Chooseco Chooses An Adventure In Bullying Indie Game Devs Over Trademark

from the pro-choice dept

Earlier this year, after Netflix released an iteration of its Black Mirror series entitled Bandersnatch, which allowed the viewer to choose their own story path through the narrative, the company behind the famed Choose Your Own Adventure books from our childhood sued. Chooseco, armed with a trademark registration for "Choose your own adventure", claimed that Bandersnatch infringed on that trademark, first because the film has a nod of homage to the literary series within the script, and second simply because many in the public compared the film with the books of their youth. Meanwhile, thanks to the renewed attention that Netflix gave CYOA books -- for FREE! -- , Chooseco inked a deal with Amazon to create CYOA style narratives for the Alexa device.

That success hasn't stopped Chooseco's bullying ways, however. Recently, itch.io's leadership has publicly warned indie game developers to stop describing their games as choose your own adventures on the site after Chooseco issued several takedowns of games that did so. In case you were concerned that the facts before the public didn't perfectly convey how absurd this all is, never fear:

Itch.io founder Leaf Corcoran told developers about the takedowns this afternoon. “Warning to any devs using the phrase ‘choose your own adventure’ to describe their games, Chooseco is issuing takedown notices,” he wrote on Twitter. Corcoran tells The Verge that the games include Purrfect Apawcalypse, an “apocalyptic dog dating choose your own adventure game”; a “choose your own dating sim text adventure” game called It’s a Date; an unofficial GameBoy game called Choose Your Own Adventure GB; and New Yorker writer Luke Burns’ A Series of Choose Your Own Adventure Stories Where No Matter What You Choose You Are Immediately Killed by a Werewolf, whose plot is self-explanatory.

Clearly, these indie games with mere descriptions in their summaries and/or game titles are a grave threat to the Chooseco empire. After all, what member of the public could possibly stave off confusion over a video game being accurately described as involving a choice in adventure without naturally assuming that this must be from the same company as the books of their childhood?

This is all stupid on many levels. Chooseco's trademark is at least partially descriptive. I know that's true, because some of the games that have been the victim's of this bullying have only used the trademark in their games'...you know...descriptions. That feels about as open and shut an answer as these questions tend to have. Add to that the fact that literature and Amazon Alexa narratives aren't the same as video games and I would question whether these are even in the same market as Chooseco products. Finally, I would also question whether there is a single iota of potential public confusion to consider here.

And, to be clear, the end result of this bullying thus far is part mockery by other publishers and part simply ignoring Chooseco entirely.

Mainstream publishers have found clever ways to get around the trademark. A Gravity Falls branching-choice book, for example, is billed as a “Select Your Own Choose-Venture” novel. And you can’t officially tag a game as “choose your own adventure” on Itch.io; it’s automatically converted to “interactive fiction.”

Even so, an Itch.io search for “choose your own adventure” still turns up a lot of results. (The common abbreviation “CYOA” also apparently hasn’t triggered any notices.) It’s a widely accepted informal genre name, and Itch.io is a platform that favors offbeat, often free-of-charge games from independent developers.

Your bullying has resulted in mere mockery and dismissive waves. Turn to page 26 if you'd like to go to your room and think about what you've done, or turn to page 77 if instead you want to continue to make the world hate you with your bullying.

Filed Under: choose, choose your own adventure, indie games, trademark
Companies: chooseco, itch.io


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 8:14pm

    Choices choices...

    'You have found yourself at a crossroads, with multiple options for ruining your reputation.

    If you choose to earn mockery and public derision by threatening indie creators, go to page 25.

    If you choose to drag your reputation through the mud by filing laughable trademark claims over a genre, such that any fond memories people may have had of your books are replaced by a feeling of disgust over your greed and claims that only you can make choose your own adventure anything, go to page 32.

    If you choose to do both, go to page 42.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 11 Dec 2019 @ 11:07pm

    Purrfect Apawcalypse, an “apocalyptic dog dating

    CHEWS your bone adventure game.

    And their version for cats - Apawcalypse Meow

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 1:44am

    I honestly never thought a single company had anything to do with CYOA, I always just considered it a genre of storytelling. From what I've read about that company however, it seems they are using copyright to collect rent on something they themselves don't really even make anymore. That is some scummy behaviour.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      Not Copyright, trademark. Copyright is a temporary exclusive monopoly over works of authorship and trademark is a consumer protection mechanism so consumers wouldn’t be confused about the source of where their product comes from.

      That being said, what chooseco is doing to the indie games on itch.io infuriates me. I love itch.io and this is going to make the service even worse. Nintendo is often criticized in these pages (for good reason), but I never, ever seen them go after a genre named after one of their games such as “Metroidvania” or the like. So I guess that would make Chooseco arguably even bigger bullies on the IP front than Nintendo, which is saying something.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      allengarvin (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 12:45pm

      Re:

      Trademark, as mentioned. And it wasn't simply one company for many years. It was just one two men, Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery. It's been a trademark since the late 70s. There were a lot of competitors in the early 80s, when the brand was well-known and a big money maker, but they all used different series names, because, you know, trademark. Crossroads Adventures was one, which mostly licensed SF worlds of established authors like Zelazny and McCaffrey. TSR did "Endless Quests". There were others that I can't remember.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 9:54pm

        Re: Re:

        "It was just one two men, Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery. It's been a trademark since the late 70s."

        As a Brit, I first came across the concept with the Fighting Fantasy series created by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. I seem to recall the CYOA term, but don't have any memory of the format beyond that brilliant series.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aethercowboy (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 5:20am

    Everybody else should just call them "Chose Your Adventure," and abbreviate it as CYA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 7:40am

      Re:

      So we should literally cut parts of our speech, our language, just because somebody has a piece of paper saying she owns those words?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 6:57am

    You have reached Trademark Nirvana!

    Everyone agrees that your trademark is novel, unique, and deserving of preservation. Historians use your trademark as an example of How It Should Be Done. Indie game developers honor your name and come to you to publish their homages. You become wildly wealthy, people find you irresistible, and your dreams of global hegemony come true.

    Unfortunately, you were unable to reach this page honestly. Ruling that you cheated, the courts determine that your trademark should be extinguished, your company liquidated, and you personally be mocked and reviled until the end of your days.

    Let this be a lesson to you! You can't just flip to some arbitrary ending!

    If you wish to try again, to change your name, establish a new trademark, and begin rebuilding your brand, go to page 42. Otherwise, The End.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 8:04am

    genericide?

    Odds are, the term "choose your own adventure" is dangerously close to becoming the generic, descriptive term for this entire genre of interactive fiction - much as "escalator" has become the generic term for a moving staircase, or "zipper" has become the generic term for a class of garment fasteners. All of these terms were once trademarks. Companies are prone to use awkward phrasing like "Jell-O brand gelatin" in a vain attempt to postpone the inevitable, but at some point a word becomes a generic part of the language and the registered trademark is lost.

    Acting like a dick with frivolous legal threats isn't going to stop the 'genericide' process, but it makes it look like the corporate lawyers are doing something... and that's enough to keep the fees flowing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 10:12am

    Am I the only one who looks at video games and goes... 'umm, all video games are choose your own adventure by nature'?

    The only reason CYOA as a genre made any sense was because of the linearity of books and movies. Games in general have always relied on and responded to user choice/input.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bob, 12 Dec 2019 @ 4:38pm

      Re:

      Or at least giving the appearance of the player choosing the path.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 9:56pm

      Re:

      "Am I the only one who looks at video games and goes... 'umm, all video games are choose your own adventure by nature'?"

      You could certainly argue that early text adventures like Zork were very similar, just with more advanced choice structures than a book could provide.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 1:31pm

    go choose yourself, Chooseco
    recuse yourself, Chooseco
    just loose yourself, Chooseco

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 10:14pm

    There's also an interesting fact that their website uses cookies (go take a look if you don't believe me). However, their site does not ask permission up front for permission to use said cookies, instead relegating it to a "Privacy Policy" statement. I'm... not entirely sure this is legal, according to GDPR.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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