Law: Fallout MMO Can Continue To Continue

By Adam Smith on October 27th, 2011 at 12:12 pm.

"This post-apocalyptic frippery shall damage the good name of Baron Bethesda, Sirrah!" "Poppycock, you egg!" &c &c &c

Here’s the story so far. Interplay are developing a Fallout MMO title and Bethesda are attempting to block further development through application of The Law. When their previous injunction failed, Bethesda took things all the way to the United States District Court of Appeals, claiming that the previous court had “misapplied the law”. If it was indeed a misapplication, the very same slip up has occurred once more. Stop misapplying Law, courts, you’re getting it all over the drapes.

Right now, Interplay are free to continue with development but Bethesda hold the rights to the license, so presumably they’d have to kiss and make up at some point, which doesn’t happen all that often with people who are vigorously throwing lawyers at one another. Bethesda’s case appears to rest on the fact that Interplay are not financially stable enough to finish the game in a satisfactory timeframe and/or to a satisfactory standard.

I’m not going to pretend to understand the legal wranglings fully because they’re probably more complex than I’d make them out to be. But some questions are bubbling up in the old brain-stew. Prime among them is this: what does Interplay have to gain? If they complete the game, do Bethesda have a legal responsibility to publish it under the Fallout brand? Would that lead to another legal challenge? Could they just switch the name to World of Wasteland and recolour a few assets?

As far as I can make out, these current shenanigans are little more than bumps in the road en route to the potential head-on collision should there ever be a concrete plan to release a finished product. It’s a shame that none of the news reaching us pertains to what that product might be.

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57 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge jezcentral says:

    I don’t think Interplay are looking any further than getting an extra pay-off from Bethesda, who doubtless would like to do their own MMO. They certainly don’t seem to be putting any real effort into developing a viable game. (Unless their financial position and the third party they have contracted to do the work have changed radically, recently).

    • Lobotomist says:

      Exactly , the whole thing is a ruse , to gain bigger settlement from Bethesda.

  2. CaspianRoach says:

    I’d rather play Fallout 4 on Skyrim engine, thanks.

    • Syra says:

      Id rather play fallout 4 on a more experienced and seamless idtech5

      Skyrim engine is jsut gamebryo been tweaked up a bit, so its still riddled with issues afaik.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I think I’ll wait until Skyrim comes out before I call for or against the new engine.

      Idtech 5 does look pretty nice, and assuming they can clean up all the problems that came with Rage’s release on PC, I would like to see it turn up on some of Bethesda’s output (rather than just Id’s output).

    • UnravThreads says:

      Uh, Syra? It’s on Creation Engine, a brand-new in-house engine. It’s not on Gamebryo.

    • Zarx says:

      @ Syra Carmack said that iD Tech 5 wouldn’t work well for a massive open world game like the TES games so I don’t see that happening.

    • Salt says:

      Skyrim does indeed use the ‘new’ Creation Engine, but the Creation Engine is heavily based on the Gamebryo engine. The mod tools that will be released with Skyrim are likely to be very familiar to those that have modded Gamebryo games.

      Theseus’ ship has had its rigging changed.

    • mjig says:

      I don’t care what engine it’s in as long as it’s made by Obsidian and not Bethesda.

    • obowersa says:

      @Syra And technically the source engine is a modified version of Carmack’s original Quake engine. That’s an extreme version admittedly but engine development does tend to borrow heavily from previous iterations.

      There are some major overhauls with creation engine. Only a small part of that are the graphics, dynamic lighting being (arguably) the most significant overhaul from a graphics perspective.

      However, outside of that you’ve got major improvements across the board. Replacing speedtree with their own inhouse system to get more detail. Giving branches weight so wind can interact with them ( wind can also interact with flowing water.) Dynamic snowfall, instead of having it statically applied from the word go.

      You’ve also got a whole bunch of animation upgrades, AI overhauls ( with an extension of the radiant AI system from oblivion into Radiant stories)

      I’m not saying that the engine wont share some of the faults that gamebryo had. Just that to view it as a minor upgrade to gamebryo is doing it a disservice.

    • yhalothar says:

      Fallout 4 can be made in ZZT for all I care, as long as it’s made by Obsidian.

    • Syra says:

      Interesting points, thanks. I recall carmack saying open world isn’t idtechs strong suit, which is a bit unfortunate but then again some of the outdoor environments and spaces in rage are frankly incredible looking, so here’s hoping they can work something out. As I was playing RAGE through I was hoping it would turn into the prettiest kind of fallout, but alas, it left me ultimately unsatisfied.

    • Xerian says:

      I’d honestly prefer if Bethesda made the next fallout, which they most likely will. I’m not too fond of obsidian nor their work on NV, if I’m to be honest. It was all a tad silly, and not “as” open-world as FO3 and TES games.

    • sqparadox says:

      I wouldn’t trust Bethesda or Obsidian to make a Fallout MMO, they’re both famous for releasing broken games. I don’t want to see Bethesda even attempt an MMO until they release a game modders don’t have to fix. As for Obsidian, when was the last time they released a game that wasn’t filled to the brim with bugs?

      It’s not that I hate of Bethesda or Obsidian either. Obsidian is one of my favorite developers; I just expect bugs. And while I was a bit disappointed by Oblivion, I liked Fallout 3, and I loved Morrowind to death.

      At least Interplay are an unknown. Not that I have much faith in them, but an unknown is better than a known bad. I want to see Bethesda/Obsidian release some polished, working games before they develop an MMO. A bad launch of a singleplayer RPG significantly hurts the game, but a bad launch of an MMORPG can be irrecoverable.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      @yhalothar:
      MegaZeux or bust.

    • Werthead says:

      “As for Obsidian, when was the last time they released a game that wasn’t filled to the brim with bugs? ”

      I don’t recall any controversies about DUNGEON SIEGE III having any major bugs, but maybe I missed something.

  3. Mxmlln says:

    Pathetic squabbling

  4. sneetch says:

    I don’t care so long as I can still play collectible card games with dragons while crafting mines in Skyrim. Oh noes! The names, I’m all confuseded!

    (I know this is a different case but still).

    • Iain_1986 says:

      Bored of this now…

    • ArcaneSaint says:

      Indeed, this is a completely different case and situation, so your comment made no sense at all given the context.

      Please try not to get your internet rages confused, thank you.

    • sneetch says:

      Yes, I noted that but thanks for reading, your custom is important to me. My point is all these lawsuits blend together after a while, Bethesda vs Mojang, Bethesda vs Interplay, Activision vs Double Fine, that Edge guy vs the world and its mother. I like the games but not the legal wrangling associated with them.

      Internet rage? Hardly. After all these cases over the last few years I can barely muster apathy.

      I fear that all this ultimately will achieve is running Interplay out of business when they finally run out of money after being tied up in court for years and then what will Bethesda do with the licence?

  5. Syra says:

    Oh dear it looks like bethesda have lost this one… judges tend to look at precedents set by previous judgements.

    ALSO why cant they jsut ksis and make up? Interplay have obviously put alot of mmo gold into this, so why dont bethesda add to the investment, make sure its up to standard and get on with it. After all bethesda has collaborated with most of the old designers from fallout at some time or another – and interplay only has the name really I dont think any of black island are still around there…

  6. marach says:

    Think I’ll play Realms of the Haunting a little old but has some nice creepy moments

  7. Kandon Arc says:

    I sympathise with Bethesda here. If Interplay release some half-finished or low quality game, then not only are Bethesda’s plans for a Fallout MMO sunk for the medium term, but the critical backlash could easily damage the Fallout brand itself.

    The best solution is probably for the two of them to co-develop it, but I doubt either side will accept that. I think Interplay will probably resolve this in the end by either going bust or still-birthing their game and running.

    • hello_mr.Trout says:

      yeah – because bethesda’s fallout 3 did nothing to damage the brand itself! what with it’s highly nuanced moral shades of grey, subtle dialogue, fluid engine, and overall quality story line that didn’t need to be revised at any point – and who can forget the quality of such bonus material like ‘mothership: zeta’?

    • Jumwa says:

      Fallout 3 is more highly rated than any of the previous games in the series. So no, safe to say that it didn’t damage the franchise.

      Metacritic:

      Fallout – 89
      Fallout 2 – 86
      Fallout 3 – 91

      Obviously Metacritic isn’t a flawless system, but it’s as fair and impartial of a yardstick as we’ll get in the opinion-wars of gamers. So no, Fallout 3 did nothing to damage the brand, despite the hate from a lot of people with Nostalgia-goggles on.

    • Nalano says:

      People were using Metacritic when Fallout 1 came out?

      But seriously, an aggregation of trade mags that were bought by the company isn’t the best place to look.

    • Jumwa says:

      Right, so I guess despite being beloved by millions, critically acclaimed, it’s all just a big conspiracy to sell copies of an indisputably bad game.

      Just trying to inject a little realism here.

      Don’t like the game all you want, maybe you even have really good reasons for not liking it, but it’s not a bad game and it certainly didn’t tarnish the Fallout brand. That’s just typical gamer hyperbole.

    • RakeShark says:

      In the larger scope of things, the Fallout IP could have been bought and developed by someone far less desirable.

    • Nalano says:

      “Have your opinions if you want but it’s objectively good and that’s a fact.”

      Do you listen to yourself? Do you read what you write?

    • Jumwa says:

      Yes, and what I said was “it’s as fair and impartial of a yardstick as we’ll get in the opinion-wars of gamers”. A far cry from your faux-quote.

      Tarnishing the Fallout brand is something we CAN objectively measure in a way. Whether it’s a bad game or not is up to the individual, and more than not have determined it’s quite a good game.

  8. Hoaxfish says:

    Bethesda need new lawyers. They lost against Scrolls, and against this…

    …though really, this one does seem to have been a bit of a slip-up in terms of failing to get everything, including MMOs, covered under whatever license they obtained, and then being idiots about it later.

    • endaround says:

      The purchase specifically left MMO rights with Interplay with a clause with all IP rights going to Bethesda if Interplay can’t get the MMO going. It wasn’t an oversight, it was a business decision that was terrible at the time and is getting worse.

    • InternetBatman says:

      It wasn’t a slip up. They got the Fallout brand for a relatively cheap price, and the MMO was a specifically listed part of the deal. I’m pretty sure they even own the license to the MMO and are just renting it to Interplay. The problem is that they bet that Interplay would be Interplay and do nothing with it, apparently some progress has been made. They just made a gamble and lost. Now they’ll have to wait a few more years before Interplay goes bankrupt.

  9. endaround says:

    This is all entirely on Bethesda. They could have had the entire Fallout IP but they decided to cheap out and get only new single player IP with a stipulation that unless Interplay develops an MMO, all fo it goes to Bethesda. Then Bethesda started their legal harassment campaign by trying to kill off an possible MMO. It started with suing Interplay for how it was distributing old Fallout titles in order to cut off Interplay’s income source. And now its trying to show that Interplay isn’t developing the MMO even though they clearly are (no matter how haphazard it is). So now Bethesda is likely going to spend much, much more on legal wranglings and finally buying all of Fallout from Interplay than they would have spent just buying it all to begin with.

    • UnravThreads says:

      Uh, let’s see. They licensed the rights to an MMO to Interplay as part of the deal. The franchise is still Bethesda’s, and all rights are theirs. I believe the original Fallout games will be distributed with “Bethesda’s permission” or something along those lines. But Bethesda’s argument, whilst tenuous, did have a little bit of sense behind it. “Trilogy” basically means a “Set Of Three”, and in most cases that means titles 1, 2 and 3, not the spin offs. If it’s different to that, it would often be called something else. Basically Bethesda’s argument was that people would buy that pack assuming it contains Fallout 3 instead of Fallout Tactics. Of course, a very wobbly and tenuous argument, but one with a tiny bit of sense behind it. I feel, personally, that a better title would have been “Fallout Classics Pack” or something along those lines.

      As for the MMO, I believe the conditions were that Interplay couldn’t use another studio to create it, they had to have a certain amount of potential financial backing and so forth. Interplay barely met those financial terms, have declared bankruptcy at least once in the recent past, and they have involved Masthead Studios in the development. Interplay do not have the financial security nor the stability to make this MMO, and that is the crux of Bethesda’s argument, not that Interplay cannot (Although without the finances, they obviously can’t).

  10. johnpeat says:

    Once you have a legal department – it appears that the way forward is to use it, expand it and generally maintain your “500lb gorilla” image with it.

    Everyday, someone, somewhere makes the whole concept of Trademarks, copyrights, and IP look sillier and sillier – makes you wonder where we’ll end-up with it, doesn’t it?

    “If you all can’t stop squabbling we’ll just throw your toys in the bin and make it a free for all”.

    • Premium User Badge Mungrul says:

      For a particularly scary vision of corporate law gone mad, look into Accelerando by Charles Stross.

  11. Premium User Badge Mungrul says:

    It doesn’t take much to discover exactly why Bethesda are so litigious; Robert Altman, chairman and CEO of Zenimax, parent company of Bethesda, and not actually a famous film director?
    Yeah, he’s a lawyer.
    “Interesting” background too.

    • RakeShark says:

      To be fair, Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t a real movie director either. And Cal Ripken Jr too! I mean, who in their right mind would bring on a baseball player to be on the board of directors for a major wide media company? It’s not like Ripken did anything important, other than play several baseball games back to back, or hitting a fair amount of homeruns and basehits, or being part of family sport legacy, or being on a Maryland team for his entire career.

      Billy Ripken! He’s a much better candidate! He smokes, he drinks, he made fun of the Texas Rangers’ God time back in 2003, and far more interesting man than his spotlight stealing brother!

      Oh, wait, I went off on a tangent there. I think the point was, who gives a damn if the CEO of a media interest group that just happens to own a videogame developer is a slightly shady shylock lawyer?

  12. Premium User Badge Thermal Ions says:

    Obviously Bethesda ‘s Legal Team were feeling a bit neglected and under utilised so this is all simply a plan by the Organisational Wellbeing Department to raise their spirits by creating some work for them and giving the staff a sense of achievement (or not as the cases seem to be going lately).

    Oh, that’s a ugly sentence, but I couldn’t be bothered fixing it considering the time. Apologies to the grammar Nazi’s.

  13. wodin says:

    Apparently Interplay still had the rights to make a Fallout MMO. So yes they can make a Fallout MMO and there is sod all Bethesda can do. Which I’m happy about.

    • psycho7005 says:

      Loosely related:
      I never felt like Fallout 3 or New Vegas really captured the fallout universe for me anyway. Just felt like someone had taken a big name and tried to cash in on it (which prob isn’t too far from the truth). The originals by Interplay will always be better than the new ones, even Fallout: Tactics which i love *dodge internet rages and ‘it’s not canon’ abuse*.
      If Interplay can capture that feeling again for me, i’m more than happy that they are making the MMO. However, i don’t think it will, strictly because it IS an MMO.

      We can all dream…

    • apocraphyn says:

      Ahh, but that wasn’t Interplay.

      That was Black Isle.

  14. Taffer says:

    &c &c &c is just better.

  15. CreidS says:

    Think of an injunction as a sucker punch at the beginning of a long boxing match. If you set it up right, you can get a quick knock out. If not, on with the match.

    But Bethesda whiffed and tried for a followup.

    As the first judge noted, they needed to show (among other things) “immediate and irreparable harm” from Interplay abusing their license. Waiting months to make the injunction shows the opposite of immediate and irreparable. Injunctions are usually filed within hours or days of hearing about some potential harm — you don’t even have to notify the other party.

    The district court will probably turn this around pretty quickly; courts don’t usually sit on injunction requests. Then this will go back to the normal trial process, and wrangling about contract details.

    Motivations? Interplay saw a giant pile of money and wanted to go get it. They believe they have the license to do so. Bethesda sees a big pile of money, and they want it all for themselves, or at least a bigger pile than their license agrees too.

    Bottom line: To be continued. . .

  16. Berzee says:

    “World of Wasteland”

    ha!

    By now you would think that W-based alliterations beginning with World wouldn’t be so enticing to me.

  17. screeg says:

    Stop misapplying Law, courts, you’re getting it all over the drapes.
    This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read on this website.

  18. Dachannien says:

    There is no such thing as the “United States District Court of Appeals”. They had filed the original case in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, and the appeal was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

    Getting a preliminary injunction is hard. In this case, Bethesda will be (or, rather, has been, since it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would take up this case if they appealed there) hard-pressed to show that Interplay’s continued development on a product that is nowhere near primetime will actually cause irreversible injury to Bethesda.

  19. OJSlaughter says:

    The original sale of the Fallout Franchise to Bethesda explicitly gave Interplay the right to make an MMO with it. That was part of the deal, I remember when it happened (like many I was skeptical of Bethesda hold of the Franchise) and Interplay will continue to hold that right unless they go bankrupt or have to stop due to other means! Stop being bastards Bethesda, they are developing it: stop claiming they are not…

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      “Yep, they’re developing it, alright,” the old man said with a great, big wink.

      But you’re right, even though Interplay is clearly just dicking about so they can hold on to the rights, a deal’s a deal. Besides, I’d be just as interested in playing an MMO made by a couple of Interplay’s leftovers in their spare time as I would in playing one made by Bethesda.

  20. Nalano says:

    Hey, wouldn’t drowning Interplay in years of frivolous lawsuits, to the point that they become “financially unstable” and thus vulnerable to lawsuits… be a really horrible thing to do?

    • Nidokoenig says:

      I’d have to wonder if it wouldn’t give a legal advantage to Interplay, too. After all, Bethesda’s argument is that Interplay isn’t financially able to get it done in a reasonable time frame, and here they are forcing Interplay to expend vast amounts on legal wranglings, and scaring off any further investment. They’re creating an environment hostile to Interplay’s ability to fulfil their side of the bargain.

  21. MCM says:

    Dear RPS,

    Please stop having non-lawyers write entries about legal news. They are painful to read.

    Sincerely,
    A Lawyer

  22. El_Emmental says:

    Remember they’re fighting over a MMO… *gosh*

    If Bethesda really wants to hurt Interplay, all they have to do is let them release the MMO : yay first 3 months are okay, oops interest/player attention is going down after month 3, oops after months 6 the MMO is already on the dying curve…

    I can’t believe there’s still people burning money on MMOs : the monthly fee is already occupied by WoW/EvE and older titles like RuneScape (with extremely solid universe/game mechanics/userbase),while the casual crowd constantly get over-solicited by all the F2P-P2W (free-to-play-pay-to-win) MMOs. And you already have big names for the “let’s try a new MMO” niche (like the uncertain SWTOR), I really don’t get why they keep throwing money on MMOs, it’s pretty pointless.