MMOs and politics once again collide this week as last night CNN broke the news that Robert Mueller’s FBI team has zeroed in on Russian oligarch and Renova Group chairman Viktor Vekselberg as part of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference, questioning Vekselberg about money Renova’s US “affiliate” transferred to US President Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen. (Tangentially, those allegations were brought to light by Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti.)
And the name of that US affiliate under investigation? Yeah, it’s Columbus Nova, the firm that claimed it acquired MMORPG studio Daybreak back in 2015. Here we go again.
“FBI agents asked Vekselberg about payments his company’s American affiliate, Columbus Nova, made to Cohen, according to one source,” CNN reports. “The Russian was questioned as well about $300,000 in political donations by Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s American cousin who is the head of Columbus Nova, sources said.” Columbus Nova claimed to CNN that it is “owned and controlled by Americans”; it further denies any use of “Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments” to Cohen.
Blizzard is not messing around with DDOS attacks. The BBC has a piece out on a World of Warcraft player from Romania, Calin Mateias, who was apparently extradited to California, charged with conducting a denial of service attack on WoW’s servers back in 2010. He pleaded guilty to “causing damage to a protected computer,” will sit for a year in prison, and was fined around $30,000 to boot. The saddest part is that he was DDOSing servers to get back at guildies over raid loot and participation.
In other WoW news, production director John Hight spoke to PCGamesN about the march toward Battle for Azeroth; he not only teases the story arc but philosophizes about the on-again, off-again war between the factions.
“We thought it would be appropriate and very interesting to say that the biggest threat now in Azeroth is each other. Can we, without that uniting threat of the Burning Legion, come together – or are we going to battle each other? And as you can see in Battle for Azeroth, we’re going to fight it out.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that last year’s Pokemon Go Fest was a complete and total disaster. It made a ton of money – almost $6M on the second day alone – but the PR fallout was epic, as thousands of people who paid to attend couldn’t actually get into the event park and thousands more couldn’t connect to the game once inside thanks to overloaded cell networks. On top of the logistical nightmare, the event turned out to be a pay-to-win debacle too. When Niantic CEO John Hanke took the stage to calm everyone and apologize, he was met with boos from his own die-hard fans. A spokesperson later said the studio was “horrified” with the way the event turned out and refunded all players for their tickets (and then some). That didn’t stop players who’d paid to travel long distances to Chicago for the event from forging ahead with a class-action lawsuit, which Niantic quite recently settled to the tune of $1.5M.
Since then, Niantic has run several successful events of a similar magnitude to last year’s Chicago event, including a massive festival in Yokohama, and they’ve all gone well, which must surely give the company courage for announcing a series of summer events dubbed Pokemon Go Summer Tour 2018.
Epic Games is still doggedly pursuing supposed Fortnite cheaters. As we reported back in November, one of the defendants in Epic’s many lawsuits is a 14-year-old boy who stands accused of streaming and promoting cheats on his YouTube channel. At the time, his mother sent an informal letter to the court, arguing that her son didn’t actually develop cheats, that Epic had unlawfully released his name (as a minor), and that Epic was unfairly scapegoating him.
As TorrentFreak (via GIbiz) noted, the court took that letter as a motion to dismiss (the family hadn’t responded officially otherwise). Epic has since refiled its complaint as a reply to that motion, claiming that it didn’t know the kid was a minor and that he had agreed to the EULA.
So here’s an interesting case that could impact online game development in the US. Apparently, a few weeks ago the Ninth Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals determined that a casual game, Big Fish Games’ Big Fish Casino, includes illegal gambling. You might be thinking, duh, it’s got casino in the name, of course it’s gambling, but that had nothing to do with the appeals decision, which returns the case to the lower district to reconsider. The ruling instead hinged on the fact that users have to keep buying chips (if they fail to come out ahead in their winnings of said chips, which they probably do because that’s how casinos work) to keep playing.
“Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games. […] Thus, if a user runs out of virtual chips and wants to continue playing Big Fish Casino, she must buy more chips to have ‘the privilege of playing the game.’ Likewise, if a user wins chips, the user wins the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino without charge. In sum, these virtual chips extend the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino.”
Looks like Valve is really going to have to pony up in that four-year Australia consumer protection case, which finally drew to a close today when the courts denied the gaming platform company’s final appeal.
Back in 2014, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took Valve to court in the country over Steam’s refund policy. Two years later, the Aussie courts found that Valve had insufficiently advertised and provided refunds to Australian Steam customers such that it violated consumer law in the country, though it did not believe Valve intended to deceive or mislead consumers. It fined Valve the $3M AUD, roughly $2.16M USD (then), which Valve appealed. Then in January of this year, Valve petitioned the Australian High Court for “special leave” for what’s basically a final appeal to set aside the ruling and fine.
Now, that court has denied Valve’s right to be heard, meaning the federal ruling against Valve will stand.
Are you surprised to be hearing about Bossland again? We’re surprised to be reporting on it. The German-based botmaker made headlines for the last few years thanks to ongoing litigation provoked by its sale of cheat, bot, and hack programs for multiple Blizzard games. Blizzard had pursued Bossland across multiple continents in an attempt to shut down the cheat programs, which Blizz argued violated its copyrights and cost it significant amounts of money to fight – money it was therefore not spending on its own games and customers. The drama finally culminated in 2017 with victories for Blizzard in a German Supreme Court ruling and a California federal court case that awarded Blizzard $8.5M in damages.
Though the German courts recently ruled not to enforce the US court’s decision (on the grounds that it considered the minimum statutory damages awarded to be excessive and punitive), Bossland ended sales for almost all of its hacks at the end of last year; as of today, the only ones remaining are for non-Blizzard games, specifically Final Fantasy XIV and Path of Exile, though according to the group’s latest newsletter, there’s a PUBG one tucked on the forums too.
Last week, we wrote about how PUBG Corp is suing NetEase (and NetEase is threatening to sue everyone) over alleged copyright infringement in regard to the battle royale genre and the companies’ respective games, in particular PUBG itself. The litany of gameplay concepts PUBG Corp includes as original to PUBG baffled both us and our readers – it’s everything from loot acquisition and air drops to waiting areas and sound effects. It’s absurd. So how legal is it?
As gaming attorney Pete Lewin writes on Gamasutra today, generally what is copyrightable – in the US, where the lawsuit has been filed – is the expression of the game’s ideas rather than the ideas themselves. “For example, Nintendo owns Mario (the expression), but not the concept of a plumber collecting gold coins and rescuing princesses (the idea),” he explains. “As such, PUBG Corp will undoubtedly own PUBG’s unique code, art assets, audio files etc as these represent its particular expression of its game design choices.”
Waaaay back in 2015, a group of ArcheAge players filed a lawsuit against Trion Worlds over the Patron perk mess. Veteran MMO players will recall that Trion’s original pitch for founder packs included a 10% discount for cash shop buyables. That discount never happened – specifically because in 2014 Trion “determined that the time to develop this perk would be significant.” After launch, the studio instead swapped the discount over to past and future credit packs.
That prompted players Aaron Van Fleet, Paul Ovberg and James Longfield to lodge a class action suit against Trion for, among other things, false advertising and violation of consumer laws. The original lawsuit also muddied the waters by wedging in a lockbox gambling issue and has since been tangled up in determinations over the game’s EULA and TOU, which Trion had sought to use to force arbitration out of court. Last year, the suit was turned over to First District Court of Appeals as Trion appealed the lower court’s ruling against arbitration.
On Friday, we covered PUBG Corp’s lawsuit against NetEase, which alleges that the Chinese company has infringed PUBG’s copyrights in its overt battle royale clones – there’s a whole itemized list of concepts the Bluehole subsidiary claims it has copyrighted, everything from incapping to airdrops, which in the aggregate seem reasonable but individually are absurd.
So why not add some more absurdity? As MMO Culture reports, NetEase has responded by threatening to sue… everybody but PUBG Corp. According to the publication’s translation, NetEase has stated it will sue companies that copied and “twisted” its own “creative features” in Rules of Survival and Knives Out, thereby wounding the “originality market.” It does not specifically mention PUBG Corp, but one might assume the company has retaliation and defense in mind.
Let the battle royale lawsuits begin! TorrentFreak caught wind of a new lawsuit in California that ought to set all the cloners on edge: PUBG Corporation is suing NetEase for ripping off PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, specifically alleging copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair business competition. (The Korean PUBG Corp and Chinese NetEase both operate businesses in the US, hence the justification for the venue.)
Given how old this particular genre is, and how PUBG was far from the first to run with it, you might be skeptical about the company’s claims. PUBG Corp believes it has copyrighted the concept of a pre-game lobby where you can test out weapons, among multiple other concepts, including the dynamic air-drop spawning system, the map, the boost bar and consumables, “starting with nothing” and being forced to compete for resources, realistic gear, character paper doll, shrinking gameplay, down-but-not-out incapping, butt-covering frying pan… it goes on like that for a while. Maybe we’ll give them the frying pan. Honestly the screenshots are more convincing than the list. 154 pages of this.
Remember when Pokemon Go had a big live festival for player in Chicago? Considering how quickly the event devolved into a nightmare, Niantic is probably hoping you don’t remember it. The studio had already announced it would refund the ticket prices for attendees, but in wake of a class action suit to recover other costs related to the event, the developer is ultimately paying out over $1.5 million to all those who attended the event.
A website for the settlement will be set up no later than May 25th according to court documents, with claimants needing to have checked in to the location via the app and provide receipts for claims over $107. Any leftover money is going to charity, not back to Niantic. It’s a pretty big figure and a notable piece of compensation for the disastrous event; whether or not it soothes lingering hurt feelings remains to be seen.
Just for the record, we are not the only ones engaged in the discussion and controversy surrounding lockboxes and lootboxes as of late. YouTube channel Extra Credits put together an entertaining and informative video that brings everyone up to speed on what’s happening with all of this, even if you’ve been out of the loop.
The video does raise some concerns about what might happen if and when governments get involved in legislating lootboxes under gambling laws. Some of these concerns have to do with states that consider gambling illegal, access to games with “gambling” if you are under 21 years of age, varying forms of lootboxes, and studios worrying about lawsuits from players over bans if that person has digital property with monetary value. Regular readers will recall a few months back when our SWTOR columnist considered the direct implications for his own game too.
“There are a whole bunch of effects this legislation could have on gaming beyond simply restricting lootboxes as a model,” the video argues. “So we have to be incredibly careful about how we approach this legislation.”