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31 May 2009

I've been a dues-paying IGDA member for four or five years now (I forget how long, exactly). During that time I've seen the IGDA as the foremost game developer advocacy organization in the world, hence my ongoing support. At the same time, I've recognized that there are several legitimate criticisms out there, among them the question of what, concretely, the IGDA actually does. Over the past several years I've seen my investment -- of time and trust, particularly -- in IGDA as being an investment in its potential.

But now, finally, I too am starting to wonder.

First, it was former IGDA Board of Directors member and Epic Games President Mike Capps' comments at the 2008 IGDA Leadership forum, which I posted at length about back in April, which were originally (to my knowledge) covered by Greg Costikyan at Play This Thing:

Mike Capps, head of Epic, and a former member of the board of directors of the International Game Developers Association, during the IGDA Leadership Forum in late 08, spoke at a panel entitled Studio Heads on the Hot Seat, in which, among other things, he claimed that working 60+ hours was expected at Epic, that they purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours, that this had nothing to do with exploitation of talent by management but was instead a part of “corporate culture,” and implied that the idea that people would work a mere 40 hours was kind of absurd.

Such comments seem to fly in the face of the IGDA's principles. Were it just coming from some dude at some games company, I'd have thought, "Ok, I disagree with that guy," but what made this most noteworthy was that Capps was on the IGDA Board of Directors at the time.

Now, there's a new issue brewing over another sitting IGDA director. This time it's Tim Langdell, who apparently has a long history of suing the living daylights out of anyone who comes anywhere near the word "edge". Simon Carless had the story on GameSetWatch, but it's mysteriously disappeared. Enter the hawk-eyed denizens of NeoGAF with the repost:

So, browsing our sister iPhone game site FingerGaming.com just now, I was surprised to learn about 'Edge Pulled Over Alleged Trademark Infringement', a news story about why Mobigame's excellent iPhone title (and IGF Mobile nominee) Edge was pulled from the App Store recently.

Quoting a statement from the article: “We have legal issues with a man named Tim Langdell,” says Mobigame’s David Papazian. “If you already asked why Soul Edge (the Namco game) was called Soul Blade and later Soulcalibur in the US, you have your answer.”

Langdell, CEO of EDGE Games and Lead Game Faculty at National University, contacted Mobigame and Apple in April asking that the game be pulled. *Langdell claims his company owns the worldwide “trademark” EDGE *[...]

Somewhat amazed by this, I went and checked Langdell's Wikipedia page, and discovered that, according to a massive section of the voluminous page, he's been asking for licenses for his apparent trademark 'Edge' in any manner of media or technology fields - generally gaming-related - for the past few years. [...]

But interestingly, the entirity of Tim Langdell's complex, detailed Wikipedia page on these licenses has been created by 'Cheridavis' - in fact the name of Tim's wife appears to be Cheri [Davis] Langdell, according to an online search. [...]

This is even more unfortunate because it seems that Langdell was recently appointed to the IGDA Board Of Directors, a not-for-profit organization that is ostensibly set up to look after the little guy. How on Earth can he reconcile his position there with his role in getting Edge removed from the App Store? [...]

Adam Saltsman has more at his Gamasutra blog:

Of course, if you check mobygames, EDGE is only credited (under various aliases) on a maximum of 26 titles, most of which are at least a decade old, if not two.  Tim himself is credited on ZERO titles, unless you count "special thanks" sections, in which case he is credited on THREE games. [...]

One wonders, between the trumped up qualifications and history of letigious douchebaggery, how these qualities align with any of the IGDA's core values? If one of the directors is a trademark troll shutting down independent developers, its hard to see that as "fun" or "community" oriented, and it's quite difficult to see that as positively affecting anyone's careers or the industry.

And further comment from TIGSource:

And if, after reading this, you’re wondering, like I was, about Mirror’s Edge, you’ll be happy to note that Mr. Langdell’s EDGE Games is currently working on a new game called “Mirrors a game from Edge,” which I’m sure will not conflict in any way with the popular parkour-inspired FPS.

Jokes aside, the most frightening thing about this entire debacle is not how greedy and disingenuous human beings can be (you should be used to it by now), but that Mr. Greedyguts himself is a board member on the IGDA, a non-profit organization created to empower game developers and advocate on their behalf. Which is, in this author’s distinct opinion and should in no way be construed as a fact, somewhat like having Joseph Mengele on the board of the Red Cross. It’s absolutely fucking ridiculous and brings the credibility of the organization to serious question. How does this happen and what are they going to do about it?

From my perspective these are all pretty reliable sources. At this point I'd be shocked to discover that this is anything *other than *a case of blatant trademark trolling by an IGDA director. Now that may be perfectly legal, but whether or not it's ethical is an open and valid question.

IGDA has posted a response at their Blog of the Board:

A controversy has sprung up in recent days around one of our Board members. Stories have appeared on websites, comments have been made on blogs, and emails have been sent to the IGDA calling for us to “take action.”

Although it may appear to some that we are merely circling the wagons to protect a fellow board member, the fact is that the IGDA cannot take a position in what is actually a legal dispute between two companies regarding an alleged trademark infringement. Whether or not a company has behaved lawfully is a matter for the courts to decide, not the IGDA board.

What we can do is reiterate the principles that are important to us. We are squarely on the side of developers (our members are individuals – not companies). We believe that Trademark and IP protection is vitally important to independent developers – establishing and owning a successful franchise is a goal that many of us share.

Our Board of Directors – volunteers elected by our members – are pledged to support the core principles of the IGDA, and I can state unequivocally that each of us is working hard to further the goals of the organization.

Ok, fair enough. Trademark disputes are a matter for the courts, not the IGDA. But the board is on tenuous footing with its assertion that "Trademark and IP protection is vitally important to independent developers", not because that assertion is in any way false, but because this case appears not to be so much about protection as outright abuse.

A bit of Google-fu turns up an informative page on trademark law from Harvard University. On trademark infringement:

If a party owns the rights to a particular trademark, that party can sue subsequent parties for trademark infringement. 15 U.S.C. �� 1114, 1125. The standard is "likelihood of confusion." To be more specific, the use of a trademark in connection with the sale of a good constitutes infringement if it is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of those goods or as to the sponsorship or approval of such goods. In deciding whether consumers are likely to be confused, the courts will typically look to a number of factors, including: (1) the strength of the mark; (2) the proximity of the goods; (3) the similarity of the marks; (4) evidence of actual confusion; (5) the similarity of marketing channels used; (6) the degree of caution exercised by the typical purchaser; (7)** the defendant's intent**. Polaroid Corp. v. Polarad Elect. Corp., 287 F.2d 492 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 820 (1961). [...]

Is Mobigame's iPhone game "Edge" likely to cause confusion with Langdell's company? Not likely, particularly if the game is branded with Mobigame's logo, which would seem to eliminate both confusion between game and company and ambiguity over the source of the game itself. Confusion over "sponsorship or approval" might *get a half-baked argument... however, *"the defendant's intent"** is also a factor; in this case the intent appears clearly not to be to steal or dilute Langdell's trademark, as it seems likely that Mobigame wasn't even aware of the existence of Langdell or his company beforehand. "We have legal issues with a man named Tim Langdell" is not the phrasing I would expect someone to use when speaking of someone with whom they were previously familiar.

I may not be a lawyer, but this thing seems pretty clear. So here's my question to IGDA: if Mobigame takes this thing to court, and wins, will Tim Langdell be asked to resign? Or will the board implicitly support trademark trolling and defend its own, at a steep cost to its integrity?

While we wait to find out, I'll be pondering whether I should renew my IGDA membership later this year. :(

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