Friday, March 30, 2007

Obama's Campaign Visits Second Life

Barack Obama, presidential hopeful, has decided to simulcast a real-life visit with an Iowa family in his HQ in Second Life. The simulcast will not be live video feed, but instead, will have a licensed avatar mimic his mannerisms over a stream of his audio. I do not claim to understand, I just report this stuff.

See Obama's Officially Licensed Avatar Run for President

There is also an Obama rally at SL's Capitol Hill this Saturday for any one who cannot get enough virtual campaigning.

Speaking of virtual politics, check this article about the French Presidential election heating up in SL. There appears to be virtual violence in the form of push guns and pig grenades...oh French people.

The French Fight...For Once

PS3s banned in UK Prisons

Citing fears of internet capability, UK Home Secretary John Reid banned all PS3s in prisons. The main concern in that the consoles can give and receive radio signals.

No PS3 in prison? I never would have...

Apparently the PS2 got banned after inmates used it to watch porn.

Spyro makers sued over Boy's epileptic seizure

A young boy suffered a seizure while playing Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, a game mostly held to be crap in general. After not heeding the warning at the beginning of the game, the boy's mother is no suing Vivendi, Sony, Sierra, and the video store that rented the game. The woman claims the companies were, "negligent, careless, and reckless with regard to the design and manufacture," of the game; that is what the warning label is for lady.

Spyro Suit

Nintendo got sued a couple of years ago by angry parents whose child had died playing N64 in a similar epileptic incident. Nintendo won on summary judgment after the other side failed to respond. I bet the defendants in this case will have similar luck.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Games for Guns

In some unsafe neighborhoods of Mexico City, the Mexican government has created a program where its citizens can exchange firearms for computers (for big firearms) or an Xbox or cash (smaller firearms). Microsoft was kind enough to donate software for the computers exchanged. Guns that are handed over are destroyed by the Mexican Army.

Juegos Por Armas

How ironic would it be if the games that they are distributing actually induced the violence they are attempting to stop. I do not think that games cause violent behavior, but it does seem strange that the real-life danger is swapped for the less dangerous virtual violence. Of course, a few hundred miles north, GRAW2 is being seized by the same Mexican government.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mexican Governor Orders Seizures of Clancy's Ghost Recon 2

Jose Reyes Baeza Terrazas, governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, has ordered all copies of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, a shooter based in Juarez, Mexico, to be seized. The game follows troops fighting against Mexican rebels in 2014 in Juarez and El Paso. The governor decried the game instilled poor values and inaccurately portrayed the people of his city as violent. The proper authorities are gathering information about where the game is sold and distributed so that can begin their campaign.

GRAW2 Seized!

What ever happened to: It is just a game?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gears of War Movie Rights Secured

New Line, the makers of my favorite game-turned-movie Mortal Kombat, has secured the rights to make a Gears of War movie written by Stuart Beattie, the writer of Collateral. Although certainly not the first game to movie franchise IP, I cannot help but feel that more games will be made into movies.

Gears of War: The Movie

Most game movies either suck, do not stay true to the game, or both. The only two I can remember liking are Mortal Kombat (only the first one) and Doom (I'm not exactly sure why I liked this one, probably because the plot wasn't totally stock and still managed to fit the game). They fall victim to the exact same problem that famous movies-turned-games do: reliance on a name to make an otherwise crap product saleable. Lets see if GoW works out better than most.

Jack Thompson Countersues T2

Very predictably, Jack Thompson, the preacher of puff, has countersued Take-Two alleging violations of his freedom of speech and multiple violations under RICO (Racketeering legislation) for T2's campaign against him. Honestly, this guy bugs me so much that I cannot even cover this story any more, just read it if you care to hear what he has to say (I do not).

Thompson Arrogantly Defends Himself

While I believe that Thompson's exploits can be justified from a moral standpoint, how can the guy expect any one to respect him (independent of his right to say it) when he drops comments about Rockstar in a legal motion like: "What else would one expect of Scottish sociopaths sipping their single malt Glenlivet in between brainstorming software programming sessions?" He then brings up September 11 and, after claiming that T2's influence on pop culture breads extremism, he continues "What is America's rebuttal to the Islamic Fascist recruitment call? This counterclaim is the rebuttal, not just to these terrorists but to Take-Two." WTF?

WeeWorld Tries to Back Out of Suit with Nintendo, Nintendo says Naw

WeeWorld, publishers of software used to create animated avatars for AOL instant messenger, previously sued Nintendo claiming that the Wii's Mii system violated WeeWorld's trademarks. After realizing that now is not the best time to file suit due to financial concerns and uncertainty about how a similar dispute in the UK will play out, WeeWorld wants to dismiss the current action without prejudice so the matter can be litigated at a different date. Nintendo, confident in its position, wants the suit dismissed with prejudice. They feel their case is strong and they want the matter resolved.

WeeWorld Wants Waver

I have not yet seen a case where the instigator wants to drop the suit but the accused will not let him. Judging from Nintendo's evidence that WeeWorld didn't adopt its marks until after Wii's release in the US and its fair use defense for using homonyms, I can see why Nintendo wants this case to be settled or over. Looks like WeeWorld was a wee bit too hasty...

The Sims Art Show

EA has teamed up with some Art schools to offer an art competition where submissions must be related to EA's The Sims franchise. Sponsored by Ford, the competition will encompass mediums such as machinima, paintings, illustrations, sculptural work, fashion designs, cinematography, and interactive displays.

SimArt Competition

According to the rules: By entering this Contest, entrants agree (i) that Sponsor may post their entries on Sponsor’s and it agents’ respective websites, and has the right to use the entries, including, without limitation, by making them available for download on Sponsor’s website and in any and all media and in connection with this Contest, publicity and advertising for Electronic Arts Inc or other promotions by Sponsor without any further attribution, notification or compensation to entrants and, except if winner is a resident of TN or otherwise where prohibited by law, to use entrant’s first name, last name, school name, or user or screen name, and/or hometown therewith. Looks like the entrants will lose most of the sticks in the copyright bundle, but not all of them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Video Game Decency Act of 2007

Fred Upton, a Republican senator, has reintroduced the Video Game Decency Act, a piece of legislation directed at game companies that lie to the ESRB to obtain a lower rating than they should. From Gamasutra, "According to the wording of the bill, any failing to disclose video game content 'with the intent of obtaining a less restrictive age-based content rating' will be treated as an 'unfair or deceptive act or practice affecting commerce' as judged by the Federal Trade Commission Act." Upton declared the point of the legislation is to, "restore parents’ trust in a system in which game makers had previously done an end-run around the process to deliver violent and pornographic material to our kids.”

Video Game Decency Act: Take Two

Lets see if this legislation expires, as its predecessor did...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Take-Two on the Offensive

Take-Two has filled a preemptive suit against Jack Thompson to stop him from trying to declare T2's upcoming releases, Grand Theft Auto 4 and Manhunt 2, public nuisances under Florida law. I guess T2 was sick of Thompson's sh*t. Thompson tried to expose T2's lack of morality by making reference to the reason stockholder coup. Ouch!

T2: the Offensive

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Virtual Tax Threats

In an article on CNNMoney, Grace Wong gives an update on the tax implications of virtual transactions. While it is settled that any exchange which results in profits for US dollars can be taxable, the whole area become murkier when the question of how to treat virtual exchanges that do not directly bring any US dollars to the table. Bartering is taxable in the real world --> should it be in virtual worlds?

Virtual Taxes: An Inevitability?

Edward Castronova sees this taxation as unavoidable within the next ten years, but probably not going to happen in the next three. It seems that there are so many problems with policing: I do not see how it can work unless something like SOE's Station Exchange in Everquest is implemented so that all transactions can be accounted for.

ABA Reviews Second Life

The American Bar Association's journal published an article this month about Second Life and the legal implications of virtual lawyers. It is an interesting review of some of the legal angles involved with these virtual worlds, but does not answer very many questions. If anything it reinforces the idea that so much is unsettled on the legal frontier of these games that regulation seems far away.

ABA guidelines for Virtual Lawyers...there are no guidelines

One interesting portion deal with client solicitation. The ABA currently prohibits direct solicitation of clients that do not have a prior close relationship with the lawyer. So what if an avatar appears at my law office in Second Life, I give advice, but in effect I am directly soliciting real-life business through the game? I suppose they could treat as if the avatar had walked into my office = no direct solicitation. Or they could treat it as "talk to me about this fantasy world...oh, by the way, I can help you with that problem in the real courts" = probably direct solicitation. Very fuzzy.

Australians Get Around Ban on Getting Up

Marc Ecko's Getting Up is a game set in a futuristic city in which the resident's freedom of speech is oppressed by the government. Similarly, Australia decided to ban the import and retail sale of the game. However, an Australian website,, owned by an American company, Mindscape, offers the game for download directly. Direct downloads occupy a legal gray area since it is not specifically mentioned in the legislation and the site from which the game is downloaded doesn't necessarily have to be an Australian site.

Getting Up Getting Downloaded

Apparently, the game has already been pulled from the Quicky site. Boo!

Midway sued for alleged stealing of Psi-Ops IP

A Hollywood screenwriter, William L. Crawford III, is suing Midway, claiming that they stole the idea for their Psi-Ops video game, registered with the copyright office in 2004, from a screenplay he registered in 1998. Crawford's film was never actually made, but he spent time and energy promoting it and is claiming that Midway caught wind of it through one of his efforts. Indeed, the similarities between the game and the script are compelling. Both feature government agents with paranormal powers fighting terrorists with paranormal powers, and even some of the characters, such as a foreign pyrotechnic with a troubled past and slender masculine build, are replicated.

Midway: Alleged Thief

One of the comments below the story on Gamespot raises a good point: why didn't Crawford sue right away? It is because he was waiting for Midway to put resources in to promoting the game and making it a viable franchise. Once it became a viable franchise, Midway would want to hold on to it, not shelve it. The short and skinny: this way, Crawford gets paid more...a lot more

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sony and Immersion Put Suit Behind Them, Form Agreement

Sony and Immersion have finally come to an agreement, putting their much publicized legal battle behind them. Sony was hit with $91,000,000 judgment in favor of Immersion, for their infringement on Immersion's Force Feedback patent involving rumble technology. According to GameDailyBiz, "In Immersion's form 8-K, the company revealed that Sony will pay quarterly installments of $1,875,000 (for a total of $22,500,000) beginning on March 31, 2007 and ending on December 31, 2009; Sony will also pay Immersion certain other fees and royalty amounts. In addition, Immersion has agreed not to sue Sony or enforce the original permanent injunction that was issued back in March 2005." Sony will also pay the $91 million.

Rumble Again Sony, The Suit Finally Settled

Not bad Immersion, not bad.

Students Encouraged to Play PSP in Class...Sweet

Sony has announced an initiative aimed at trying to put PSPs in the hand of even more youngsters by having them play in school. Richard Owen, a testing teacher, found the initial response positive; he said the students benefitted from being able to work at their own pace. They had the children play Buzz! - a quiz game designed for students of that age.

PSP making school actually cool

Wait. If I play PSP in school, I probably will not want to play PSP when I get home...or will I? Plus, who is buying all of these PSPs? The government? Some think Sony is using this to plug its products, but they could potentially make a boat load. It is only a matter of time before educational games become serious money makers.

Proposed Law Will Allow Confiscation of Unrated Games

A law proposed by NY State Republican Rep. Brian Kolb, contains not only the boilerplate no sale of violent games to minors, but an additional capability that the Courts would be able to confiscate unrated games or games without a label prominently displayed.

More doomed VG Regulation

I'm not sure this legislation will have any real impact, since there are not a large number of developers out there who do not already go through the ratings process, but it still seems like yet another measure that will make it very difficult for indie developers to distribute their product. Especially now that the Ratings process is going to become more comprehensive, will these costs be prohibitive?

"Video Games Made Me Do It" Defense Fails in Murder Trial

Patrick Morris, a 19-year-old, was convicted for killing a 15-year-old. His "video games made me do it" defense didn't seem to hold on given his past of emotional trouble and the fact that he had been eating mushrooms. As voiced in earlier entries, these video game violence arguments frustrate me. At least blame it on the mushrooms.

Morris convicted

John Edwards HQ Second Life

John Edwards suffered yet another setback to his presidential bid when 10 Zen Monkeys, a group of Second Life Griefers (people who harass virtual worlds for the fun of it), began spreading Marxist propaganda, pictures of John Edwards in blackface, and other obscene materials. Apparently, the vandals were Republicans sporting Bush '08 stickers. Newsflash griefers, Bush ain't running in '08 (I hope).

Edwards hit by Virtual Vandals

I do not think there should be the same consequences for these actions as there would be if a real campaign HQ were vandalized, but frankly, I cannot figure out why? Perhaps I am seeing these virtual worlds as being too real. Maybe there are no consequences, because virtual worlds are generally without consequence. If anything, the vandals have only increased awareness of Edwards and his campaign: no press is bad press.

Take-Two Takeover and Litigation Update

Take-Two finds itself in deep trouble again. This time shareholders are organizing their power to oust the CEO, Paul Eibeler, and review the CFO's employment status. This shake-up comes in the midst of backdating options scandals. Some believe that T2 may have used the 9/11 confusion to try and back date options, hoping they would not get caught. Seems real low to me.

Take-Two just cannot stay out the headlines

9/11 Twist on Options Scandal

In other Take-Two news, their litigation involving the "Hot Coffee" Mod has been stayed so that settlement talks may proceed.

Hot Coffee Mod made this game Hot, Hot, Hot

China Fears the Influence of Virtual Economies

Beijing has set up new restrictions on virtual currencies, trying to curb their exchange for hard items or legal tender. They have banned the trading of virtual currencies, such as the popular QQ coins, for "material products." China is afraid that these virtual economies could destabilize their own currency and markets. This is probably not too far off the mark: what is China to do when a worker can earn more money playing a video game than they can working in a factory?

Oh China...always trying to control the internet...tsk...tsk

As much as China would like to think they can stop this, I believe it is nearly impossible. As long as there are people earning wages in their country generating virtual wealth, it will have a known exchange rate. If there is an exchange rate, there will be exchange.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Lawsuit Headed to the House of Lords

Atari, creator of the popular RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise is being sued by former employee Chris Sawyer over the nonpayment of Royalties he claims amount to about $4.8 million. According to Lord Justice Chadwick, "This is one of those unusual cases in which a claim which the court considers has no real prospect of success (as the law stands) should, nevertheless, be permitted to go trial." Sorry Chris, looks like you lose. The Court wants to handle the issue of Atari's counterclaim which involves Sawyer breaching his contract by allowing Frontier, another developer, to create a demo for the franchise, inducing them to breach their contractual obligations to Atari.

See you in the House of Lords Buddy!

If the courts follow precedent, Atari will lose on its inducement counterclaim. The House of Lords is considering these inducement claim in two other pending cases; all will have to wait and see.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Simone's Account Hacked

Simone Stern, a prominent fashion designer denizen of Second Life, has had her account hacked and about $1500 dollars worth of Linden Bucks stolen. Stern's real-life counterpart asked LL to freeze her account, but they said that can take 5-7 days. The thief transferred the money between multiple avatars and eventually escaped.

Simone got the Shaft

Who is in charge of capturing this virtual theft? Should the cops step in? Should Linden Labs? It is hard to say who would have an easier time tracking the thief: the in-game gods or the po-po? Are there virtual arrests in Second Life? It seems like being punished for a crime in Second Life, would mean that your first life might be screwed...oh probably do not have a first life.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Call of Duty: Finest Hour's developer Spark born under a bad sign

When formed, Spark looked to become another shining star in the video game industry. With an All-Star team of talent from the top down, they appeared positioned to begin creating top shelf games immediately. However, the company's path has been anything but smooth. Bogged down by poor management and mounting lawsuits, the company seems practically fated for doom. Check this Gamasutra Article about the uneven life of the studio:

Spark's Controversy

From its lawsuits with EA, where a lot of its talent came from, to its lawsuit with Activision, their first employer, Spark has faced...adversity.

Here is a copy of the original contract between Spark and Activision - people are incredulous that the contract was released, but for an aspiring lawyer such as myself, it is really helpful to see a template.

Spark's contract with Activision

Take-Two begins Settlement Talks for Content Mislabel

Take-Two has agreed to begin settlement talks regarding the content mislabeling of sexually explicit scenes in its Grand Theft Auto games. The related litigation in Manhattan has been stayed.

Labeling Content: Take Two

Monday, March 5, 2007

Body Doubles in Second Life

A Second Life company ran by Persia Christensen now allows users to have famous celebs for avatars. Ever want to see Britney Spears engaged in some raw sexual act, but without K-Fed? Now you can actually be her and it is all available for the low low price of $13 dollars.

Talk About Stunt Doubles!

This mod of second life could present serious IP issues. Celebrities generally have protection over their likeness. With all of the increased attention that virtual worlds are receiving, I would not be surprised if a lawsuit is instituted quickly to protect these stars' right of publicity. Here is an analysis from Legally Blind:

Legally Blind's Take

The right of publicity is a state, common-law right. I guess it falls most near trademark law, though it seems to have aspects of copyright too - are bodies creations worthy of artistic protection? What if plastic surgery has significantly altered appearance? Does a boob job satisfy the required de minimis of creative expression? Anyway, I found the seminal case: Tiger Woods v. Jireh Publishing in my trademark book. See Legally Blind's Take for a link to the case.

Halted Indiana Bill Rehalted

Despite a recommendation by the Indiana's State Senate Committee to the Senate to approve a bill that would impose a $1000 dollar fine for selling M and AO games to minor, the bill has been halted again because of 1st amendment issues.

The life of an Indiana Bill: Halted and Rehalted

I'm not sure why states do not look to each other to see when types of legislation will not pass constitutional muster, but I assume that these advocates hope that if they push enough, their causes will no longer be seen as unconstitutional. Actually, I shouldn't assume anything, cause you know what they say about assumptions. But, for some reason, I don't feel like the ass here...

The Trouble with Patents

Here is a somewhat interesting article by David Sirlin, mostly venting his frustration about the inadequacies of the patent system with respect to electronics. He complains about how obvious many of the non-obvious inventions are, and other general hinderances to innovation in the electronics world such as companies defensive postures regarding their IP portfolios and the excessive term limits of patents. He also seems incredulous that patent would protect the idea not just the expression: FYI, the copyright in the program itself already protects the expression, the patent protects the idea.

Another Sound Off on the Patent System

While he addresses many of the shortcomings of the current system, he also overlooks a few, such as untrained/lazy/poor examiners. This guy really is just preaching to the choir. One sign of hope however, is that some of the lawyers in the video game world I have spoke with don't really see patents as an effective offensive tool. While the Sega case shows patents can be utilized as such, this case is more the exception than the rule.

Konami Slot Machines Pulled from Casinos

Konami, manufacturer of the slot machines Most Wanted, Sergeant Fritter, Billionaires, and Sticks and Stones, has had its machines pulled in Canada for flashing a winning jackpot across the screen for 1/5 of a second after each spin. Apparently, subliminal messages are a no-no, even though the machines are paying at a normal rate.

Konami Slots Pulled, but not how you think

Having watched people play slots for hours on end, the last thing they need are subliminal messages encouraging them to play even more.