PUBG Lawsuit Against Epic Games’ Fortnite
It was quite a surprise to find out that PUBG Corporation, the subsidiary of Korean publisher Bluehole is suing Epic Games in Korea over copyright infringement, and even more so to learn that the lawsuit was filed in January 2018 and became “public” knowledge in western hemisphere only in June 2018. This situation is both complex and confusing for the fans of both games as well as the analysts in the gaming industry. What is the purpose of the lawsuit, can it be won and if, what would the consequences be?
Simply put, the PUBG Lawsuit claims that Fortnite has copied their Battle Royale concept of gameplay. At the time where PUBG was still in early access and just begun its rise to become the most played game on Steam, Fortnite already existed, but it looked match differently than it does today. It had the gameplay mode that was focused on player versus environment, where one would build all kinds of walls and buildings in order to the fight the onslaught of the NPC’s. It is obvious to everyone that Epic Games added the Battle Royale mode only after seeing how popular PUBG has become, and that they have blatantly copied the PUBG game as they created their “own” version of it.
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The Bluehole vice president, Chang Han Kim, has expressed concerns about Fortnite “replicating the experience for which PUBG is known” way back in September 2017, alluding that they may initiate additional steps. However, this clear hint at the possibility of a lawsuit seemed to everyone to be a mere bluff, so majority thought this to be the end of it. Apparently not since the lawsuit was filed in Korea in January 2018, becoming a public knowledge on the general scene only some five months later. Was it because nobody paid attention, or was the issue largely unimportant in Korea so that the news never got to the gaming audience worldwide? This remains a bit of a mystery.
Why file a suit in Korea?
There are more peculiar circumstances regarding this case. Why is this lawsuit is being filed in Korea, an important market for both parties, for sure, but hardly one that can be compared to USA or China, for example? Is PUBG Corporation trying to float a test balloon to see if such a lawsuit had validity in Korea before taking similar steps on other great markets? It is within the realm of possibility. However, it is important to point out that there is no such thing as international copyright law, and that any verdict reached by Korean courts will not be a binding precedent for any other country in the world. It seems more likely possible that PUBG Corporation may use a positive outcome to settle outside the court with Epic Games regarding other markets.
Was there an actual copyright infringement?
The reactions to the lawsuit were quick and mostly negative for PUBG Corporation; surprisingly enough, most of PUBG fans felt as if PUBG Corp is lashing out against Epic Games for no other reason than the fact that Fortnite is arguably becoming a much more popular Battle Royale game than PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It has been repeatedly pointed out that PUBG itself has been based on the famous Japanese film called “Battle Royale”, where a high school class is brought to a deserted island, supplied with random weapons and survival gear and pitted to fight against each other until there is only one survivor left.
There are two facts that most people take for granted; first is the fact that Epic Games has obviously and blatantly copied the PUBG gameplay mode into its own game. Second is that PUBG seems to be filing this lawsuit while they are “whiny” bunch that cannot cope with the recent success of Fortnite which is seriously overshadowing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
The courts will have to make the decision if there was a copyright infringement, even though the gamers feel they are generally better qualified to do that. With all due respect, they are not, and the mere fact that it is not a common occurrence for one developer to file lawsuits against another does not mean there is not sufficient material for a successful lawsuit. If they decide that there are enough elements apparently “borrowed” from PUBG, anything might happen. We will simply have to wait out for the verdict.
Can you copyright a genre?
One of the most often comments made is that PUBG is acting “silly” since “one cannot copyright the genre.”
It is true that it is impossible to close the floodgates now. The Battle Royale genre has exploded in popularity and we are witnessing new games of this type coming out on almost a weekly basis. The last one to be released was Realm Royale, a game derived from free to play MOBA “Paladins”. It instantly took the first place on Twitch as the most streamed game. Dozen more games are announcing or already presenting some type of a Battle Royale game.
To the best of our knowledge, Epic Games has never made a comment regarding this lawsuit or the PUBG allegations against them. While it is obvious to everyone that the Battle Royale mode was clearly copied, the main question among the fans seems to be if a developer can claim rights on the entire genre. So far in the gaming industry, we had no precedents of developers suing each other because they were imitating somebody’s work and creating spinoffs within the newly discovered, popular gaming genre. The general perception is that it is possible to copyright an entire genre, which is the reason that we have multiple MOBA, MMO, and survival games, to only name a few of them.
The Core of the Problem
But the actual question of copyright infringement goes deeper and is in the details. PUBG Corporation has already filed a lawsuit against Rules of Survival and Knives Out, two blatant imitations of PUBG that not only copied everything down to a dot but also advertised as “PUBG mobile” experiences. This was done before PUBG mobile game came out, which is why its developers claim “immense damage done to their brand.” These games used PUBG as a clear reference, intending to mislead the audience. They also used terms such as “chicken dinner,” copying weapons, game mechanics and other features directly from the game.
The actual problem, according to PUBG Corporation, is the fact that PUBG is built on Unreal Engine 4, a game engine developed by Epic Games. Chang Han Kim commented that PUBG Corporation had nothing against people using the Battle Royale mode.
“We use Unreal Engine to develop PUBG, and we pay a large amount of royalties based on the size of our success to Epic Games. Epic Games always promoted their licensing models [saying], ‘We want to support the success of indie developers,’ and [Bluehole is] this indie developer that has been the most successful one using the Unreal Engine this year, and that’s the problem that I see.”
“Our name was used to officially promote their game without our knowledge. There was no discussion. It was just a bit surprising and disappointing to see our business partner using our name officially to promote the game mode that is pretty similar to us and there was a misunderstanding in the community that we’re officially involved in the project.”
In short, PUBG Corporation feels that Epic Games was first cashing in on their success, and then decided to swoop in on the Battle Royale frenzy at the same time when PUBG entered their most successful phase. Let us not forget that Epic Games were assisting PUBG in solving many technical problems in regard to their game and that the possibilities are that they used both assets and specific “Know-How.” Now, observed from this angle, the entire story gets somewhat different.
PUBG gets the chicken dinner?
What if, in the unlikely event, PUBG Corporation wins this lawsuit? Fortnite would be forced to give up on its Battle Royale mode, but in Korea only, and there would be some financial repercussions. It is also possible that much larger, more focused lawsuits on other markets would follow. However, these would be an entirely different story, last much longer and would cost a much larger amount of money. One thing is however certain, the fans would be deprived of an amazing Battle Royale game, and both PUBG as well as Fortnite fans would hate to see that scenario come true.
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