In May, it was reported that PUBG Corp, the company behind successful PC title PlayerUnknown’s Battleground had filed a lawsuit in South Korea against Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite. The suit alleged that Epic had copied ideas from PUBG Corp’s game, notably its “Battle Royale” structure, in which 100 players descend on an island and then fight until only one remains.
On Monday, however, PUBG Corp sent a letter of withdrawal to Epic’s attorneys.
At the time of the action, legal experts questioned the merit of the suit, which sought to protect ideas rather than specific source code or assets – a difficult case to make in creative industries.
The situation was made more complex by the fact that PUBG Corp and Epic Games share a major investor, the Chinese technology firm Tencent Holdings, and that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds uses the Unreal Engine, a game development technology created and licensed by Epic Games.
PUGB Corp has not released a statement regarding its decision, and it is not yet clear whether a settlement has been reached out of court. The move has surprised lawyers with knowledge of the gaming sector.
“Normally, if you are prepared to submit a claim, you would be expected to stand by it at least until the defendant has submitted their defence,” said Alex Tutty of entertainment law firm Sheridans.
Having speculated over the reasons behind the lawsuit, games industry watchers are now asking why it has been abandoned. One possibility is that the action drew derision within an industry that relies heavily on the exploitation of genres. Fortnite does not use similar graphics or audio assets to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, its cartoon look contrasting with the latter’s realistic, militarised visuals, so the suit appeared to be an attempt to ringfence and monopolise the Battle Royale play style.
“Given the potential weaknesses of the claim – at least under English law – and the amount of publicity the claim received, either PUBG thought that they had made their point, been put off by the negative press they garnered, or the realities of how potentially weak the claim was became apparent,” said Tutty.
One element that’s unlikely to have ended the suit is money. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has sold more than 50m units since its launch last March and made over $100m in its first six months on sale. Fortnite is earning $200m a month on downloadable content sales.
“While normally the potentially large costs of litigation put off most parties or induce them to settle, in the case of PUBG Corp and Epic money is not going to be the issue,” said Tutty
“In any case it seems unlikely the full facts will become public knowledge, especially if there had been a settlement, as that would most likely have contained an obligation of confidentiality on both parties.
“But it is good that this matter has now been closed – at least in court. Any claim that looked to give one party a monopoly on a gameplay mode, especially one that had been used before, may have led to more speculative claims being made. Which is counterproductive to creativity – except perhaps the creativity of lawyers trying to construct unrealistic claims.”