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Lawsuits are the exact opposite of video games: a lot of work, the more people involved the less fun they get, and you absolutely cannot use a shotgun to solve your problems. But a billion dollar industry is a greater guarantee of finding lawyers than a visit to the eighth circle of hell. And the results are more painful.
5. Trolling the Legal System
Gamers have a bad reputation and people like Erik Estavillo are why. He’s the sort of player who makes the Matrix look like a good idea, because at least then we could get electricity out of him. And lock him in a glass bowl. He was banned from the Playstation Network for “repeatedly violating the terms of service”, then sued claiming that Sony “infringed his right to free speech.” Which has to be the most formal way possible of admitting he was being an asshole online. The only thing we can’t tell is whether he was being racist, sexist, or homophobic, but he went on to be such a dick in court we’re going to guess at least all three.
When you’re banned from an online gaming network, that’s how even the most antisocial people on Earth tell you to stop being such a douche. Erik did the exact opposite. He claimed that the ban caused him pain and suffering and demanded $55,000. At which point he might as well have demanded a mermaid who was totally up for taking his virginity.
Demanding that people give you money for cursing in video games is how you take the piss out of the government for not having conscription. When you sue for not being allowed to curse at children playing games, you’ve not only forgotten how to work, you’ve forgotten how to even play. Erik claimed that the Playstation Network is the only way he can truly interact with other people, a fact which probably made the judge feel even better about upholding the ban. The judge granted the Sony’s motion to dismiss. That’s not even finding against Erik, that’s where Sony and the court agree that this is a waste of time and apologise to each other for getting involved with his stupid ass.
4. Suing Virtual Tasers
Second Life is a shared virtual world where people can escape the stupidities of the real world. Usually by inventing brand new ones. Including brand new genitals, the source of all problems.
But real world stupidity followed them. Taser International sued Linden Labs, the company behind Second Life, and not just because Second Life is a competitor even better at using electricity to completely prevent people from doing anything physical. When even the people with hand-held lightning bolts turn to lawyers, that proves lawyers are the most painful weapon in the world. Besides, you can only use tasers on threats that actually exist. Lawyers will happily file a lawsuit against a double-parked griffin and charge you real money for every page. And that would still be a more realistic problem than this lawsuit.
Taser demanded over $75,000 in damages because Second Life users were making pretend Tasers. The complaint was over 100 pages long, proving that lawyers are paid by the word, and that in a very specific way they aren’t stupid. It’s not a great advert for your self-defense product when you announce you’ve been damaged by pretend people clicking on things. In fact, when your day job is building boxes that send hundreds of thousands of volts into people, most of whom survive, you really shouldn’t remind people that lawsuits are a thing they can do. Taser suing someone else is like Jack the Ripper sending people laundry bills for the blood stains.
The word Taser isn’t just a brand. It’s a noun, verb, and how security guards say “My parents didn’t love me enough and my employers didn’t train me enough.” Suing someone else for pretending to zap people with electricity isn’t protecting your brand, it’s daring Zeus to start existing and hit you with two thousand years worth of royalties and voltage.
We’re not saying the case was comically irrelevant, but Linden Labs didn’t even bother to respond. And this is a company whose day job is dealing with pretend cat people and imaginary sex toys. Being ignored is the worst possible result for a weapon company. Even when they get sued over wrongful deaths, which happens, at least that’s kind of an advert. Three months later Taser filed a Notice of Voluntary Case Dismissal, which is how a plaintiff legally gets their coat and goes hom.
3. The Duke Nukem Disaster
Take Two and 3DRealms spent months suing and counter-suing each other over the then-unreleased Duke Nukem Forever. This was back before we knew it would be ugliest ruination of a fun thing since the invention of syphilis. It was like two knights jousting to the death for the honor of Tila Tequila. The massive expenses, difficulty, and extended development time for Duke Nukem Forever was like going through a nine month pregnancy for a fart. Except that when properly deployed a fart can be funny.
The battle went on long enough for one of the companies to be shut down and eaten by others before it was resolved. 3D Realms woke up one morning and found that they no longer existed. But by that point they’d been working on Duke Nukem Forever for a decade, proving that “not noticing that times have changed” and “bad things” weren’t accidents but their new core strategy.
After twelve months of legal action both sides realized that all they were doing was giving what money they had left to their lawyers. There are good lawyers, in the same way some people sticking knives into helpless bodies are doing it to remove an appendix. And a good solid case of peritonitis would have been better use of their time. Both sides agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning that neither side is allowed to come back to the court with the same story later. So if you’ve ever wanted a court case so childish it makes a judge act like an angry mother, now you have one.
2. Starforce vs the FBI
Legal action is a tool in the same way a length of feces-smeared toilet unblocking wire is a tool: occasionally necessary, but time-consuming and awful to have to use. Which is why sewer-mutants who’ve adapted to live in constant legal shit are so keen to use it as a threat. They know that no sane person wants to get involved in a fight with them.
Starforce sounds like an awesome science-fiction series and is almost the exact opposite, because it’s real, no fun, and the technology is terrible. Starforce was a very special Digital Rights Management (DRM) system which prevented people from copying games, apparently by preventing their computer from doing anything. The software installed a set of low-level drivers designed to interfere with the function of CD and DVD burning hardware. Even when the game it was designed to protect wasn’t being played. Or had been entirely uninstalled.
When Boingboing pointed out that this software might cause problems, Starforce responded with all the sanity and restraint of a five-year old on the Supreme Court. They threatened prosecution under eleven counts of international law and threatened the website with FBI harassment. We only wish they had contacted the FBI, because we’re fairly sure that if you waste a federal agency’s time that badly they can call it treason and shoot you.
1. The Legal Scrolls
When Mojang studios announced their upcoming “Scrolls”, Bethesda studios sued them for pretending to be “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”. If you could tell the difference between those games well done on being able to read, count, notice punctuation, and not professionally pretending to be brain-damaged for money. Unlike Bethesda’s lawyers. It was the worst possible example of the automatic lawyer-hammer: a big company blind-firing legal action at a smaller studio and simply assuming that the poor peons would flee in terror.
Mojang is the company behind Minecraft, the most beloved independent game success in living memory. People have built entire worlds in there. Mojang and founder “Notch” are the small studio success story. Suing them for such a ridiculous reason wasn’t protecting their brand, it was Bethesda trying to scoop EA’s yearly “Worst Company Ever” award.
When you publish games like Skyrim and start demanding money from independent studios, you’d better be trying to create a real-life fairytale villain as research for an upcoming videogame.
The case dragged on for six months before being dismissed. Half a year of constant legal hassle levied on small outfit without experts to absorb it. That’s non-trivial. That’s time those people will never get back, because they can’t afford entire legal departments to go look stupid for them. This nonsense permanently deformed the studio’s future just because the big company has money and can do it without thinking. There has never been a clearer demonstration of how lawyers are utterly disconnected from industry they claim to serve. The actual cases and lives they affect are just fodder for their gold-plated invoice engines. Even Notch himself pointed out that it was the lawyers, not the people at Bethesda who actually create things for the company.
When even your victim points out that you employ cool people who make wonderful games to sell, and other people who mount stupid lawsuits, you might want to check what your company is for again. And adjust your payroll accordingly.
If you enjoyed this list, you might enjoy: The Portlandians video compilation of his Top-10 Retro Gaming Consoles! and The 5 MOST DISASTROUSLY COPIED VIDEO GAMES.
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