On April 2, 2018, PUBG Corporation and PUBG Santa Monica, Inc. (“PUBG”) sued NetEase, Inc. and NetEase Information Technology Corp. (“NetEase”) over alleged copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition. The complaint alleges, in short, that NetEast’s titles Rules of Survival and Knives Out are knockoffs of PUBG’s massively popular Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.
PUBG’s lengthy (155 page!) complaint provides a listing of all instances in which Rules of Survival and/or Knives Out allegedly copied Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Some examples, as alleged by PUBG:
- “Pre-Play Area” – Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Rules of Survival, and Knives Out feature a pre-play area “where players can meet each other and try out weapons while waiting for other players to join.”
- Play Map – The layout of the maps in all three games are “strikingly similar.”
- “Scenes and Locations” – Both Rules of Survival and Knives Out feature, like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, locations such as a shooting range, a rural aqueduct, a port with shipping containers, a farm area, two-story hexagonal towers, and the like.
- Air Jump – In Rules of Survival and Knives Out, as in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, players jump at any point from an airplane onto various portions of a map. Players may then descend in freefall and release a parachute.
- Weapons – For example, where Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds features a M416, Rules of Survival features an MA14. Both games also feature, for example, red dot sights, vertical foregrips, bullet loops, and other similar accessories.
- Frying Pans – Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Rules of Survival, and Knives Out feature frying pan weapons.
- “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” – Both Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Rules of Survival use this phrase to indicate the winner of a match. Rules of Survival also has a rubber chicken which may be used as a melee weapon.
- Shrinking Gameplay Area – Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Rules of Survival, and Knives Out have a progressively shrinking gameplay area and a timer which warns players when a next shrinking event will occur.
Individually, all of the above examples could arguably be found in other video games or in real life. For example, the M416 in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds’ is arguably a version of the Heckler & Koch HK416. As another example, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is far from the progenitor of the term “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner,” as the term originated during the Depression. It seems likely that PUBG will argue that the combination of such elements, rather than the individual elements themselves, has been copied by NetEase.
PUBG is far from the first game company to sue creators of alleged copycat game titles. Tetris Holding, the company that owns the rights to Tetris, won a battle against a copycat app. In that case, the Court found that the fact that game mechanics and game rules are not entitled to protection “does not mean, and cannot mean, that any and all expression related to a game rule or game function is unprotectable” such that Tetris Holdings was “entitled to copyright protection for the way in which it [chose] to express game rules or game play as one would be to the way in which one chooses to express an idea.” Similar battles occurred between the creators of The Sims Social and The Ville and between the creators of Triple Town and Yeti Town. Our firm (Banner & Witcoff), for example, represented Wargaming.net in a similar dispute against Changyou.com involving an alleged knockoff of Wargaming’s World of Tanks.