Paladins Ninja is Shutting Down

I wish this was solely my decision. I wish this happened on my terms. The reality is, however, it was not my decision. I was backed into a corner.


First things first. I am not asking for sympathy, I’m not asking for donations, I’m not asking for support. I’m simply sharing a story that needs to be shared. No one party is at sole fault here. Although I felt backed into a corner, this site is still mine and I take responsibility for it. Hi-Rez owes me nothing, they’ve never owed me anything. I created a service using their system, that does not make me entitled to some premium service.

I also want to express the risk I’m taking here. Sometimes I know people can feel angry when you speak out. I could lose my access to the developer side of Hi-Rez here. I would love to work at Hi-Rez as well in the future, but this very well could ruin that for me. However, this is not something I can just bite the bullet on and take the blame. I don’t deserve that, neither does the community.

Another note before we really dive into it, this is not a hit piece on Paladins. I will only talk about a few things related to the game to show the disconnect between Hi-Rez and their community and some of the issues I’ve encountered.

The Birth of Paladins Ninja

Paladins Ninja actually came from an idea for an eSports team we [some friends and I] were wanting to build for Paladins. We wanted a way to get more insight into a player’s profile that sites like MyPaladins and Paladins Guru could not, or at least did not, provide. That’s when I applied for the developer access and I gained access to Podio, documentation, and more.

The API is not easy to navigate by any means. The Paladins API was directly copied from SMITE, so there’s a lot of misnamed or unused fields. It took about a month to prototype something.

I made the first deployment of the site on December 12th, 2018.

What People Saw

There was a lot going on behind the scenes for Paladins Ninja. Within the first month we had hundreds of users stored, by the end of January this approached thousands. It was growing at a relatively steady pace. The site was getting multiple updates weekly. If you were in the Discord, you could keep track of it.

A screenshot of #site-updates in the Paladins Ninja Discord server.

This was one thing I wanted to make sure of. I wanted to make sure I was providing transparent and consistent updates to the community. I wanted to make sure people knew what was going on.

This is why I built a help desk for the site, a status page, everything. Clear communication with the community I was building was part of the foundation of the website and the products I was developing.

What was Planned

There was a lot, I mean a lot, planned for Paladins Ninja…here’s just a running list of all the features (this could include currently released, prototyping, or planned features):

  • Discord bot (Hyperake)
  • Ping/Jitter testing (for all regions)
  • More detailed live match viewer
  • Full match history search per player
  • Stats on each player (more in depth trends and charts)
  • iOS and Android application
  • Loadout builder
  • Tierlist builder
  • Player profile walls
  • Player tracking
  • Following other Paladins Ninja members
  • Discussion board
  • More low-level site themes
  • A twitch extension
  • Twitch / Mixer chat bot
  • ELO/MMR (this was up for discussion)
  • Account claiming (we actually hooked into Hi-Rez’s auth servers for this, something I have yet to see anyone else do)
  • Tournament builder (this was also up for discussion)
  • and more…I can’t remember everything right this moment

There’s a lot there, and it wasn’t planned all at once. It was coming in phases. We were in phase 1, there was going to be about 4 phases in total of the software.

This is a lot, so how were we planning on staying afloat?

The Finances

I’m not going to hide it, it wasn’t cheap. This has been the most exhaustive project both mentally and financially for me. I was paying for this out of pocket just barely after starting a new job. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’ve put, thus far, nearly $700+ into the project in less than 100 days. I wasn’t planning on supporting it out of pocket forever. I had a subscription model in place.

So what was going to be locked behind this subscription?

  • Discord bot (“premium” features, base bot would be free)
  • Mobile app access
  • Tierlist/Loadout builder (possibly?)
  • Full match searching (locked because of resource usage)
  • Priority servers (for player updates and such, this was being debated on)
  • More in-depth player stats
  • Anything else that comes on down the line

Not a lot. I was planning about $7 a month, $7 a month for premium access. Honestly not a lot. 50 people doing that would cover all the monthly costs (around $350). I’m not asking to be rich, just make it so I don’t have to put out an extra car payment every month…you know?

The Legal Side

Here comes the trouble. Let me quote a section which is fully available at this link:

(a) Advertising. You may advertise through your App(s) without asking for Hi-Rez’s permission; provided, however, you are otherwise in full compliance with this Agreement.
(b) No Charge. All Apps must be offered free of charge to download or otherwise access and may not contain any in-App purchase features or any other method of monetization, unless approved in writing by Hi-Rez pursuant to a separate written agreement as described below.
© Commercial Opportunities. If you are interested in creating an App that is paid and/or contains
monetization features, please contact us at monetization_requests@hirezstudios.com to discuss a
potential business relationship. All for-profit Apps must be pre-approved in writing by Hi-Rez (such approval to be granted or withheld in Hi-Rez’s sole discretion). To the extent any for-profit Apps are approved in writing by Hi-Rez (in its sole discretion), you will be solely responsible for any and all taxes due in connection with the distribution of such App in any territory.

Basically this comes down to 3 things.

  1. You can put ads, no problem. That’s fine.
  2. If you want to monetize in any other fashion you must follow the procedure in step c.
  3. If you want to monetize, contact monetization_requests@hirezstudios.com and make a proposal.

Simple enough. So on December 17th 2018 at 11:25am I send an email.

Good morning,
My name is Matthew Hatcher. I’m the owner of Paladins Ninja, https://paladins.ninja , which is owned by Halfpetal LLC, a small company containing mainly just me to house my products such as this.
Paladins Ninja’s goal is to create a website as an alternative to the current sites out there such as Paladins.Guru. These sites are not tailored to the Paladins community, therefore I’m working to develop a site based on community needs and feedback.
In the few days the servers have been live, it’s archived over 225,000 matches and recorded over 100 players. This is easily managed through our queue system running on one of our servers to help reduce response time and server load on both your site and ours. Doing this, however, can rack up a server cost and we always look for other ways to monetize our systems besides ads. Therefore we’re exploring an option to allow users to register and upgrade their accounts through a subscription service on our website. The potential features we’re deciding on and brainstorming but we do have a few ideas including: friends list (already live), in game player list (already live), ad-free browsing, automated user tracking, priority queue processing, and more as we go along while providing a base experience free for everyone who visits the site.
We’re hoping to be able to get the permission required to allow us to go forward with this as we want to provide a premium experience to Paladins players who have a passion for the game like we do.
Thanks,
Matthew Hatcher

No response. It’s holidays, I get it. Things get lost. It’s okay. I’ll be patient and move forward with my development. I planned to support it anyway, at least for a few months, without any income.


Hi-Rez Goes Dark

Hi-Rez has a trend. They don’t communicate well. This is very obvious in some of their patches. It’s even more obvious if you have API access. Every patch is like an apocalypse that we’re preparing for and spend weeks recouping from. The 2.02 patch, it’s hell. There are so many things that are missed or wrong it’s just…insane, but I digress.

After the December 17th email, I wanted until January 2nd..I then sent another email giving it a slight bump knowing that email inboxes get full and they may have missed it.

January 11th comes around. I talk to Aaron, our contact within Hi-Rez, about this and he informed me that the legal team saw my email but they were in a midst of a policy change. So I sent them this email on January 11th:

Good afternoon!
I reached out to Aaron to get an update on the situation since it’s been nearly a month since the original request was submitted. He informed me that you all are in the midst of a possible policy change. I understand this position, but I do not have unlimited funding and I need to come up with a game plan. I was wondering about a time frame for this possible policy change. I’m understanding of the situation and how it can take time, but I need to put other things in place if needed. I was trying to avoid ads to help provide a cleaner experience to everyone and use the money from the subscribers to help fund the site and keep the servers going, but if I need to do that for the time being the I will. I’m holding off on ads right now to ensure we’re not in violation there, so if you can not approve the attached proposal in it’s entirety then hopefully we can at least discuss the possibility of allowing us to place ads on the site to help at least cover some server costs.
...
I also wanted to take the opportunity to make some revisions and clarifications to my original proposal. In the original proposal I went over basics, however I know you all would like more specifics on the content I’m hoping to make “premium” or the content I’m keeping as a base product.
The content that will always be free on the website (https://paladins.ninja) will be the data, the data that is made available from your [HiRez] API and displayed through our website will remain free. This will not change. However, there’s many features that are in the works that we’re hoping to restrict to subscribed and/or registered users. I’ve attached a PDF that will, hopefully, make sense and outline some of the features and their explanations. I’ve also taken the time to show even more data on the site so you can get some even deeper insight into the site, it’s growth, and the need to some form of monetization. I’ve also attached an audience overview PDF that is referenced inside the proposal attachment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out.
Thanks,
Matthew Hatcher

Now I did miss sub-section a from earlier as by that point it had been a while since I read it, regarding ads, but anyway.

I sent them a 4 page proposal containing:

  • A table with the proposed features and what was restricted and what was free
  • A detailed section on product audience and goals
  • More in-depth look at the proposed features for further understanding
  • Transparent financial records up to that point
  • Specifications into the proposed subscription model and how that would work, detailed down to the suggested price and the planned payment gateway (PayPal)
  • Site analytics at that point in time

Still…no response.

January 25th, 2019 I sent this email:

Good afternoon,
I just wanted to bump this email again as it’s been 14 days since the proposal was submitted and over a month since I originally reached out to you. Just an update for you, my costs for running the servers has doubled and frankly…it’s getting to a point where if I don’t get approval to allow people to support the project, I may have to shut down the archiving process and only archive matches that are requested because without any income, this project is already over budget and it’s in a grace period for me. I need something to go off of.
Thanks,
Matthew

No response. I reached out to Aaron again. Here’s the chatlogs for it.

February 13 2019
Matthew Hatcher 08:32 PM
Hey, I know you got a lot going on…but just wanted to let you know…I still haven’t heard back from lawyers.
Definitely don’t worry about it right now; I’m just letting you know.
Aaron (Hirez) 08:33 PM
wow — disappointing — they honestly act like they mean to get back to you each time I see them

At this point I’m frustrated. I’m heartbroken too because I knew this was a decision that this situation would ultimately lead too. So I sent the following email:

Good evening,
We’re now approaching the 60 day mark since my initial email was sent and 35 days since the revised proposal was sent. Frankly I’m disappointed in the conduct shown to me throughout this process. I’ve put a lot of work into my product on my own personal time, without any form of compensation, and on top of that I’ve put nearly $600-$700 of my own personal funds into this project in the 65 days the site has been active, not near as much as other sites but I have no income for my site and this is by far one of the most expensive projects I’ve ever had both mentally and financially.
I’ve been patient with you all throughout this process and I’ve even refused to even take donations because I didn’t want to violate and terms set for us as 3rd party developers. However, the lack of responsiveness from your team has been, in my opinion, completely unacceptable and unprofessional. I understand that you all have other duties to attend to on a daily basis, but I am left with nothing. I have had no communication from your team, the only form of communication I’ve had with your team is the Mr. Pugh which is, from what I know, beyond the scope of his job and he’s gone above and beyond for me to help me have an understanding of the situation.
I don’t have much of a choice here. I have till the end of March, 2019 before a decision is made. I can not run Paladins Ninja without funding, and I’ve had no response in the 60 days I’ve been waiting. The end of March will be 105 days since my initial email was sent and 110 days since the site was opened. If I have no response by then, and no way of funding I will be forced to shut down the site which is slowly getting more and more users each day. I’m also going to inform you all now that if it comes to that, I will not be silent about the unprofessional behavior I’ve experienced from this team and I will make all emails, and documents, completely public and they will be published to the index page of the site.
I also want to add this. I love Paladins, I love the products that come out of Hi-Rez. I enjoy spending my days with people I’ve met through these games and Paladins specifically has brought me through some tough days recently. I want to build something for the community, and I have been. I feel like I’m slowly being backed into a corner here and I’m running out of options. I’m attempting to do my best to abide by all guidelines here, and I have thought about just opening up subscriptions and taking the risk; but I won’t do that as I want to make sure I’m following the rules. You all are not leaving me with many options. If all it takes is a change of proposal, then I can rewrite it and send a new one. I’m willing to work with you all to make sure I’m abiding by any regulations set forth, but I’m losing hope and faith in this team. That’s unfair to me, and that’s unfair to the community.
Thank you,
Matthew Hatcher

To my surprise, sarcasm, it only took 2 days after that for them to respond with the following email:

Legal <legal@hirezstudios.com>
Feb 15, 2019, 3:33 PM (2 days ago)
to me
Dear Mr. Hatcher,
Thank you for your email. We appreciate that the project is important to you and try our best to support you and all other members of our community. But, as previously noted and as you reference indirectly, commercial use is not permitted under our current community content creation terms. It is not fair to other content creators to permit you to do something that others are not permitted to do. That said, you remain able to use ad revenue to generate funds from your project same as other members of the community. That may be the best approach for you for now (that is up to you of course). And as with all community member products or services, the Legal FAQs available at https://www.hirezstudios.com/legal/ provide the applicable terms. Of course we do not approve or endorse specific community member products or services, and thus have not approved or endorsed yours.
While as noted previously we have taken into consideration your request as part of whether to make changes in policy, that is a change that takes much time and consideration because it has impact on a number of things — including many other content creators. In fairness to you and the community any changes would have to apply to everyone, and that’s just something we have to do carefully to do what is best for all involved. There isn’t a specific timeframe for a change in policy, nor is it certain that we will make a change, but unless and until the policy does change all community members must of course operate under the current rules. We apologize if we made any of this unclear to this point or if we inadvertently gave the impression that a change in policy was imminent.
We continue you to wish you the best for your project and appreciate you providing additional options for other community members to obtain information of interest to them about the game. For any future related requests, please feel free to e-mail legal@hirezstudios.com.

I knew the response would be one of two things…I was just hoping it wasn’t this one.

Dissecting the Response

The response is, in a word, interesting. I’m going to break some pieces down, but not in order and you’ll understand why.

…commercial use is not permitted under our current community content creation terms…

They reference the following FAQ item about this:

Can I create a product or service based on Hi-Rez Studios’ IP that I sell?
No. Any product or service based on our IP that is for sale or profit, or any other commercial purpose as defined solely by Hi-Rez, is expressly prohibited. You must have a license with Hi-Rez in order to sell or commercially exploit products or services based on our IP. At this time, Hi-Rez does not enter into licensing agreements with individuals. This may seem harsh to you, but it’s actually to ensure that the products and services available to our community adhere to high quality standards. Because we have limited capacity to work with licensees, it’s important to carefully select who we work with. If you own or represent a company that is interested in working with us on a product or service and believe you have exceptional criteria in your industry, you may contact us at bizdev@hirezstudios.com to share more information about the opportunity.

Here’s what is frustrating. As API developers, we’re bound to the API Terms of Use which is freely available for everyone to see. We are allowed to reach out regarding alternative monetization options based on the following section

If you are interested in creating an App that is paid and/or contains monetization features, please contact us at monetization_requests@hirezstudios.com to discuss a potential business relationship.

Also, noting the individual aspect. Paladins Ninja was not owned by me. I will reference my FIRST email to the legal team.

My name is Matthew Hatcher. I’m the owner of Paladins Ninja, https://paladins.ninja , which is owned by Halfpetal LLC, a small company containing mainly just me to house my products such as this.

Paladins Ninja is owned by Halfpetal LLC, a registered LLC in the state of North Carolina. The domains, if I took the WhoIs Privacy off, would show Halfpetal LLC on them. Servers were purchased through AWS off of a @halfpetal.com email account, a company account. The software was under a Halfpetal LLC license, under a Halfpetal LLC organization on our source control provider. Even the footer on the site says:

© 2019 Paladins Ninja & Halfpetal LLC. All Rights Reserved.

To say that I, an individual, solely run the site is a bit strange. Yes I run it, but I run it under a business. Under a licensed LLC.

Even the source code license, which was written December 9th, 2018, says the following:

Paladins Ninja, including all code, commits/contributions, pull requests, issues, etc., hereinafter known as the “Software”, is sole property of Paladins Ninja and Halfpetal LLC, hereinafter known as the “Company”.

As for quality standards and ensuring their high, I think Paladins Ninja fits right in. It’s stable, supports all consoles, has a growing community, knowledge base, status page, professional logo and image, housed by an LLC, commercial / enterprise level security, everything. Even the API we use to contact Paladins data is tested on every release and adheres to high quality standards. As for the outshining others in our area? MyPaladins doesn’t show a lot of what we do and isn’t regularly updated from what I know…although it’s a close 2nd in my opinions. PaladinsGuru, no hate, is the biggest and most well known but is a cookie-cutter site from SMITE Guru, and MasterPaladins was shut down. Paladins Ninja had an active community, for how small it was, transparent development process, a developer who was active in the game and livestreamed the development of the software, and more. If this doesn’t qualify as “exceptional” to them, I don’t know what will. For example, EAC (the anti-cheat software they use) complimented Paladins Ninja:

Hey Matthew,
Thanks for reaching out!
No worries, Wireshark will most definitely not get you banned. Thanks for checking with us though!
Have a wonderful weekend, and all the best. Your website looks really awesome.
Regards,
Easy Anti-Cheat Support

This was an actual email from them on February 8th, 2019.

If there was any software that would be considered for a “business relationship” I would think it would be Paladins Ninja, but I guess not.

Final Notes

It’s with a truly heavy heart I do this. I hate it. I hate it so much. If you would like to see the work behind it, you can view the source code here. I’m disappointed with you Hi-Rez. Your legal team has run off a site that I think could’ve done some good things for the community. I feel like you, as a company, do not care about us developers who just want to help keep the community involved and do right by it. You’ve created a crappy environment for us in a way. We have to dissect so much of the API just to understand how to do basic things for Paladins. They try to hide things too, but this isn’t a topic for this piece.

If the legal team responded a month or two ago, I could’ve just shut Ninja down quietly and no one would’ve noticed. I don’t even know if anyone will notice. This is the story of a site and developer who wanted to take on Guru and all the other sites and got stomped out by a legal team who doesn’t seem to understand what I’m doing, or does understand and simply doesn’t care.

I’ll be doing final backups of all the data and taking the site offline. I’ll be wiping the servers and removing all traces of Paladins Ninja from them.

If there’s anyone here to blame, it’s not Aaron…it’s not Guru…it’s not even me so much. I tried. It’s Hi-Rez, it’s their legal team. I didn’t hear from them for 62 days, and then they come back and say it’s rejected. Thank you, Hi-Rez, for screwing me over.

Paladins’ bugs are not going to scare me away from the game. It’s Hi-Rez and how disconnected some of their teams are from this community.

I know I could’ve handled or worded some things better…but these are lawyers knowing they’re dealing with younger developers. It’s not going to be perfect…but the way I was treated and left in the dark…it’s unfair.

If you’d like to contact me my Discord is matthew#8778 and my Twitter is @FormallyMatt

I guess that’s the end. Story over. Servers down. If you’ve been in the Discord server, then you’ll understand when I say this.

Stay frosty.