PUBG Corporation, developers of Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds, is taking Epic Games to court over a copyright dispute. The Korean Times are reporting that PUBG, a subsidiary of Bluehole, are suing Epic for copyright violations in Fortnite. This is not the first time PUBG has made a copyright claim over the Battle-Royale style. In early April, the Korean developers alleged that NetEase’s mobile-only Battle-Royale games Rules of Survival and Knives Out violated copyright. There are multiple similarities between Fortnite and PUBG, to the point where they were first addressed back in September 2017. Bluehole VP and executive producer Chang Han Kim stated “after listening to the growing feedback from our community and reviewing the gameplay for ourselves, we are concerned that Fortnite may be replicating the experience for which PUBG is known.”
Will they win?
While the case isn’t strong, there is definitely a case. With PUBG running on the same engine that Epic Games licenses, and Fortnite referencing PUBG in its promotional material, there is a basis that Epic was riding the popularity of PUBG in taking the idea and making it theirs. However, this isn’t the strongest legal case, despite it raising serious ethical issues. Gamespot reached out to video game attorney Ryan Morrison for information and he states that, in the medium of video games, no person or developer can own an idea, genre or mechanic. If Fortnite is derivative of PUBG, this is simply the nature of the industry, with games stemming from each other’s ideas.
There are clear examples of this in the past. One example that almost mirrors the growth and development of Battle Royale modes is the MOBA genre. The MOBA genre started with the Warcraft 3 mod, Defence of the Ancients. In this same way, the Battle Royale genre began to rise in popularity after Brendan Greene, aka PlayerUnknown, developed a mode for Arma2 in 2013. This mod was brought into an official game in 2016 with the release of H1Z1: King of the Kill, just like MOBAs made their debut with 2009’s Demigod.
What’s different from MOBAs and Battle Royale games is that the original DOTA mod developer never released a standalone game like PUBG. However, what is similar is the explosion of the genre and subsequent growth and diversification of the games. The MOBA genre, much like Battle Royale, exploded into the mainstream through one key release that was free-to-play. For MOBAs it was League of Legends in 2009 and for Battle Royale it was Fortnite.
With the genre growing in popularity as a result of one titles release, it is unfair to say the genre belongs to PlayerUnknown and that the idea was stolen, in the eyes of the law. Where MOBAs continued to grow as a result of new games adopting the style, so is the Battle Royale genre, with the gamemode coming to the next Call of Duty instalment. This is why PUBG’s case is going to be difficult to win.
For an in-depth breakdown on the legalities of the case, check out Gamespot’s video with lawyer Ryan Morrison.