Can you pirate your own video game?

2 Comments

Hotline Miami 2, the forthcoming sequel to the excellent indie game Hotline Miami (note: I wrote that in bold, underline and italics to show how much I mean it), has been denied classification in Australia (another victim of the relatively restrictive local age rating system there).  So its developer instead just told Australian fans to pirate the game for free, attracting no small amount of games press in the process (hello, Streisand Effect).  So, I thought I’d write a little post on the subject of what happens legally if a developer pirates, or encourages piracy of, its own video game?   (more…)

A quick practical guide to EU free to play games regulation

Be the first to comment

I spoke at the PocketGamer Connects conference in London today about the EU’s free to play games regulation: I thought that a quick presentation based on actual free to play games might help illustrate this fast growing and uncertain area of law.  Here’s the slides – let me know what you think! [For those viewing via newsletter: it’s here.]

Season’s Greetings from Gamer/Law

Be the first to comment

Hi everyone – this is a quick message to wish you all a great holiday break and best wishes for 2015!  In the meantime, I found this dusty old letter from a corner of our old client files recently and thought you might like to read it…(click on it for the full version!) (more…)

A practical guide to the EU’s new VAT rules, video games and digital content sales

1 Comment

So, what’s happening?

From 1 January 2015, new EU tax rules will require value added tax (VAT) to be charged on paid digital content (like video games, apps, digital music and video) at the VAT rate of each EU country where its customers are based.

How is this different to the existing system?

Previously digital businesses could charge VAT across the whole EU based on the country where its business was located (e.g. a UK business could in principle charge VAT of 20%, being the UK’s VAT rate).  Now, in principle they will have to use up to 27 VAT rates (one for each EU Member State) if they fall under the new rules. (more…)

The latest games trademark controversy: S.T.A.L.K.E.R and STALKER

5 Comments

If you haven’t played the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of PC video games, you really should – it’s a glorious first person survival game based in and around a fictional Ukraine where the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded a second time and changed the world around it (it’s based loosely on the excellent Stugatsky brothers’ short science fiction novel, Roadside Picnic).  Some of my best memories about emergent storytelling in games come from that series.

Anyway, enough of the games nostalgia.  I’m writing about STALKER (as I shall call it, to save my poor ‘.’ key) for cold legal purposes, because it is generating our latest games trademark controversy.  More in a moment, but first I want to credit two articles on the legal issues with STALKER which were influential on me: this Polygon feature on the story more generally and this PC Gamer article on the trademark troubles just now.

One more thing – if you’re not sure what a trademark actually is, read my quick guide to demystifying trademarks and games.

So, here we go: (more…)

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

Be the first to comment

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

2 Comments

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.

(more…)

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

1 Comment

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

3 Comments

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

Be the first to comment

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…)