from the jerk-like dept
Bethesda has something of a complicated history on our pages. The company is at once often terrible on matters of enforcing its intellectual property in a protectionist manner, while also occasionally acting quite good on matters of connecting with its fans in a meaningful and downright sweet manner. Few and far between have been the stories of those two separate philosophies intersecting, but we have such an instance now as Bethesda has demanded any Bethesda trademark words be removed in metatags on the website for DoomRL, a fan-made rogue-like inspired by the classic Doom games.
So… Zenimax have just written to me demanding I take down the DoomRL site… :-/ pic.twitter.com/tXAwdq59Zz
— Kornel Kisielewicz (@epyoncf) December 2, 2016
It’s a strangely worded letter in a couple of respects. First, the letter seems to be focused on the use of words and/or phrases trademarked by Bethesda/ZeniMax within the metatags for the DoomRL website, as opposed to making any sort of copyright claim on the game itself. In other words, it’s not at all clear from the threat letter whether or not the company is objecting to the fan-game in any way, or just the use of the metatags. If the latter, the threat makes very little sense. The text on the website doesn’t mention Bethesda or ZeniMax at all and only mentions ID Software to credit it for being the creators of the Doom franchise. The trademarks that appear to be in question are references to Doom itself.
And these are a game, a website, and references that are years old. The game appears to have been in production for at least six years and has been publicized on the web for about as long. It’s a game that doesn’t resemble any actual Bethesda property and is instead a fan’s new take on the franchise, offered for free. I don’t read any objection into the game itself in the threat letter, so why make such a big deal over the use of the Doom name itself? Is Bethesda cool with a fan making a Doom inspired game, so long as that fan never mentions it to anyone?
As a result of the threat, however, creator Kornel Kisielewicz has decided to scrap DoomRL for a successor that doesn’t include any Doom IP. This is about the time that defenders of copyright and trademark will chime in to suggest that intellectual property enforcement has led to the creation of new intellectual property, thus fulfilling its purpose… except that isn’t really true. It’s basically the same game, just with the added effort of pretending like it’s something it wasn’t originally. Yay?
And, more importantly, the stripping of references to Doom helps Bethesda how, exactly? What was once a native expansion of the franchise as an expression of love from a fan, one which could only serve to point new potential customers back to the original game series, has instead become something independent of that series. Kisielewicz has even started a Kickstarter for the sanitized game to now profit off of it, instead of acting as a free promoter for Bethesda’s game. At best, Bethesda loses out on a free marketing vector for its Doom franchise, while at worst some in the gaming public will want to punish the company for this aggressive behavior. How exactly is this kind of IP bludgeoning a better option than working with the fan/creator?