MMO-watchers will recall that just before the turn of the new year, Crytek filed to sue Cloud Imperium, the company behind the sprawling and controversial crowdfunded MMO Star Citizen. Crytek alleged that CIG infringed its copyrights by using CryEngine to develop non-Star Citizen game assets in the form of Squadron 42 while misusing Crytek’s logo in marketing materials and Crytek’s CryEngine in the form of Star Engine. As recompense for this supposed breach, Crytek demanded a significant sum, including direct damages, lost profits, and punitive damages, as well as a permanent injunction against CIG’s use of CryEngine.
CIG, for its part, has denied the accusations, calling it a “meritless” lawsuit; it’s pointed to the licensing agreement that limits liability and damages from contract breaches, as well as asserted that it’s not using Crytek’s engine (any more) and that name changes to and expansions of Star Citizen’s “online universe” do not constitute a new game.
Remember back in April, when Korea-based PUBG Corp. accused China-based Netease of ripping off PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds with its battle royale titles Knives Out (which is making bank) and Rules of Survival, and subsequently lodged a lawsuit against it in the US courts? Then remember when Netease threatened to sue everybody who cloned it and PUBG dropped its other lawsuit against Epic Games?
Netease has responded to PUBG Corp.’s complaint against it with a motion to dismiss, predictably arguing that no company is entitled to ownership of an entire genre like battle royale and that the copyright act protects only original expression; specifically, it claims PUBC Corp. cannot legally copyright things like game lobbies and health bars.
Making its way through the German court system right now is a case that could be of considerable importance to consumer protections, and not just in Germany.
As German website Computer Base reports (via TechPowerUp and some Google translate because my German has gotten too rusty), a Munich Regional High Court ruling in a consumer lawsuit against MediaMarkt effectively argues that vague promises like “coming soon” are off-limits for dealers of preorder items. In October, the judges ruled in favor of the consumer in a case over a Samsung Galaxy preorder; this past May, the higher regional court upheld that judgment, and an appeal to the top court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) was rebuffed.
“In the view of the judges, this information was too vague to comply with the statutory information obligation of the providers. According to this, potential customers should know before the end of the ordering process how long the delivery time will be at the maximum.”
The Star Citizen refunds subreddit is often the home of big words and tall tales, but Redditor firefly212 did more than just talk: He actually tried to take Cloud Imperium to court over his refund request. Unfortunately for him, he lost in small claims court and the case has been sent to arbitration, as the judge apparently agreed with CIG that its retroactive policy regarding refund arbitration should apply even to donors and package-buyers who began contributing to the game before that policy existed.
“In mediation, CIG/RSI would not agree to refund the portion of my account not covered by the arbitration agreement. Though lawyers aren’t permitted, CIG/RSI lawyers drafted and submitted statements that were permitted. The judge declined to hear anything about the conscionability or lack of consideration in the TOS. Despite the top sentence on the TOS, CIG/RSI successfully argued that the arbitration clause should be applied to transactions even before the clause existed. CIG/RSI repeatedly argued that there is a playable game and that funds have been earned, but the judge did not rule that either. Following application of arbitration clause to transactions outside covered dates, court orders matter to arbitration, case is dismissed without prejudice.”
The international community is becoming aware of the problems of lootboxes, and that means that laws are being formed in response to the business model. But there is another approach to dealing with them: you can kick the can down the road by condemning them and doing nothing else, which is the route the French gambling authority Autorité de regulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL) took. Upon review, the organization condemned lootboxes and noted that they were bad, but stopped well short of actually putting any laws in place to prevent lootboxes.
This is significant, as classifying lootboxes as gambling would change the laws under which they are controlled… but the authority stops shy of doing that, even as it mentioned that lootboxes are definitely like gambling and certainly promote gambling behaviors. But they’re not considered technically gambling and thus remain in a legally nebulous zone, with the official recommendation to vote on more conclusive statements later. So the resolution is to resolve things later. Proactive!
It looks like the big legal feud between PUBG and Fortnite is already drawing to a close, as Bloomberg reports PUBG Corp. has withdrawn its lawsuit against Epic Games.
PUBG Corp. lodged its lawsuit in January, claiming that the Fortnite company had plagiarized PUBG’s interface and in-game items, which wasn’t the wildest claim around, as Bluehole had previously pointed out Epic’s potential for conflicts of interest thanks to its stewardship of Unreal Engine, on which both games are built. Plus, Fortnite was originally launched last summer as a co-op, PvE-centric building game but quickly added a battle royale mode in an apparent attempt to catch up to PUBG and had swept past PUBG’s saturation in just a few months, setting records left and right.
Neither PUBG Corp. nor Epic has discussed the case or PUBG Corp. reasons for dropping its suit. PUBG Corp.’s lawsuit against Netease apparently soldiers on.
Way back in January, Blizzard Korea announced that it was working with Korea’s National Policy Agency cyber crime unit to track and arrest the perpetrators of Overwatch hacking and cheating crimes, following an investigation that lasted throughout most of 2017. Thirteen individuals were identified, and then the courts moved in. In May, one hacker received a suspended sentence, while another was fined $10,000. A third, Dot Esports reports this week, has now been sentenced: He’ll sit in prison for a whole year, apparently being more harshly punished due to his having made a truckton of money off his hack program.
In happier news, Blizzard released a brief teaser for what’s probably the game’s next hero, if player speculation holds. Seriously, people think the wrecking ball is actually the hero.
And that’s not even peak 2018. This is: A year and a half ago, Blizzard began trying to patent the algorithm that determines Overwatch’s plays of the game. And we’re just finding out about it this week.
Reuters has an update on the ongoing criminal cases against the some of the defendants in the Call of Duty swatting incident from last year that led to an innocent man’s death.
As we’ve previously chronicled, California resident Tyler Barriss reportedly called Wichita police to detail a supposed murder/hostage/arson in progress back at the end of 2017, 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 for an 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; while in prison, he even tweeted out new threats.
At the 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, but it does appear that multiple people will finally be held responsible.
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. While in prison, Barriss even tweeted out new threats.
Gambling and gaming are two sides of the same coin. You guys wouldn’t believe how many gambling companies request to put ads on MOP every month (unsuccessfully!), so clearly advertisers believe there’s plenty of overlap in the groups. And the debate over gambling in video games – whether we’re talking about lockbox monetization schemes or watching bureaucrats home in on skin gambling – isn’t going away. In fact, it’s about to get much bigger as gamblers are walloped from still another direction.
This week the Supreme Court effectively overturned PASPA – the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act – in deciding Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. The ruling hinged on the section of PASPA that basically barred local governments from licensing betting on sports games, reserving that power for the federal government. The act had been interpreted to include e-sports once e-sports became a thing as well. The state of New Jersey and the NCAA went to war over the statue, battling in court over the last seven years, and now, New Jersey, or at least the gambling institutions of New Jersey, has won.
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.