized the wording? Would it really matter? Or is everyone hating on this because it’s Derek Smart? I think they are.

Props to Scott Jennings of Broken Toys for an equally comprehensive write-up on this controversy.

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3 thoughts on “A History of Plagiarism: Alganon

  1. What confuses me is not the plagiarism, but the patently false claim every one of those companies seem to be making. I didn’t do much research this morning, but from the little I did: Both EQII and WOW came out the same month November 2004, WoW having been announced three years prior in 2001 (no idea when EQII) was announced. Given Blizzard’s tendency to shoehorn stories even into RTS games, there was probably no doubt about story being a major part of that game. I have no experience with EQII, but I will take the above quote by “Smed” as evidence of plot in that game, if not the originator of “story” in MMOs in general.

    Regardless, the idea that two games that aren’t even published yet are the first MMOs with story integrated into the gameplay is absurd. All seems kind of silly to me.

  2. Pingback: Where there’s one plagiarised source… « Treachery, Faith and the Great River

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