The more the games industry enriches itself, as tech giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon buy in and stake their claim, the more often it feels like we wake up to news of another gigantic ransom working its way through the courts. Some of the many videogames-related lawsuits filed every year are massive and full of worldly implications—Epic and Apple are currently locked in a showdown for the ages, for instance—while others are far more plaintive and low-stakes, but fascinating nonetheless.
It can be hard to keep track of all the various legal conflicts going on in and around games, so we've collected nine of the most notable suits filed so far this decade in order to give you an update on where they stand right now. Here's what corporate lawyers in the games industry are up to lately, and what might happen next:
Epic v. Apple
What's the issue? On the most basic level, Apple and Epic are squabbling over microtransactions. Epic doesn't like playing the 30 percent fee on transactions enforced by Apple on its iOS App Store. The fight dates back to August 2020, when Epic added a payment apparatus to Fortnite that bypassed the Apple merchanting system. Apple retorted by purging Fortnite from the App Store as the gridlock works its way through court.
Essentially, Epic believes that Apple is breaking antitrust legislation because of its unwillingness to allow storefronts other than the App Store to operate on iOS devices, and it intends to make that case to a judge. To the public, Epic is presenting the issue as a fight for fairness from giants like Apple and Google, both for software developers and for consumers. "#FreeFortnite" is the battle cry.
What's the latest news? As of March, we're headed to the courthouse for an in-person trial. The two sides haven't been able to settle amicably, so expect the state to weigh in soon.
What happens next? It depends on who ends up winning when the trial begins on May 3. If Epic successfully makes its argument that Apple scooping off the top is anti-competitive and in violation of monopolization laws, that could have a seismic impact on all sorts of games on the App Store. If that doesn't happen then, well, developers can expect the status quo. If nothing else, we got this Fortnite-themed Apple diss video.
Ragnarok v. Bethesda
What's the issue? Rune 2, a game developed by Human Head Studios and published by Ragnarok, had an incredibly inauspicious release back in 2019. The game came out, the next day Human Head announced its closure, and the day after that the former Human Head staff joined a brand new Bethesda studio called Roundhouse. Ragnarok alleges that Bethesda effectively sabotaged Rune 2. Basically, they claim Human Head didn't disclose the Bethesda acquisition to Ragnarok and intentionally tanked the game as they went to work for their new owners. It's pretty weird!
What's the latest news? In an interview with PC Gamer, Ragnarok said they were seeking $100 million in damages, which is a spicy meatball indeed. They've gone as far as to claim that the former Human Head had intentionally leaked access to Rune 2 to Bethesda so they could witness how much of a threat the game poised to the Elder Scrolls franchise, and that they held its assets ransom after release. (Both extremely wild allegations!) A new developer, called Studio 369, is now in charge of Rune 2, as the world awaits to see what happens within the feud between the old partnership. It's a bizarre situation, and if it goes to trial, it'll be one to watch.
What happens next? Who knows. There's no court date set, and I imagine as we get closer to a culmination, we'll probably get a better understanding what happened.
Riot and Bungie v. GatorCheats
What's the issue? GatorCheats is a cheat maker that produces frowned-upon, but not necessarily illegal, cheats for popular multiplayer games. Riot and Bungie have decided to take that cheat maker to court. It's an interesting premise; the publishers claim that the proliferation of in-game hacks cost them money due to the impact they have on a playerbase willing to invest in a game. But cheat software doesn't directly affect Valorant's monetization system. So it's difficult to know how much legal footing they have here. Breaking the terms of service is different from breaking the law, right?
What's the latest news? GatorCheats has totally torched its website, leaving nothing but a caption that reads: "In compliance with a lawsuit filed by Riot Games and Bungie, GatorCheats will be shut down indefinitely."
What happens next? Probably nothing, as it doesn't seem like GatorCheats is putting up a fight. Presumably they'll settle out of court, and the service will never come back. Develop cheat software at your own risk, kids. You might get served papers instead of a permaban.
Ubisoft v. Google and Apple
What's the issue? A mobile game called Area F2 appeared on Apple and Google storefronts last year. It is an extremely egregious clone of Rainbow Six Siege. Like, from the UI to the character models, it's clear that the publisher set out to adapt Ubisoft's premiere shooter to phones as seamlessly as possible. Ubisoft was notably annoyed that those two tech giants were willingly selling such a blatant breach of copyright, and they filed suit against both of them to force a purge of Area F2 from the internet.
What's the latest news? It worked. Area F2 is no more, and the suit has been dropped.
What happens next? This case is settled, and similar cases will probably have the same result. Apple will put up a fight when something like its 30 percent App Store cut is challenged, but one mobile clone is not worth its effort.
Manchester United v. Sega
What's the issue? In the Football Manager series, players unleash their inner wonk by optimizing a soccer team on the pitch. Football Manager allows you to step into the front office of hundreds of different real-life clubs, one of them being Manchester United. The problem is, the Red Devils claim Sega never received the rights to use the team's name in their product, and now they've got a lawsuit on their hands.
What's the latest news? Here's the rub. Football Manager doesn't actually crib the official logos from the rosters. For Manchester United, you might see a red-and-white uniform design, but it's far enough away from the certified color scheme that it offers Sega some plausible deniability. Manchester United sought to modify its suit, now focusing on the ability for players to download third-party mods that add the team's authorized iconography to the game files, but a London judge basically told them to kick rocks. If that is to be the core complaint, then Manchester United will need to file another suit entirely.
What happens next? It seems that Manchester United understands that its original claim isn't going to hold up to scrutiny. And it's especially hard to imagine that the courts are going to be sympathetic to an argument that boils down to "you shouldn't be allowed to mod videogames." Litigation continues, but I doubt Sega is too worried. It's good to get further confirmation that mods which defy copyright law can't necessarily be used to go after the game itself.
Nantworks v. Niantic
What's the issue? You know that mind-boggling augmented reality tech that Niantic uses to power Pokemon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite? Yeah, some company called Nantworks is saying that they have a patent on that stuff, and they aim to take Niantic to court. This is beyond the point, but it is extremely annoying that two companies with essentially the same name are suing each other.
What's the latest news? No information has come out on the suit since it was filed last September.
What happens next? It all depends on how much meat there is to Nantworks' complaint. If the tech Niantic is using truly does mirror some of the basic functionality in Nantworks' AR apparatus, then they might have a case. But patent law can be pretty fickle, so it remains to be seen if there's enough substance here.
Disappointed fans v. CD Projekt Red
What's the issue? At the white-hot apex of Cyberpunk 2077's terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad launch, two separate class action lawsuits were filed against publisher CD Projekt Red. You can probably guess what the allegations were. They argue that the company intentionally obfuscated the game's terrible performance on base consoles, swindling the pre-order faithful out of the product they thought they were buying. You didn't tell me that Night City only renders at 15 frames per second!
What's the latest news? Not much. There's no update on those two suits, and if I were to guess, they'll likely flicker out into the ether. Buying a game that's broken at launch certainly sucks, especially after absorbing all of the pre-release sizzle that makes the game look a lot better. But that's also an extremely common marketing tactic in the videogame business. E3 downgrades are a dime a dozen. Cyberpunk 2077 lacking the juice probably does not entitle anyone to damages, especially given that refunds were offered.
Consumer class action lawsuits happen all the time, and sometimes they're used by law firms for easy publicity. When a big videogame falls short, you can expect someone to try something, though you probably haven't actually received any checks in the mail due to low framerates.
What happens next? I suppose there is a universe where these class actions result in a settlement, and everyone who purchased Cyberpunk at launch earns a rebate or something. But don't hold your breath.
Everybody v. Epic
What's the issue? Loot boxes continue to be one of the most hotly debated schemes in modern gaming. There's been increasing scrutiny on any publisher that makes its bones by selling randomized item crates, specifically to those under the age of 18. The controversy has had a number of repercussions, including fights between game publishers and whole countries. For Epic Games, the anti-loot box movement eventually mushroomed into a class action lawsuit, with claims that offering gacha-style products to minors was predatory.
What's the latest news? Epic actually stopped selling loot boxes in 2019, and the company settled this suit out of court earlier this year. Epic didn't admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, although it has said in the past that it opposes loot boxes—Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said they play on "the mechanics of gambling," and loot boxes were the first thing Epic dropped from Rocket League after it bought Psyonix. The settlement didn't entitle the average player to a cash payout: Instead, anyone who purchased a blind box before they left the market was given 1,000 V-Bucks for Fortnite, or the equivalent in Rocket League.
What happens next? I find it hard to imagine that the conversation about loot boxes is over. Plenty of other games, from Overwatch to Genshin Impact, rely on the same core function. (We recently pointed out how dated Overwatch seems for it.) In some countries, new laws directly regulate the way items and cosmetics can be distributed in-game, and that kind of legislation may spread.
Sean Colvin, et al v. Valve
What's the issue? A class action lawsuit is targeting Valve for alleged antitrust law violation. Basically, when developers put their games on Steam, they agree not to sell their games at a lower price elsewhere. Is that illegal? The people in this suit seem to think so.
What's the latest news? The suit is currently working its way through court, with no real substantive update since it was filed in late January.
What happens next? There are arguments that Steam's pricing structure is unfair, though its 30 percent cut is the industry standard (big publishers get a sweeter deal (opens in new tab)). Epic and other PC stores like Itch.io take a smaller cut. And Valve does say that developers shouldn't list games lower than the Steam price on other stores. Does that constitute an antitrust violation? It seems a bit far-fetched that the courts will think so.
For a sense of how seriously it's being taken, publisher Devolver Digital was also named in this suit for some reason, and responded by joking that its whole staff needs to finish its first semester of law school before answering questions.