Weapons Free: EA Cutting Gun Licenses, Keeping Guns

By Nathan Grayson on May 9th, 2013 at 9:00 am.

What, you think this is a gun? Haha, of course not. It's a blammy club. Duh.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Battlefield would be a very different game if it didn’t have any guns. Perhaps you would instead aggressively point and yell at angry men until they realized you were even angrier, hurriedly stepping aside and saying, “Phew, I don’t want to mess with that guy.” Or maybe the series would simply be renamed “Field,” and you’d be in charge of a) tending to grass and b) callously sweeping aside dead bodies, coping with their lingering, bottomless stares as you hurl them into mass graves. (Someone, make this.) Regardless, that’s why EA’s not tossing out guns any time soon. It is, however, taking the ones it already has and going home – far away from the license-holders and manufacturers who might feel entitled to a chunk of their change.

EA’s Frank Gibeau explained to Reuters:

“We’re telling a story and we have a point of view. A book doesn’t pay for saying the word Colt, for example.”

EA, of course, (in)famously brought the link between gun manufacturers and games to a boiling point last year with a positively gross cross-promotional effort for Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Medal of Honor-branded real-life weapons were briefly put on offer, though hastily pulled after tidal waves of backlash surged through EA HQ. So then, is this a follow-up rainstorm of common sense? A cold, cost-cutting business decision? Both? EA didn’t say. But for now, the results are clear. ”We won’t do that again,” said EA’s Jeff Brown. “The action games we will release this year will not include licensed images of weapons.”

Which puts EA in an interesting position, given that some manufacturers might not be so fond of the ultra-pub’s plan to use all of their property except the logo. Admittedly, however, a number of games never used licenses to begin with, and manufacturers make very little money off the licenses anyway. But then, nobody ever actually went to court about it, so it’s all kind of a gray area. The solution? Lawsuits! Hurrah!

Textron Inc – ostensibly a sentient manifestation of that chatbot I tried to program in high school – is sicking its lawyers on EA over Battlefield helicopters that soar far above the bounds of fair use, right into trademark infringement territory. And what is a helicopter if not a gun that can fly? Seriously though, even if EA loses this one, it could find some loophole regarding the difference between weapons and vehicles. This case, then, is far from closed.

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55 Comments »

  1. Grey Poupon says:

    Given they don’t make much money off of licensing, wouldn’t it be good advertising for them to let games use their guns, or well, the names. Strengthens the brand and makes their guns more popular than the other guy’s guns.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Is that true? 1p for every game sale could be a lot…

    • Hunchback says:

      I’ve always wondered about that myself, why don’t companies treat use of their “property” as free advertisement? I actually DID think it WAS free advertising and companies were HAPPY when a game would feature their cars/guns/drinks/shit and payed game devs to put their “thing” instead of the competition’s…

      I mean, wtf? They pay shittons of cash to have their ads put on billboards or the media, which is mostly useless imo, and they would charge companies who allow users to somewhat experience a simulated use of the same product? I dunno about you people, but i definitely feel more interested in say Porsche Carrera GT by driving it around in a simulated world, than by seeing it on a picture in a magazine next to some smug badly-shaven-cow-eyed-super-male wearing a Boss suit.

      This world is so upside-down most of the time…

      • AngoraFish says:

        It’s a case of having your cake and eating it too.

        Music producers used to fight to give away free records to radio stations to drive airtime and therefore record sales, however once radio stations built their business models around free records music producers saw an opportunity to agitate for the ability to take additional profits out of the back end in license fees, for a cut of blank tape sales, etc.

        Basically, if business thinks it’s got an argument that might enable it to make more money it will make that argument, and in this case take both the extra money and the extra advertising. It’s one of many things that’s fucked up about modern day intellectual property law.

        • Hunchback says:

          Ye, i know what you mean… why not have MOAR money if you can?

          Guess this is not the place to discuss politics/ideology etc, so i’ll just say that most of modern-day’s models really disturb me, but as the saying goes – we haven’t found better yet. Meh, i say, MEH!

      • ThTa says:

        On the other hand, these games rely on “realism” as part of their advertisement, they go “Look, now you can drive around in that sports car you could never afford!” and “Hey, you could shoot dirty foreigners with a perfect representation of this gun you thought was cool!”
        They use the imagery of those guns and cars as a selling point, which is where the licensing costs come in.

        Think of it, which is more likely: that someone will buy a car or gun because they’re familiar with it through a game, or that they’ll buy a game because it’s a form of wish fulfilment in relation to that car or gun they’ve always wanted to try?

        The gun thing is a bit more contentious, I suppose, and you could reason that those few car/gun sales that happen because of games yield way more profit than the imagery of those cars and guns do for the game, but that’s up to a potential court to decide. The point I’m making is that it’s not a one-way street in terms of advertisement.

        • SketchyGalore says:

          I don’t know if you can dismiss games as a medium for that kind of thing. After all, I’m a (relatively) sane individual and I’ve learned more about gun models and the companies that make them from games more than anywhere else. Granted, I don’t really plan to run out and buy one to keep under my bed.

          But if you consider games an entertainment medium similar to movies, just think of Dirty Harry. Smith & Wesson made quite a pretty penny off of Mr. Eastwood for that one.

          I’d agree that it’s symbiotic advertising and no one should really owe anyone anything.

    • Susan_Funk says:

      my buddy’s step-mother makes $67/hr on the computer. She has been out of a job for six months but last month her paycheck was $12571 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site… http://www.Jax3.cℴm

    • Froztwolf says:

      A lot of manufacturers want both. You need to pay them money AND follow their rules about how the weapon is used.

      A lot of American and European weapons manufacturers will demand that only the “good guys” can user their weapons, not the enemy that is getting mowed down.

      If they allow everyone to use their weapon with impunity, it could actually hurt the brand, as it could be portrayed in the game as weak and ineffective, or the weapon of evil terrorists.

  2. unangbangkay says:

    If I’m not mistaken, I believe the Bad Company games used weapons “unlicensed”, instead referring to the guns using their military designations or corruptions thereof.

    And would military designations or otherwise government-deployed equipment be technically public-domain? The taxpayer is paying for the source, so it seems logical that there not be a need to charge to use its likeness.

    • Unruly says:

      While most guns that the militaries of the world use are designed to a specific set of requirements set by the governments that adopt them, the companies that design the weapons don’t get paid unless the government in question adopts the weapon. All the design, prototyping, and initial manufacturing is done out of pocket by the company itself, so they keep all the rights to the weapon. That’s why you see all sorts of small arms being tested by different militaries all the time, and why so many of the weapons that get adopted by different militaries end up with civilian versions. For instance, the H&K MP7 and the FN P90 were both designed to the same NATO request, despite being developed a decade apart, but I don’t think that any NATO country gave money to either company until they actually had a product in-hand.

      This is actually the way the militaries of the world should be doing all of their acquisitions, but in the US at least it seems to only apply to small arms. For vehicles, we(the US) tend to set specific requirements and then take bids on who can manufacture something like that cheapest. And then they have no impetus to actually finish the product because those design contracts tend to not have any termination clauses or we just shovel money at them if they run over budget. Back in the WWI and WWII days, that wasn’t the case. It used to be the same way that small arms are done. Manufacturers protoype stuff, they get tested, and the best one would win the production contract. Then, during the Cold War, things started to change. That’s when we started the contract bidding, but back then they were given hard limits that they had to stay under, and anything over that came out of the company’s pocket. Sometime later that turned into the money pit that it is today.

    • Prime says:

      Not sure I trust EA’s comments here. It wouldn’t surprise me at all for some whistle-blowing story to appear shortly saying “uuh, yes they bloody well did!”

      • jimbonbon says:

        I don’t think the issue is so much whether you believe what EA says (although why would they pay licencing fees if they don’t feel they have to?), and more that Reuters implies that EA is currently licencing guns for their games and plans to stop, linking it then to recent events.

    • unangbangkay says:

      Interesting. Then if that’s the status quo, what would it take for gun manufacturers to start demanding that game pubs ask permission before using branded guns?

      Maybe for a triple-A shooter to start using said branded guns in an undesirable context? Let’s say a game where you play a criminal attempting to obtain high-quality firearms via unregulated gun shows?

      With the right push the situation could turn into a similar one to the way games that feature licensed sports cars are now, wherein the car companies get all huffy about having very realistic/deadly-looking car-damage and crash modelling.

    • cunningmunki says:

      You know, this story was bugging me because I just couldn’t figure out a reason why EA would have paid the manufacturers in the first place, especially if they knew they didn’t have to. I know they’re probably swimming in cash, but you don’t just give it away for no reason.

      The fact that they were never actually paying the manufacturers at all and just made up this story so people would think they were being the good-guys makes much more sense.

      • Shuck says:

        Car makers demand payment and control over how their vehicles are depicted in games, so it does happen and it doesn’t make any sense. Somehow the expectations of film and television (where manufacturers pay to have their products featured) has been inverted for games.

    • jimbonbon says:

      And now I notice someone already pointed this out! I was surprised to be the first person pointing it out so long after the article went up, and now I know why :(

  3. Prime says:

    This was one of those stories last year that really shocked me because it made so much sense but no-one had ever seemed to mention it or talk about it before. Game publishers paying gun manufacturers to use their weapons. Duh!

    But this is an interesting move on the part of EA. I don’t doubt for a moment that this is fiscally-driven (after all those lay-offs? C’mon…), and this IS EA we’re talking about here, but I can also see someone telling them they might pick up a wee spot of goodwill for distancing themselves from the people who make, sell, and promote weapons that kill people (even though EA’s games are usually about glorifying those self-same weapons).

    I’d like to know who’s going to be next to stop payng the manufacturers because I’d like to see the practice cease altogether. Will U bi next, Ubisoft?

  4. RakeShark says:

    I’m not quite sure where I stand on this issue.

    On one hand, I do like the idea of sending gun makers and in consequence the NRA a message that video games aren’t going to stand for their vilifying shit by not giving them money.

    On the other hand, what’s the difference between this and the Meme-makers vs. WB/Factor 5? Despite what people may think of specific license holders, they do have a right to demand fair compensation for their appearance in mass-distribution media.

    • El Mariachi says:

      Gun manufacturers make their money selling actual guns, not pictures of guns. Whereas with Nyan/Keyboard Cats, the images are the product. Licensing the use of a brand in movies and videogames has really never been anything more than a courtesy, as long as there’s no implied endorsement on the part of the brand owner.

      • RakeShark says:

        The thing is the Meme-Cats court case is part augment over likeness. An actor’s product is the body of work he/she produces on the stage or on film, however they can take someone to court over unauthorized/unlicensed likeness. In the same way, the Pepsi-Cola company makes the bulk of their profit from soda sales, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pursue unauthorized/unlicensed visual use of their brand. A company CAN choose not to pursue fees for likeness, but the legal high ground is not on the side of the ones using the likeness without permission. They aren’t public domain.

        Strangely enough, this same kind of fight is going on with NCAA Football here in the States, where EA Sports gets to use both the college team names/divisions as well as the players names and likeness. However, the NCAA has rules/laws against college athletes from profiting from their name/likeness, an issue that is complicated as hell, but the colleges have no qualm with taking the licensing fees for themselves. EA makes the game and sells copies, and the players are then screwed, their likeness used for profit but never seeing a dime of it for themselves.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the firearms culture as much as the next liberal. However, just because they’re gun manufacturers doesn’t mean EA gets a free bye to use the likeness of commercial products for free because of evil factor measurement.

      • Godwhacker says:

        Well, maybe. Did you read this article? http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-02-01-shooters-how-video-games-fund-arms-manufacturers

        “[It's] absolutely the same as with cars in games,” says Barrett’s Vaughn. “We must be paid a royalty fee – either a one-time payment or a percentage of sales, all negotiable. Typically, a licensee pays between 5 per cent to 10 per cent retail price for the agreement. But we could negotiate on that.”

  5. El Mariachi says:

    As Nathan points out, plenty of games use made-up names and designations for models of “real” weapons. Almost all of them have unofficial patches to correct this for players who feel silly carrying around an “AJ-48” or a “Molt 1912.”

  6. Simon Hawthorne says:

    From Wikipedia:

    Textron (NYSE: TXT ) is an American industrial conglomerate that includes Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft Company, and Greenlee, among others. It was founded by Royal Little in 1923 as the Special Yarns Company, and is headquartered at the Textron Tower in Providence, Rhode Island.

    From knitting to attack helicopters.

  7. Iain_1986 says:

    Maybe its also got something to do with the fact that EA might be a bit fed up with their games being blamed for every mass shooting….so possibly feel they want to stop paying the gun manufacturers (which I’m sure have close ties with the NRA…who then just blame the games industry).

  8. kwyjibo says:

    Given that they’re laying off people left, right and centre, it’s not too surprising.

    Don’t know why weapons manufacturers demand licensing fees when shooters are such good publicity for their wares.

  9. bluebomberman says:

    I’m really surprised at all the press this is getting across gaming sites.

    There isn’t much difference between this and say, sports games (for instance, missing players in Tecmo Super Bowl) or racing games (actual real cars vs. real cars in all but name).

    The likelihood of draconian licensing requirements resulting from current and future lawsuits seems really low. The existence of Jell-o, Kleenex, and Apple does not compel licensing deals to make games/movies/shows with gelatin desserts, tissues, and computers.

    • Simon Hawthorne says:

      If EA made an NFL game without licensing team names, uniform look and athlete look, it would also get a lot of press, I expect.

      • bluebomberman says:

        That’s not a good example.

        You can’t make an NFL game without getting the NFL’s blessing. You CAN make an American football game without involving the NFL.

        This actually happened when EA secured exclusive rights to the NFL. 2KSports up to that point had a NFL game that was pretty competitive to Madden. When they lost the NFL rights they made an American football game using retired players and made up teams. Midway I believe also ended up releasing a not-NFL Blitz game.

  10. mbp says:

    Your article has filled me with a burning desire to start a campaign to ban the use of guns and other weapons in games, especially first person shooter games. Just think of the glorious idea of EA and Activision making 100 million dollar blockbuster games in which grown men run around pointing heir fingers at each other and shouting “Bang bang you are dead”. I think that would be well worth the minor inconvenience to us gamers.

    Who will support me in this campaign?

  11. Screamer says:

    Counterstrike had to stop calling the AK an AK over these trademark things.

  12. Cinek says:

    This sux.
    Especially when EA most likely will ask more for BF4 than they did for BF3. Which is rather totally ridiculous outcome.

  13. lordcooper says:

    Less money finding it’s way into the hands of arms dealers is always a good thing.

  14. Arithon says:

    EA pay the gun makers to advertise their wares? That is so absurd. Do they pay grass-seed retailers for the grass portrayed in FIFA? Is the cats-eye patent holder getting his money for all the millions of miles of road shown in the Need for Speed games?

    What I want to know, is where is my money? Origin now flash my personal game-name to everyone on-line every time I so much as fart. Where’s my advertising revenue? You’re using my name EA and you’re not paying me!! Outrageous!

    I think at last the absurdity of IP “licensing” is revealed. EA are “pirating” guns!!

  15. Gap Gen says:

    The NRA should rename itself the Blammy Club.

  16. MichaelPalin says:

    But, but, but, no real names for weapons is not realistic! I won’t buy any modern military shooter unless it has real guns with real names.

    Now seriously, wouldn’t it be awesome if the genre of modern military shooters would decrease because of lawsuits from gun manufacturers. I wouldn’t know what side to choose, people who trivialize war and profit from its proliferation and an aggressive and jingoistic US foreign policy or the gun manufacturers.

  17. MobileAssaultDuck says:

    2142 was the best BF ever made and all the guns were fake.

    Fake guns are way more interesting anyway. Imagine BF with UT style weapons, or even BulletStorm’s weapons.

  18. jimbonbon says:

    I’m not exactly an EA fan, but this article (and the original Reuters one on the same subject) paints the wrong picture. It implies that EA are stopping the licencing of guns – what they actually said is they don’t and they won’t.

    These points are all clarified in a related article on Ars Technica. The key takeaway is that EA has never licenced any guns in any of it’s games, and doesn’t intend to. It also clarifies that the weapon branding arrangement which cause so much furore was a ‘cross-marketing/charity arrangement’ (in which all money went to said charity).

    http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/05/no-ea-wont-license-guns-in-its-2013-games-but-it-never-has/

  19. lord_strange says:

    I thought ‘sicking’ lawyers onto EA must be a mistake, although it conjured up some rich visual imagery (it made me imagine besuited and bewigged legal types vomiting copiously all over the corporate logo, but that’s probably just me), so was going to make a smart arsed spelling correction, and then I thought better of it and checked thefreedictionary.com, only to find that the verb ‘to sic’ has alternative spellings. One can indeed engage in ‘sicking’ as well as ‘siccing’. You really do learn something new every day, and that will teach me to be a smart arse.

  20. casserol says:

    Damn, I’d never thought of that. I don’t want the money i spend on video games to end up into some weapons manufacturer pockets. Very seriously.

    Guess I’ll have to stop buying games with “authentic” weapons.

  21. lord_strange says:

    I can see why you wouldn’t want to give your money to an arms manufacturer from an ethical point of view. But what is also worrying to me about franchises like CoD and MoH is that they may have the subtle and insidious effect of normalising the status quo with respect to the foreign policy of Western countries. I enjoyed the original CoD games set in WW2; I could shoot any amount of Nazis with a clean conscience. But when I tried to play one of the more recent ones (set in the Middle East?), I just couldn’t reconcile myself with the whole scenario, and have never gone back to either series. Ever since, I’ve stuck to shooters with a clear sci-fi or fantasy or horror theme – I have no problem with the Deus Exs, Bioshocks and Left 4 Deads of this world.

  22. TV-PressPass says:

    As someone who has most of his life savings invested in firearms: the presence of a gun or piece of equipment in a videogame is sometimes enough reason for me NOT to buy it.

    Case in point: http://youtu.be/3mF42dkKfbI

  23. P.Funk says:

    What does it matter if they use real guns or not? There’s absolutely nothing realistic whatsoever about how they perform in the game. In fact there’s hardly anything realistic in the entire game itself.

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