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Five Memorable MMO Lawsuits

Jon Wood Posted:
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#3 Richard Garriott vs. NCsoft

The story of how MMORPG legend Richard Garriott parted ways with NCsoft is really that same ages old story: Man makes MMO, Man gets famous, Man makes second MMO, Second MMO does poorly, Man launches himself into space, Man returns from space, Man announces he’s leaving company, Man sues company. I mean, really, we’ve seen it a thousand times before.

Jokes aside, the facts around the suit actually see Garriott suing his former company for 27 million dollars in money lost in stock options when, he claims, his firing was internally re-structured to look like a resignation.

Easy smartass response: Hey, it’s one really super rich dude suing a giant uber corporation over the handling of a termination surrounding a game that was actually canceled anyway.

More reasonable response: I’m actually guessing that this goes a lot deeper than money and is a lot more involved than any of us beyond those directly involved know. Garriott’s never struck me as the petty sort, quite the contrary in fact and NCsoft can’t really be silly enough to try to change you’re fired into you quit. Naw, there’s something more going on here.

Bright side for Garriott: He’s actually talked about getting back in and working on another game. People who have written him off after Tabula Rasa did so too early, methinks. The man’s gotta have an innovation or two left in him. If his next game flops, I’ll gladly listen to the I told ya sos.

Bright side for NCsoft: Well, they’re looking down the barrel of the upcoming Western launch of a very much anticipated game in Aion, and the further down the line launch of our current most anticipated game on MMORPG.com, Guild Wars 2.

#2 Blizzard vs. MMO Glider

Blizzard, as the king of the mountain in the MMO world, is in a unique position to be able to shape the industry around it. There are those who would say though that in the past, Blizzard has used this power for evil, ushering in the era of the theme park MMO. While that may or may not be true, depending on your personal opinion, Blizzard has done at least one thing that benefits pretty much anyone that enjoys MMOs: they sued the creator of a farming bot.

Farming bots are almost universally reviled amongst MMO players, no matter what game it is you’re into. It’s not only cheating, but it also leads to black market sales of virtual goods for real money and while it’s bad enough when you know the farmer is some guy getting paid a pittance to collect items all day, it’s even more infuriating when that farmer isn’t a person at all, but a program.

In February of 2007, Blizzard stepped up and took a legal shot at the creator of WoW Glider, what basically amounted to a farming program.

The truth is that while some other MMO studios are certainly in a position to push back legally against the cheating masses, it is Blizzard that is going to have to blaze the trail. While they may not be your favorite company out there, they are certainly the most powerful and well known. So, I’m going to say something I don’t normally say: Good job Blizzard. Bravo.

#1 Worlds.com vs. NCsoft

Speaking of bone headedly stupid trademark based lawsuits… Well, at least I was back at the top of this article. But this particular lawsuit is so skull crushingly vague and stupid that it makes my eyes bleed.

Ok, so here’s the deal. A company called Worlds.com, who we’ll just call The Freaking Grinch Who Stole Christmas (please don’t sue me Dr Seuss), filed a complaint against NCsoft on Christmas Eve of 2008 claiming that the MMO publishing giant had infringed on its patent in regards to virtual worlds.

So, what specifically did NCsoft apparently steal from these well known folks at Worlds.com? Well, apparently, they hold a patent called “System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space.” Here’s what it says, well, some of it:

“The present invention provides a highly scalable architecture for a three-dimensional graphical, multi-user, interactive virtual world system. In a preferred embodiment a plurality of users interact in the three-dimensional, computer-generated graphical space where each user executes a client process to view a virtual world from the perspective of that user.”

Now, as stated previously, I’m not a legal expert, but this describes the most simplistic and basic workings of an MMO. So simple, in fact, that a child would probably understand it. Well, maybe not, but it’s a good thing that in their patent, they provided a helpful sketch featuring a couple of penguins to help clear things up. Yeah, you read that right… penguins. Now I feel like a grown-up.

Ok, so let’s look past the penguins for a minute and talk about what this means. If this suit were to succeed, it would open the door for Worlds.com to take on pretty much any MMO company. The completely unfathomable thing though is that the patent, which was filed in 2000, came well after MMOs like Ultima Online were already on the market and running a very similar system.

Give me a freaking break.

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Jon Wood