By John Walker on January 26th, 2012 at 12:41 pm.
Why can’t we all just learn to get along? With MMO TERA finally having a release date set for May this year, and the pre-release hype building up, NCsoft have leapt in and thrown a court at the proceedings. As MMO Culture reports, a dispute over the ownership of software and artwork means that the release could be scuppered as it sinks in the mire of a legal bog. I’ve taken a look at the legal filing, and explained the details of the claims.
Bluehole, they who are making TERA, are formerly of NCsoft, and the latter are accusing the former of having snuck out with half a game hidden in their coats. During their development of Lineage 3, a bunch of NCsoft employees upped and left to create their own studio, and NCsoft say they didn’t do this “empty-handed or with benign intent”. In fact, they say, they took off with “copious amounts of confidential and proprietary NCsoft information, computer software, hardware and artwork relating to Lineage 3.”
Quite an accusation.
“Their business plan was simple and audacious: creating a competing product using the very work they had done while at NCsoft, launch it themselves to great fanfare and acclaim, and in the process, deal a crippling blow to their former employer.”
These seem like strange words for a legal document. They seem to be suggesting that Bluehole (which is a horrible name) plotted the fanfare and positive reviews, which is odd. And the suggestion that their company, with its many successful and popular MMOs, cannot withstand the competition of one more competitor is most peculiar. How this is a “crippling blow” to NCsoft will be difficult to prove in court, without their going out of business as a consequence.
However, in 2009 a Korean court upheld accusations that the former employees had stolen “trade secrets”, according to the filing, along with winning damages and an injunction to prevent the “proprietary information” going forward, in a civil suit. The damages, however, were overturned on appeal.
A similar case is taking place in Korea over the Korean-language version of TERA, although the game was successfully launched over there last year. But the release in the US has angered NCsoft until their holes turned blue too. The language in this filing is seething:
“Bluehole, continuing its competitive war against its rival, has now threatened to open a new and potentially enormous front, namely, the United States.”
It seems to come down to NCsoft’s belief that TERA will take away their Lineage customer base, and as a result they will hugely lose out on profits. And if Bluehole really did steal the content, it would seem they have a pretty strong case. Although one claim NCS make seems a touch dubious. Amongst the legal guff is the suggestion that the two left-most characters in the below pic –
– a “child-like fairy heroine and the small, rotund and furry animal-like race” are “completely different from any characters previously appearing in an MMORPG.” Um. I’m sure we can all think of a few examples that contradict this. They also file this map that was intended for L3:
Lineage 3 also planned to include “two radical and unique features”. They were “a more dynamic and engaging system for combat”, called the “Action Combat system”. It meant targeted regions on enemy bodies and constant movement around monsters. (So a bit like The Secret World then.) These are claims that absolutely every MMO developer makes for their next project, before failing to include them. Who knows what Lineage 3 would have had. The second was an expansion on the first two games’ “Castle Siege”, adding “a true political system that allows a player to become a rule through election, as an alternative to the traditional method of combat.” That sounds neat.
NCsoft then allege that project lead of Lineage, Yong-Hyun Park, had become disgruntled by his salary, and began plotting. Referring to him and others who planned to leave and form their own company as “conspirators”, they explain how he used NCsoft meeting rooms to recruit their employees, and was soon fired. 48 of the 100+ Lineage 3 team followed him out. Taking Lineage 3 with them in their brains was in violation of agreements they had signed previously, and NCsoft goes further to claim they also committed “theft”, putting “an extensive amount of proprietary data to, among other things, personal storage devices”. These are claims that seem to have been upheld by Korean courts, and fines and prison sentences were handed out to Park and three others. That was appealed, but upheld, and it’s now going through “Korea’s highest court”. But at this point (in 2008) they couldn’t prove that the trade secrets were incorporated into TERA.
And then the big moment. NCsoft claims that the version of TERA launched in Korea in January 2011 contained those characters, the geography, the “Action Combat” system, and the political system. And that character line-up? Here’s their own comparison:
They claim that since the release of TERA in Korea, Lineage I and II sales and market share have declined. Well, um, I’m sure they have, being fourteen and nine years old respectively. That seems a bit of a wild claim.
So there it is. They’re after injunctions to prevent the release of the game, and the return of the proprietary information. Which could well be understood to mean, they want TERA as their own. They’re also after damages. Bluehole (just, ew) have so far issued a “no comment”.
It does look like they have a pretty strong case here, and this could mean a significant delay for TERA, perhaps even kill it dead. We’ll keep you posted.