Microsoft has apparently filed for a patent that uses a camera device to determine how many people are watching a given piece of entertainment to make sure the consumer isn't abusing the license they purchased... The patent the company has filed for is titled "Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User" and allows content providers to "regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis."
Here is a deeper, more alarming description of the patent:
In a shocking turn of events, Wargaming has purchased video game middleware company BigWorld for $45 Million, according to a GamesBeat report. Wargaming is best known for its wildly popular online game World of Tanks. That game has more than 35 million registered users who can play for free or buy virtual goods to enhance their game experience if they so choose.
Director Guillermo Del Toro's inSANE video game project has been canceled by THQ as the company announces financial results for its latest quarter. In a conference call with analysts and media to discuss its latest results, THQ president Jason Rubin said that the game had been canceled as part of the company's ongoing cost cutting, belt tightening and restructuring.
Bethesda has no comment on a rumor circulating this morning that it purchased the game rights to the popular action game series S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The rumor was started by Ukrainian blogger Sergey Galyonkin, who cited a "very reliable source" close to the situation. The reason that many media outlets have run with this particular rumor is because Galyonkin has proven to be a reliable source himself in the past when it comes to things GSC Gameworld-related. He predicted that trouble within the studio before it became public earlier in the year.
EA has decided to yank both Rock Band and Rock Band Reloaded from the Apple App Store next week, the company revealed. The games and the songs that users have downloaded for it will be unavailable after July 31, though local play will still be available. Electronic Arts said that it was pulling the apps because its licensing agreement with game developer Harmonix was coming to an end.
A case that was ultimately kicked into high gear over a licensing inquiry by THQ has put one songwriter on the warpath against World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Michael Seitz (aka Michael 'P.S.' Hayes from the Fabulous Freebirds), and others. According to a lawsuit filed by songwriter James D. Papa the defendants in the case redirected royalty payments to several wrestling related songs he either wrote or co-wrote by securing the rights to music unlawfully.
Canadian studio Silicon Knights has been forced to cut its staff down to a "core group" that scaling back that will focus "all efforts on future opportunities," according to studio founder Denis Dyack. Dyack did not say how many employees were laid off.
The developer behind Too Human said that the layoffs are a direct result of losing its legal battle with Epic last month. The studio sued Epic for allegedly not supporting its Unreal Engine and for spending all of its time on developing Gears of War. The company was asking for $58 million in damages.
According to Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, THQ sold the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) license to Electronic Arts because its latest game based on it did not meet expectations. Pachter claims that THQ management told him that UFC Undisputed 3, released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in February, didn't even hit the break-even mark of 2 million copies sold.
Lucas Licensing, the licensing arm of Lucasfilms, has renewed its lucrative Star Wars deal with The LEGO Group. The deal extends LEGO's popular toy line for another ten years. LEGO secured the original deal way back in 1999. The deal helped LEGO create the first product based on a third-party license. Since that time, LEGO has created toys based on such as popular franchises Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Batman.
After licensing talks broke down between Textron - the parent company of Bell Helicopter – and Electronics Arts, the company has decided to take the legal route to get around paying any licensing fees. Publishers are often pretty heavy handed when it comes to depictions of their work – even when the target claims fair use - but when the shoe is on the other foot, EA has a habit of seeking remedies through the court.
CTA Digital has revealed a new partnership with the U.S. Army to manufacture branded video game accessories. The company says that this is the first licensing agreement it has entered into. Oddly enough, tax payers may be saying the same thing. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The company will reveal three new U.S. Army branded gaming headsets, three rifle controllers, and a "battle ready backpack" for game console systems at CES in Las Vegas on January 10-13 (booth #31265).
According to a VentureBeat report Viacom may be pulling its content from Netflix. This would eliminate a lot of content from the popular streaming entertainment service that users enjoy on just about every gaming system on the planet. That would mean no more TV content from such channels as Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and more. The speculation comes from expiration dates on a large amount of Viacom content on various services including website Instant Watcher, Xbox Live and Google TV. Those services list May 22 as the expiration date.
VentureBeat further speculates that a new deal inked with Hulu might be part of that problem.
While this isn't the first time streaming content has expired on Netflix only to return days or weeks later, it could mean - at a minimum - an interruption in your favorite content. Worst case scenario is that it disappears for a long time.
Blizzard intends to find a new e-sports partner in South Korea, according to a recent interview with a top Blizzard executive. In an interview with Korean newspaper Yonhap News, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said that the company is moving in a new direction - which is apparently away from KeSPA, who currently handles StarCraft competitions in the region. KeSPA (aka the Korean e-Sports Association) has been at odds with Blizzard over what boils down to money. Blizzard says that the company doesn't respect its IP rights and has refused to talk to them for 3 years.
KeSPA is one of the largest e-sports associations in South Korea and supports some of the most popular professional StarCraft teams in the country. It also has the ear of the government, who recently gave StarCraft II, a mature rating of 18+. This seemed to be a direct response to Blizzard's attitude towards KeSPA and the removal of LAN support in StarCraft II, which ultimately gives Blizzard more control over online play via Battle.net - the only way you can play the game multiplayer.
U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilkin has denied the NCAA’s request to dismiss a class action suit filed last year by ex-UCLA star basketball player Ed O’Bannon which alleged that the collegiate association misused the likenesses of college athletes in a variety of licensed materials, including videogames.
Rivals.com notes that the ruling will now open the door for the discovery process to begin, which could shed some light on the inner workings of the NCAA. Lawyer Jon King, a Partner at Hausfeld LLP—one of the law firms handling the class action suit—thinks such discovery could be a big deal:
This is a truly historic day – to our knowledge, no one has ever gotten behind the scenes to examine how student-athletes’ current and future rights in their images are divided up and sold.
It was also noted in the article that the Hausfeld firm is attempting to link the O’Bannon case with a similar class-action suit filed by ex-NCAA football player Samuel Keller.
If O’Bannon et al were to win the case, Rivals offered that such a judgment could “lead to former student-athletes getting a cut of the multi-billion dollar college sports revenue pool and dramatically impact the way college athletics operates.”
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is targeting at least one operator of a commercial Guitar Hero arcade unit over what it says are unpaid licensing fees associated with operating the game.
The operator in question posted on the Arcade-Museum forums (thanks TechDirt) that ASCAP is demanding an $800 a year license to operate the unit legally. The operator added that, while his place of business does have live musical acts, they are relegated to performing original (i.e. their own) songs in order to circumvent just such a need to pay a royalty fee.
While there might be some confusion on either or both sides if a consumer version of Guitar Hero was being used, it’s rather clear that in this case a commercial arcade unit is at the center of the story, as the site operator indicated he told the ASCAP representative to contact Raw Thrills, a purveyor of arcade units, including Guitar Hero. Also, the ASCAP rep told the operator that she viewed the Guitar Hero unit as a jukebox of sorts.
ASCAP’s licensing FAQ contains the question “I'm interested in playing music in my restaurant or other business. I know that I need permission for live performances. Do I need permission if I am using only CD's, records, tapes, radio or TV?”
The answer posted on the site:
Yes, you will need permission to play records or tapes in your establishment. Permission for radio and television transmissions in your business is not needed if the performance is by means of public communication of TV or radio transmissions by eating, drinking, retail or certain other establishments of a certain size which use a limited number of speakers or TVs, and if the reception is not further transmitted (for example, from one room to another) from the place in which it is received, and there is no admission charge.
We have a request for clarification into ASCAP and will update this story if a response or statement is issued.
Update: AN ASCAP spokesperson told GP, "ASCAP is currently in negotiations with the manufacturer for the commercial use of these machines."
Video game blogs and message boards have been debating the appropriateness of Kurt Cobain’s posthumous inclusion as a playable character in the recently released Guitar Hero 5. Some think it’s a welcome tribute, others find it a bit creepy if not outright distasteful.
But what does Cobain’s widow Courtney Love think? Well, one needs look no further than her Twitter account:
For the record this Guitar Hero [expletive] is breach of contract on a Bullys part and there will be a proper addressing of this and retraction. WE are going to sue the [expletive] out of Activision we being the Trust the Estate the LLC the various LLCs Cobain Enterprises.
While Love’s main gripe seems to be the appearance of Cobain’s character model and a feature that allows it to perform other artist’s songs, Activision Vice President Tim Riley told The Guardian that she was very cooperative in the creation of the game:
Courtney supplied us with photos and videos. She picked the wardrobe and hairstyle, which turned out to be the 'Teen Spirit' look, then we went back and forth over changes – some subtle, some not so subtle.
Love, for her part, doesn’t seem to agree:
Activision is fulllo f sh*t... i never intended to APPROVE this sh*t, they are doing a recall you can be sure of that… wait til you see what my lovely lawyer has cooked up, i never ever signed off on this.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl are also unhappy with the use of Cobain’s likeness:
While we were aware of Kurt's image being used with two Nirvana songs, we didn't know players have the ability to unlock the character. This feature allows the character to be used with any kind of song the player wants. We urge Activision to do the right thing in 're-locking' Kurt's character so that this won't continue in the future.
Activision defended itself in a statement released Thursday, saying that it “secured the necessary licensing rights from the Cobain estate in a written agreement signed by Courtney Love to use Kurt Cobain’s likeness as a fully playable character in Guitar Hero 5.”
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Senior Correspondent Andrew Eisen…
Late last year, NFL retirees won a massive $28 million verdict against their former union, the NFLPA, when a federal court jury in San Francisco decided that the old time players' images had been used in EA's popular Madden series without their authorization.
Following an appeal, the retirees accepted a just slightly less massive $26.25 million settlement. Although EA was not a defendant in the case, there has been talk by at least one militant former NFL player that a similar suit against the publisher may be in the offing.
It's very clear that, despite the big settlement dollars, hard feelings linger among the retirees. One of the more outspoken ex-players, former Oakland Raider Dave Pear, bitterly notes that EA has licensed realistic weather for Madden, but won't pay to use former players, who no longer appear in the game. Pear writes:
Retired players are so sick and tired of getting ripped off every time they turn around. We recently came across an article that Electronic Arts was partnering with The Weather Channel to pay them for weather statistics to make Madden Football X more “realistic” – but they DON’T want to pay the retired football players themselves for their stats in order to make the game more “realistic”. I wonder when they’re planning on screwing around with the weather so they won’t have to pay for that either...
Gamers who purchased a copy of Madden from August, 2005 onward may be eligible to join a class action suit against publisher Electronic Arts.
Pecover vs. EA (all GP coverage here) is currently proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that EA's exclusive licensing deal with the NFL and NFL Players Association created a monopoly situation which EA exploited by substantially raising the retail price for a copy of Madden.
In a story broken recently by GamePolitics, an expert witness hired by the plaintiffs theorized that EA's exclusive NFL/NFLPA license may have cost consumers nearly a billion dollars. Lawyers for EA have disputed that claim in court documents.
In a press release issued on Friday, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, the law firm representing consumers in the case, provides a link where Madden buyers can learn more about the suit and potentially join as additional plaintiffs.
Lead attorney Steve Berman, quoted in the press release, pulled no punches in his assessment of EA's position regarding Madden:
There is nothing wrong with good, strong competition in a free market, but we believe EA rigged the game to take advantage of consumers.
EA knows that the demand for these games is based on how realistically the players and teams are portrayed. When EA signed into exclusive agreements it knowingly killed the only competing game of comparable quality, [Take-Two's] NFL 2K5.
As GamePolitics has reported, former college athletes have filed a trio of lawsuits this year alleging that the NCAA and video game publisher Electronic Arts profited from the unlicensed use of their images in video games based on college football and basketball.
If successful, the suits have the potential to change the way the sports licensing game is played. What are the chances that will happen?
IGN has posted an interview with litigation support/public relations expert Jason Maloni, whose firm represents Roger Clemens, among others. Maloni comments on the implications of the lawsuits for the NCAA and EA:
Technology is a huge part of it. When I was growing up playing Space Invaders, you couldn't be one of the characters in the game. But with sports games, it's become such a huge phenomenon to assume the identity of your favorite athlete, and it only increases the bond people have with both the game and the team. That's why the pro and collegiate ranks love this type of branding...
I expect the impact for EA Sports will be minimal. The company is still going to produce games and derive a profit. The NCAA and large institutions stand to lose a small part of their current revenue... however, they are making [money] hand over fist. I don't think compensating these athletes in some way at the end of the day going to put a crimp in their budgets. College sports are a big business and it will remain a big business...
Like a lot of laws, it takes someone to stand up and say this isn't right. You might also be seeing a growing sympathy for former athletes. Not everyone goes on to the pros or gets mega contracts. I think student athletes are seeing what former pro athletes have done recently seeking restitution against the NFL for the use of their images.
By "pro athletes," Maloni is referring to the recent $26.25 million settlement that a group of retired NFL players reached with the former union over the unlicensed use of their images in EA's best-selling Madden franchise.
The sports video game business is clearly in a period of legal upheaval as yet another class-action suit involving the licensing of athletes' images has emerged.
In the latest development, former UCLA power forward Ed O'Bannon is the lead plaintiff in a federal class action suit charging that the NCAA unlawfully deprived former student athletes of compensation for the use of their likenesses in, among other things, video games, DVDs, jerseys and stock video footage.
O'Bannon led UCLA to the 1995 NCAA Championship and played for three seasons in the NBA.
Michael Hausfield, whose firm, Hausfield LLP is representing O'Bannon and other members of the plaintiff class, offers this comment in a press release issued this morning:
No one has a right to own or control another person’s image or likeness for eternity without providing fair compensation. Former student athletes should have a voice in how their own images or likenesses – once they are no longer students – are used throughout their lifetime.
In his Sports Law column for Sports Illustrated/CNN, Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann terms the stakes in the case "enormous." McCann's full column is worth a read. Here's a taste:
There are two core areas of law implicated by O'Bannon v. NCAA.
First, by requiring student-athletes to forgo their identity rights in perpetuity, the NCAA has allegedly restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act... Student-athletes, but for their authorization of the NCAA to license their images and likenesses, would be able to negotiate their own licensing deals after leaving college... For example, if former student-athletes could negotiate their own licensing deals, multiple video game publishers could publish games featuring ex-players. More games could enhance technological innovation and lower prices for video game consumers.
Second... the [former players argue that] NCAA has deprived them of their "right of publicity." The right of publicity refers to the property interest of a person's name or likeness, i.e. one's image, voice or even signature...
It's important to note that the O'Bannon lawsuit is directed at the NCAA, not video game publishers. In addition, it deals only with licensing issues relating to former, not current NCAA athletes. On that score, however, O'Bannon requests that a trust be established with any funds won in the case; such proceeds would benefit today's players when they are finished with their collegiate careers.
In addition to the O'Bannon case, a pair of recent class-action suits by former college football players Sam Keller and Ryan Hart target the NCAA and Electronic Arts over similar licensing issues. And, as GamePolitics reported last month, retired NFL players won a $26.5 settlement with the National Football League Players Association over their unlicensed use in EA's popular Madden series. EA was not a defendant in that case, but some militant voices among the retired players advocate pursuing the Madden publisher at some future point.
Turbulent times, indeed...
Yesterday's GamePolitics report detailing a University of Michigan economist's estimate that EA's exclusive NFL deal cost Madden buyers as much as $926 million raised a number of eyebrows, including those attached to the forehead of Michael Pachter (left).
In an e-mail exchange with GamePolitics, the Wedbush-Morgan analyst scoffed at the monopoly theory offered by Dr. Jeffrey MacKie-Mason in a filing last week with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. MacKie-Mason was hired as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed in 2008 by a pair of gamers who allege that EA exploited its exclusive NFL deal to jack up the price of its popular Madden series.
Here's what Pachter had to say:
What kind of fool is this U of Michigan economics professor? ...Madden (according to NPD) sold 23 million units in 2006 - 2009, not the 30 million that Dr. MacKie-Mason claims... The total retail sales were $1.034 billion, meaning that EA's cut was around $800 million (retail margin is 20%). How in the world does [MacKie-Mason] conclude that EA overcharged by more than they generated?
For the four year period, EA's average retail price was $44. For the period 1995 - 2005 (when either Sega or Take-Two provided [NFL 2K series] competition), EA generated $1.548 billion of sales on 36 million units, for an average price of $43. In other words, WITH competition, the price was $43, and WITHOUT competition, the price was $44.18...
I rarely read anything that gets me so incensed... They may have some odd estimates I'm not aware of, but based on what you printed, they should be embarrassed. You can quote me.
Here's more: Take-Two discounted [NFL 2K5] to $19.99 to gain market share, and lost their butts in the process. It's the same as a dollar menu at McDonald's that is a loss leader in order to gain share, and McDonald's hopes people buy the high-margin soft drink. There is no "right" among consumers to receive a perpetual discount just because one retailer decides to discount below cost...
It strikes me as irresponsible that the professor would focus on the NFL exclusive as if there is some god-given right for consumers to have all intellectual property available for exploitation by any business that chooses to do so in the name of competition...
The ONLY I/P that has ever been licensed to multiple video game parties is team sports. The NFL, Major League Baseball, FIFA, and NCAA Basketball have all chosen to go the exclusive route for games, similar to the contracts for all movie-based games.
GP: As GamePolitics reported yesterday, MacKie-Mason acknowledges that his analysis is based on incomplete data. In a response filing, attorneys for EA (who were similarly contemptuous of MacKie-Mason's theory) agreed to furnish available documentation dating back to 2001.
A University of Michigan economics professor estimates that Electronic Arts collectively overcharged Madden buyers between $701 million and $926 million during the years 2006 through 2009.
Dr. Jeffrey MacKie-Mason made his claim in a document filed last week with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Mackie-Mason was brought into the case as an expert witness by attorneys representing Geoffrey Pecover and Jeffrey Lawrence. The pair of gamers are named plaintiffs in a class-action suit alleging that EA used its exclusive licensing deal with the NFL to eliminate Take Two Interactive's competing NFL 2K series. The suit charges that EA then exploited the resulting competitive vacuum to dramatically raise the retail price of Madden.
While MacKie-Mason acknowledges that his estimates are based on incomplete data, he writes:
I provide this information for the limited purpose of allowing the Court to assess in rough terms the burden on Electronic Arts in relation to the magnitude of potential damages... Under California's antitrust statute, it is my understanding that these damages would be trebled.
MacKie-Mason arrived at the eye-popping figures using an estimated overcharge percentage that ranged from 50% to 66% for the 30.04 million units of Madden sold during the 2006-2009. He writes:
When Take-Two was able to compete unhindered, Madden NFL's competitive price was in the range of $19.95 to $29.95. I assume for this exercise that these would have been Madden's prices but for the alleged [monopolistic] acts.
Based on Mackie-Mason's estimate, attorneys for the plaintiffs have requested additional data for Madden sales going back to 2001. In a response, attorneys for EA agreed to supply as many of the requested documents as they could locate, but were unsparing in their assessment of Mackie-Mason's analysis:
EA respectfully submits that Dr. MacKie-Mason's analysis is fundamentally flawed on multiple levels. Indeed, Dr. MacKie-Mason's estimated magnitude of damages is nothing more than pure fiction - it has no basis in fact or law...
As GamePolitics reported last month, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the plaintiffs' monopoly suit could go forward, but limited the scope of the case to claims arising in California and Washington, D.C. where Pecover and Lawrence reside.
NCAA Football 10 launches at midnight with a pair of lawsuits filed by one-time college football stars hanging over its head.
The former players allege that they weren't compensated for the use of their likenesses. On CNBC this morning, Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell covers the controversy and concludes that the players will win their lawsuit:
If the copies of Electronic Arts' NCAA Football '10 that we received are the same that hit stores at midnight, the damages against the video game company and the NCAA could grow in the suit against them...
I reviewed the top 10 players in college football... Every single one... was within two inches of their real height and 10 pounds of their real weight in the game. Four athletes... were listed at their exact heights and weights. Every single one of them had the correct eligibility status and 9... had the correct birthplace listed on the in-game bio page.
All jersey numbers were accurate, including [Jeremiah] Masoli, who switched his number from 2 to 8 in the offseason... [Tim] Tebow is wearing a big wristband on his right arm in the game, as he does in real life...
Should [plaintiff Sam] Keller eventually prevail in this lawsuit, as I believe he will, all the athletes who were infringed on this year will be entitled to get cut in on a piece of the damages.
Yesterday, GamePolitics reported that two more former college quarterbacks have sued EA over the alleged inclusion of their likenesses in the best-selling NCAA Football series of games.
Ryan Hart of Rutgers and Troy Taylor of Cal filed their suit in New Jersey Superior Court. In May, former Nebraska QB Sam Keller lodged a similar complaint against EA.
While some observers have ridiculed the athletes' claims, columnist Jon Solomon of AL.com, a website incorporating several Alabama newspapers, believes the allegations have merit:
The NCAA insists that college athletes shouldn't be sales tools... What does that mean? Crossing that line has been awfully blurry, even before the video game lawsuits.
Why do you think fans buy No. 8 Alabama jerseys and No. 15 Florida jerseys? It's no coincidence the punter's jersey number doesn't hang in stores next to those of Julio Jones and Tim Tebow...
There is no question EA Sports identifies individual players. If this were an open-records request by a media outlet, universities would redact every video game player, citing personally identifiable information. Funny how that works, isn't it?
All it takes for a major NCAA mess is one sympathetic judge or jury to an athlete's claim of exploitation. Ironically, that forum could come from video games, which are wildly popular with the very college athletes whose identities are being used.
As GamePolitics has reported, Electronic Arts may soon face a lawsuit by retired NFL players who believe their likenesses were unlawfully incorporated into EA's best-selling Madden game. But former college players now want their slice of EA's money pie as well.
SF Weekly reports that a one-time college quarterback is now making the same claim as NFL retirees in regard to EA's popular NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball franchises. Samuel Keller (left), formerly of Arizona State and Nebraska, is the lead plaintiff in the class action suit.
From SF Weekly:
The suit [claims] in its first sentence that it "arises out of the blatant and unlawful use of [NCAA] student likenesses in videogames produced by [EA]... to increase sales and profits." This, the complaint continues, is abetted with a wink-and-nod assist from the NCAA, which "intentionally circumvents the prohibitions on utilizing student athletes' names in commercial ventures by allowing gamers to upload entire rosters, which include players' names and other information, directly into the game in a matter of seconds..."
This, the suit alleges, is a symbiotic relationship between the NCAA and EA that leaves the student athletes -- who make this whole venture possible -- empty-handed.
So it rankled Keller to note that "with rare exception, virtually every real-life Division I football or basketball player in the NCAA has a corresponding player in Electronic Arts' games with the same jersey number, and virtually identical height, weight, build and home state. In addition Electronic Arts often matches the player's, skin tone, hair color, and often even a player's hair style."
DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of the lawsuit here.