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Can I Sue A Video Game Creator or Company?

Couple Sitting on a Couch Playing Video Games

Yes, you can sue under certain circumstances. You may have a dispute about the purchase or use of a game, such as a bad install or a problem with in-game gameplay.

Unless you are a minor, you must typically follow the contractual dispute resolution process in the end user license agreement (EULA). That process usually starts outside of court, informally, and then through arbitration.

Your recovery is generally limited to the cost of the game. If it's an online game, you might recover the amount you spent on it over the previous 12 months.

But your dispute may not relate to the use or play of a game. It could arise in virtually any other context. In such cases, the EULA doesn't bind you, and you could bring your dispute to court, depending on the facts of the case.

Video Gaming Is a Huge Industry

Video gaming has become one of the nation's pastimes. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) represents the video game industry. They say that as of 2021, about 227 million people in the United States play video games.

Most players, about 80%, are over 18, and about half are female. We play alone, and we play together, in-person and online. About 45% of gaming happens on mobile devices like smartphones, 32% on game consoles (such as the Sony PlayStation, the Microsoft Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch), and about 23% on PCs.

Gaming has become the most popular form of entertainment in the world. In 2022, the gaming sector was worth nearly $350 billion globally and continues growing.

Video Games Have Been Around Longer Than You Think

It may surprise you to learn that the first video game wasn't "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" (by Bethesda), "Pac-Man" (by Namco), or even "Pong" (by Atari).

It was instead invented by a physicist, William Higinbotham, working with technician Robert Dvorak, in October 1958. They called their forerunner of the tennis game "Tennis for Two."

But video games have evolved and taken off from there. The following is a list of video game franchises that have sold at least 100 million copies and who made them:

  • Mario (Nintendo)
  • Tetris (Soviet game designer Alexey Pajitnov)
  • Call of Duty (Activision)
  • Super Mario (Nintendo)
  • Pokemon (Nintendo and others)
  • Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games)
  • FIFA sports games (Electronic Arts Inc.)
  • Minecraft (Mojang Studios, since bought by Microsoft)
  • Wii (Nintendo)
  • Lego (Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment)
  • The Sims (Maxis and EA)
  • Final Fantasy (Square Enix)
  • Mario Kart (Nintendo)
  • Assassin's Creed (Ubisoft)
  • Need for Speed (EA)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega)
  • Madden NFL football games (EA Sports)
  • The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo)
  • Resident Evil (Capcom)
  • Star Wars (Disney and EA)
  • NBA 2K (Sega)
  • Wii Sports games (Nintendo)
  • Pro Evolution Soccer (Konami)

Studios are increasingly building games with complex online and multiplayer play. As games grow more sophisticated, so can the legal issues that arise.

Video Game Creators and Companies Get Into Disputes Like Any Business

Like any industry, video game companies and their employees, such as game developers, can get into various disputes with people. Sometimes, a customer has a bad experience with a game. But in other cases, a dispute arises in a different context.

This section will discuss both. First, learn about disputes involving gaming experience problems. Second, see other scenarios where video game creators and companies have faced lawsuits. You may also have a problem with the hardware you bought for gaming, which involves different legal considerations.

Disputes Involving Gameplay

When you buy a game, you expect it to work. You download it, install it, and then? No luck. Or the game glitches while you're playing. Worse things can happen, too. Suppose a game damages your computer or console, so you must replace it. What relief do you have?

The EULA

The EULA governs your rights. When you install a game, download content (DLC), or create an online account, you must first agree to the terms of use. That forms a contract. EULAs typically spell out a procedure you must follow to resolve disputes. You don't automatically get to go to court (unless you're a minor).

Notify the Video Game Company

The first usual step is to inform the video game company in writing about your claim. Usually, communication resolves the claim. For example, a publisher or distributor may offer a full refund.

Depending on the terms of the EULA, you can email the notice. Otherwise, you must mail a letter to the company outlining your problem and asking for what you want. They have a limited time to respond.

Binding Arbitration

The next possible step is arbitration. If you try to file a lawsuit in court, the video game company will likely ask the judge to either dismiss your case or compel you to arbitrate your claims.

Instead of a judge, a hired arbitrator will hear both sides and decide a fair resolution for you. The video game company often agrees to cover the reasonable costs associated with the arbitration. Arbitration can be a complicated process, and the decision is binding.

Minors may be able to "disaffirm" the contract. That means the arbitration provision (EULA terms) would no longer bind you. You could proceed in court.

But otherwise, you need to go to arbitration. Although arbitration can get complex, hiring a lawyer might not be worth it. The arbitrator is a neutral third party who will assess the contract and the circumstances of the dispute.

Small Claims Court

Some EULAs expressly permit you to go to court. Small claims court, that is.

The amount you can recover there is comparatively low, and many small claims courts don't allow you to bring a lawyer. So, even if you can go to court, you might decide hiring one is not worth it.

Limitation on Damages

The second obstacle is that, like in arbitration, virtually all games limit recoverable damages in their terms of use. That's typically the amount you paid for the game or, for an online game, the amount you spent on it for the previous year. If you're a minor who can disaffirm the contract, you may be able to seek damages in court that exceed this limitation.

But if you're not, you're probably stuck. Even if you could get around the arbitration provision, going to court might cost more than you could recover. It might not be worth it to sue.

Lawsuits Aren't Just About Gameplay

Your dispute may not involve the purchase and installation of a game, such as when:

  • You are a game developer or software engineer who believes a game violates your intellectual property rights
  • You are an employee of a gaming company and have a dispute with your boss
  • You are an artist who thinks a game company stole your designs in violation of copyright law
  • You own a business that partnered with a game company, but a business conflict, such as a contract breach, arose

A EULA doesn't apply in other contexts like these, so you would be able to go to court. The types of lawsuits you might bring against a video game company are as diverse as they would be against any other business. Here are a few examples, some of which even involve in-game play.

  1. Olsen Twins v. Acclaim
    Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen sued Acclaim when it decided not to release a game based on the twins' popular television show. The Olsens claimed that Acclaim damaged their brand by not releasing the game.
  2. The 'Lineage' Game Suit
    A gamer sued NCSoft because she accidentally destroyed the ultra-rare Jin Myung Hwang's Conduct Sword in the game "Lineage," worth $28,000 on the retail market. They argued that NCSoft should have restored the item.
  3. The Tattoo Case
    A tattoo artist sued a game developer, claiming that a lion tattoo on the fighter Carlos Condit from the game "UFC Undisputed 3" violated his copyright.
  4. The 'Lineage II' Case
    A gamer sued NCSoft, claiming that he suffered depression and severe emotional distress from investing over 20,000 hours playing the game between 2004 and 2009.
  5. Gaming Addiction
    Two minors brought a class-action lawsuit in Canada against Epic Games, the maker of the interactive online game "Fortnite," claiming that they developed a gaming addiction from excessive playing.
  6. Universal v. Nintendo
    Universal City Studios sued Nintendo, claiming that Nintendo's character "Donkey Kong" infringed on Universal's intellectual property rights relating to "King Kong."
  7. Beiswenger v. Ubisoft
    An author took action against Ubisoft, the "Assassin's Creed" maker, claiming that the game directly copied his book.
  8. Thompson v. Sony
    Families of murder victims sued Sony, the manufacturer of "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," claiming that the game was responsible for the deaths.
  9. The 'Blonde Girl in the Red Bikini' Case
    Lindsey Lohan sued Sony, claiming it stole her image in creating the in-game characters Lacey Jonas and the "blonde girl in the red bikini" in "Grand Theft Auto V."
  10. Sexual Harassment at Activision
    The State of California brought a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, the maker of the popular online game "World of Warcraft," for employment discrimination.

You May Have a Reason to Consult a Lawyer

Many reasons might justify filing a lawsuit against a video game company. If you paid for a defective game, try to work out your dispute through their informal process by yourself. You are likely limited in the amount of damages you can recover.

Yet, you may have reasons beyond gameplay to sue a video game company, a game publisher, or a development studio. Getting legal advice can help you evaluate a potential lawsuit.

If you are considering suing, consider speaking to a consumer protection lawyer. They can tell you whether you must follow the terms of an arbitration provision in a EULA and, if not, whether a lawsuit makes sense in your circumstances.

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