Experienced Points

Experienced Points
EDGE of Asshattery

Shamus Young | 24 Jul 2009 21:00
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I'm guessing many of us would love to be able make a videogame. There's a natural connection between enjoying something and wanting to be a part of it. When people hear music they like, they play along on air guitar. When they love a movie, they quote it. If they love a book, they write (or at least dream up) some fanfiction. And when they play a game they enjoy, they fantasize about what kind of game they might make if they ever got the opportunity. (But even if you don't want to make a game, just shut up and play along. I'm trying to make a point here. Geez.)

Imagine you get that chance and take the leap to become a game developer. Unless you're rich, this is going to be a risky move. Perhaps you'll need to borrow some money, or quit your day job. Maybe you'll eat ramen noodles for nine months while you live off of credit cards or your spouse's income. It's a huge personal risk and a sacrifice to launch a new business, which is why so few people do it. Of those that do, only a minority of them actually bring a product to market. And of those, only a few actually turn a profit. Most end in bankruptcy. Those are the breaks.

But imagine you're one of the lucky few. You take the plunge, make a viable product, and bring it to market. Let's say you have a modest little iPhone game, and that it's really fun. It's a sort of action / puzzle thing that involves moving a colorful little brick around a stark environment. A lot of the game involves hanging your brick off the edge for a second or two, so you call the game "Edge," which is a nice memorable one-word title for a game like this. You do a search on the name, just to make sure it's not taken. There happens to be a crapload of stuff called "edge" out there. There's a movie, the Europop song, the pizza, the gaming magazine, the musical, and the guy from U2. The list goes on, but all of the things called "Edge" seem to coexist harmoniously. So far there aren't any videogames called "Edge," so you should be good.

You release the game to the iPhone and it gets very favorable reviews and is praised as something unique and different in a sea of bland Bejeweled clones and Tetris knock-offs. Congratulations, you made it. You're a successful indie developer.

Except...

A little after launch, you get a letter from the lawyers of a guy named Tim Langdell. Langdell owns the "international trademark" for "Edge Gaming," and he claims you're infringing on his trademark by using the word "Edge" for your game. Your creation gets pulled from the Apple store.

Now, his claim is outrageous. He's basically claiming to own a simple English word. "Microsoft," "Playstation," and "Magnavox" are trademarks, but they're not normal everyday words used in conversation. If trademark worked this way then the games "Dungeon Maker," "Dungeon Runners," "Dungeon Lords," and "Dungeon Explorer" wouldn't exist, since the word "Dungeon" would have been scarfed up by "Dungeon Siege" years earlier. But "Dungeon Siege" wouldn't exist because "Dungeon Keeper" would already own the word "Dungeon" as of 1999. No, actually it would belong to "Dungeons & Dragons" in 1974. Oops. Make that "The Dungeon," the 1922 movie. With tens of thousands of videogames, hundreds of thousands of movies, and millions of books in the world, it would actually be pretty hard to name anything by now. Ever notice how impossible it is to get a coherent, properly-spelled name in an MMO? If trademarks worked the way Tim Langdell wants them to, then we'd be playing videogames like, "abcdef55, Episode 2" and "Return to Castle asdfghjkl;". Unless some jackass trademarked "castle" and "episode", which they would. (I know copyright is not the same thing as trademark, but if trademark worked this way then you'd have to trademark everything you wanted to copyright, if only to defend yourself from what Langdell is trying to do.)

Langdell isn't demanding you stop using the word "Edge." He's actually insisting you pay him money to license the "edge trademark" from him. This is a simple shakedown.

Nice game you've got here. Would be a shame if something "happened" to it.

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