DoomRL dev receives legal letter from ZeniMax

Fan projects based on existing games are always at risk from publishers and other trademark holders who might decide to take legal action, removing a piece of media from distribution, or taking other less punitive measures. There’s a line of thought I see circulating among game journos whenever a decent fan project starts to receive attention: “Writing about this is worthwhile because it is great, but we would be summoning the Eye of Sauron.”

DoomRL [official site], the Doom-themed roguelike, has had press attention for years now, but ZeniMax hadn’t made any legal demands in relation to the Doom trademark until late last night. Now they have, but it doesn’t look like the end of the world.

Before looking at the content of the letter, which the developer of DoomRL has shared online, it’s important to mention Jupiter Hell. That’s a “modern, turn-based sci-fi roguelike” inspired by the Doom roguelike and by Doom itself, and it’s currently on Kickstarter. It’s entirely possible that the existence of a commercial project with such direct ties to DoomRL is the reason for this attention from ZeniMax, and the release of a new DOOM this year might well have played a part as well.

If you visit the DoomRL page right now (and it may change sooner rather than later), the top post is a link to the Jupiter Hell Kickstarter and the graphic at the top of the page is a Doom logo in the traditional Doom colours. The source of inspiration is not and has never been hidden – “a fast and furious coffee-break Roguelike game, that is heavily inspired by the popular FPS game Doom by ID Software” – but the link to a commercial spiritual successor is relatively new.

In their letter, ZeniMax ask for the removal of “all ZeniMax trademarks from meta tags, keywords, media, and other visible or concealed text that are connected to [the] website”. I’m no legal expert, but that certainly isn’t the harshest warning shot I’ve ever seen. There’s no demand to remove the game itself, which does use enemy names and other elements of the game, though not assets, and Jupiter Hell isn’t directly mentioned. The name Doom is starred out (D**m) on the Kickstarter page already.

You can see the letter in full here. The key to ZeniMax’s argument is that “unauthorized use of ZeniMax’s intellectual property falsely suggests ZeniMax’s sponsorship or endorsement of your website”. The reason the company is involved in this is due to their ownership of Bethesda and many associated studios, including id Software. I don’t expect corporate entities to sponsor or endorse anything unless they’re getting something in return, but it’s nice to see that at least one person closely connected to Doom does support Jupiter Hell, which looks fab.

It seems unlikely that DoomRL is about to be purged from the internet, and while changing the name isn’t a case of simply applying some TipEx to the internet, DeimosRL might work in a pinch. And maybe TristramRL and LV-426RL (rolls off the tongue) for a couple of those other projects.


  1. Pich says:

    I can’t wait to play DooDRL

  2. DTK79 says:

    This reads to me more like someone in their web team tidying up their SEO, rather than being trade mark enforcement. It’s possible that the Zenimax legal team aren’t even aware of this (beyond perhaps checking a draft of the template email).

    I’m a little surprised that Zenimax are willing to tolerate DoomRL going by that name, using the classic logo on their site and using the names of classic enemies in the game, but then maybe someone at Zeni (or ID) legal still has a soul.

  3. Unsheep says:

    Using common sense: how on Earth would you *not* expect to get in trouble when using another game’s title and logo ?!

    It’s not a harsh reprimand though, Zenimax don’t seem to have an issue with the game itself, just the references to Doom and Zenimax.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      A lot of companies allow fan content and sometimes even provide branding assets for said purpose.

      • MajorLag says:

        Yeah, some companies aren’t dicks about it. Notably, Sega doesn’t seem to mind at all the abundance of Sonic fan games, including Sonic Dreams Collection which actually pretends to be something Sonic Team legitimately produced.

    • malkav11 says:

      You can reasonably expect to get in trouble for selling something based on someone else’s IP, and/or deliberately representing yourself as affiliated (though as noted, the latter isn’t always the case and the former may not be either depending on what you can work out). Free fan projects like DoomRL are often okay.

  4. montorsi says:

    > DoomRL has had press attention for years now, but ZeniMax hadn’t made any legal demands in relation to the Doom trademark until late last night

    If only there were some way to find out whether ZeniMax has a problem with it besides sending smoke signals through the press.

  5. Mungrul says:

    It’s Zenimax doing what Zenimax do. They’re ran by a shady ex-lawyer who’s always been pretty litigious.
    If they’re not bringing a case against someone, they’re not breathing.

    • whexican says:

      This actually seems pretty level headed IMHO. They don’t want customers mistaking the new game with their own IP, so they asked any reference from Doom be removed. Seems like a reasonable request.

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    But is it legally justified to demand removal of ‘trademark from the text of a website’. Because simply saying that game X is ‘inspired by [trademarked] game Y’ seems perfectly legal, as opposed to using logotypes etc.

    • Snowskeeper says:

      I think it’s probably not illegal to make that request, and the dev would get in enough trouble contesting it that doing so isn’t really worth it.

      It’s also worth noting that once you plaster somebody else’s logo on your main page and use somebody else’s game’s name for yours, it’s pretty difficult for the other guy’s legal team to justify playing softball. As it stands, they’re being pretty gentle.

  7. tonicer says:

    Zenimax is just pissed that everyone has a better game than the horribly boring Doom4 they released. Literally the worst game 2016.

    • sebmojo says:

      nice meltdown

    • Snowskeeper says:

      *Literally* the worst? As opposed to, what, figuratively the worst? How the hell could something be figuratively the worst; “worst” is already a highly subjective term.