Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Litigation Hammer

Shamus Young | 6 Aug 2010 17:00
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Activision has been scoring asshole points at a tremendous rate over the past couple of years. I think they're on their way to achieving some sort of high score. Everything they say or do seems to be scientifically engineered to irritate gamers and make the gaming hobby less fun. They seem to end up in court about as often as often as Princess Peach gets kidnapped.

Now, with any one of these stories you could say, "Yeah, that looks bad for Activision, but there's probably more to the story." Which is a pretty grown-up attitude to have. Congratulations. But you know the old saying, where there's smoke, there's fire. Except in this case it's more like: Where there are people running around screaming "OH MY GOD I'M ON FIRE PLEASE SOMEONE PUT ME OUT," there's fire. Either we are to believe that all of these individuals are just making up stories about Activision as some sort of widespread conspiracy to make them look bad, or the company really is just in the business of screwing everyone foolish enough to go into business with them.

The most recent person to come out of the Activision board room walking funny is paint ball star(?) Greg Hastings. According to Hastings, "Activision tried to steal my franchise. Within 24 hours of me shipping my PlayStation 2 game, Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball Max'd, they sent me a letter and they said, 'We feel you've abandoned your franchise, and we're going to commence making games called Greg Hastings Paintball without Greg Hastings.'"

Now, Hastings actually won the legal struggle against Activision, but a lot of gamers are asking the question, "Why would Activision even attempt to steal the name Greg Hastings from Greg Hastings?" It seems like such a foolhardy thing to do. And so I'm going to let you in on a little secret I learned during my time riding the dot-com boom / bust rollercoaster with all the other tech types. A lot of us - myself included - were paper millionaires. Huge sums of money were being thrown around during the boom, and when the jig was up a lot of business partners turned on each other as everyone tried to jump ship with as much loot as they could grab. Like a lot of the techies, I walked away with a few stinging life lessons instead of money. And now I will share one of those lessons with you:

You can sue anyone, at any time, for any reason - as long as you've got the money.

It's pretty cynical, but it's true. Many lawsuits are not launched because the plaintiff thinks they can actually win. They are launched because the plaintiff thinks the defendant will go broke hiring lawyers defending themselves.

Let's say you're a tiny studio and a great big publisher says that because the last title you did for them performed poorly (perhaps even due to reasons that are their own fault) you're in some sort of breach of contract. Let's say this claim is outrageous. The publisher is threatening to drag you into court. They're going to withhold some money they were supposed to give you (royalties, advances on the next game, whatever) until "this unfortunate legal business is cleared up". But! The publisher offers you a way out. Just sign over all your rights to your Shoot Guy intellectual property and the publisher will be willing to forgive you for your crimes. They want to hand off Shoot Guy to some other developers and make Shoot Guy DS, Shoot Guy for the iPhone, Shoot Guy plushies, and a bunch of knock-off Shoot Guy shovelware that will make them a lot of money. (But not you, if you sign over the rights.) If you do this, your Shoot Guy creation will become a conveyor belt franchise of diluted crap.

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