PUBG has a special place in our hearts as the face of Battle Royale that launched a thousand imitators. For better or worse, it popularized the genre and we were feasting on the resulting chicken dinners for months. However, their latest gift to us is far from delicious. It’s a lawsuit against Epic Games – the people behind Fortnite. We break it all down for you: PUBG‘s history with lawsuits, what they want, and what we think they’ll get.
PUBG vs Fortnite Lawsuit: The Jump
Most of us are probably aware that Fortnite isn’t PUBG‘s first target in the legal arena. In fact, NetEase got the stick from PUBG Corporation earlier this year. PUBG‘s lawyers filed a 150-page claim with the Northern California District Court, and it was hefty. In their submissions, PUBG Corporation claimed copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair business competition.
Fast-forward to a whole month later, and PUBG‘s back at it again as the headlining event but with Epic Games as its chosen opponent. PUBG and Fortnite have historically had beef, so this lawsuit felt a little inevitable. There have been dissatisfied whispers back and forth about the game’s engine, amongst other issues. However, Epic Games is unlikely to just roll over.
PUBG vs Fortnite Lawsuit: Contact Close, Claim Filed
Before we go into Epic Games’ odds, let’s look back at the claim against NetEase. PUBG Corporation was essentially claiming that NetEase was using their stuff, and being deceptive in carrying out their business. “What stuff,” you may ask? Well, it’s a long list that ranges from PUBG having a pre-game lobby, to the fact that the game has realistic detailing on weapons.
If you’re thinking “Hey, wait a minute! SO many shooters have those!” then you’d be right. PUBG‘s lawyers have cast a wide net in the NetEase suit, which isn’t always the best strategy in a court of law. Putting it simply, copyright law is about the subtle differences between things. After all, how else do you protect one product from another in any industry?
PUBG Fortnite Lawsuit: Judge Dread
Try to imagine being the judge in that NetEase suit. Based on the average age of a judge in the United States, odds are you’re well along in your lifespan and sometimes ask your kids how to send gifs. How would you feel about a 150-page stack of paper asking you to go on YouTube to verify whether weapons are unique to a video game? In fact, how would you feel about ruling on whether no other games can have realistic weapons?
Because that’s essentially what ruling in favor of PUBG in that suit would be: a ruling that any game with realistic shooting elements that we now associate with FPS titles is a target. Rulings create precedents, which are frameworks for deciding cases later. Precedents are very hard to overturn in a court of law unless there are exceptional reasons, such as:
- Another judge being willing to say their peer has cocked up;
- Human rights considerations
Now, back to that judge. You may not be very familiar with games. However, you will be familiar with copyright law. Let’s use an analogy, because gamers love those. Imagine a movie where people with weird names dressed up in tight suits to fight crime. Imagine another movie where people with weird names dressed up in tight suits to fight crime. Copyright infringement? Unlikely.
That’s because those traits – tight suits, weird names, and crime-fighting – are genre staples. Superhero movies often cast actors who look alike to play characters with thematic similarities. That isn’t illegal. Just like realistic weapons, in-game cosmetics, and an in-game lobby in shooting games isn’t illegal.
Based on PUBG‘s written submissions alone, a ruling in their favor would be unlikely because of what it would open up other companies to. What would it mean for any other developer with a game about shooting stuff in a realistic environment? Do you want Activision and EA to duke it out over who has the right to depict WW2? You’re not taking that risk as the judge; you don’t want to be famous for cockblocking an entire industry.
Korea – the Scene of the Crime
Now that you’ve got an idea of what PUBG Corporation’s lawyers have been begging for in court, let’s look at the Epic Games suit. We don’t have their written submissions to hand, but we can take a good guess based on what they’ve publicly disclosed. They don’t like that Fortnite has a battle royale mode, and that it used PUBG as part of its marketing.
However, they may have changed tack since NetEase. The VP of Bluehole told PCGamer that further action against Epic Games wasn’t to do with the Battle Royale mode or any UI similarities between their products. The real issue for Bluehole could be Unreal Engine – the engine that PUBG is based on, and the engine that Epic Games created.
Bluehole appears to be concerned that Epic Games may make improvements to their engine without letting PUBG in on the goods. If Fortnite were to optimize battle royale gameplay before PUBG, it could be devastating to the competition. Add the fact that PUBG fancies itself as the originator of the concept and you’ve got pride to think about as well. That sounds like an unpalatable legal cocktail.
On the balance of probabilities, PUBG will likely still include a copyright infringement claim. They’ve been on Fortnite‘s case for a while now about how it’s similar to their product, and with their legal history, it makes sense. However, they’ll probably need more than some YouTube links to hit a home run if unfair business competition is on the table too. If you’ve played Phoenix Wright then you’ll know that strong evidence is key. So far, it’s an “Objection” from us.
Will bringing a claim in a different jurisdiction work out any better for PUBG? Without knowing the full details of the written submissions, it’s hard to say. One thing’s for sure, though – the law and how it operates with video games in this day and age is basically the Wild West compared to other more established areas of practice. If PUBG doesn’t play their cards right, Epic Games could be the one enjoying a cheeky chicken dinner.
Let us know who you think will come out on top in PlayerUnknown’s Courtroom. Got any ideas on what PUBG Corporation’s claim in Korea might be? Pop into our comments section and give us a shout.