Thursday, January 31, 2008

ELSPA Claims 90 Percent of DS Users in US Using R4 Pirating Chip

John Hillier, spokesman for the UK's Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association's intellectual property crime unit, stated that "it's thought" that 90 percent of American DS owners pirate software using the R4 chip.

90...try .9

I understand Hillier's concern about the implications of such a powerful pirating tool, but seeing as how this is the first mention I have heard of the chip (thanks Destructoid for calling me out as having my "face in a first-generation, un-backlit Gameboy Advance this whole time"), I think that figure may be a bit preposterous...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lawyers Win Again in GTA Hot Coffee Suit

Take Two Interactive has set up a site for folks who were offended by the Hot Coffee mod available in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas after losing a court battle over the improper game content. The amount of settlement received depends on how much proof of purchase you can supply, but do not get to excited with receipt in hand because the max payout is a whopping $35! At worst, you could only receive $5. Check the link for full information on receiving the settlement you deserve. Speaking of deserving, because of their great public service, the lawyers are taking home a cool million; they should have had the settlement site just give away the "And all I got was this lousy T-Shirt" shirts.

T2 Pays Out

Having read about five different coverages of the story, it is clear that the writers out there at video game sites, really are taking issue with the fact that the lawyers are getting paid so much. I don't blame them, but it is the nature of the class-action lawsuit beast: usually, the individual payouts are not large, but the cost of litigating is very high, and the lawyers get to take about a 1/3. One site mentioned an estimate of about $2.5 million in settlement, which would put these lawyers fees in that general range. To me, more silly than the lawyers' fees, is the idea that somebody was actually offended $35 worth by having the option to hack a game and see something they do not want to see (I know the hoopla was over the rating and "misleading" consumers). It is also very strange to me the way they set up the settlements. I realize that paying based on the harm suffered is not an option, but proof of purchase has nothing to do with whether or not you were harmed by the actions of the suit. On top of all of that, you have to read and send back a huge contract, not is probably not worth $5 of your time.

Xbox Obsession Claimed Motive in Baby Murder Trial

In his closing arguments during a trial for the murder of 17-month old Alayiah Truman, Assistant District Attorney, James Berardinelli, alleged that Tyrone Spellman beats his daughter to death after she knocked over his Xbox 360. Spellman was said to have played up to six hours a day: "[Spellman's] entire life and daily routine is about playing [Ghost Recon]...What do you think someone with that kind of obsession is going to do when it gets knocked over?...The skull fractures on that baby are what happened." Whoa!

Kotaku Coverage

Philly Inquirer Coverage

Spellman confessed to hitting his daughter in the face twice, and throwing her against a chair, but claimed that he never meant to kill her. His confession came after being held for nearly 24 hours in detention, and the defense claims that the confession was coerced in an attempt to protect the girl's mother, Mia Truman. Will game obsession be seen as powerful enough to provide motive for murder? I want to look into this further...

2/1/08: Spellman was convicted of 3rd degree murder.

Buzztime Sues Sony for Trademark Violations

Buzztime, proprietor of pub trivia games, is suing Sony over its Buzz! franchise of trivia games. The suit alleges "malicous, fraudulent, knowing, willful and deliberate" trademark violations and seeks destruction of infringing products, actual and punitive damages, legal fees, and an order to not register three pending trademark applications containing the word Buzz! (one with the exclamation point and two without) filed by Sony. However, Buzztime doesn't have a trademark on the word "buzz," only on derivative marks like buzztime, buzzhead, share the buzz, and buzzkids. Buzztime claims they have some 13 million players each month.

What's All This Buzz About?

Trademark are around to protect the use of phrase, slogans, and other identifying marks in relation to specific products. Generally, the purpose of the trademark is to designate the origin of goods. Here, Buzztime is in the trivia video game business, so Sony's use of a similar mark could be infringing. However, trademark law takes into account the relation between the mark and the goods, giving four levels of classification: generic ("Computer" for a new computer), descriptive ("Holiday Inn"), suggestive ("Coppertone" for suntan lotion), or fanciful (Apple for computers). Depending on how the mark is classified, it will be granted different levels of protection. It is hard to say how the courts will classify the mark; my guess is that they will think it is descriptive. and therefore warranting little protection. However, the products are nearly identical, so there is a great likelihood of confusion. More on this as it develops...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Manhunt 2 Release Blocked in UK

Unfortunately for Rockstar, their appeal to the Video Appeals Committee after the British Board of Film Classification denied the game a rating for its "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone," has been overturned by the High Court, holding that the VAC's decision was a clear error of law with regard to assessing harm (cool how I fit three different judicial/regulatory bodies into one sentence: thanks law school!). The VAC believed the game was suitable for players 18 and over and should be given and 18 certificate, the most stringent rating. As a Gamasutra reports, this process is pretty new for the British games industry, which rarely bans games.


Is anyone else tired of hearing about all of these troubles? The game is depraved we all know it: no grandma going into a video game store, or unsuspecting parent will buy this game for little Timmy, only to discover that he is hacking another homicidal maniac (not the one he is playing as of course!) with his Wiimote. I say let the people play!

Epic Requests to See Silicon Knights Engine Code as Legal Battle Continues

For those who have not heard the story yet, Epic licensed out its Unreal Tournament 3 Engine to Silicon Knights (and a host of other companies too). Silicon Knights was none-too-happy about the way Epic behaved afterward, alleging "Rather than provide support to Silicon Knights and Epic’s other many licensees of the Engine, Epic intentionally and wrongfully has used the fees from those licenses to launch its own game to widespread commercial success while simultaneously sabotaging efforts by Silicon Knights and others to develop their own video games." Notably, Epic did not met a March 2006 deadline for delivery of a working development kit, and did not provide one until November 2006 and provided no instructions on how to use the damn thing. Silicon Knights further alleges that Epic attempted to avoid its obligations under the Agreement by representing to Silicon Knights that the support,
modifications, or enhancements to the Engine – all of which are essential to the Engine’s proper function – were “game specific” and not “engine level” adaptations, and that Epic therefore need not provide them to any of its licensees, including Silicon Knights...That representation is false, as evidenced in part by the fact that Epic later provided nearly all the Gears of War code to all of its licensees, at no extra charge, in a belated effort at damage control." Now Epic is requesting to see the engine code for Too Human and SK is fighting it tooth-and-nail. SK claims that Epic has not demonstrated any need to view the code and no reason why expert witnesses can be utilized to obtain the information they want. Also on the shadier side, Epic was trying to keep the identity of who will view the source code confidential - the court ruled against that, and against the use of Epic CEO Tim Sweeney as one of the viewers, citing him a playing a role in "competitive decision-making."

A Knight's Tale of Epic Proportions

Epic looks like they are in some hot water now. It is also very curious why they would try and use CEO Tim Sweeney as one of the viewers of the code - ideally, they would bring in uninterested expert witnesses, say someone for another company that licensed the engine and would be familiar with what Epic distributed. The case reeks of unfair competition...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Counter-Strike, EverQuest Banned in Brazil

A Brazilian judge, Carlos Alberto Simoes, confirmed a ban imposed last October on the popular online games Counter-Strike and EverQuest on the grounds that the games encouraged "the subversion of public order, were an attack against the democratic state and the law and against public security." Observers have pointed to a Counter-Strike mod that allows the players to be either the police or narcotics smugglers in a Rio slum as a possible impetus. Perhaps this mod was just too much for democracy to bear. Why EverQuest was banned is still under debate...

No More CS or EQ in the BZL

Could this happen here? I think for any judge to be able to act so unilaterally, there would have to be much more concrete proof that the games actually have the results the judge claimed they do. But, what if a study came out confirming game addiction - would WoW be banned (especially now that the game has over 10 million subscribers)?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Microsoft Files Application for Body Monitoring Software

While not directly related to video games (yet), Microsoft has submitted an application to the PTO regarding new software developed to monitor employee performance through such bio-indicators as heart rate, facial expressions, body temperature, movement, and blood pressure. Predictably, privacy groups are concerned that this level of unprecedented intrusion is too much.


The application of this technology to video games could lead to all sorts of new gaming experiences. Imagine Eternal Darkness but instead of the fear meter being linked to your character, it is linked directly to you - your racing heart triggers the sound to cut out, or screen to shut off. This type of software can also be used by developers to gauge how effectively the emotions of their game are coming across - is the game exciting, relaxing, or just plain boring. Regardless, the software promises to usher in a new era of interactivity.

Stranglehold Commercial Banned in UK

Reacting to only two complaints, the UK Advertising Standards Authority has pulled the Stranglehold ad for being likely to encourage and condone violence. The best part: the message at the bottom of the screen saying that the video used is not actually from the game.

Woo Gets Shooed


The Entertainment Software Association, a group representing major game publishers such as Disney, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, and EA, created a PAC to support champions of the video game industry. Though they are looking to donate between $50,000 and $100,000 across many national candidates, Michael Gallagher, head of ESA, insists that the donations prove that ESA is giving candidates support, even if small. In addition to the money, Gallagher remarks about the mobilization of the Video Game Voters Network, a group of 100,000 gamers that are concerned about video game issues - what candidate would not want that support?

The Billions of Dollars Industry Finally Grows Up...I'm so proud

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Second Life Patent Trademark Office Opens

It is official: Second Life has its own Patent and Trademark Office. After paying a visit to this virtual PTO, it seems that it is more of a copyright registry than a patent office. The website promises real protection for virtual assets, but how it can provide real protection without using a real legal system is curious. It also hopes to provide tools to protect IP without having to resort to using those pesky lawyers!


The folks over at Davis make some good points about the viability of this office. It is also worth noting that these guys don't really seem to know what a patent is, or they would have called their site SLCTO, Second Life Copyright and Trademark Office. Most of the IP in SL is protected under copyright, and even if people were creating patentable inventions (which they probably are), there does not seem to be any examination process (which is necessary). Plus, in the real world, securing copyright protection is cheap and easy for those interested in pursuing it; perhaps, this site will streamline the process for the average SL user, making it even easier.

All of the I-can't-believe-this-will-work-because-I'm-a-lawyer rhetoric aside, it seems like a good idea to create a centralized repository for the innovations of Second Life, not only for viewing and record-keeping, but also to provide a dependable catalog should a "first world" dispute arise.

Hasbro Sues Scrabulous Creators

Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla, Indian creators of Scrabulous, a Facebook Scrabble knock-off with 2.3 million users, are about to get sued by Hasbro for copyright infringement. Even though the game is free (or precisely because the game is free), Hasbro must enforce its IP rights if it would like to keep them. The brothers admit that they began their work "without thinking through the legal aspect at the time," although they did send a letter to Hasbro that was never answered. EA has the rights to the electronic version of Scrabble, so I'm sure they are not too pleased either. Now, the lawyers are working on settling a deal.

You Can't Be, Scrabulous!

UK PM's Knife Ban Extends to Video Games (!?!)

Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, told reporters at the popular British tabloid, The Sun, that he is cracking down on knives throughout the UK, including in video games. Brown called for "computer game designers to stop their characters using blades."

How Will Mama Cook Without Her Knives?

Interesting to see where this goes...but doesn't it seem odd that video games are targeted, yet movies with gory slasher scenes did not get a mention. Frankly, the knife epidemic may be so out-of-hand in Britain, they should ban Hamlet, because SO many people get stabbed - poor Polonius...

Update 1/16/08: Looks like I may have jumped the gun here. For now, there will be no significant changes in policy

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sony, Nintendo Sued For Controller Patent Infringement

Copper Innovations Groups, a PA based group, is suing Sony and Nintendo for their purported infringement of one of its patents, titled, "Hand Held Computer Input Apparatus and Method." The method involves assigning hardware identification numbers to device transmissions in order to connect and organize inputs to a system. Specifically targeted are the Wii Remote, Nunchuk, Sixaxis controller, and the Blu-Ray remote. The company is seeking not only damages, legal fees, and interest, but also a permanent injunction to prevent further profiteering. Microsoft is notably absent.

Copper May Have Struck Gold

I checked out the patent, and it is hard to say if the Wii and PS3 utilize this technology without being able to see more about the hardware in those systems. However, the patent presents a very straightforward way of setting up a plurality of transmitters and providing a framework for the receiver to know which transmitter is sending what using identification numbers; this is an obvious way of tackling this problem, and it would be interesting to see how these companies would not utilize the method described in the patent short of having a specific receiver for each input transmitter, which seems highly inefficient.

To Copper's credit, at least he came up with this patent and isn't being a complete troll like the AVG folks...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Virtual Media Company Hires Virtual Law Firm for Virtual IPO

Here is an interesting story about a Second Life business, MetaNetwork Media, that hired a virtual law firm, the MetaLegal Firm, to help them go "public" in SL. Benjamin Duranske, author of Virtually Blind, makes some good points about the legality and ethical nature of such actions. While the ToS for SL expressly claims that all stock transactions in SL are just for fun, the easy convertibility of Lindens to US dollars, makes the securities implications decidedly real.

What Exactly Does Virtual Mean?

Yee Appeals CA Video Game Law Ruling

State Senator Leland Yee (D) of California filed an appeal of USDC ruling by Judge Ronald Whyte that found a $1000 penalty for the sale of ultra-violent video games to minors to be unconstitutional. He has the support of the Governator, but given the fact that every time legislation like this is proposed, it is found to be unconstitutional, my guess is that this will also lose on appeal.


He argues that surely our forefathers would never have dreamed that the 1st amendment would be used to allow our children to be exposed to violence...then again, our founding fathers had slaves. The comments that follow the article, while vitriolic, make good points about Yee's "historical" arguments. Rhetoric aside, without any clear evidence of video game's effect on the youth, it will be near impossible for Yee to prove the law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

GH Injunction Denied

An injunction sought by The Romantics against Activision to stop the sale of Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s, was denied by a US District Court judge. The Romantics claimed that the cover version of "What I Like About You" was too similar to the original recording. The injunction was denied because The Romantics were unable to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. Activision plans to use the denial to support the dismissal of the case.

What I'd Like To Sue

It is amazing to me that The Romantics would have their music introduced to a whole new range of listeners by these games and then they would try to sue the game company for it. Guitar Hero will sell pretty much no matter the songs, as long as they are semi-popular: it seems to me The Romantics should be happy their song was chosen.

$5 Million Damages sought for Xbox Live Outages

Despite Microsoft's apology and promise of a free downloadable game, three Texas residents are suing Microsoft for the outage of Xbox Live service during the holidays and are seeking a ridiculous $5,000,000, without any claim of specific damages. Plaintiffs allege that Microsoft knew there would be increased use, but "failed to provide adequate access and service to Xbox Live and its subscribers."

Are these gamers serious?

Good luck getting around the Terms of Service...they're going to need it.

Ron Paul: The Burning Crusade

In an unexpected public demonstration, 200 alliance members in WoW staged a march for Ron Paul, a long shot presidential candidate. The march went smoothly, with minimal interference from the general public. Some even went as far as to design crests for their shirts with a document that resembles the constitution.


Cooler than Second Life political participation?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mousechief Secures Patent on Interactive Narrative Operated by Introducing Encounter Events

A tip of the hat to Keith Nemitz, creator of the Witch's Yarn, for successfully navigating the patent world on his own. He was granted a patent for his innovative game mechanic of using nouns instead of actions to advance a story in the game. I think the most interesting part of the article are the comments at the end where the "chorus" is letting Nemitz have it for patenting his idea. Hopefully, the masses will understand that a patent is only as evil as the person holding it; Nemitz claims that he will only use his patent for good...


I had a chance to read the patent and play the game. The patent makes a big distinction between traditional games, which utilize verb-based interaction, and his present invention that uses nouns. He makes the distinction between old games where you PICK UP the axe and his model where the player selects AXE, and the game does the rest. In the Witch's Yarn, the player is presented with objects that are used to push the story forward, but the player does not know how these objects will affect the world, and the order of object choice determines the gameplay. Theoretically, the noun-based system is more dynamic because the player doesn't know what verb will attach to the noun chosen, i.e., choosing wool now may cause the witch to begin spinning, while later she might give the wool to a customer who was not there before.

Despite his assertion that there is a qualitative difference between the experiences, it seems to me that hiding the verb from the player is all that he is doing. It is well established to have multiple actions for any one in-game object depending on the timing of selection, i.e. sell the helmet at the vendor, pick up the helmet, wear the helmet when you get to the proper level, and his idea of rewinding is also not new (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time). The innovative step seems small to me: it makes me wonder, is any new game play method no matter the proximity to others patentable?

VG Tax Proposed to Fund Wisconsin Juvenile Justice System

Jon Erpenbach, a Wisconsin state senator, has proposed a new bill that would raise the legal age of adults from 17 to 18. This change would result in an increased financial burden on the state's juvenile justice system. To alleviate that burden, he also proposed a one percent sales tax on all video games. Apparently, gamers "made aware" of the bill are outraged by the implied link between video games and violent youth. Lucky for us, Erpenbach has considered other sources of funding if the tax does "not find traction."

Sure...Tax the Gamer

I wonder if video games were targeted because they are hot-sellers or because of their affiliation with the youth, or a little of both. It seems like a lucrative avenue of approach for the state, but at the same time, it has yet to be proven that there is any real link between violent behavior and video games.