Warner Bros. acquired a patent for its impressive Nemesis System from the Middle-earth games. This could reshape the entire development process.
Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment recently obtained a patent for its impressive Nemesis System, the bread and butter of its popular Middle-earth franchise. The patent restricts rival publishers and developers from incorporating similar gameplay mechanics that may mirror or mimic the Nemesis System. This includes the enemy traits and abilities mechanic, the visible damage system, NPC hierarchy and more.
Although the patent seems rather harmless, it could severely hinder innovation and influence within the video game industry.
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Video games have been building upon each other since the medium’s creation. Innovative gameplay mechanics can influence developers to push a feature forward or in an exciting new direction. For example, Assassin’s Creed led many developers to incorporate similar parkour mechanics in their own games (including the Middle-Earth series). Games like Grand Theft Auto and Doom gave way to countless clone titles that utilized nearly identical gameplay mechanics.
The WB’s new patent could potently stifle the way publishers and developers build upon each other’s innovative ideas, making it difficult to push the medium forward.
The line between influence and copyright can be hazy at times. However, taking a specific gameplay mechanic and molding it into something different while still having distinct similarities is not the same as copying and pasting the source material. The WB’s new patent prevents rival companies from reshaping or improving the Nemesis System to make it their own. Publishers and developers run the risk of getting sued if they tread too closely to the Nemesis System, which will cause many companies to avoid anything remotely similar to Middle-earth’s core gameplay.
Many video game fans are worried more companies will follow in Warner Brothers’ footsteps. If more video game companies start patenting their gameplay mechanics, innovation could become stagnant due to the threat of legal repercussions. GTA clones could be completely wiped out, as well as a slew of first-person shooters made in Call of Duty‘s image.
In fact, Call of Duty wouldn’t even exist if it didn’t build upon Medal of Honor’s innovative gameplay. If patenting specific gameplay elements becomes a trend, the future of innovation and clone titles could come to a screeching halt.
Warner Brothers’ new patent is somewhat worrying. It’s understandable that WB Games wants to protect its Nemesis System from copyright infringement, but patenting it to prevent other companies from building upon or creating something similar is a bit extreme. Video games have always influenced each other, and a patent shouldn’t prevent that from happening. It severely hinders creativity as well as gameplay innovation. If gameplay patents become the new trend, the video game industry could face new challenges that could put a developer’s creative freedom in jeopardy.
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