By John Walker on May 31st, 2012 at 10:00 am.
Update: Wisecrack are stating, and the same is supported by Steve Ince, that Al Lowe had given this project his blessing, and even approved the Kickstarter content. Which makes these whole affair even more confusing.
Original: Oh, why can’t we all just learn to get along? In the happy-go-lucky world of Kickstarter, everything is meant to be made of flowers and unicorns, but as reported by Venture Beat, Al Lowe and Replay Games are marching in with their knee-high sue-boots and threatening legal action against Wisecrack Games, and their plan to raise half a million for a new Sam Suede game. Oh – they may have a point.
Sam Suede is one of Lowe’s creations – a sleazy private detective, intended to be a game back in 2006. He was working with Ken Wegrzyn, with whom he’d created iBase Entertainment, but after failing to find a publisher for the game, the company closed down by that December. This had been Lowe’s attempt at a swansong, formerly pretty much retired, and seemed like it would be his last attempt to create a game.
That of course hasn’t proven to be the case, with the recently successful Kickstarter to remake the original Leisure Suit Larry. And in the wake of all the recent Kickstarter triumphs, Ken Wegrzyn has create a campaign to raise $500,000 to revive Mr Suede. This, Replay says, is an infringement of their copyrights, and a misrepresentation of Lowe’s involvement, and they want the Kickstarter closed down.
And in fairness, Wegrzyn does appear to be antagonistic here. The Kickstarter page for the game begins with “Al Lowe & Ken Wegrzyn present”, which would seem to me to be a misleading claim – to present something, you usually having to be, er, presenting it. And it seems he’s not. There’s no question that Lowe worked on the project, hoping to create a Larry-like for the new millennium, and presumably still harbours desires to see it come to fruition. But presumably not via someone else using his name on a project on which he’s no longer involved. This then gets even more overt as the page posts his smiling face and explains that he’s working on the game.
The game itself looks like a dinosaur of knowing sexism, and half a million for an unknown title is an enormous reach. You can see why you’d want Lowe’s name there to grab attention, especially when that opening line makes it look like he’s involved. So you can also see, I’d argue, why Replay aren’t best pleased. The text for the Kickstarter goes on to mention that it will have humour from Al Lowe (as well as Broken Sword writer, Steve Ince, interestingly), which is presumably based on the work he previously did six years ago. It also makes the rather enormous claim of having the “gameplay” (whatever that is) of Beyond Good & Evil, the plot depth of Broken Sword, and the exploration of Tomb Raider, which would make it a truly remarkable game.
Venture Beat report that Lowe’s partner at Replay, Paul Trowe, is pretty pissed off.
“I think the blatant misuse of the Leisure Suit Larry name and copyrighted material shows clear disregard for copyright law. To piggyback on someone else’s success is not only rude but also illegal. Those who continue with this will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law. We are suing today.”
But interestingly, Wisecrack are standing firm. Venture Beat reports a statement from them in which they say,
“Wisecrack Games has not infringed or otherwise violated any rights of Replay Games. Wisecrack’s references to Al Lowe’s accomplishments, including his work on the Leisure Suit Larry series, are truthful, come directly from Mr. Lowe’s website with his permission pursuant to a written agreement, and constitute de minimis and fair uses under applicable law. Based on records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Copyright Office, Replay Games owns neither the trademark nor copyright to Leisure Suit Larry, so any claim on Replay’s behalf is entirely baseless. As Kickstarter fans are aware, Al is currently working on Leisure Suit Larry. The references to Al Lowe’s extensive work with Ken Wegrzyn on the design of Sam Suede in Undercover Exposure is truthfully stated and a historical fact. The original design and prototyping have been completed by Al and Ken, as well as a written agreement with Al Lowe for the Sam Suede in Undercover Exposure Kickstarter with Wisecrack Games. Upon completion of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Wisecrack Games moves into full production to complete the game.”
Which is disingenuous at best. You don’t need to own a patent or trademark to have copyright over your creation, and it’s not entirely clear why they reference Larry in their response, rather than Sam Suede. But more egregious is the pretence that they’re not suggesting Lowe is presently working on the project. From stating that he “presents” it, to their listing people they’re “teaming” with to make it, starting with Mr Lowe. Use of present tense, etc, is obviously misleading, and their defiance is odd. It would seem to make a ton of sense to re-word things considerably. Lowe can’t deny he spent a lot of time working on the game, certainly, and as much as it may grieve him to see its happening without him, they can still point out he was involved. But he isn’t any more, and that’s not apparent from their page. You can’t write,
“We’ve assembled an award-winning and nominated writing, design, and development team, with over 40 years of experience in the gaming industry.”
And then immediately below have “Al Lowe” and his photograph, and not expect people to think he’s involved.
However, when we spoke to Steve Ince, whose involvement in the project is dependent upon the success of the Kickstarter, he explained that Lowe had apparently given his blessing and knew of the Kickstarter in advance. Which, if the case, does make Replay’s actions now seem strange. Unfortunately, Lowe himself has said nothing so far, with only Trowe making statements.
As for who owns the rights to Suede – that’s the sort of tedium that can only be solved in expensive courts, making lawyers rich and benefiting almost no one else. Suede failed six years ago, this Kickstarter is asking for an awful lot for an unknown team and project, and it would seem to me to make a lot more sense to just let it go. For heavens sake – the idea being argued over here is a sexually charged private detective. I mean, come on – it’s not exactly a groundbreaking new stretch for literature, and hardly a concept worth spending fortunes fighting over.