Text of Complaint (March 13, 2007)
In response to pre-existing threats form Jack Thompson, Take-Two Interactive has preemptively asked the Southern District Court of Florida to provide declaratory and injunctive relief against Jack Thompson to stop him from bringing suit:
- to stop the sale and distribution of Manhunt 2 (due out in the summer of 2007) and GTA IV (due out in October 2007); and
- seeking pre-publication review of the games;
as he did in the past with Bully. In the words of the complaint:
…declaratory relief is especially necessary here because Thompson has a history of making multiple threats of legal action, whether substantiated or not, both against Plaintiff as well as the retailers who purchase the video games and offer them for sale to the public.
Dale’s Comment: Interestingly, the firm representing Take-Two in this action, Blank Rome, LLP, is the same firm that previously had sought to have Jack Thompson held in contempt of court.
In an effort to stave off a new form of money laundering, prohibited gambling and threats to the Chinese yuan (Chinese currency), Chinese Web sites have been ordered to limit the use of virtual money. Public prosecutor Yang Tao says “The QQ coin is challenging the status of the [yuan] as the only legitimate currency in China.”
Specifically, virtual money may only be used to buy virtual products and services the companies provide themselves, issuance will be limited, and users are “strictly forbidden” from trading it into legal tender for a profit.
QQ coins, issued by Tencent.com – China’s largest instant-messaging service provider – are the most popular form of online credits used by 220 million users. They are being used to pay for an increasing array of services including gambling, phone sex services and shopping online
Almost a full year after Immersion won an appeal brought by Sony in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, after it lost at trial, and after a year of Sony marketing types insisting that rumble was a last-generation feature that wouldn’t be compatible with its new Sixaxis tilt control scheme, Sony has settled its long-standing patent dispute with Immersion and has licensed Immersion’s patented force feedback technology for use with future “PlayStation format products.”.
Sony will pay Immersion the $82 million previously awarded (Immersion had originally sought $299 million) plus $8.7 million in pre-judgment interest, in addition to compulsory license fees ordered by the District Court that were already paid.” Sony will also pay Immersion royalty/license fees of $1.875 million in each of the next twelve quarters (3 years), beginning in April 2007, totaling $22.5 million, along with other fees and royalties.
Dale’s Comment [April 30, 2007]: This couldn’t have come soon enough for this gamer. Aside from the exorbitant price and the lack of compelling games, a primary reason I haven’t yet purchased a PS3 (and yes, as I write this, PS3s are stacked high in my local Best Buy) is because I don’t want to play games without force feedback. Force feedback is integral to identifying the location of attacking foe and, frankly, rumble adds another sensory input that emerses the player more fully into the game. To my mind, Sony’s decision to release a console without rumble was akin to releasing a console without sound.
Sony has not yet announced or released a controller with rumble. But, on April 19, 2007 Sony released a PS3 firmware upgrade that activated rumble functionality for PS1 and PS2 games played on the PS3. On April 27, Engadget reported that Sony and Immersion were in talks to incorporate rumble within PS3 controllers. It appears we can expect a rumble-enabled PS3 controller sometime soon. There will likely be no PS3 in my household before then. But, the forthcoming Lair and Warhawk games are mighty tempting.
- patents are too easy to get
- many are trivial and do not pass the non-obvious test;
- the length of patent protection, especially in the context of the Internet and fast changing industries like the video game industry, is too long;
- the cost of defending a patent infringement suit is too high with the result that marginal patents are frequently not tested;
- to determine whether a prospective idea is obvious, and therefor patentable, it should be submitted for peer review as part of the patent prosecution process rather than the current system of testing for obviousness through the costly judicial process after a patent is granted; and
- the length of patent protection should be different for different types of patents.
Categories: Canadian Developers
Following the lead of its target customers, Eidos, EA, Ubisoft and others, game industry outsourcing and post production specialist Babel Media has announced plans to increase its Montreal capacity from 150 to 500 employees. From Babel’s press release:
“We have recently signed contracts with clients who, without exaggeration, own some of the greatest Intellectual Property (IP) in the world,“ said Algy Williams, Managing Director of Babel. “We will be testing their games across all platforms, including PS3 and Xbox 360, and we need to recruit talented and motivated people who are looking for a career in the games industry”.
It is unclear from the press releases whether or not Babel benefits from Quebec’s game industry tax incentives.
Case Management Summary (March 27, 2007)
Text of Blizzard’s/Vivendi’s Answer & Counterclaim (Feb 16, 2007)
Text of MDY’s (Donnelly’s) Complaint (Oct 25, 2006)
Michael Donnelly created a ‘bot’ program called WowGlider (since renamed to simply “Glider” in response to Blizzard’s trademark complaints) that allows players of the wildly popular World of Warcraft (“WOW”) MMORPG to automate their game play and keep their character “playing” 24/7.
In the fall of 2006 Blizzard (and its parent Vivendi) demanded Donnelly cease selling the bot. In response, On October 25, 2006 Donnelly’s company MDY filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Arizona seeking a Declaratory Judgment that it is not infringing any rights, copyright or otherwise owned by Blizzard and Vivendi.
Publisher/Developer Eidos Interactive, Ltd. (a division of SCi Entertainment Group PLC), most famous for its Tomb Raider and Hitman franchises, has announced plans to take advantage of Quebec’s tax and other incentives and open up a new development studio in Montreal. Details include:
- studio to be headed by former Babel/Ubisoft exec Stéphane D’Astous
- 110 jobs (including 70 developer positions) will be created in 2007 with 350 jobs in total to be created over 3 years
- Montreal to pay 40% of salaries and a three year tax holiday
- new studio to develop next-gen titles
- studio to consist of three next-gen development teams
- first title will be based on existing IP
Dale’s Comment: With the previous employment pilfering spats between EA and Ubisoft Montreal, one can only anticipate this sudden increase in demand for developer talent will create even more pressures between these big three Montreal developers.
Related: Gamasutra Interview with Stéphane D’Astous on new studio (Feb 19, 2007)
Categories: Violent Game Law Cases
ESA v. Minnesota (March 17, 2008 – 8th Cir Court of Appeals)
Click to hear Oral Arguments on Appeal (Feb 12, 2007)
Text of Appeal (Aug 29, 2006)
Permanent Injunction (July 31, 2006 – District Court)
Text of Complaint (June 6, 2006)
Text of Enjoined Bill (May 22, 2006)
The United States 8th Circuit begins hearing oral arguments today in Minnesota’s appeal of a District Court ruling that its 2006 “fine the buyer” video game statute was unconstitutional. A permanent injunction against Minnesota’s violent video game bill was granted in July 2006.
The law would have imposed $25 fines on children under 17 who bought or rented video games rated M (Mature) or AO (Adults only). The trial judge found that Minnesota was “…entirely incapable of showing a causal link between the playing of video games and any deleterious effect on the psychological, moral, or ethical well-being of minors [p. 7] …absent compelling evidence, the belief is pure conjecture”. [p. 13] Accordingly, the bill failed the strict scrutiny test necessary to survive a First Amendment challenge.
In a new Guitar Hero related dispute, Activision (Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane’s parent company), has filed a fresh lawsuit against guitar peripheral maker The Ant Commando (TAC), Red Octane’s PR firm Reverb Communications and three former Red Octane executives/employees: former executive producer John Tam, brand manager [name removed on request] and hardware group member Jamie Yang. The former executives founded a new company with TAC – Loadstone Entertainment.
The complaint alleges:
“copyright infringement, trademark infringement, misappropriating trade secrets and confidential information, breach of contract, interference with contractual relations, and more. “
GameSpot is reporting that Activision has already obtained a temporary restraining order against the defendants restraining them from:
- distributing a demo created by TAM incorporating elements of Guitar Hero II;
- using or disclosing any Activision trade secrets, including: music licensing contract terms, in-game advertising, sales figures, marketing plans, product designs, and possible future songs and artists to be featured;
- developing a guitar controller for the XBox 360 version of Guitar Hero II for three months after release;
- soliciting Activision employees, partners or Asia-based manufacturing partners; and
- taking any steps to develop, market, manufacture, sell, or distribute any guitar or drum based video games.
As recently as December 27, 2006, Activision and Red Octane had settled a different dispute with TAC concerning the sale of unlicensed guitar peripherals. See here for details.
Categories: Game Industry Incentives
The French Parliament has approved tax credits for local producers of video games “with a cultural dimension”. The credits can finance up to 20 percent of a company’s production costs to a maximum of 3 million euros (close to $4 million U.S.) a year. Whether these credits will violate the E.U.’s subsidy prohibitions is still to be determined.
Hot on the heals of South Korean Gold Famers forming a lobby group, EBay has banned the sale of such virtual property on its popular online auction system – often referred to as Real Money Trading (“RMT”) of virtual goods. Many online gaming publishers prohibit such trading, while others, like Linden Lab’s popular MMRPG, Second Life, not only permit it, but encourage it and even promote it as a beneficial feature to gamers.
Specifically, the following items cannot be auctioned of on eBay going forward:
- in-game currency (a.k.a. “gold”)
- character attire
- online game accounts
Significantly, the eBay ban does not apply to RMT of Second Life virtual property.
This ban will be a boon to IGE, a popular site for real money trading of virtual property. While eBay is likely doing this to avoid lawsuits from online gaming publishers that prohibit RMT, it is also walking away from a huge growth “industry” with the value of such annual trading estimated to be between $200 M and $1 billion.
Click here to read the article.
In an attempt to legitimize their ‘business’ and lobby governments, South Korean virtual gold farmers have formed the lobby group Digital Asset Distribution Promotion Association (DADPA). The “industry” is reportedly worth $1 billion a year.
Midway Blitz becomes the latest video game to be denied an official age classification in Australia by the OFLC, making it illegal for the game to be sold, hired, advertised or exhibited in the country. This time it was denied classification because of drug use by some game characters. The OFLC Media Release reads, in part:
Specifically, in the course of the game, the player may access what are purported to be both legal and illegal performance-enhancing drugs for the members of their team. Choosing to use these drugs, which each have different characteristics, will have effects on team-members, such as improving their speed while also making them more susceptible to injury. Fake urine samples may also be acquired for avoiding positive drug tests.
While the game-player can choose not to use the drugs, in the Board’s view there is an incentive to use them. By using them judiciously, the player can improve the performance of their football team (while managing the negative effects) and have a better chance of winning games, thereby winning bets and climbing the league table.
Blitz’s local distributor Red Ant, has not decided yet whether to appeal.
Love’m or hate’m, video game patents have played an important role in the evolution of the video game industry.
Ross Dannenberg and Steve Chang of Banner & Witcoff, Ltd have put together this terrific feature article: “The Ten Most Important Video Game Patents” for Gamasutra. In assessing the patents’ importance, they used four criteria:
- Relativity to Video Games
- Financial Value
- Technological Importance
- The IT-Factor
The winning patents honored/discussed in the piece are:
- Nintendo’s NES – Game Cartridge Lock Patent (U.S. Pat. No. 4,799,635)
- Alpex’s Patent Covering RAM-based Screen Mapping (U.S. Pat. No. 4,026,555)
- Immersion’s Force Feed-back Patents (U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,275,213 and 6,424,333)
- Freedom Wave’s Wireless Controller Patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6,280,327 and 6,878,006)
- Sega’s ‘Crazy Taxi’ Direction Indicator Patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,200,138)
- Koei’s Grouped Character Battle Method Patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,729,954)
- Interlink’s Motion Sensing (a.k.a. WiiMote) Patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,850,221)
- The Pong Patent (U.S. Patent No. RE28,507)
Check it out, its a good read.
Also, FYI, I have discovered Ross’ Patent Arcade blog where, among other things, he tracks Video Game Lawsuits. For your future reference I have added it to my “Video Game Law Blogs” roll down the right side of my blog (after “Topics”).
Germany is leading the European Union in calling for the EU to adopt an Europe-wide standardized labeling system with age restrictions and warnings. Each country would be free to set their own ratings.
Categories: Canadian Developers
According to the Canadian Press, Canadians spent $933 million on video games in 2006, growing the market by 22%. Revenue from console sales ($349M) were up 43 percent. The Nintendo DS Lite was the best selling hardware of the year – 374K units sold. And, surprise, surprise, EA’s NHL 07 was the highest selling game in Canada for the year. The next biggest sellers were, in order:
- New Super Mario Bros
- Gears of War
- Final Fantasy XII
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- GTA: Liberty City Stories
- Super Mario 64 DS
- GTA: San Andreas
- Brain Age
- Gran Turismo 4
Text of 6,297,751 Patent (October 2, 2001)
Yet another controller-related patent suit is being brought against the three major console makers. This time over a patent covering a “Low-Voltage Joystiq Port Interface”. The abstract reads:
The joystick port interface includes an integrated circuit receiving an analog joystick position measurement signal and outputting a digital pulse signal to a processor which signifies a joystick coordinate value. The integrated circuit includes a pulse generator and a bidirectional buffer circuit. The bidirectional buffer circuit receives the analog joystick position measurement signal and selectively discharges an RC network capacitor which provides this analog measurement. This implementation provides a joystick port which uses low-voltage CMOS VLSI structures which can interface a conventional high-voltage joystick with the processor.
Categories: Open Source
Linden Lab has announced that it will release both its Second Life viewer and, eventually, server software source codes under version 2 of the general public license (GPL). Linden Lab will maintain control of official versions of the software.
Linden may accept updates/modifications of the code from its user community, but if it does so, the contributor must agree to a contribution agreement where, among other things, the contributor assigns joint copyright ownership and grants a perpetual patent license to Linden Labs.
Dale’s Comment: While this may have been an inevitable obligation if the underlying code used to create Second Life’s viewer and server software was, itself, GPL-sourced software, I wonder if this will result in increasingly effective hacks against the Second Life virtual world.
It certainly ushers in a possible unprecedented new open source direction for MMORPG gaming publishers/developers. Like Valve (Half Life/Counterstrike), id (Quake), Ubisoft (Ghost Recon) and others before them, if successfully implemented, Linden Labs just might harness the creative skills of an army of open source modders/developers willing to make ongoing contributions to enhance Second Life – for free! User-generated content is a huge driver in the video game industry and, in particular, the whole Internet 2.0 phenomena, of which Second Life is a part.
Along with Gears of War and Dead Rising before it, Germany’s USK has decided not to rate the video Crackdown. The result is not a total game ban. However, the game cannot be sold to minors, cannot be marketed in Germany and stores cannot display it on racks. Rather, it can only be sold to adults from under the counter.
Dale’s Comment: Crackdown has been one of my most enjoyed 360 games in the first quarter of 2007. Importantly, the May 16 Halo 3 public demo of will only be available to a select few and those that purchase specially marked Crackddown units. There will be more than a few disappointed minors in Germany looking forward to playing the Halo 3 public demo.
Categories: Violent Game Law Cases
As violent video game laws are overturned by the courts one after the other, attorneys’ fee awards are mounting.
Attorney fee awards to date include:
- Illinois – $510,000
- Indianapolis – $318,000
- St. Louis County – $180,000
- Washington – $344,000
- Michigan – $180,000
- Minnesota – $73,000
- Louisiana – $157,000
- Unconstitutional Video Game Laws Cost States $1.5 Million – So Far! (January 4, 2007)
- ESA Wins its Bid for Cost Award from illinois Game Bill Fight (August 12, 2006)
- ESA Seeks Legal Cost from Illinois Game Bill Fight (March 16, 2006)
French Mobile Game Developer, In-Fusio has filed suit in the District Court of Seattle for breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing. It seeks an injunction prohibiting Microsoft from terminating a development and distribution agreement.
In September of 2005 Microsoft entered into an exclusive Development and Distribution Agreement with In-Fusio to develop versions of the popular Halo video game for certain mobile platforms. Under the deal In-Fusio was to make scheduled minimum royalty payments totaling $2M between Jan 1, 2006 and Jan 1, 2008.
After making its first $500,000 payment, and submitting several design concepts that were not acceptable to Microsoft, the parties were at an impasse. According to In-Fusio’s Memo, Microsoft both: (i) couldn’t decide, internally, what it wanted the mobile version of Halo to be; and (ii) wanted In-Fusio to develop more of a “dumbed down” version of the Halo game for mobile platforms than what In-Fusio thought it had bargained for.
Nonetheless, according to In-Fusio’s claim, Microsoft insisted on receiving the next scheduled royalty payment of $500,000 in October of 2006 after Microsoft allegedly agreed to “postpone” such payment obligations while the parties resolved their design differences.
For years I have called for video-download services to be provided directly to a TV-connected consumer electronics product such as the Xbox, TiVo or PS3. This Variety article discusses how the Xbox 360's new Internet-based video-on-demand service is having relative success (where others have failed) due to its available HD content and its direct connection to the TV.
The relative success of video downloads on Microsoft's Xbox Live and disappointment of Amazon.com's Unbox point to two factors that differentiate Xbox from Amazon and its many other competitors — consumers who download a movie want a simple way to watch it on their TV, and those with high-def TVs want high-def content.
A primary reason for its success lies also in the fact that DRM is not a relevant consideration for most users when the content is delivered directly to the display unit of choice. iVOD services to PCs have largely failed because most people do not want to watch TV and movies on their computers. And the DRM used by most of those services preclude users from copying the movie onto a DVD for playback where they want to watch them – in the living room.
FYI: Joystiq has a pretty good preview of the system here including a YouTube demo. Note that the demo was done early-on. As I understand it the slow-downloads and other glitches experienced in the early days have been resolved.
Categories: Featured Articles
Below are a few of the major game publications' "best of"/"most important" game roundups for 2006 (and their top title in parenthesis):
- 1Up.com (voting still ongoing as of Dec. 27 – click the link to vote)
- Fox News (Oblivion)
- Gamasutra (Wii Sports)
- Gamespot (Gears of War)
- GameSpy (The Legend of Zelda)
- Geekzine.com (Gears of War)
- IGN (Best Overall Game to be announced on January 12)
- Next Generation.bi (Gears of War)
- Spike Game Awards (Oblivion)
- Team Xbox (Gears of War)