One of the big dangers of granting content creation tools to the community — especially in a game that swings some game revenue back to creators — is the very real possibility that people will try to encroach on licensed and copy protected IPs.
It looks like this was the case with Roblox’s Pokemon Brick Bronze, which touched on a franchise you may know. Brick Bronze was whipped up by a passel of player developers and enjoyed a very strong following (strong enough, in fact, that the game inspired its own wiki).
Nintendo might have gotten wind of the project, hoever, because Pokemon Brick Bronze was taken down on April 18th to be reviewed and quite possibly shuttered forever by the team at Roblox. To make this situation even stickier, there was money involved, and many players are demanding refunds spent on Brick Bronze.
Brick Bronze had a huge following, with tens of thousands of players logging in to enjoy the free Pokemon MMO.
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.
If you had expected the Netherlands to be leading the fight against lootboxes, you may be more clairvoyant than the rest of the population. After investigating 10 games, the Dutch Gaming Authority has found that four of the games tested feature lootboxes that violate the Better Gaming Act. That may not sound too serious until you consider that the offending games have eight weeks to make changes to the lootboxes to comply with the law.
Failure to do so can result in fines or just straight-up forbidding the games from being sold in the Netherlands. That’s a pretty big deal.
While the DGA did not specifically name games, the Dutch paper reporting on the situation cites FIFA ’18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Rocket League as the offending titles. The remaining six titles are not in violation of the law but were still sharply criticized for the lootbox implementation, which is said to target younger players and encourage gambling. It’s also worth noting that each of these violations specifically pertains to tradeable items for real money, which just squeaks in as a gambling option.
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.
At the tail end of 2017, a Call of Duty swatting incident in Kansas took the life of a completely innocent man after police killed him following a fake tip to the wrong address.
As we’ve previously chronicled, California resident Tyler Barriss reportedly called Wichita police to detail a supposed murder/hostage/arson in progress, using the address of what he apparently believed was one Call of Duty player intended as the focus of the ensuing police harassment, as provided by another player and played out live on Twitter. The address used, however, was apparently for a completely unrelated person, father of two Andrew Finch, who was subsequently shot and killed by police after opening his door. Barriss was charged with involuntary manslaughter and extradited to Kansas, having tweeted an admission of guilt and being suspected of multiple other incidents, including a bomb threat.
Over the weekend in the Guild Wars 2 spyware article comments, a commenter remarked that Blizzard’s Warden spyware was “the biggest scandal in MMOs” over the last 10 years. I was pretty surprised to see that claim; I was aware of Warden, but it probably wouldn’t even make my top 10 list of scandals across the industry. The first one that pops to mind is Blizzard’s RealID, probably followed by Monoclegate, the Funcom insider trading case, the EVE jumpgate scandal, the Sigil Games parking lot firing fiasco, and the NCsoft/Bluehole lawsuit.
I’m positive I’m forgetting some juicy ones. What’s the biggest scandal – scandal, mind you, not just drama – the MMORPG genre has ever seen? Lay ’em on me!
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.
Nexon isn’t the only Korean studio that has been targeted by the government and fined for dishonest practices with its online games and lockboxes. The South Korean Fair Trade Commission has handed out $950,000 in fines to the country’s studios for deceiving players and failing to provide accurate odds for winning any particular prize.
The three studios punished for their transgressions are Nexon ($875,000), Netmarble ($55,000), and NextFloor ($4,600). The Korea Herald notes, “The [South Korean] FTC’s actions have signaled alarm across the Korean game sector, as it could hurt the sales of in-game items — particularly randomized items, which users tend to continuously buy until they get a desired result — that contribute immensely to profits.”
Is this enough of a penalty to make the eastern market be more responsible with its lockbox policies, or are these fines merely a slap on the wrist? We will see.
Are studios starting to wake up and take action against particularly odious instances of gaming toxicity in their products? Blizzard, at least, is working to police its precious Overwatch League, which certainly does not need more controversy or bad publicity in its first season.
The studio levied a three-game suspension, a $2,000 fine, and revoked the streaming privileges of Philadelphia Fusion’s Josh “Eqo” Corona after Corona made a racist face on one of his streams. Blizzard is reported to have tight control over the League’s players with its code of conduct, in which it wrote that no player or team could bring the League or studio into “disrepute” with their actions. (This is not the first fine the League has issued.)
Speaking of disrepute, the League’s Boston Uprising went ahead and suspended Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez due to allegations that he, an adult, was pursuing a sexual relationship with a minor.
If you’ve ever been frustrated over online games refusing to disclose the odds of winning anything in lockboxes, then get ready to do a little fist pump for justice. South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission just fined MMO company Nexon for its failure to do just that in a pair of its games.
While companies don’t have to disclose odds for lootbox or “gacha” capsules in the west, in eastern countries it is much more regulated. Nexon was dinged for its failure to do this in 2016 for Sudden Attack and Counter-Strike Online 2 in a possible attempt to cheat players.
The two fines levied against Nexon by the FTC are $5,000 and $900,000, respectively. The company said that it will comply by revealing gacha odds going forward.