Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are we going to get another Marvel vs. Cryptic?

I was browsing through the Champion's Online forums today and I stumbled on an interesting post that got me thinking.

•Cryptic studios announced their new game, "City of Heroes" in mid-2001. It is supposed to be released mid-2002.
California-based Cryptic Studios has announced its upcoming online role-playing game, City of Heroes. The comic-book-style game lets players assume the role of a superhero and fight a variety of villains in a 3D virtual world. City of Heroes is scheduled for release in mid-2002. more...

•Cryptic studios ships "City of Heroes" April 28th, 2004. Just pointing those extra 3 years as an example for people still thinking they can ship the next ultimate MMO in a fraction of the time it has taken to develop any other even semi-successful MMO.
NCsoft announced today that City of Heroes has reached gold master status in North America and will soon be on its way to retailers in the United States and Canada. The official launch date for City of Heroes is April 28th 2004. more...

•Marvel sues Cryptic and their Publisher, NC Soft, because you can make characters in "City of Heroes" that violate their trademark and look too much like Marvel characters.
Marvel Enterprises is suing two firms behind a computer superhero role-playing game it claims allows players to make virtual characters that are too similar to "The Hulk," "X-Men" and other heroes in the comic book company's stable. more...

•Marvel's Lawsuit against Cryptic and NC Soft is dropped.
AUSTIN, Texas, December 14, 2005—Marvel Entertainment, Inc., NCsoft® Corporation, NC Interactive, Inc. and Cryptic Studios™, Inc. are pleased to announce today that they have amicably settled all claims brought by Marvel and all claims brought by NCsoft, NC Interactive, Inc. and Cryptic Studios, Inc. more...

•Cryptic announces they are now making the "Marvel Universe MMO."
Microsoft Game Studios today announced at X06 that Cryptic Studios has been chosen to be the developer of Marvel Universe Online. This MMO based on the Marvel Universe will be exclusive to Xbox 360 and Windows Vista. more...

•Marvel Universe MMO canceled in 2008.
Marvel Universe Online (the heavily anticipated MMO based on the Marvel comic book universe) is officially dead, according to Shane Kim, the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Game Studios.
According to Kim, the title was canceled due to commercial considerations and a general feeling that Microsoft and MMO developer Cryptic simply couldn’t compete in the subscription-based MMO market. more...

•Cryptic announces "Champions Online" a Super-Hero based MMO based on the pen and paper roll-playing game, "Champions."
LOS GATOS, CA – February 20, 2008 – Cryptic Studios™, one of the leading independent developers of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), announced today Champions Online™, their first ever self-developed and self-published MMORPG. Champions Online, based on the popular pen-and-paper Champions RPG, will give players the power of total customization of their hero experience while they explore a vast universe of richly detailed 3D environments. Champions Online is slated for release in Spring 2009. more...

•Players can make super-heroes that look even more like trademarked Marvel characters in "Champion Online." more...

I should admit here that I haven't gotten to play Champion's Online yet. I am signed up for the Head Start Weekend, even though the process of signing up for that doesn't tell me where to get the game client. I guess they are assuming I was involved with the beta and know to download it from Gamespy. I've asked in the forums and that seems to be the general consensus, judging from the one person who answered my post so far.

Cambria, the user who created all those X-Men and other character knock-offs in the beta says that she knows it is against the rules, but she just creates them, takes pictures of them, and then deletes the characters. There are also posts on the forums about people who have had characters in the beta that have had characters changed or deleted by Cryptic staff. So they do appear to trying to keep a lid on it to avoid more legal trouble. But names weren't the problem before, it was that the characters you could make in City of Heroes could look like Marvel's characters.

Looking through Terms of Service, Rule 10-A spells out the usual, character name limitations. The odd thing here is rule 10-A-XI "That incorporates titles, which include, without limitation, ‘rank’ titles (e.g., "GeneralJoe"), monarchistic or fantasy titles (e.g., "KingRichard")." That is odd, rank names fit into the super-hero genre and wouldn’t confuse people as to importance as it would in a fantasy game. In other words "General Chaos" would fit into a super-hero world without anybody thinking he really was a general, unlike "General Sentris" in a fantasy world where people might think I was actually a general in the game.

Sorry, moving on. What I haven’t found in their Terms of Service is any restrictions on "likeness." This combined with the vague wording of rule 10-A-V, "That is, contains, or is substantially similar to a trademark or service mark, whether registered or not, or may otherwise cause confusion." This means that I can make a big, green, muscle bound character with purple shorts and name him The Bulk. Okay, maybe rule 10-A-V would still get me on that one with its "may otherwise cause confusion." But what if I created an exact visual knockoff of Wolverine and just named him Badgerboy? or Fred?

A somewhat related tangent: Marvel Comics got a little upset with David Sim when he had Wolveroach on the cover of three issues of Cerebus the Aardvark.The Cockroach was a character he used to parody other comic characters starting with Batman. He then morphed into various other characters, one being a parody of Wolverine. Marvel got irritated that he had several issues with Wolveroach on the cover where customers could easily be confused and think they were buying a Marvel comic about Wolverine.

The comic cover thing isn't quite the same thing unless they put some character's on the box that look like Marvel characters. But, I do wonder how Marvel is going to react to this ability to make characters that look even more like their characters than they did in City of Heroes, regardless of Cryptic's naming policy.

3 comments:

brad said...

It does kinda seem ripe for another copyright legal entanglement. Interesting though - Cryptic/MicroSoft decide that together they can't compete in the subscription MMO space, but then once freed up, Cryptic promptly announce a subscription based MMO. No points for guessing who was the wet blanket in that ex-relationship.

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking.

The rumor is that they recycled the Marvel Universe stuff into Champions. Knowing what we do about how long it takes to get a quality game up and running plus looking at those X-Man pictures I have to say there appears to be good reason for that rumor.

Personally, I would rather play a generic super-hero game with it's own lore than fight along side the tightly controlled IP owner's super-heroes ala DC Comics Online. If I buy a Marvel super-hero game I want to play a Marvel super-hero.

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

PS
Saw you rocking Rock Band on Nick's video.