Last year Bluehole, the studio behind PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, accused Epic Games of ripping off its ideas and using them in the Battle Royale mode of its hit game Fortnite. The accusations ended up being nothing more than saber rattling as no infringement suit was ever filed in the matter.
Since that time we have seen a plethora of PUBG copycat games, especially for mobile devices, with the majority of them pouring out of China. Whether the bootleg developers have been spurred on by PUBG’s inaction in the Fortnite case is hard to say, but Bluehole has finally decided to take a stand by filing a copyright infringement lawsuit.
On Monday PUBG Corp (a US subsidiary of South Korea’s Bluehole) filed suit against Chinese publisher NetEase in Northern California’s US District Court. It charges that two of the company’s games, Rules of Survival and Knives Out, violate copyrights and trademarks held by PUBG.
Indeed the games’ similarities to Battlegrounds is apparent. Both offer 100-player battles on a map with a continually shrinking safe zone. Players parachute onto the battlefield where they use military grade weapons (and frying pans; one of the listed violations) to duke it out in a last-man-standing free for all.
In and of itself, it doesn’t sound much different than every other PUBG knock-off out there including Fortnite. However, what caught Bluehole’s attention was NetEase’s use of the phrase “PUBG on phone” in some of its marketing, which it points out in its filing is just one of 25 violations the Chinese studio has committed.
After wading through over 150 page of the complaint, many of the charges seem to fall into that legal grey area that crops up when trying to copyright a recipe. For example, like PUBG, Rules of Survival’s lobby is a location on the map where players can chat and shoot their guns without damage while they wait for the match to start.
Complaints like this are akin to a developer saying, "I was the first to use medieval armor, so no other game can use that style of armor." Unless you are stealing actual assets, there is no infringement in creating something similar. It appears PUBG is just hoping that these petty styling complaints coupled with the more solid gripes will convince the court that infringement occurred.
After all, marketing your game as “PUBG on phone” is a clear trademark violation, especially considering that RoS came out before the mobile version of PUBG was released. Using someone else’s trademark to mislead the consumer into thinking your product is something that it is not is a big no-no. I’m just not sure that the court will consider all the other allegations in one lump sum.
PUBG Corp is asking for unspecified damages and an injunction against the two games. However, that might not even be the point of the lawsuit.
I’m more inclined to believe that Bluehole is attempting to send a message to other developers, especially smaller ones with limited legal resources, that it is not afraid to take them to court. It could be PUBG is flexing its legal muscle in hopes of slowing down developers looking to knock out a quick copycat to capitalize on the Battle Royale craze.