Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bethesda vs. Minecraft

It's been a while since I've posted about trademark bullying, but Christ, it seems like it's everywhere. Proctor & Gamble is fighting with a Connecticut mom over the name she's chosen for her line of soap for tween girls ("Willa") because it sounds kinda like P&G's "Wella" brand. I've got some nimrod attorney demanding "one . . . MILLION . . . dollars" for using his name on our site (it's, uh, a legal directory. Of lawyers.).

But my new favorite for sheer cluelessness is Bethesda games going after Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft. Bethesda worries that Persson's new game, Scrolls, might be confused with Bethesda's "Elder Scrolls" line of games. Never mind that no one would ever confuse one of Bethesda's games for one of Persson's. Or that the "Elder Scrolls" is a simply a postscript to the title of each Bethesda game.

What's really appalling here is how Bethesda is letting its lawyers crush them.

Despite possessing god-awful graphics, Minecraft is popular beyond belief. Offering up an open world with no structured gameplay, it provides a level of depth and creativity not found in any other game. Millions and millions and millions of people have flocked to it. My son and his friends are obsessed with it.

By going after Persson (who goes by "Notch"), Bethesda has aligned itself against all of these millions of ardent fans. It doesn't matter if they win the court battle and get Notch to change the name of the game; they've already lost the PR battle.

And of course, they didn't need to do this. Their lawyers may have told them that they need to "defend their intellectual property." That's bunk. Walking through all of the options and the PR implications of taking this action - particularly against a small or well-loved business - has got to factor into the equation.

I was talking to a video game journalist (!!) a few weeks back who told me that many of the gaming companies are known for being ineptly run. One sure-fire way to be run ineptly is to listen too uncritically to your lawyers. We'll see how much it costs Bethesda to learn that lesson.