The companies behind two of the world’s most popular video games are squaring off in court.
PUBG Corp., an affiliate of South Korean studio Bluehole Inc., is suing the Korean unit of North Carolina-based Epic Games, arguing that its smash hit Fortnite copies many of the characteristics of its own PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The suit, alleging copyright infringement, was filed in South Korea.
PUBG introduced its game last year and it became a huge hit as players embraced the Hunger Games-style concept in which 100 players race to kill each other until there’s a sole survivor. But the game’s features have been embraced by rivals, prompting earlier legal action. Fortnite has a similar concept of 100 people competing with each other, but differs by letting players build fortifications similar to Minecraft and using more cartoon-like graphics aimed at younger players
“This is a measure to protect our copyrights,” PUBG said, declining to provide further details. Epic Games didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The two companies have a complicated relationship. Epic Games provides PUBG with its Unreal Engine technology, which was used to create PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The software is instrumental in building games and is the industry-standard for professional games developers. Both companies are also partly owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd., China’s internet giant.
PUBG has seen its popularity fall as Fortnite’s has risen. In February, Epic Games announced it had reached 3.4 million concurrent Fortnite players, topping PUBG’s record of 3.3 million achieved in early January, according to data site SteamDB. Since then, PUBG’s player count has fallen by half to about 1.5 million.
The problem with this lawsuit is simple: You can’t copyright a gameplay mode or genre. If this was the case, every tabletop RPG after Dungeons & Dragons would have been sued into oblivion. Every first-person shooter after Wolfenstein and DOOM would have been hit with a lawsuit. It’s like trying to copyright basketball or hockey. You can’t do that.
What you can copyright are assets, but many of PUBG’s assets are simply ones purchased from the Unreal store. The game itself, which I enjoy and think is very fun, is just about as generic as any you’ll ever see. The island is big and brown and forgetable. The character models, skins and items are generic and unremarkable. PUBG has nothing distinct about its world or story that would hold up in court.
The two games share a genre but not much else in common
Yes, Fortnite absolutely jumped on the battle royale bandwagon, but PUBG wasn’t the first game to try this, either. It built off of mods from Arma III and various other survival games like H1Z1 and DayZ.