Company claims No Man's Sky uses its patented equation without permission

In June, No Man's Sky developer Hello Games revealed that it had spent more than three years of "secret stupid legal nonsense" with the UK's BSkyB corporation so that it could continue to use "Sky" in the title. Now, with less than a month to go before the ultra-ambitious space exploration sim is finally released to the public, it may be about to run into an even more serious litigational headache. 

A report on (via NeoGAF, backed up by Google Translate) says a Dutch company named Genicap actually owns the “Superformula” that the game relies on to create its 18 hojillion (or whatever) planets, and that Hello does not have a license to use it. 

“We haven't provided a license to Hello Games,” Jeroen Sparrow of Genicap said. "We don't want to stop the launch, but if the formula is used we'll need to have a talk.” 

Sparrow said Genicap is making a game of its own based on the formula, and that “it would be great if we could trade knowledge with Hello Games.” So far, however, efforts to contact the studio have gone ignored. Genicap apparently hasn't seen the No Man's Sky source, which would seem to weaken the validity of its claim; however, creator Sean Murray acknowledged in a 2015 New Yorker interview that he had struggled with elements of procedural planetary generation, until he discovered an equation published in 2003 by Belgian plant geneticist Johan Gielis that he called “Superformula.” 

The interview portrays Superformula as integral to the viability of No Man's Sky. What it doesn't mention, perhaps because it didn't seem relevant at the time, is that Gielis is the Chief Research Officer at Genicap (and also a member of the board), and that he's held a patent on the formula for more than a decade. I'm not enough of a patent lawyer to say that constitutes a smoking gun, but it sure does sound like there may be a legitimate complaint here. 

It's hard to imagine that Murray would have so openly acknowledged the importance of Superformula if he had any reason at all to think Hello Games might be using it inappropriately. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that the super-brains at NASA would auger an expensive Martian probe because they mixed up metric and imperial measurements. Things happen, in other words. I only hope this particular thing doesn't keep No Man's Sky from releasing on schedule. 

I've reached out to Hello for comment, and we'll update if we hear more.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.