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The List: Five Memorable MMO Lawsuits

Column By Jon Wood on September 01, 2009

Last week, when we learned that MMO development studio Turbine had taken legal action against well known publisher Atari over issues surrounding the Dungeons and Dragons license, it got me thinking about MMO lawsuits of the past.

While many of us would like to think of MMOs as games and leave it at that, it seems as though there are constant reminders that behind these beloved games thrives a multi-million dollar industry. One of the most vivid reminders of the harsh reality of games as business are the inevitable lawsuits that come from it. With that said, there’s a light at the end of the litigation tunnel. That light being the fact that while I’m sure the game companies and individuals involved take their lawsuits very seriously, there’s often some humor to be found among them.

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In doing research for this particular list, I learned the following: While everyone seems to report the filing of lawsuits, information, even years later, on how they turned out, can be tough to come by. So, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to concentrate on the substance of the suits rather than the outcomes.

Please note: I am by no means a legal expert. I don’t even play one on TV, so I honestly can’t speak to the legalese involved in any of these cases so let’s all just sit down and have a good time, ok?

Honorable Mention - Mythic vs. Auran

This particular lawsuit lands at the bottom of the heap primarily because of the fact that there wasn’t an actual lawsuit attached. It could easily have become one, but it didn’t, because the would-be defendant apparently saw the error of their ways and backed down.

The year was 2007. An Australian-based studio known as Auran was developing a PvP MMO that they called Fury. In this game, sides would battle against each other for dominance. Sound like a realm vs. realm game? They sure thought so. Early promotion for their game even described it as such. That practice, however, ended abruptly when Auran learned that Realm vs. Realm, a term that many assumed could be used as freely as Player vs. Player or Player vs. Environment in MMO circles, was actually trademarked by then EA Mythic.

Ok, I get it. Mythic coined a term and wanted to hang on to it. I just don’t necessarily understand why they would want to stop other companies from using it. It’s not like they have the idea behind RvR trademarked. Basically, it’s just faction on faction PvP, lots of games have that. In the end, all it does is prevent Mythic from claiming to have the best RvR in MMOs. Well, I suppose it doesn’t stop them from doing it so much as it makes them absolutely boneheaded to do so.

Boo Mythic. I boo thee. In an attempt to protect your marketing phrase, you’ve insured that your marketing phrase has no meaning beyond your own company. So, if you want to tout your next game as having “the best RvR ever,” that means they’ve beaten what, Dark Age and WAR?

It’s not that this (non) lawsuit is frivolous or harmful, I get protecting your own intellectual property, it’s just that it all seems very completely silly to me. Even sillier than the time Mythic sued “Mythica” over its name. Mythica was eventually cancelled by Microsoft in 2004.

#5 Esther Leong vs. Square Enix

Looking only back to June of this year, we saw a lawsuit from a lone individual named Esther Leong against Square Enix, the creators of the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI, for “concealing its monthly fees, penalties for late payments, interest, restrictions and other things that should have been filly disclosed at points of purchase”. How much does Ms. Leong felt this was worth? Oh, well, around $5 million. This begs the question: How many accounts did this woman have?

According to Gamasutra, the suit referred to Square Enix being deceptive in advertising and business practices in the following areas:

  1. Licensing of the online games software disguised as a sale
  2. Monthly fees ("fees") to play online games
  3. Penalties for late payment fees
  4. Interest charges for late payment fees
  5. Charges while the online game account is suspended
  6. Termination of the right to use the online game for late payment of the fees
  7. User restrictions and conditions related to the online games
  8. Termination of game data for late payment of the fees

Please, oh please, tell me that this person didn’t file a suit claiming to have not known that there was a fee to play the game, and then not knowing that the company would apply rules to their game and reserve the right to stop letting you play if you didn’t pay your fee.

It can’t possibly be that ridiculous, could it? COULD IT?

#4 Kohnke Communications vs. Perpetual Entertainment

How bad do things have to get before a company gets sued by its own public relations firm? Just ask the folks that used to run Perpetual Entertainment (Star Trek Online and Gods & Heroes), because it happened back at the end of 2007 when they were sued by Kohnke Communications.

Now, before we go into this, I want to just point out that public relations firms make their money on reputation, their own and those of their clients, so they’re not likely to turn around and sue a former client unless things get really sticky. It just wouldn’t be good for business.

Ok, so, we all know the story of Perpetual Entertainment. We all know that they were developing Gods & Heroes and Star Trek Online, and near the end, had actually canceled their near-complete roman-themed game, and changed their name from Perpetual Entertainment to something like P2.

Well, from what I can tell, the PR company was suing them because: a) they canceled Gods & Heroes without informing Kohnke, who were working on promoting the game up until the day of the sudden announcement, b) because Perpetual transferred their assets to P2 which screwed the firm out of money they were owed, and c) because had Perpetual launched Gods & heroes, they would have also owed Kohnke a fairly substantial bonus based on active subscribers after 90 days.

In the end, the two sides settled out of court and the lawsuit was dismissed. That being said, we all know what happened to Perpetual, and shortly after this incident, Kohnke split into two smaller companies and abandoned the Kohnke name entirely. These days, they're known as TriplePoint PR. I don’t know if that move was related to this lawsuit or not, but the very public airing of differences couldn’t have helped either company in the end.

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