PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was a surprise phenomenon, and I’m happy for the team behind it, including PlayerUnknown himself, Brenden Greene. It’s a testament to how engaging the game is that it beats out every AAA title of the year in sales on Steam. However, after seeing some of the comments Greene and other members of Bluehole have made concerning video game copyrights and IPs, I’m wondering if all that success has gone to their head.
A few months ago the free-to-play game Fortnite debuted a battle royale somewhat similar to that seen in PUBG. In the video game world, this is a given. If a game is popular, it’s going to get cloned, reworked, re-released, and so on. Given Bluehole’s relationship with Epic, seeing as the game is made with Unreal Engine 4, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it came to being upset over the situation. Epic Games did reference PUBG in marketing materials, and that did run very close to violating the trademark. It really seems like they were angrier about someone else was dropping a battle royale game for a console before PUBG could be released on Xbox, though.
Who Owns the Battle Royale Genre?
However, comments in a recent BBC interview with Greene struck me as being a bit off. He stated, “I want this genre (battle royales) to grow. For that to happen, you need new and interesting spins on the game mode. If it’s just copycats down the line, then the genre doesn’t grow, and people get bored.”
Greene went on to say, “There’s no intellectual property protection in games. In movies and music, there is IP protection, and you can really look after your work. In gaming that doesn’t exist yet, and it’s something that should be looked into.”
There are a few issues with what PlayerUnknown had to say, though. First, it seems like Bluehole and PUBG Corporation wants to assuming ownership of the battle royale genre. If a genre can be owned in general, then the battle royale genre should be owned by Koushin Takami, who wrote the novel Battle Royale that 2000 movie was based on.
If we want to just talk about who started the battle royale genre in video gaming, it certainly wasn’t PlayerUnknown. Minecraft mods based on The Hunger Games (which in turn is heavily influenced by Battle Royale), were around in 2012. PlayerUnknown didn’t release his Battle Royale mod for Arma 2/DayZ until 2013.
There are Already Protections in Place for Video Game IPs
The ironic thing about this is that Greene went on to say in the interview that some fantastic games don’t get the chance to shine because someone else with a bigger budget takes the idea and made it into a popular game. Seeing as Greene’s earlier mods and PUBG has gameplay based around a Japanese novel (whose writer isn’t getting any money from Bluehole or anyone else for using the idea), maybe he should slow his role a bit before he starts dictating what market trends should be.
Sure, some games are very clearly ripping off PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, particularly in China. In fact, there’s a Chinese game based on the Terminator 2 license that has a battle royale mode that looks almost precisely like PUBG. However, that’s the price of participating in the free market. Ideally, if you make a game that’s good and people enjoy to play, then inferior clones are just going to be ignored for the most part.
It must be working too because PUBG is the smash hit of the year with the fraction of the budget that AAA titles on PC usually get. The success of his own game, and the fact that the core idea for the gameplay is derivative pretty much prove that what PlayerUnknown is saying doesn’t make sense.
There are rules in place that cover video games, just like they do movies, music, literature, and everything you can think of. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents apply to video gaming just as much as they do any other industry. No one in the US or most of the rest of the world (China being somewhat of an exception at times) is going to actually directly rip off PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and get away with it. All the game’s code, logos, character design, branding, name, etc. are all protected by trademarks and copyrights.
Bluehole and PlayerUnknown Need to Concentrate on Making PUBG Better
It once again seems like the issue that Greene has is that he doesn’t want other people to make Battle Royale games. Of course, looking at gaming history, it’s evident that’s a horrible idea. Innovation in gaming has come through iteration. If the first platformer were made and then the law prevented anyone else from using similar game design, then there wouldn’t be a video games industry. It would have stayed dead in the 1980s and Game Revolution would be a site about playing cards and board games (not that those aren’t awesome.)
There’s plenty of things that need to be addressed with more regulation. For example, it would be awesome to have net neutrality codified into law so partisan politics wouldn’t have us fighting over it continually. It’d be great to have loot boxes regulated in a way that prevents them from being exploitative.
Passing legislation to let Bluehole and PlayerUnknown have ownership over the battle royale genre isn’t something that should be considered at all. Instead of complaining about other studios making titles similar to PUBG they should take it as a compliment and go about making the best game they can possibly make. They can start by fixing the horrible framerate issues on the Xbox One version.