Goshdarnit, inXile, not you too. You were the ones who gave the people the elaborate, old-school, spiritual-sequel RPGs they’d long desired, not the ones who chased down unrelated games with vaguely similar names to their own. I know, I know: absurd legal complexities mean that sometimes firms are forced to strong-arm other firms into changing the names of things, otherwise they risk losing their long-held trademarks. But that doesn’t change the fact that this has been abused in the past, and to many of us simply looks like The Man bullying the little guy.
In this instance, the Wasteland 2 devs have, after attempted amicable resolutions failed, done a legal frown at one man studio Dan Games, developer of a shooter named The Alien Wasteland. Or ‘Action Alien,’ as it is now unhappily named. They do claim they will help to promote the game if Dan so wishes, however.
The cease and desist bomb was dropped because their most recent completed game was, of course, the post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland 2, and they have registered the trademark ‘wasteland’ as part of that. I.E. they are attempting to claim ownership of the common English word ‘Wasteland.’ Oi, Fargo, T.S. Eliot wants a word.
However, the way trademark law works, as I understand it (and I probably don’t), is that trademarks need to be actively protected, otherwise any old opportunist can go make something with the same title as your thing, and even try to snag the trademark for themselves. So, abstractly, inXile may need to do this in order that they can call their next post-apocalyptic RPG ‘Wasteland 3’, and so that they don’t end up in a situation where they’re being forced to re-title Wasteland 2 because someone else has won ‘wasteland’ at the USPTO.
It is all properly cuckoo, yes.
On inXile’s part, they claim that Dan Games refused to reach “an amicable resolution without involving lawyers”, instead asking for money if he was to change the name of his game.
In a statement, a representative wrote “We do not know if the developer of Action Alien was aware of our Registered trademark when he initially named his game and bear absolutely no ill will towards the creator of Action Alien or the game. We always look for amicable win-win solutions in these cases, where we seek to protect our mark as any prudent business would do, while also helping the other party promote their game and provide a bigger reach than he otherwise would get, so that both parties benefit. In fact, that offer still stands now.”
Dan Games, aka Devdan, claims in a Steam update that “because both games have almost nothing in common and no case of confusion was ever reported for almost two years since my game was first announced, I have been calmly explaining through long emails why we should have no worries about this.”
The eventual result was a cease and desist letter, and Dan Games electing to change the game’s name rather than lawyer up.
It’s all the more sad because inXile, a dev comprised of assorted Black Isle and Interplay refugees, are more accustomed to losing their game-babies than most. Fallout is in Bethesda’s hands and Wizards of the Coast won’t let go of Planescape: Torment – but did let inXile use ‘Torment’ for their upcoming spiritual sequel Torment: Tides of Numenera.
It’s a messy business that no-one comes out of particularly well, and as in the case of Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls vs Mojang’s Scrolls shines a grim light on why trademark law desperately needs to be changed. This world has far more people and far more products in it than it did at the time those laws were devised: it is flat-out crazy to maintain that words from the dictionary can be the sole province of one company or another.
I guess the good news for Dan Games is that, suddenly, a whole bunch of people are talking about Action Alien. Hopefully he’ll take inXile up on their offer to help promote it, too.
The bad news for me is that, had this happened just a few days earlier, I’d have been able to make an ‘April is the cruellest month’ pun.