Feb 23, 2012

The DOTA Lawsuit: An In Depth Analysis

The opening salvo has been fired.
I just got my DOTA 2 key last week, and was enthralled to jump into the successor to the classic Warcraft III mod that took the world by storm, enjoying giving champions like Dazzle (Our mascot for podcast 5) and Shadow Shaman a run. The last few weeks though have been somewhat of a rollercoaster for relations between Valve and Blizzard, two massive companies that are now at blows over a mod that has spawned an entire genre of games over the last few years: League Of Legends, Heroes Of Newerth, Rise Of Immortals, Demigod, Realm Of The Titans and somewhat related, Bloodline Champions.

Since Blizzard announced their oddly named 'Blizzard DOTA' entry last October while Valve's DOTA 2 beta was in full swing, relationships between the two companies have spiraled from simply passive aggressive into a major legal battle brewing with lots of grey area to be had. If you're interested in hearing an analysis of the current events and legal claims, check out more after the break!

Now the main question that everyone has asked is: Why the hell did Blizzard wait 7 years before they decided to care about this mod, which drew millions of players daily to play it? Is there some hypocrisy at play here, especially considering that they rejected requests from key DOTA developers like Icefrog to turn into a standalone game?  Is anyone surprised that these devs went on to found their own companies or seek other places to take this genre of game to the next level? Lets go into the history first:

2002: Following the release of Warcraft III, users began to use the world editor to create custom gameplay mods including Tower Defense and other custom scenarios.

2003: A mapmaker by the name of 'Eul' released a refined version of a Starcraft map known as 'Aeon Of Strife' for Warcraft III and called it Defense of the Ancients, shortened to 'DOTA.'

Latter 2003-2005: The expansion to Warcraft III, Frozen Throne was released on July 1. The update added new features to the world editor and rendered EUL's DOTA map obsolete. A developer known as 'Steve Feak,' aka 'Guinsoo' stepped in to update it and added new features. This new version came to be as DOTA Allstars and would be regulary updated with new champions, items and mechanics until version 6.01.

2005 Onwards: After a few years of maintaining the game, Guinsoo handed the reigns to another dev by the name of Icefrog who would continue to maintain the game for the years to come.

2010: Valve announces the development of a free to play DOTA 2 for Steam with Eul and Icefrog at the helm. The game is slated for a 2012 release.

October 2011: Blizzard announces the addition of a custom map known as 'Blizzard DOTA' to be released with their Starcraft 2 expansion, 'Heart Of The Swarm.'

November 2011: Blizzard files a lawsuit to oppose Valve attempting to trademark DOTA following a previous claim being overturned in Valve's favor.

Key Developers:

Originally created the first variation of DOTA for Warcraft III in 2003 before handing the reigns to Guinsoo. Ended up at Valve a few years later and currently works there. His true identity is unknown.

STEVE 'GUINSOO' PHEAK: Created DOTA Allstars following the release of Frozen Throne and took over after Eul. Handed over the reigns to Icefrog in 2005. Went on to cofound Riot in 2006 and create League Of Legends, released in 2009.

ICEFROG: Maintained DOTA Allstars post 6.0 and is currently still updating the original version for Warcraft III. Joined Valve in 2009 to head up a team for the development of DOTA 2. His true identity is unknown.

*Note: All original legal documents can be found here.

In a nutshell, Blizzard is claiming that Valve is unlawfully trying to trademark community property belonging to Blizzard, and that would 'confuse' their community. So why didn't they trademark such a popular mod with millions of users years in advance, or after League Of Legends? From what I can tell its nothing but a bad case of ongoing hubris. I mean, they could have made a ton of money by simply developing a standalone version of DOTA when the original developers approached them but my guess is that they had WOW-colored glasses at the time.

Summary of the points shot off by Blizzard to prevent Valve trademark:

Blizzard claims that its a massive game developer with plenty of influential games under its belt (Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft etc.) and that with Warcraft III it released a world editor. They also stated that the EULA contained a clause claiming that all community creations were property of Blizzard (Despite that clause being added a year or two after DOTA was released, not mentioned in the suit) and can't be used commercially without Blizzard's consent.

Blizzard claims that DOTA was released 'under license' (A contentious usage of words) from Blizzard to players, including DOTA Allstars and all other popular variations. They also claim that the games were marketed and advertised as popular Warcraft III mods, which implies Blizzard paid to market it which is quite a stretch of the facts. Blizzard also claimed that since 2003 they've used the DOTA marks for commerce and constantly advertised the game on Battle.net (The only thing they did was a 'Hall of Fame' mention) since its inception on Blizzard.com and Warcraft.com. They also claimed they've promoted the mod 'regularly' at Blizzcon (One official tournament in 2005), 'gaming events and conventions.'

Blizzard also claimed they 'licensed' (This word is used 9,999 times as a vague term to broaden their claim) DOTA mods and marks for every tournament ever held, fanart (wtf), and Basshunter's hilarious DOTA song. Due to all this 'licensing' and 'promotion' Blizzard feels that fans are retarded and would get confused if DOTA was associated with any company other than Blizzard. Also, they claim that the phrase 'the Ancients,' is associated to Blizzard's 'well-known characters' known as the Ancients. That's probably the most hilarious aspect of the entire document, trying to claim that a phrase known as 'of the Ancients' is strongly related to Blizzard. Why not throw in that 'Defense' is a strong term related to Blizzard characters as well while they're at it?

The final kick to the balls is the claim that the 'retarded fans' (Fixed) will believe that Valve's DOTA is associated or sponsored by Blizzard, which would harm their 'goodwill and reputation,' cause 'damage and injury' and 'confuse, decieve and mistake' the public.

Valve's Response: 

They called bullshit in their response. And in my opinion, rightfully so. The idea that Blizzard would make these claims without every bothering to trademark such a valuable 'commerce' brand, allowed the developers to stray and be picked up by other companies, and rejected ideas of cooperation really showcased how committed they were to this 'property' that they had no hand in developing. The name was conceived by the mod creators, as well as all the names for the champions, abilities, gameplay mechanics and flow. Valve has kept all of that and redesigned all the characters, sound, music and more as well as iterating on existing gameplay with the help of 2 out of 3 ORIGINAL developers who are finally getting compensated for their work.

So that aside, we believe this lawsuit might also be loosely related to Valve's 2009 lawsuit vs. Activision/Blizzard over unpaid dues that Sierra/Vivendi owed from a prior case following their acquisition by Activision. The beginning of bad blood between the two companies?

In conclusion, I have no idea how this is going to pan out but its easy to see that there's a lot of gray area involved. However, I see it as a matter of good intent vs. a company realizing the monetary value of something they neglected years too late. Its hard not to take the side of Valve in this one due to them being such a good will developer over the years, empowering smaller developers and artists via Steam (A small game company I was at was saved via the power of a special Valve/Steam collaboration) and actively evolving how the game marketplace works. Even if Valve loses, and has to change their game name to Team Fantasy Combat 2, I'll still be playing.

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