PUBG Corp has decided enough is enough, announcing legal proceedings against the first in a lengthy list of battle royale-style imitators. Following PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds meteoric rise, it didn’t take long for the copycats to follow, all hoping for a piece of the billion-dollar action.
Two fairly popular mobile games, Knives Out and Rules of Survival, have caught PUBG Corp’s attention in particular though. Both of these games are from Chinese company NetEase, and the lawsuit alleges these games are too similar to PUBG, infringing on several copyright and trademark violations.
PUBG Corp has outlined a total of 25 copyrightable elements which it believes makes PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds unique. This includes 100 people parachuting in from a plane, a shrinking circle of play, a pre-match lobby where players can run around, the use of cooking utensils as melee weapons, and even the inclusion of “winner winner chicken dinner.” The copyright covers just about every gameplay and cosmetic element that makes PUBG what it is, and also what countless other battle royale games attempt to emulate.
Both Knives Out and Rules of Survival feature very gameplay mechanics and rules systems that are extremely similar to PUBG, right down to loot crates dropping periodically from the sky. PUBG Corp also claims that NetEase is attempting to deliberately mislead consumers into thinking its games may be PUBG spin-offs or mobile versions.
NetEase said back in January that it was “denying that Rules of Survival and Knives Out infringe PUBG Corporation’s rights,” prompting PUBG Corp to take legal action. “Once it became apparent that NetEase was unwilling to acknowledge PUBG’s intellectual property rights, PUBG determined that legal action would be necessary to enforce its rights,” reads PUBG Corp’s lawsuit.
It’s an aggressive step from PUBG Corp, but from my limited knowledge of gaming law, I don’t think they’re going to have much luck. Game mechanics can't be copyrighted, nor can ideas or game modes. Copyright infringement would have to amount from ripped off code or art assets, including logos. There would also be a case if either Knives Out or Rules of Survival’s names or logos were easily confused with PUBG.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen PUBG Corp flex its legal muscles though, and it probably won’t be the last. Back when Fortnite: Battle Royale came out there were faint murmurings of legal action that eventually came to nothing. It all comes down to posturing, more than anything, and it would be a tragic day indeed should PUBG Corp score an unprecedented victory in court. Imagine a world where mechanics and systems in games could actually be copyrighted, such as reloading, a triple jump, or a leveling system. It's antithetical to game development, even if preventing it does allow these copycat games to spring up. But if you're confident yours is the best product, what's the problem?