A few days ago, developers of the highly popular battle royale game PUBG sued Chinese company NetEase over copyright infringements. However, NetEase has come forward and has denied any wrongdoing by the company. The company is prepared to protect its two games “Rules of Survival” and “Knives Out” in what may be a tough legal battle.
PUBG is one of the most popular games in the world with millions of players across multiple platforms. To put into perspective the heights the game has reached: the game has sold over 33 million copies on Steam. PUBG also generated over $100 million in sales revenue in February. PUBG has accused rival game developer NetEase for copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition.
The game developers of PUBG claim that the aforementioned games copy some unique aspects of their game.
“Commentators in the industry have characterized [‘Rules of Survival’] as a copy, ‘rip-off,’ ‘knock-off,’ or ‘clone’ of PUBG,” the studio said in a legal document.
The “unique elements” PUBG is referring to are a few weapons, clothing and the idea of a battle royale themed game where players parachute on to an island for survival.
An example can be given through a weapon in PUBG, the frying pan. The pan is considered to be one of PUBG’s most popular weapons, for obvious reasons: you can hit your opponents with a frying pan. PUBG claims that such objects being used as weapons is not something other games do and that NetEase has blatantly copied the way the weapon is used in PUBG in their own game “Rules of Survival”. Here is a photo comparison:
The main issue PUBG corporation points out is how the implementation of NetEase’s game has similar “shape and properties” to that of PUBG. On the left, is NetEase’s “Rules of Survival” and the right side shows PUBG. Both show similar ways of tucking away the frying pan and from the looks of it, PUBG might be on to something.
What about other games?
Although PUBG claims that NetEase has copied some elements from their game, they haven’t done anything to Fortnite, a game that is most popularly known as the “Free version of PUBG”. The latter is a huge success and has taken over PUBG’s spot as the most popular and most played game on the internet, and even in sales revenue. The launch of Fortnite’s mobile versions has also overshadowed PUBG’s mobile release as they’ve become the most popular apps in the app store.
Fortnite is a lot similar to PUBG, the mechanics, the battle royale, the players parachuting themselves to a location. However, PUBG corporation has not done anything to them. Part of this is because they have a mutual company. Chinese company Tencent has a 40% share in Epic, the creators of Fortnite. Tencent also has a share in Bluehole studio which is the parent company of PUBG Corporation. Moreover, Tencent recently won the rights to distribute PUBG in China. Therefore, it may be because of Tencent that PUBG corporation hasn’t taken any action against Fortnite, or it may just be because of Fortnite’s immense popularity, as the backlash from the community would be severe if they did anything.
NetEase does have this that the beta versions for their games came out in October. Moreover, You Yunting, an intellectual property lawyer at Shanghai DeBund Law Offices, doesn’t think that PUBG is likely to win an intellectual property suit as all shooter games have “similar origins”.
The copying parts may be considered minor and given the plethora of games out there, some games are bound to be similar. However, PUBG does have a valid case when it comes to unfair competition. If PUBG is searched on the AppStore, Rules of Survival will also come as part of the search results. However, according to lawyers, it’s not a serious offense and it can be easily corrected.
Whatever happens with the lawsuit now remains to be seen, but it seems that the rise of PUBG has paved the way for similar games to make their way onto the market. It can already be seen with games such as Fortnite. The competition for PUBG will get even more fierce as more developers look to adopt the Battle Royale game mode in upcoming games.