Adam's Rant: Bethesda Crowned Champion Of 2011's Pointless Lawsuits

By Adam Ma on October 12, 2011, 4:15PM EDT
PC

It's been a rough year for everyone in the gaming industry who isn't a lawyer, as 2011 has been filled with legal struggles that span a fairly wide range of issues. From wresting the control of website domain names to being the unfortunate security staff that had to deal with Sony's PS3 hacks, gamers all over the world have been given enough gossip and legal rumor to last a couple of drama-filled lifetimes. But lawsuits wouldn't be interesting if not for those few that take it to 'the next level'. It takes a special kind of suit to further degrade the court system from being a place of serious legal affairs to a children's sandbox where 'neener neener' and 'nuh uh' are appropriate rebuttals; and it takes an even more special kind of client to pursue the matter. So thanks Bethesda, for providing us with the most petty and underwhelming lawsuit of the year.

The best part about the accusations being laid forth is that Bethesda doesn't even seem to understand why they're suing; all they seem to know is that somehow during their existence they've laid claim to the word Scrolls and all it represents (see: parchment) and damn to hell anyone who thinks that's not worth something. Or at least, that's what their lawyers have told them. Throughout this entire escapade Notch, the creator of Minecraft and Scrolls creator, has been more than amicable, even going so far as to offer to alter the name of the title as so that there can be no confusion (as if there right now) that somehow fans of the Elder Scrolls series would somehow confuse Scrolls to be their same franchise.

It wouldn't be half as funny if not for Notch's reaction to the event either, offering Bethesda multiple outs that would have more endeared them to the community than anything else. Had they decided to take the Minecraft creator up on his first offer of playing a game of Quake to settle the name dispute, Bethesda would have lived on in gaming history as one of the few developers who knew how to take a situation in stride. Even better is the fact that Notch offered to change the name, maintaining the word Scrolls in the title but adjusting it to better distinguish the two franchises (as if there could be any confusion). Naturally Bethesda (or as they claim, their legal team) refused because Scrolls is far too serious a word to be merely trifled with, and the only type of Scrolls in this town are Elder ones.

Imagine a world where developers would simply be allowed to sue one another just because they had a similar title, sharing one or more words? Fighting games would be a lot simpler at least, as the Street Fighter series has cornered just about every single fighting and/or street related title, not to mention the inclusion of the words Alpha, First, Strike, or maybe even Arcade. Or maybe a more modern example like World of Warcraft, how many offshoot games would have been stopped early in their development phase by having World or -craft removed from somewhere in there? There's something inherently wrong about living in a world where Blizzard and Activision seemingly make more mature decisions than other rival game developers, and yet the lawsuit continues on under full impression that it's somehow sparing its IP any shame.

There's something to be said about the power that a franchise may hold in their name, and there will always be those developers who try to imitate through similar-name strategies in an attempt to draw in an audience from an already established title. But most gamers are smart enough to tell the difference between an imitation and the real deal, and though Bethesda's lawyers may have their hearts in the right place, gaming does not have the same market threats as Kleenex may have against facial tissue. Worse to consider is that at the end of the day Bethesda is paying these lawyers to solve this absurd problem, where that money could be going to ensuring that the next game they release is going to be relatively bug free from day one.

A part of me hopes the lawsuit never ends. That Bethesda continues to find new and interesting ways to claim that they're not the ones responsible for it even through its existence brings shame to their company, and that Notch continues to be a reasonable guy about the entire event. Of course, it would be even better if the charges were dropped due to a lack of any real credibility on behalf of the 'legal team's' claim, but that's the logical route. Worst case scenario it will open floodgates that allows Notch to sue any game that has a mine, or mining involved anywhere in the gameplay created after Minecraft's established popularity. It may not be such a bad thing after all, then gaming would be forced to be original or else be sued. Perhaps these lawyers are more visionary than they are stupid. Only time will tell.

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