In the business of video games, intellectual property is critical to success, and Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks are the bricks with which your IP portfolio is built. The Patent Arcade is the web’s primary resource for video game IP law, news, cases, and commentary.

U.S. Patent no. 9,555,334: System and method for managing virtual worlds mapped to real locations in a mobile-enabled massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG)

Issued January 31, 2017 to Qualcomm Inc.
Priority Date December 13, 2006

U.S. Patent No. 9,555,334 (the '334 Patent) relates to wireless communications on a mobile device for interacting with the virtual world in an MMORPG. MMORPGs are games designed to be played by a large number of people at once. In these games players can customize their character's appearance and attributes. In these MMORPG video games players are able to interact with other players to advance their progress as well as engage in social and other events in the game world. MMORPGs exist in a persistent state where the game world is always active and other players are constantly playing the game. These games also typically feature Player versus Player as well as Player vs. Environment mode which allows players to play in either multiplayer or single player settings. The '334 Patent provides a method and apparatus for MMORPG players to access an aspect of the gameplay while using a mobile device. The wireless device runs a mobile version of the MMORPG server which would support at least one game mode available in the full version of the game. This system could also support location based gaming. The invention allows for new gameplay opportunities previously not possible before the advent of mobile gaming.

Apparatus and methods provide a player of a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) to participate in at least one aspect of the MMORPG while using a wireless device. The wireless device executes a mobile MMORPG client, which interfaces with the game server(s) of the MMORPG via a mobile MMORPG server. A location based gaming mode for use with the wireless device is disclosed.

Illustrative Claim:
1. A method for location based gaming in a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) supporting a virtual world, comprising: administrating, via a game server, a travel task portion of a quest by a player character in said MMORPG, said travel task portion requiring said player character to travel from a virtual world location A to a virtual world location B, said administrating comprising: receiving a real world location in a real world of a player of said player character; mapping, based on said real world location of said player a real world location A′ corresponding to said virtual world location A, a real world location B′ corresponding to said virtual world location B, wherein said real world locations A′ and B′ satisfy one or more distance criteria associated with said quest, wherein the mapping selects the real world location B′ for mapping to said virtual world location B based at least in part upon the real world location B′ being a point-of-interest for the player in the real world; monitoring said real world location of said player until said real world location of said player corresponds to said real world location A′; notifying said MMORPG that said player has reached the real world location A′; monitoring said real world location of said player until said real world location of said player corresponds to said real world location B′; notifying said MMORPG that said player has reached the real world location B′; and advancing the player character directly from the virtual world location A to the virtual world location B after said MMORPG is notified that said player has reached the real world location B′.

U.S. Patent no. 9,561,433: Providing event rewards to players in an online game

Issued February 7, 2017 to Kabam, Inc. (later assigned to Electronic Arts Inc.)
Priority Date August 8, 2013

U.S. Patent No. 9,561,433 (the '433 Patent) relates to distributing event rewards in an online video game. Events and competitions may be created in online games. Based on the number of points or other metrics acquired by a player, rewards will be distributed to those who ranked highly in an event. These rewards can take the form of bonus secondary game content not available to those who did not participate in the event or any other reward features available. These rewards could even take the form of virtual or real currency. A time limit for accepting the rewards can also be implemented. In order to do well in a given online game, a player may spend real or virtual currency to attain in-game items. The ability to then reward those who place highly in these online games can further the monetization opportunities for the game's provider. The computer system will hold the online event and also keep track of player parameters before and after competing in order to rank the participants. The '433 Patent can increase engagement and playtime of a game by providing new opportunities for competitive gameplay. This also can extend a video game's lifespan because players will be drawn to the prospect of rewards for their gameplay.

A system and method for providing event rewards within an online game are disclosed. A secondary game may be provided to facilitate players to win awards provided by the secondary game. The secondary game may be exclusive to players who achieve ranks in an event at the end of event period. Individual rewards may be determined based on such player ranks. The individual rewards may include a quantity of free turns to play the secondary game, a quantity of optional turns to play the secondary game in exchange for consideration from the ranked players and/or other reward features. Notification may be presented to the ranked players notifying the optional turns must be acquired by the players before a point of time or else they will be offered to lower ranked players.

Illustrative Claim:
1. A system for rewarding players participating in events within an online game, the system comprising one or more processors configured by machine-readable instructions to: execute an instance of online game, to implement the instance of the online game by receiving commands over a network from client computing platforms and executing the commands in the instance of the online game to facilitate player participation in the online game, and to facilitate presentation of the online game on the client computing platforms by causing displays associated with the client computing platforms to present views of the online game; manage player accounts associated with individual players of the online game, the individual player accounts containing player parameters, wherein the player accounts include a first player account associated with a first player, the first player account containing a first set of player parameters associated with the first player; selectively provide access to the players of a secondary game to facilitate player turns in the secondary game, and for an individual turn in the secondary game, to: obtain a set of potential awards and a set of award probabilities for the set of potential awards, the individual awards including virtual items usable in the online game; stochastically or quasi-stochastically, select one of the potential awards as an actual award for distribution based on the award probabilities; and effectuate distribution of the actual award in the online game; run events within the online game, wherein the events include a first event that runs for a first event period; rank the players based on changes in one or more of the player parameters during the first event period such that the first player achieves a first rank at the end of the first event period; and determine rewards for the players for the events run based on the ranks achieved by the players as determined such that a first reward is determined for the first player for achieving the first rank at the end of the first event period, the first reward including a first quantity of player turns of the secondary game to be provided to the first player for free and a second quantity of player turns of the secondary game to be provided to the first player in exchange for consideration from the first player, whereby access to turns of the secondary game for the first player are limited to the first quantity and the second quantity.

Fortnite Removed from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store as Epic Games Sues in Antitrust Battle

Epic Games, Inc. v. Apple Inc.
Filed August 13, 2020
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Case No. 3:20-cv-05640
Epic Games, Inc. v. Google LLC
Filed August 13, 2020
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Case No. 3:20-cv-05671

As widely reported, Epic Games (“Epic”), creator of the game Fortnite and the Unreal Engine, filed two separate lawsuits on August 13th against Apple Inc. (“Apple”) and Google LLC (“Google”) alleging violations of antitrust law. The lawsuits were filed after Fortnite was removed from both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store following the addition of an option to buy Fortnite’s in-game currency “vBucks” directly from Epic in order to circumvent the 30% commission Apple and Google charge developers.

Epic accompanied the filings with a parody of Apple’s famous “1984” ad that launched a social media campaign under the hashtag “#FreeFortnite.” Shortly after removing Fortnite from Apple’s App Store, Apple notified Epic that it would remove Epic’s access to developer tools needed to update Epic’s Unreal Engine on iOS and macOS by August 28th if Epic did not remove iOS Fortnite players’ option to make in-game purchases directly from Epic. On August 17th, Epic filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent Apple from removing it from the developer program, and to restore Fortnite to Apple’s App Store.

Epic’s motion for a temporary restraining order argued that without a restraining order, Epic would suffer irreparable harm. Epic also argued that it would prevail on its claims that Apple violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Epic argued that Apple’s App Store constitutes a monopoly because it comes preinstalled on iOS devices (which would give it an advantage over a competing app store, if there was one), Apple requires developers to only distribute iOS apps through Apple’s App Store, and Apple requires that developers use Apple’s In-App Purchase (“IAP”) platform for all in-app purchases, for which it charges a 30% commission fee. Epic argues that Apple coerces developers to accept the IAP commission because it is a condition required for their apps to be available on Apple’s App Store, and that this constitutes a “classic per se tie,” which is illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Epic claims that it will suffer irreparable harm because iOS users will be unable to update the Fortnite app, and will only be able to play with other players who have the same outdated version installed, and not with players on other platforms playing on an up-to-date version of the game. Furthermore, Epic argues that removing developer tool access for its Unreal Engine will cause irreparable harm because other developers who have based their apps on the Unreal Engine will also be unable to update their iOS apps.

Apple responded on August 21st to Epic’s motion for a temporary restraining order, saying:
“In the wake of its own voluntary actions, Epic now seeks emergency relief. But the “emergency” is entirely of Epic’s own making. Epic’s agreements with Apple expressly spell out that if an app developer violates the rules of the App Store or the license for development tools— both of which apply and are enforced equally to all developers large and small—Apple will stop working with that developer. Developers who work to deceive Apple, as Epic has done here, are terminated. So when Epic willfully and knowingly breached its agreements by secretly installing a “hotfix” into its app to bypass Apple’s payment system and App Review Process, it knew full well what would happen and, in so doing, has knowingly and purposefully created the harm to game players and developers it now asks the Court to step in and remedy.”

Phillip Schiller, a current Apple Fellow who formerly served as Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for 20 years, filed a declaration in support of Apple on August 21st. Schiller detailed how Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney allegedly emailed Apple on June 30th asking for a “side letter” to allow Epic to make the changes in Fortnite’s in-app payments. Schiller also said that on July 10th, Apple responded, saying that it would not change the terms of its contract with Epic. Schiller then says that on August 13th, Sweeney emailed Apple saying that “‘Epic will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions,’ and that Epic was changing the Fortnite app on the iOS platform to circumvent Apple’s IAP.” Sweeney allegedly acknowledged that this was in breach of Epic’s contract with Apple. Epic then implemented the hot fix that allowed in-app purchases to be paid directly to Epic a few hours later on August 13th.

Kevin Gammill, the General Manager of Gaming Developer Experiences for Microsoft also chimed in, filing a declaration of support for Epic Games on August 23rd. Gammill argued that “Denying Epic access to Apple’s SDK and other development tools will prevent Epic from supporting Unreal Engine on iOS and macOS, and will place Unreal Engine and those game creators that have built, are building, and may build games on it at a substantial disadvantage.”

On August 24th, a District Court judge ruled on Epic’s motion for a restraining order against Apple, declining to have Fortnite reinstated to Apple’s App Store, but restraining Apple “from taking adverse action against Epic Games with respect to restricting, suspending or terminating any affiliate of Epic Games . . . from Apple’s Developer Program, including as to Unreal Engine, on the basis that Epic Games enabled in-app payment processing in Fortnite through means other than IAP or on the basis of the steps Epic took to do so.” In denying Epic’s motion to have Fortnite restored to Apple’s App Store, the Court said that Epic’s “current predicament appears of its own making,” and that “self-inflicted wounds are not irreparable injury.” The Court did find that Apple’s suspension of access to developer tools for the Unreal Engine would cause irreparable harm because third-party developers that rely on the engine would be unable to continue their projects during the course of the litigation, even if Epic were to succeed on the merits.

Apple filed an answer and countersuit on September 8th seeking to “hold Epic to its contractual promises, award Apple compensatory and punitive damages, and enjoin Epic from engaging in further unfair business practices.” Apple characterized Epic’s Fortnite hotfix that circumvented Apple’s commission fee as a deliberately concealed “Trojan horse.” Apple further said that: “Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store.”

Apple argues that its curating of the Apple App Store on iOS is necessary to ensure “that iOS apps meet Apple’s high standards for privacy, security, content, and quality,” and references prior security issues relating to independently distributing the Android version of the game, alluding to the possibility that users may download a fake version of the game with malware from an independent distributor.

On September 9th, Epic announced that Apple was terminating the option to sign into Epic Games with the “Sign In with Apple” option, but on September 10th said that Apple had provided an indefinite extension. Epic recommended its users still update their email and password to prepare for the removal of the Apple sign-in option.

Although Epic’s claims against Google are very similar to those it made against Apple, Google filed a brief on September 4th arguing that the cases should be kept separate because Google and Apple “use different business models, agreements, and policies to support competing ecosystems” and “do not concern ‘substantially the same parties, property, transaction, or event,’” and thus keeping the cases separate will not result in “unduly burdensome duplication of labor and expense or conflicting results.” Google distinguishes its Android system from Apple’s iOS by stating that Android devices “(1) can have multiple app stores simultaneously pre-installed or downloaded and (2) allow for end users to sideload apps via the Internet,” whereas iOS only allows for app distribution through Apple’s App Store.

These lawsuits are ongoing, and we will provide updates on interesting developments over the course of the litigation.


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