Activision v Noriega analysed: don’t make way for the bad guy

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Back in July 2014 I wrote a post about whether a dictator (Manuel Noriega of Panama) could control his online image in a video game (the hit game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2)?  We now have an answer: nope.  In a short judgment which is interesting for all kinds of reasons, a Californian court has come down resoundingly on Activision’s side and dismissed Mr Noriega’s claims.  Read on more… (more…)

Australia, Steam and consumer legal rights in video games

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If you decide you don’t want your purchased Steam, Xbox Live or Apple iOS game anymore, or if it doesn’t work as promised or at all, what rights do you have legally?

I get such questions a LOT.  While there is a body of law about this area of consumer protection, sadly there is little in the way of actual, specific legal decisions applying those laws to this situation to to which I can point. So I read with interest some recent news out of Australia on the consumer protection front: the Australian Competition and Consumer Authority is to investigate Steam, the world’s largest digital distribution platform for games, over concerns that it does not comply with Australian consumer protection law, particularly relating to refunds and returns.

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Avoiding the Tiny Death Star: reducing risks of a published game being canned

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I just read about Disney deciding to pull NimbleBit’s excellent Tiny Death Star from the Apple and Google Play app stores, apparently without prior warning to NimbleBit.  So I thought I’d write a few thoughts on what should a developer do to make it less likely that a a publisher can pull the developer’s game.  Here goes… (more…)

Games Law History: the first ever games patent

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I thought I knew the history of the games industry (especially having read Tristan Donovan’s excellent “Replay: a history of video games“). I also thought I knew a thing or two about interactive entertainment law. However, putting the two together I learned something new the other day: the first ever video game patent was filed in 1947. 1947!!

You can see it here.  It was an application made by two employees of US television company Dumont and was for what they referred to charmingly as a “Cathode Ray Amusement Device“.   It was beautifully written.  My favourite extracts: (more…)

Activision resurrects Sierra thanks to good trademark practices

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I just read in Develop that Activision is bringing back its dormant Sierra publishing label.  For those who don’t know: Sierra was once a driving force in games development and publishing in the 1980s and 1990s but suffered a long decline into the 2000s, effect shutting down finally by the late Noughties.

This made me think two things: (1) that’s great news (I have warm feelings from back in the day about Sierra games); and (2) this is another example of how keeping a brand alive legally through its dormant phase means it can spring back to life in the future – as Sierra is now doing.

In particular, I’m thinking that the legal team (at Sierra, its previous owner Vivendi and then Activision) decided to keep Sierra as part of Activision’s trademark portfolio all these years, despite its decline.  That’s ofc good corporate legal practice, but if the Sierra trademark had been allowed to lapse, I strongly suspect that Activision would NOT now be bringing back to life this veteran publishing name in the games industry.  That”s because it would no longer have any exclusive control over ‘Sierra’ in relation to games and that means it could potentially be challenged, or even blocked  from reviving the Sierra games label altogether.  So, if there wasn’t Sierra trademarks still ongoing, there wouldn’t be a return of Sierra now. (more…)

Should virtual theft be treated like real world theft? A UK MP says yes.

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I couldn’t resist blogging quickly about this intriguing story, courtesy of The Guardian: a British MP wrote a formal question to the British government asking them to ensure that in-game theft be treated the same as real world theft.  Answer: nope (ish), but it does raise a real question which judges are already addressing… (more…)

EU regulation of free to play games: hot topic or hot air?

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The European Commission has just published a press release and report on the investigation into free to play games which it is coordinating within the European Union.  This follows my report back in February 2014 that the European Commission (one of the three legislative bodies in the EU and the prime policy maker) had decided to step into the increasingly thorny field of regulation of free to play games and in-app purchases in the online and mobile worlds.  Now the Commission has, seemingly out of the blue, issued a press release explaining what it has been up to all this time.

In this post I explain what’s going on and what’s REALLY important about the new guidance being issued to Apple and Google.  (more…)

Noriega v Activision: can a dictactor control his online image?

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News has broken that Manuel Noriega, the former military dictator of Panama, is suing Activision on the claim that his name and likeness is used as a supporting character in the latest game in the multi-billion dollar Call of Duty game series, Call of DutyBlack Ops 2.

In a nutshell: the game is set in the 1980s and includes Noriega as a supporting character involved in murder, betrayal and intrigue (the normal day job for any dictator, then).  It’s clear that Activision have strived for a realistic depiction of Noriega (as they have done for other historical characters by the way including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and even Fidel Casto), but General Noriega wasn’t happy with that and has sued Activision, claiming essentially that they should have asked his permission and have profited from using his image and name without permission.  In essence, I suspect he wants to be paid a large sum of money from Activision. (more…)

The UK now has a video games tax break

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At long last, the EU has approved the UK’s video games tax break, a move which signals fundamental changes in the way that games are made in the UK, EU and beyond.  Personally, I’m very glad to be able to write that sentence; longtime readers will know I’ve been writing about the UK’s twists and turns on this matter since 2009!

You can expect to see lots more information and insight about the UK video games tax break on this site in the future.  For now though, here’s a quick guide to the UK video games tax break written by my colleague Paul Gardner and me together with UK interactive entertainment industry association Ukie. (more…)

European Commission consultation on free to play games and ‘free’ mobile apps: an initial analysis

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News broke today that the European Commission, one of three arms of the European Union, will be holding a consultation over the next two days regarding in-app purchases and free to play games and any mobile apps that call themselves ‘free’. This post is my initial analysis of this interesting (but not unexpected) development, which potentially bodes a future of big changes for this part of the mobile industry.

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