American law is great. Someone runs over your foot and you can sue them for your medical bills, but then you also get to add another couple of million on top of that because it was just a big old inconvenience. It’s great.
This means that we get stories of people suing Nike for tripping over their shoelaces and McDonald’s for making them fat. Petty people come from all walks of life however, and the gaming industry has it’s own share of absurd, frivolous and downright entertaining lawsuits.
Let’s have a laugh at five of the best.
5. Internet troll sues for “free speech”
There are few worse people than online gamers. I should know; I play with them every day. The volatile cocktail of anonymity, competitiveness and frustration make for a pretty awful group of people, as anyone with a multiplayer game and an internet connection will be able to tell you.
The High King of internet douchebags however has to be Erik Estavillo, who was given a lifetime ban from the Playstation Network for “repeatedly violating the terms of service”. This is a guy who went above and beyond the standard remarks about your mother’s whereabouts last night; Erik is that type of player who spouts assorted hatespeech at the guys and photos of his genitals at the girls.
Anyway, Erik decided that Sony had violated his “right to free speech” and demanded more than $50,000 for the resultant pain and suffering.
This case provides further empirical evidence that not one damned person reads the license agreement before hitting accept, because had Erik done that he’d realise he didn’t have a pot to piss in.
Unfortunately for Erik, he chose to further embarrass himself in court, telling the judge that the PSN is “the only way he can truly interact with other people”. Given Erik’s definition of “interact”, the judge quickly dismissed the case.
4. Starforce vs. The World
DRM might be the most hated thing in the whole gaming and technology industry. Not so much because it stops you from stealing things (it doesn’t), but more because it stops you from doing things it shouldn’t.
The worst offender of this was a short-lived DRM system called Starforce. Starforce was more hated than always-online requirements are today, and like most DRM systems it was easily cracked.
Once Starforce was installed on your system, it never actually left. Even after you uninstalled the game. Furthermore, it messed with your CD and DVD drives, regardless of whether or not you were actually playing the game. It also allegedly caused system crashes, weakening of OS security, hard drive degradation and even physical damage to optical drives.
As you might expect of crappy software that was shoved down people’s throats, it was more heavily criticised than that poor bastard who forgot the words to our national anthem. A few prominent sites referred to it as “malware” and a “nefarious Rootkit/Virus”. Not exactly good publicity, but it wasn’t exactly a good product.
Starforce responded maturely and calmly to these criticisms by threatening detractors with everything from lawsuits to FBI involvement. As you may have guessed, the websites involved responded by laughing in their face and nothing ever really came of it.
Unsurprisingly, Ubisoft was quick to adopt Starforce, and ended up facing a $5 million lawsuit themselves after gamers claimed the software did all those terrible things mentioned above. The case was eventually dropped a couple of years later.
3. The World vs. Guitar Hero
Music celebrities are, for the most part, batshit insane. You can imagine then what happens when you attempt to contract licensing deals with hundreds of self-important drug addicts, you’re going to get more than your fair share of lawsuits.
Since Activision’s Guitar Hero, Band Hero etc. games made infinity dollars, a bunch of celebrities decided their swimming pool needed a top-up. This included the likes of Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine, who was upset to see his hip-jiving moves in other songs and decided money was the only thing that could console him.
Gwen Stefani pulled a similar stunt when she found out you could use her character model to perform any song. See? Nobody reads the fine print.
Nothing can quite top Axl Rose (of Guns ‘n Roses) however, who decided to sue because the band’s guitarist Slash appeared in the game. Let’s just say the two don’t exactly get along any more, and Axl presumedly saw stamping his feet and crying about it as a perfect opportunity to make himself relevant again.
2. Bethesda trademarks nouns
Minecraft studio Mojang got a nasty surprise after the announcement of their next game, Scrolls, when Bethesda sued them for copyright infringement. Why? Because The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has one of those words in it, duh.
Bethesda claimed to be attempting to “protect their brand”, but a giant publisher suing the pants off a well-loved indie studio because they used a noun that appears in one of your series titles makes you an asshole. All Bethesda needs is a secret mountain fortress and a Persian cat and they’ll have achieved supervillain status along with EA and Activision.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to announce my new game, “War Gun Speed”, an MMO FPS survival horror RPG. I’ve trademarked the title of course, so please don’t use any of those words in your games, or my lawyer will be in touch.
1. Infinity Ward vs. Activision
This one makes the top of the list not for being the dumbest or most frivolous, but just for being the most fun to watch.
After Jason West and Vince Zampella launched one of the most lucrative brands in gaming history with Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare, the Infinity Ward heads and Activision had an extremely messy breakup.
As the story unfolded, it became more and more scandalous – I think this is how regular people feel when they read celebrity gossip.
First came the shocking news from West and Zampella back in March, 2010, saying that they had been “fired”. Then the details began to emerge, about how security guards arrived and escorted the two from the building.
After that, a mass exodus from Infinity Ward began. It’s not certain, but it was assumed to be in solidarity with West and Zampella, but in the couple of months following the firings nearly half of the studio resigned, including lead designers and programmers on Modern Warfare 2.
At this point, Activision was the evil supervillain, and everyone blamed Kotick and his cronies for gutting the studio that brought us the fantastic original Modern Warfare.
Then came the lawsuit. The two sacked developers sued Activision, claiming that the publisher was yet to pay them the substantial royalties owed to them for Modern Warfare 2. At this point, Activision countersued, saying that the two had been going behind the publishers back, fraternising with the enemy – EA.
They claimed this was the reason for the pair’s dismissal, calling them “self-serving schemers”. In the midst of all of this were leaked company e-mails of Activision high-ups plotting to get rid of the pair and a whole lot of poo flung back and forth between the warring parties.
It was seriously entertaining to follow for a while, as it seemed that every week brought a new piece of scandalous, uncovered information.
A settlement was eventually reached two years later in March of 2012, which was unfortunately kept confidential.