The creators of PUBG are suing the creators of Fortnite over copyright infringement and the "last one standing" metaphors practically write themselves. The Korea Times reported on Friday that a Korean court will hear the case, which follows on allegations from PUBG Corp that Epic Games lifted both core gameplay and UI elements from PUBG in the creation of Fortnite Battle Royale. It's a complicated case that's bound to get even messier, but here's what you need to know about it for now.
Why is PUBG suing Fortnite?
Technically it's PUBG Corp, a subsidiary of South Korean game developer Bluehole, suing Epic Games Korea, a subsidiary of the company that develops Fortnite and the Unreal Engine that both PUBG and Fortnite are built on. But I'm going to keep calling the respective parties PUBG and Fortnite for clarity's sake. In this instance, PUBG is making good on threats of "further action" that it first made last year, complaining that Fortnite had improper "User Interface (UI), gameplay, and structural replication" of PUBG. The ensuing copyright infringement lawsuit was first filed in January in the Seoul Central District Court but it just entered the public eye late last week.
What are the chances this lawsuit will be successful?
It's tough to say. Speaking from an American perspective, it's rare for lawsuits over conceptual similarities in games to be successful - our court system tends to favor the good ol' exchange of ideas, at least in that regard. But I'm not sure how the jurisprudence will shake out in the Korean courts. What I do know is the more specific examples of copied mechanics that PUBG can point out in Fortnite, the stronger its case will be. This is especially important because the "battle royale" concept existed in games for years before PUBG helped push it into the mainstream (and before PUBG filed its copyrights). Citing specific contributions that PUBG made to battle royale games that Fortnite lifted for its own Battle Royale mode will help establish Fortnite as committing copyright infringement, rather than simply making another one of those games.
The case is complicated by the fact that PUBG and Fortnite have an existing business relationship, PUBG being a licensor of Epic Games' Unreal Engine. PUBG could allege that this connection made it easier and/or more egregious for Fortnite to build a similar competitor - say, by taking ideas from internal communications. Granted, the Epic employees responsible for creating the Unreal Engine and those behind Fortnite may not have too much overlap. Hopefully the company keeps those two aspects of the business separate.
What could this lawsuit mean for Fortnite?
If Fortnite is found guilty of infringing on PUBG's copyright(s), it would be up to the judge to determine proper compensation for the trouble. A cash payout would likely be based on how much money Fortnite has made in Korea, and assuming Fortnite's Battle Royale mode continues operating, an ongoing royalty payment from Fortnite to PUBG could serve as a sort of retroactive licensing fee. The judge may even order Fortnite Battle Royale to cease operations in Korea if PUBG's case is strong enough, but I doubt PUBG would push for that. Better to make money off the biggest phenomenon in gaming than try to shut it down outright (at least, that's what I'd do).
What could this lawsuit mean for PUBG?
Aside from potentially bringing in a lot more money or hobbling a big competitor? Well, let's look at how this could backfire for PUBG. Remember that PUBG is built entirely on Unreal Engine, another product of Fortnite developer Epic Games. If Epic feels that this lawsuit is a bad-faith move on its business partner's part, it may try to revoke PUBG's license to Unreal Engine, which would be devastating. Keeping PUBG rolling without its Unreal license would be like trying to keep a car driving down the highway after the motor fell out. To be clear, Epic would need a better reason than "we're mad at you" to revoke PUBG's license. But this could be an impetus for Epic to look very closely at its licensing agreement with PUBG Corp.
Again, though, don't think of this in the context of angry people thumbing their noses at each other. Both PUBG and Fortnite will make the decisions they foresee as the most profitable. Even if Fortnite's a bigger source of income for Epic than PUBG (which it likely is), Epic would not cut off PUBG's revenue stream lightly.
When will we know more?
At the speed of courts! So… not very soon, probably. Keep in mind that this lawsuit was initially filed in January and we're just hearing about it now. But we'll keep an eye on it and let you know as any more big developments unfold.
Want to broaden your battle royale horizons just in case? Check out a bunch of games like Fortnite.