Activision pwns King’s Quest fan sequel = important lessons for fan mods and sequels

In a nutshell: the King’s Quest games series was in games limbo, some fans tried to rescue it and make a fan sequel, they did it in the right way legally, but Activision has now decided to shut them down.  Shame.  Still, this is another example a simple but useful lesson for anyone wanting to make a fan-mod/sequel for a game: you have to seek the rights holder’s approval before you make the mod/sequel.  Read on for more… (sources: Joystiq and SPONG)

The background

Remember seminal adventure game series King’s Quest by Sierra?  It was awesome, but as with so many games in the Nineties, somehow it fell into games limbo.  Sierra went through various corporate shenanigans and by the early Noughties ended up being owned by Vivendi, which sat on the King’s Quest IP.

Then, along came Phoenix Online Studios, who wanted to make a King’s Quest fan sequel eventually called The Silver Lining.  They could have just started making the game themselves, as so many modders/fans do, but unless you first have the rights holder’s approval then making a fan sequel/mod means you open yourselves up to an IP infringement lawsuit (there may be IP defences available in your jurisdiction, e.g. fair use, but that wouldn’t necessarily cover you completely and, anyway, why take the risk?)  It seems that initially Phoenix did just that, working away at The Silver Lining and presumably hoping to get away with it.  But, in 2005, they received a cease and desist letter from Vivendi.  So, Phoenix then did the right thing legally by asking Vivendi’s consent for them to make The Silver Lining.  This led to an arrangement being reached with Vivendi that would allow the game to go ahead.  So far, so win.

Activision, it say NO!

But, fast forward to the present day (ish) and we remember of course that Vivendi had a $18bn merger with Activision, meaning it no longer called the shots in the Sierra titles.  Activision later said that it wasn’t particularly interested in the Sierra legacy titles it had acquired, including King’s Quest.

It seems that Phoenix tried to negotiate with Activision for the future of Silver Lining, but it didn’t work out.  As Phoenix announced today:

“After talks and negotiations in the last few months between ourselves and Activision, they have reached the decision that they are not interested in granting a non-commercial license to The Silver Lining, and have asked that we cease production and take down all related materials on our website.”

This suggests that the non-commercial licence that Vivendi had granted to Phoenix terminated on the Vivendi/Activision merger (this may have been an express term of the licence, or possibly was a side-effect of a corporate reorgnisation following the merger).  Either way, Activision considered itself no longer bound by the licence and decided, as it is entitled to do as the King’s Quest rights holder, not to renew the licence.  This of course means that Phoenix cannot continue to make The Silver Lining without the risk of an Activision lawsuit.  So, hence Phoenix Online decision that:

“Sadly, after eight years of dedicated work and even more dedicated fans, The Silver Lining project is closing down.

What the future holds for us, as individuals or a team, we cannot say. We have an amazing development team, however, filled with talented and hard-working individuals, and we hope the teamwork and rapport we’ve developed won’t go to waste. We hope that when we do know what the future holds for us, our fans will be there to enjoy what we can give them still.

Again, thank you all so much for everything. This has been a long and crazy road, full of more twists than we could’ve anticipated, but more triumphs and wonderful memories than we could’ve ever hoped for. And for that, to all of you and to everyone on our team, we will always be grateful.”

We can only guess why Activision refused to grant a licence to Phoenix.  The most likely reasons imo are:

  • Activision and Phoenix just couldn’t agree the terms of the licence
  • Activision may have been looking for a royalty, which Phoenix couldn’t/didn’t want to pay
  • Activision has its own plans for King’s Quest
  • Activision didn’t want to open the floodgates for all the other legacy titles it is sitting on
  • Activision just didn’t like The Silver Lining or Phoenix Online enough
  • Activision wants no further King’s Quest titles

These kinds of factors are always going to come up in situations where any dev/publisher holds the rights and a third party wants to use them, even if it’s for the non-commercial purpose of making a fan-sequel/mod just for the love of the game.  Think about it from the right’s holder perspective: even if you’re not doing anything with the title, why would you give control of it to someone else over whom you have limited control and probably don’t expect to get any money?  It’s a shame, and no doubt the King’s Quest fans and gamers generally are disheartened at Activision’s decision, but when games, law and business collide, you don’t always get the result you might have hoped for.

Still, that doesn’t mean that every attempt to make a fan-mod or sequel will go the same way…

Lessons for fans who want to make a fan-mod or sequel of a game:

  • Copying, decompiling, modding or in any way interfering with a game, or using game characters/names/concepts/images/sound/video etc without authorisation, opens you up to the risk of a lawsuit from the rights holder.  Don’t assume that you will be covered by a ‘fair use’ defence – that depends entirely on the law of your jurisdiction as well as what you actually do with the game (e.g. are you making a sequel for commercial or non-commercial purposes? Are you passing off aspects of the game as your own, rather than the rights holder’s?)
  • If you are in any doubt as to the legality of what you are proposing to do, have a chat with a friendly lawyer.  We don’t bite and some of us even like games…
  • Even if you don’t seek legal advice, the safe course is to seek the rights holder’s consent before you do anything – that’s the surest way to stave off a lawsuit.  The rights holder will be able to tell you whether or not it is happy for you to go ahead and, if so, on what terms. 
  • At that point, it’s down to you to get the best deal you can.  Again, if in doubt, have a chat.  Friendly developers or games business folk all may be able to give you a few pointers.  And, again, if in legal doubt, ask a lawyer.
  • But, if you don’t get the approval from the rights holder, for goodness’ sake don’t go ahead and make the game anyway.  You’ll just be back at square one and begging Mr Lawsuit to steamroller you.
  • That’s a positive note to end this post on, isn’t it?

Follow us at or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here!

19 thoughts on “Activision pwns King’s Quest fan sequel = important lessons for fan mods and sequels”

  1. I and my buddies were found to be digesting the nice tips and tricks located on your site while quickly came up with an awful suspicion I had not expressed respect to the site owner for them. The young boys were for that reason stimulated to read through all of them and have now in reality been loving those things. Appreciation for simply being quite accommodating as well as for settling on some incredible useful guides most people are really wanting to learn about. Our own sincere apologies for not saying thanks to you earlier.

  2. I precisely had to appreciate you again. I do not know the things that I might have taken care of in the absence of these tips and hints shared by you over such a topic. Certainly was an absolute hard difficulty in my position, but witnessing the very skilled strategy you processed it took me to weep over gladness. Now i’m happy for your guidance as well as believe you really know what an amazing job you are providing teaching men and women through your webpage. Probably you haven’t come across any of us.

  3. I and my guys ended up reviewing the excellent tips found on your web site and so before long got a horrible suspicion I never expressed respect to the site owner for those techniques. These women happened to be absolutely warmed to read them and have now truly been making the most of those things. Thanks for being considerably thoughtful and then for pick out these kinds of extraordinary information millions of individuals are really eager to learn about. My very own sincere apologies for not expressing gratitude to you earlier.

  4. I’m just writing to make you understand of the wonderful discovery my friend’s girl obtained using your web page. She learned lots of pieces, not to mention what it’s like to have an incredible teaching character to make the rest without hassle fully understand several impossible topics. You truly surpassed our own expected results. Thank you for imparting such invaluable, trustworthy, educational and in addition fun thoughts on that topic to Emily.

  5. I’m just commenting to let you know what a excellent discovery our girl undergone visiting your blog. She figured out a wide variety of issues, most notably how it is like to possess a marvelous coaching character to let folks without problems comprehend various very confusing subject areas. You undoubtedly exceeded people’s expectations. Thanks for imparting these informative, trustworthy, explanatory and as well as easy tips about that topic to Janet.

  6. I in addition to my buddies were found to be looking at the good strategies on the website and all of a sudden got a terrible suspicion I had not expressed respect to the web blog owner for those strategies. The women were for that reason very interested to see all of them and have sincerely been taking advantage of those things. Many thanks for getting quite accommodating and also for using this sort of essential guides most people are really eager to know about. My very own sincere apologies for not expressing appreciation to sooner.

  7. Thanks a lot for providing individuals with an extraordinarily marvellous chance to read critical reviews from this blog. It is often so fantastic and as well , packed with a lot of fun for me and my office fellow workers to search your website on the least thrice per week to learn the fresh issues you have got. And indeed, I’m so always astounded for the attractive suggestions served by you. Some 3 tips in this posting are in fact the simplest I’ve ever had.

  8. Thanks so much for providing individuals with an extremely special opportunity to discover important secrets from this blog. It can be so terrific plus jam-packed with a good time for me and my office peers to search your site minimum 3 times every week to learn the fresh stuff you have got. And indeed, we are certainly satisfied concerning the fantastic things you serve. Selected two areas in this posting are in truth the finest we’ve had.

  9. I needed to compose you that little bit of observation in order to say thank you yet again on the incredible secrets you’ve featured here. This is pretty generous of people like you to grant easily just what some people could have supplied as an e-book in making some money for themselves, chiefly considering the fact that you might have tried it if you wanted. Those suggestions in addition served as the fantastic way to fully grasp that other people have a similar keenness just like my personal own to see very much more related to this matter. I know there are lots of more fun periods up front for many who looked over your blog post.

  10. My husband and i felt quite thrilled that Michael could deal with his researching with the precious recommendations he got in your web pages. It is now and again perplexing to just find yourself freely giving information which many people may have been selling. And we also realize we’ve got the writer to give thanks to because of that. The main illustrations you’ve made, the straightforward web site menu, the friendships your site make it possible to instill – it’s mostly extraordinary, and it’s assisting our son in addition to us do think the idea is excellent, which is exceptionally serious. Thank you for all!

  11. Thank you for your entire labor on this website. My mum delights in carrying out research and it’s really simple to grasp why. We hear all relating to the compelling manner you present simple thoughts by means of this website and boost participation from other individuals on the area of interest then our favorite daughter is without question understanding so much. Enjoy the remaining portion of the new year. You are always carrying out a great job.

  12. I want to show my appreciation to the writer just for bailing me out of this particular situation. Just after looking throughout the world wide web and obtaining proposals that were not powerful, I thought my entire life was done. Existing without the presence of strategies to the problems you’ve fixed by way of your good short article is a serious case, and those that could have in a negative way damaged my career if I hadn’t come across your website. Your good mastery and kindness in dealing with a lot of stuff was invaluable. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not come across such a step like this. I can also at this point look forward to my future. Thank you very much for your skilled and effective guide. I will not think twice to endorse the sites to any individual who needs recommendations about this area.

  13. My wife and i were very thankful when Peter managed to carry out his research through your ideas he had from your weblog. It is now and again perplexing just to possibly be giving freely hints which people might have been trying to sell. So we see we’ve got the website owner to be grateful to for this. The specific illustrations you have made, the easy blog navigation, the relationships you will give support to engender – it is most remarkable, and it’s really letting our son and us feel that the content is interesting, which is certainly unbelievably important. Thanks for all the pieces!

  14. I must get across my respect for your generosity in support of folks that must have assistance with this one topic. Your very own commitment to getting the solution up and down was really valuable and have regularly empowered regular people just like me to attain their desired goals. Your personal valuable guideline signifies a lot to me and much more to my fellow workers. Warm regards; from each one of us.

  15. Thanks a lot for giving everyone remarkably special chance to read in detail from this site. It is always so kind and also packed with fun for me personally and my office acquaintances to visit your web site at least 3 times a week to study the latest tips you have. Not to mention, I’m at all times impressed considering the stunning secrets you serve. Some 1 ideas on this page are easily the most efficient we’ve had.

  16. I happen to be commenting to make you be aware of of the amazing discovery my wife’s girl experienced viewing your site. She mastered numerous pieces, with the inclusion of what it is like to possess an excellent giving mindset to get other folks just grasp some specialized issues. You truly did more than people’s expectations. I appreciate you for giving the helpful, trusted, explanatory not to mention cool tips on your topic to Jane.

  17. Thanks so much for giving everyone remarkably remarkable opportunity to discover important secrets from here. It can be very pleasing and jam-packed with amusement for me and my office friends to visit your blog nearly three times weekly to find out the new secrets you have. And indeed, we’re at all times contented with your mind-blowing hints you serve. Certain 2 ideas in this post are undoubtedly the most suitable we’ve had.

  18. My wife and i ended up being more than happy when Jordan could round up his survey using the ideas he received when using the web site. It is now and again perplexing just to find yourself releasing tips and tricks people today have been trying to sell. We really grasp we’ve got the writer to be grateful to for this. Most of the illustrations you made, the simple site navigation, the friendships your site make it possible to create – it’s everything awesome, and it is making our son and the family believe that this theme is fun, and that’s especially pressing. Thanks for all the pieces!

Comments are closed.