FUMBBL Finally Tackled

By Kieron Gillen on November 13th, 2009 at 6:45 pm.

This is sad, but not unexpected. FUMBLL have received a (fairly reasonably phrased) cease-or-desist letter from Games Workshop. FUMBBL has been the long-running online java bloodbowl client thingy, and been the premier way to play Blood Bowl for years. In fact, even now after the release of Cyanide’s game, if you don’t care about any of the bells and whistles – I actually think they do add something to the experience – it does a better job of simulating the game (Including all the teams, showing the maths better, etc). Of course, that FUMBBL is such a good league system, it does beg the question why Cyanide didn’t just copy it wholesale, y’know? Its timing is particularly bad for RPS forumites, as their league is just coming to the close. The question that’s on everyone’s lips is “why now?”. As in, they’ve been ignoring it until now. What pushed them to make the move?

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48 Comments »

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  1. Dominic White says:

    Why now? Because it’s Games Workshop, and when it comes to kicking their fans in the balls, they like to get a run-up at it.

    A really, really long one.

  2. Railick says:

    That screenshot is odd :P

  3. Sparvy says:

    According to some of the comments on that FUMBBL post GW’s copyright for Blood Bowl is coming up for renewal, which would force GW to show that they protect their claim in order to get said renewal.

    I’m no expert on copyright law and didn’t find any other source of the information, but if it is true it would definitely be sad for all the fans of FUMBBL but ultimately also understandable from GW’s point of view (and possible mean some kind of deal can be worked out?).

    Sucks for you guys in the middle of a league though.

    • Dante says:

      I’m curious about this, because I’ve heard that bandied around in terms of copyright law before, but you’d think licensing the Cyanide game would be proof enough they’re still using the rights.

      Anyway, as people have said, the letter is very politely worded, I only hope some sort of accommodation can be reached.

    • MWoody says:

      I’ve been under the (possibly mistaken) impression that it was trademarks that need to be protected to remain valid, not copyright or patents.

  4. shon says:

    That might be the nicest cease and desist letter that I have read.

  5. Dominic White says:

    I wonder if FUMBBL will do what that Space Hulk fan-game did, and just reskin things? Also, the current Living Rulebook is available for download off the official Blood Bowl site, I think, so they can just link to that instead of hosting the rules on-site.

    Hopefully they can bounce back from this.

  6. Railick says:

    I wonder if they would send a letter like this if all the website did was keep track of leagues on the internet but that were played with the actual board game version of it? If not they they could just change it over to that and allow people to repor their matches (while of course the people are playing the javabbowl client ;) ) It would be a huge loss though Fumbbl as it stands now is a very good and easy to use website.

  7. Astorax says:

    This wouldn’t irritate me as much if Cyanide paid ANY serious attention to the league system in their game. It sucks. A lot.

    I like Cyanide’s game, I think the graphics are solid, the gameplay is what I want it to be (turn based all the way)…but trying to actually play leagues is horrific. There’s VERY little customization allowed, and the matchup system blows since it has no customization. No power on the part of the comissioner of the league to setup matches at all. It’s very rudimentary and disappointing for a game that’s BASED on league play.

    Ah well.

  8. Dude says:

    GW has been giving those thing all over the web, talkbloodbowl also had to change its name or die, another website for Dark Heresy (the 40k RPG) also had to close because it used some picture that belong to GW. What is really strange about the whole story is that GW is killing the community, why the heck they don’t release a fan site kit or something similar or put some board on their website is beyond comprehension. Ivory tower anyone?

  9. Railick says:

    One thing you Cynaide leaguers have run into is people who stop showing up to play their games. With Fumbbl we were easily able to replace dear Sparvy who could no longer play with a new team that was ready to go with very little fuss at all :) And we all share power through several people so if one person up and goes poof the league won’t be stuck in limbo forever. (not that I would ever do that!)

    I think one of the best things I did when I first started the leauge was giving power to every other member at the time to do the same things I could do, it has turned out to be very useful as they can add new teams requesting to join and fix things that I can’t when I’m not around. Being a selfish crazy overlord of a league who passes judgement without asking everyone else first is a sure way to have an empty league if you ask me ^_^

  10. Ian says:

    FUMBBL is getting closed because they’re scared of my killer mummy.

    SCARED, I SAY! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!

    Anyway, I hope if this does shut down we can at least get the league settled up first because it’s been an absolute blast.

  11. Lagmint says:

    I’ll never understand why people actually back 40k at all. They are UTTERLY AWFUL to their fans, so people should just pull a Blizzard and rip off their stuff and run with it. As someone said, reskin, yes, but also improve. Just steal, people! Haha.

  12. justagigolo says:

    Its also really convenient that in FUMBBL you don’t necessarily have to wait for the round of matches to end before playing your next opponent. This makes it a lot easier for players that have less open schedules to get a couple matches out of the way when they do have time. Also having the ability to have a league without a specific tournament is a very easy way to keep in track of when your friends are available to play. There seem to be countless areas that cyanide could improve their game by taking from FUMBBL.

  13. Railick says:

    Cyanide should higher the Fumbbl people to help them code a league centric expansion pack :)

  14. Premium User Badge

    Arathain says:

    The timing definitely seems to coincide with the renewal of GWs trademarks. And since copyright law says you defend your trademarks, or lose them…
    I don’t think GW are that bad with their IPs- not as bad as some, anyway. This is the guidance they give. It seems comprehensive and not unreasonable, and there’s a fair amount of permissiveness.
    Given the text of the letter I have hopes FUMBBL can continue to exist in some form, after accommodations are made. If GW really objected to it they’d have shut it down years ago; I think they quietly appreciate its role in keeping BB alive.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Arathain says:

    Oops, HTML fail.
    Edit: fixed. Besides, Ian, it’s not GW that are scared of your mummy. That would be me. Horrible thing.

  16. Lilliput King says:

    “The question that’s on everyone’s lips is “why now?”. As in, they’ve been ignoring it until now. What pushed them to make the move?”

    I often find myself thinking the same thing whenever a C+D is sent to an ambitious fan project. I’d like to think it is because GW has decided to make a determined push with this IP. As in, new board game/rules, better league support and content patches for Cyanide’s effort. Like how MS killed that Halo RTS project when they decided they were going to make their own.

    (I can’t remember if that was ever released. Halo Wars, or something? Doesn’t matter)

    • Lilliput King says:

      Saw this on the forum linked to in the main post, a far more credible explanation than mine:

      “Although I am as mad as the rest on this site, we have to understand that GW must send out this letter to comply with copyright law. They can not get a renewal if they don’t pursue copyright infringement. “

  17. Railick says:

    Well according to Janek – “Huh, looks like the trademark was actually renewed in July last year. There goes that theory. Seems an odd time to start throwing C&D’s around if so.”

    If this is the case then it has nothing to do with the trade mark needing renewal and has more to do with fumbbl trying to compete with them and their new Cynaide version of the game mayhaps? Maybe they saw groups like ours that have said they perfer Fumbbl over Cyanide ? ( I know not all the members of our league feel this way but I do most certianly, because I like all the additonal races thats why)

    • Janek says:

      I doubt it’s anything to do with Cyanide, particularly since it’s not just Fumbbl, there seem to have been a wave of C&D’s sent out over the last few weeks. It’s strange timing.

      Perhaps they like to do their lawyering towards the start of a cycle. Or maybe LRB6 will signal a big board game rerelease or something. Hell, maybe they just felt like it.

      We’ll see what happens, anyway. Fingers crossed!

  18. Kevin says:

    Copyright law != Trademark law

    With trademarks, yes, if you don’t defend them, you can no longer pursue infringement of them in court. This is why Xerox still insists it makes Xerox-brand copying machines, and Kleenex makes Kleenex tissues, while everyone else uses xerox as a verb and kleenex as a noun. They’d probably have problems if they tried enforcing their trademarks.

    However, copyright law is different. This is why you can have Microsoft and the FSF both using copyright law to achieve very different things: Microsoft to lock their copywritten code down, and the FSF to make sure theirs is shared.

    • Jon says:

      Just to clarify: if you actually read the letter, it does say that their trademark is being renewed, and not copyright as everybody seems to be parroting.
      Looking through the comments, it’s worrying how blurred the concepts of trademarks and copyright are in peoples minds, although I suppose it doesn’t help that this cease and desist deals with both.

  19. Raskolnikov says:

    A slew of cease and dessists have been fired out by GW over the last couple of weeks targeting a bunch of fansites such as talkbloodbowl.com and darkreign40k.com amongst others. Amongst the genuine complaints about copyright violations there’s a lot of ugly legal bullying, particularly over trademarks, which fans aren’t going to contest even if they have a good case due to the financial cost of doing so.

  20. Jayt says:

    Dear fan made product,

    Fuck off.

  21. Vinraith says:

    Well, that sucks.

    GW really does need to stop with the fan project hostility, aren’t they making enough off of horrifically overpriced miniatures and best-selling licensed PC games as it is?

  22. Premium User Badge

    Fede says:

    FUMBBL is trying to comply in every way, so there is a chance it will survive as it is.

  23. Dominic White says:

    Some companies just seem to be dicks when it comes to fan-projects. Square-Enix, Games Workshop and others.
    There are a few companies that used to viciously pursue fan-projects, like Lucasarts, but in the past few years they’ve seemingly encouraged (or at least left alone) all Star Wars fan-games/mods, and they’ve been a thriving scene.
    I remember the days when Lucasarts got pissy if people modded their own official Star Wars games, to add more Star Wars to them. Go figure.
    Nintendo seem to be completely hands-off retarding fangames as well. In fact, there was just a recent Nintendo Fan-Game mini-convention with awards handed out to the best Mario, Metroid and Zelda games.
    And yet Nintendo haven’t lost their copyright/trademark on Mario, have they? Stomping on fans doesn’t seem to really have any positive effect, as far as I can see. Sure, it’s their legal right, but just because they CAN doesn’t mean they should.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      @Dominic:

      It’s surely not the same thing, as Nintendo regularly continues to make Metroid, Mario, and Zelda games. Games Workshop does very little with licenses like this, like Space Hulk, I was surprised anything was being done towards the end of making it into a computer game.

  24. Cpt. Sqweky says:

    I find it interesting that there are two basic responses to this:
    1. Well, GW is just trying to protect what’s theirs. It’s unfortunate, but understandable.
    2. OMG!!! GW IS SOOO UNFIAR! WHY DEY DO THIS? LETS’ BOYCOT THIM!!!1!!

    Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but still…

  25. Railick says:

    Who has had that response in this thread (or forum at all) Sqweky?

  26. malkav11 says:

    Games Workshop is famous for this sort of thing. The only thing I find surprising is that FUMBBL survived as long as it did. (Well, that and the relative niceness of the C&D.) I mean, as disclaimery as FUMBBL is about how you MUST OWN A COPY OF THE GAME etc, there’s no actual way to enforce that. So their project in essence constitutes a way to play a Games Workshop game entirely for free. With some advantages over the tabletop, even. I’d have thought GW would be all over it a long time ago. I really do have to assume the relatively new existence of an official computer version must have -something- to do with it.

  27. JM says:

    This is particularly shit, given that FUMBBL has driven development of Blood Bowl for years. Galak Starscraper / Tom Anders has done the legwork for the last few versions of the Living Rulebook, FUMBBL teams have shown up in the LRB documents, and it’s been a mutually beneficial arrangement.

    Fuck you, Games Workshop. Blood Bowl would be dead if it wasn’t for FUMBBL and the likes of Tom, and you’d have had a third of the sales for your precious PC port.

  28. Duffin says:

    It’s actually pretty clever timing on behalf of GW. Alot of people were on the fence about buying the cyanide version, so tried the FUMBLL version. By waiting until now all those people that got hooked on FUMBLL will have to pay for the game, unlike if they had closed it down before the release. They’ve pretty much used it as a demo or a free trial if you like.

  29. Clovis says:

    From the C&D: Therefore having created the game and accomapnying rules/statistics GW owns the copyright in them making it an offence for others to cause them, or products substantially based on them, to be published. (sic)

    They are partially basing this on copyright law, in addition to trademark law. This is full of fail because you cannot own a copyright on a set of rules and statistics. Here is what they say is infringed:


    * the Website contains copies of Blood Bowl statistics and rules;
    * tje Java Bowl programme contains various pieces of GW Blood Bowl art including the Blood Bowl pitch and Blood Bowl logo; and
    * the Java Bowl programme uses all the Blood Bowl rules and statistics for each model.
    (sic)

    Only the second item is a problem, and it is clearly a trademark problem. If they simply remove the art and all references to “Blood Bowl” from the site then they are fine. Someone needs to re-write the wording of the instructions though because a particular explanation of instructions can have a copyright.

    OTOH, it would costs a lot of money to actually defend this in court. A judge will not simply throw this out or something. So the consumer loses as per usual in IP law. Hooray!

    • Nezz says:

      True, the main objections the letter lists are sloppy and probably indefensible.

      However, there’s a trickier argument available to GW, should they ever need one: the visual (but not the geometrical) layout of a game board is also subject to UK IP law. So any unlicensed game client would have to look substantially different than it does now.

  30. Shadow says:

    It’s been a bad year for fan made virtual representations of our favorite GW games, Vassal 40K was issued with a similar letter earlier in the year (and the site has subsequently been closed). Of course, GW can’t actually stop people using Vassal 40K unless they’re going to start going round to peoples houses and watch them, as the game is merely a module for the (rather) popular board game simulator Vassal.

  31. bill says:

    “The question that’s on everyone’s lips is “why now?””

    Why don’t you ask them? You’re the journalists ;-)

    Surely they should come to a deal and integrate this game into the games workshop website, while surrounding it with adds for games workshop and cyanide products?

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Have you ever dealt with Games Workshop before? You’ll be met with a wall of silence, they are literally complete tossers.

  32. DMJ says:

    Well… Everyone knew it was on shaky ground and would last only for as long as GW decided not to notice it.

    Go the Alien Assault route, my sons.

  33. Gabanski83 says:

    Aye, play bashy, FUMBBL!

  34. Sunjammer says:

    Hate to say it but they’re in their full rights to do this. Personally,i reckon it’s a bit naive to assume they wouldn’t. Fumbbl basically lets people play their game for free. If i had spent x amount of time building a computer game, i’d want to try and ensure that game has any measure of success. Fumbbl basically shows up Cyanide’s outing; we can’t have that now can we.

  35. Arseholios says:

    GW is still butthurt over Blizzard stealing their shit?

  36. Anonymousity says:

    There are actually a fair amount of leagues that play with models and keep track of rankings on the internet.

  37. TinyPirate says:

    Games Workshop: Complete bastards to their fans – News at 11! Seriously though, stop playing their shit, folks, they don’t deserve anyone’s support.

  38. Sanjassi says:

    Hmmm, a quote from their legal page.

    “Please bear in mind that we may require you to remove the game or mod from any public forum at any time so that we can comply with any licenses that we may have with computer game publishers/developers. Be aware that we may even have to insist that the mod be destroyed. Please take very careful note of this statement, as we would not want you to feel unfairly treated at a later date.”

    There is also a lot of stuff about “Do not use our logos and symbols”. This all seems very clear to me.