At the end of 2015, a 28-year-old gamer from Krasnoyarsk accused Bethesda that its game Fallout 4 was addictive and impossible to get rid of. The young man spent three weeks playing the game, losing his wife, friends, and job during this time. To make up for the loss, he asked Bethesda for $7,000, which, of course, he didn’t get.
Lawsuits like this are not uncommon in the gaming industry, where developers regularly squabble with each other, and not just over copyright. Below are some of the most interesting lawsuits in the video game world.
NCAA vs EA
Collegiate sports first sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association («NCAA») and video game publisher Electronic Arts in 2009. The fact is that in the USA, basketball and American football competitions are very popular, but unlike their counterparts from professional leagues, famous student athletes did not receive a cent for using their appearance, name, and distinctive elements of a biography in such series of games, like NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball.
Former athletes Ed O’Bannon and Sam Keller demanded compensation, but the case never went to court. In 2013, EA paid O’Bannon and Keller an undisclosed amount and decided to put the NCAA Football series on hold.
However, in 2014 another attempt was made to get justice as a class action lawsuit from different players. This time, the court granted the students’ claim, ordering EA and the NCAA to pay $60 million to all athletes whose image was used in the games. It turned out to be about $7,000 per person.
Nintendo vs Atari
When in the 80s Nintendo saved the gaming industry from failure and marked itself as its queen, the company decided to establish certain rules for third-party developers to ensure that only high-quality titles were released for its consoles.
The Nintendo Seal of Quality was available to studios that didn’t release more than five games a year. Sometimes they were even forbidden to cooperate with other publishers. At the same time, each game released on Nintendo had to remain exclusive to the console for two years.
Atari Game Corp. decided to change the situation. When developers at Atari realized that Nintendo was not going to renegotiate the terms of the contract, they contacted the United States Copyright Office («USCO») to obtain the source code for the 10NES chip installed in every Nintendo game, and then create a replica of it called «Rabbit». Atari got the information they needed by defrauding USCO, and Nintendo soon sued it, winning the case, of course.
Game industry troll Tim Langdell
Few people are familiar with games from Edge Games, but the name of its founder Tim Langdell is well known in the gaming industry. Langdell has been accused of «trademark trolling», accusing various developers of using the word «edge» in their game titles, even though he himself rarely releases his own titles. Langdell founded Edge Games in 1990, but the company did not release any games between 1994 and 2009. However, this did not prevent Langdell from fighting in court with colleagues all this time.
Langdell sued Namco over their fighting game Soul Edge, and Cybernet Systems over Edge of Extinction. At some point, the game designer decided to expand the kill zone and attacked Edge Magazine. He even planned to complain to the gaming equipment manufacturer Razer for releasing the Razer Edge tablet PC, but for some reason changed his mind.
Langdell even declared war on Electronic Arts for releasing Mirror’s Edge. Of course, he did not win the court, but after it his company Edge Games had to give up the rights to such words and phrases as «edge», «cutting edge», «the edge, and «gamer’s edge».
Moreover, the actions of Langdell could not be ignored by the International Association of Game Developers, on the board of directors of which he was listed. On August 31, 2009, Langdell left the association without waiting for a decision from above.
Interestingly, at least once Langdell managed to win in court. The victim was a small studio Mobigame, which in 2009 was forced to remove its title EDGE and the App Store.
Universal vs Nintendo
In 1981, Nintendo released Donkey Kong for arcades, which tells the story of the future Mario’s attempts to save his beloved from the clutches of the huge monkey Donkey Kong. Already in 1982, the film company Universal Studios filed a lawsuit against igrodelov, claiming that it was she who owns the rights to the famous monster.
Despite the fact that at first glance it may seem that this step was natural, the court decided otherwise. In fact, the well-known King Kong first appeared in the film «King Kong», released in 1933 by RKO Pictures. When Universal released a remake featuring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange in 1976, RKO accused the studio of copyright infringement. Then Universal fought back, stating that the King Kong character is in the public domain. Actually, Nintendo also fought off the accusations in the same way, noting that the plot of their game has nothing to do with the plot of the film.
Nintendo not only won the case, but also sued Universal, alleging that the company sold the license to release King Kong games for consoles from Tiger Electronics, thereby trying to take a bite out of Donkey Kong’s popularity. And here the court turned out to be on the side of the Japanese, obliging Universal to share the profits with Nintendo.
Universal paid Nintendo $1.8 million to cover legal costs, and some of that money went to a Donkey Kong gift yacht for Nintendo lawyer John Kirby.
Between 2004 and 2009, Hawaiian Craig Smallwood played 20,000 hours of MMORPG Lineage 2, playing roughly 11 hours a day. Realizing that his social life had come to a standstill, he decided to rectify the situation by blaming the Lineage 2 developer, namely the Korean company NCsoft, for his problems.
According to him, Smallwood lost the ability to function normally in life, and even such simple things as getting up in the morning or taking a bath were difficult for him, to say nothing of communicating with friends and relatives. How does Smallwood think Korean developers are to blame? They did not warn him that Lineage 2 was terribly addictive and addicted to a sense of euphoria and freedom. By the way, even Smallwood blamed NCsoft and their creation for his heroin addiction.
Panama Dictator vs Activision
As you know, when creating single campaigns for its ultra popular Call of Duty series, Activision has repeatedly turned to real military conflicts of the past for inspiration and characters. So in CoD: Black Ops 2, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, was chosen as one of the antagonists, and at the time of development and release of Black Ops 2 he was already in a Panamanian prison on charges of political assassinations, drug trafficking, and extortion.
When the former dictator learned from his grandchildren that he had become the hero of a video game, Noriega immediately sued Activision. Not only did he accuse the company of using his appearance and the «Old Pineapple Face» moniker without his consent, but also of portraying him as «an enemy of the people, a kidnapper, and a murderer» in the game.
However, Noriega could not prove that Activison ruined his reputation with his game, and in 2014 the case was closed.
“From the very beginning, this whole situation was absurd, and we are glad that in the end such a notorious criminal did not get the better of us,” said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who defended Activision in court. “Not only the authors of Call of Duty won, but the whole world of entertainment in principle.”
Silicon Knights vs Epic Games
The Silicon Knights studio was founded back in 1992, but it became best known in the industry thanks to its conflict with Epic Games, which came to court.
Since about 1999, Silicon Knights has been developing Too Human, which almost immediately landed in «production hell» and more than once changed not only the concept, but also the publisher.
Be that as it may, in 2005 the studio decided to make the final push and received a license to use Epic Games’ beloved Unreal Engine 3 game engine.
When Too Human finally hit the shelves, it garnered very lukewarm reviews from critics, thus failing to justify such a long development time.
Perhaps realizing this outcome, a year before the release of Silicon Knights sued Epic Games, arguing that the authors of the engine did not provide them with the necessary information in time, which caused the quality of Too Human to suffer, because they had to create their own engine in a short time .
Epic Games easily fought off the accusations, but decided not to stop there. The company discovered that Silicon Knights borrowed more than one thousand lines of Unreal Engine 3 code to create its engine.
As a result, the court ordered Silicon Knights, firstly, to destroy all unsold copies of Too Human and X-Men: Destiny, and secondly, to pay compensation in the form of four and a half million dollars. In 2014, Silicon Knights declared itself bankrupt.
As soon as the bloody Mortal Kombat series hit the industry, it quickly became a convenient scapegoat for any discussion of video game violence.
In 1997, Andrea Wilson went to war with series developer Midway Games after her 13-year-old son Noah Wilson was killed by his allegedly obsessed Mortal Kombat friend.
According to Wilson, juvenile delinquent Yancey Salazar has deluded himself to be «Cyrax,» a cyber ninja and one of the characters in the line. She claimed that the stab that Salazal landed was a copy of one of Cyrax’s moves in the game. In addition, Wilson basically accused Midway Games of planting children on the Mortal Kombat needle, which later pushes them to serious crimes.
Fortunately for the developers, the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits infringement on free speech, allowed Midway to win the case, despite another blow to its reputation.
There are still quite interesting trials that do not always end in justice. For example, King, known for its highly lucrative hit Candy Crush Saga, lashed out at all developers whose games contained the words «candy» and «saga» in their titles, especially Albert Ransom, who released CandySwipe. Despite the fact that Ransom’s game was released two years before Candy Crush Saga, he had to fight in court with King for a long time, proving that the gameplay mechanics and design of CandySwipe illegally migrated to competitors. Unfortunately, in the end, Ransom could only achieve that he was allowed to leave elements of his game unchanged.