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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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You’ve got something worth some money, and he wants a cut. You could fight him off in court, but you just spent all of your money (and then some!) making the game. You can’t make more money until you can sell the game and the Apple Store – not wanting to get caught up in the crazy business – won’t carry it until you get this trademark business worked out. He waited until your game had hit the market but before you were able to recoup your investment, the moment when you’ll be the most vulnerable. You can’t afford to go to court with Langdell, and even if you did your game would languish for years until the case was resolved. Renaming the game will cost you, since you’ve built up a buzz around your game and gotten great reviews. You’ll lose that momentum (and thus a lot of money) if you start over with a brand new name.

So you offer a compromise: You tell Langdell that you’ll rename the game to “Edgy”. The Langdell lawyers fire back and say “not good enough.” Apparently Langdell not only imagines he owns a word in the English language, but he also owns all derivative words. This would be like Game Stop suing you for making a game called “Stopper”. While you’re standing there dumbfounded, Langdell runs out and trademarks the word “Edgy” for himself, just to be sure.

You probably figured out several paragraphs ago that this isn’t a hypothetical story. Edge is real, and unfortunately so is Tim Langdell and his army of shock-troop lawyers. If you ever wondered why the Namco game “Soul Edge” was renamed to “Soul Calibur” here in the west, it’s because of Langdell and his parasitical rent-seeking shenanigans.

Langdell founded Edge Games back in the 80’s, although according to Kotaku he hasn’t made a game in 15 years. His only contribution to the industry is lawsuits, trademark trolling, and name poaching. (He reportedly just grabbed the trademark for “Edge of Twilight,” even though the game has been in the press for years. He also has a blurb for something called “MIRRORS, a game by EDGE” on the Edge Games site. He’s obviously a lot more cagey when going after a leviathan like EA Games compared to his bullying of no-name indie developers.)

What can you do to save your popular little iPhone game that you worked on for so long? Maybe you could go to the International Game Developers Association. Their mission statement is “To advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development, and advocating on issues that affect the developer community.” Man, the IGDA sounds like exactly like the kind of people you need right now. Except that Tim Langdell himself is on the board of the IGDA, which is like having the Incredible Hulk as a member of The International Committee Against Smashing Shit Into Tiny Pieces.

If I’d been running Mobigame, I would have sucked it up and renamed my game from “Edge” to “Tim Langdell sodomizes the corpses of orphaned children who he may or may not have killed with his bare hands.” It’s not quite as catchy, but I’ll bet Langdell didn’t think to trademark it. On the other hand, I’ve never made a game and nobody has ever entrusted me with anything more dangerous than a pencil, so maybe it’s a good thing I’m not coming up with titles for games.

Technically Langdell’s actions are legal. Technically. It’s also legal for a no-talent imbecile to stand next to a brilliant street musician and threaten to blow an air horn until the musician forks over 10% of their tips. You can get away with stuff like this as long as you don’t mind being hated, shunned, and reviled by every decent human being in the civilized world.

The silver lining is that members of The Chaos Engine, a game industry professionals’ think-tank/forum have started a fund to try and stop Langdell. This is way better than my idea, which was to wait for Langdell to be captured by space aliens who experiment on him to see how long a human can live on their own urine. Although either one is good with me.

Shamus Young is the guy behind this movie, this website, this book, these two webcomics, and this program. He’s got a net worth of minus twenty thousand dollars, so he’s not worth suing, Tim. You reptilian bastard.

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