Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
If a game is bad enough, can you sue over it? Apparently so.
SEGA of America has tentatively agreed to a $1.25M settlement in the ongoing lawsuit regarding Aliens: Colonial Marines. In a joint class-action against both SEGA and developer Gearbox, plaintiff Damion Perrine has claimed that the companies are guilty of false advertisement during their campaign for the ill-received title. Gameplay demos showed a far more intelligent AI, far more detailed environments, and an overall better game than what the public actually received.
The fans agreed. And now, with $1.25M on the line, apparently SEGA agrees as well. Throughout this entire ordeal, since the end of April 2014, both SEGA and Gearbox have repeated that they felt the suit was frivolous and unfounded. With the possible settlement, however, the precedent has been set.
So what does this mean for you?
While we can argue the finer points of hyperbole and energetic advertisement, the real question comes is one of semantics. Do developers owe gamers the product they’ve talked about, or the one they’ve made? In any other medium, this would hardly be an issue. I can’t count on both hands the number of movies I’ve watched where a great scene from the trailer is absent from the film. Spider-Man (2002) did this with footage of the web slinger capturing a helicopter between the two World Trade Center towers, as 9/11 occurred shortly before the film’s release. World War Z did this by naming a terribly bland Brad Pitt vehicle after a beloved book while retaining none of the charm or presence of the source material. Why are we, in the video game industry, so opposed to what ends up on the cutting room floor?
Of course, with Aliens, the situation was a bit more drastic. The AI from the demo behaved nothing like the final game. Xenomorphs repeatedly ran into walls, humped the air and basically acted like drunken frat boys throughout the levels, which robbed the title of any real punch. Weapons sounded puny and felt ineffective. Most of all, it just looked rushed. Graphical fidelity is one thing, and most gamers understand that there will be a difference between the crystal-clear demo put out by developers and the end product. So why are we so incensed by this?
A part of that anger, at least in this case, comes from the release. SEGA and Gearbox had a gag-order on the reviews of the game until the day of, meaning the 135,000 gamers who purchased day 1 had no information on the actual quality of the software. Many, after watching or reading the scathing critiques, would have saved their $60 for something better.
All your money. Right here
What about other developers? Can fans sue Peter Molyneaux for the Fable series (or the equally ill-fated The Movies)? What about EA for SimCity? Where do we draw the line from “hopeful dreaming” to “lying about the game?”
Literally nothing in this photo happens in the actual game
How about an epic flop, like the recent Amazing Spider-Man 2. Can we, the public, sue the developer for putting out what is clearly a shoddy tie-in? Or maybe we should go after the Madden franchise for not changing anything significant in 10 years. Some of you might think it is a bit of a leap to go from one lawsuit to all of this, but remember the importance of precedent. Lawyers love cases that provide precedent, because that does most of the work for them. If, in a similar circumstance, the plaintiffs won, then they should in future cases as well.
Now, looking at it from other side, can we see this as an isolated incident? Levi Buchanan of IGN put it succinctly.
But really, what video game doesn’t start out with a huge vision? That’s how greatness happens, by aiming as high as possible.
If that’s true–and we understand that it is–why were so many infuriated by one game? And enough for it to grow into a lawsuit? We don’t get mad at Ubisoft when Assassin’s Creed looks nothing like the Blur trailers. We don’t picket Will Wright’s house because the Sims 4 game left out my favorite features from the original.
But SEGA and Gearbox didn’t just aim high. They promised high. They showed off footage and claimed it was happening real-time. In short, they sold the public on a game that didn’t–and wouldn’t–exist. This is a case of “Misleading Illustration,” and holds up. While it may be possible to say that Gearbox had no say in the advertising campaign, SEGA was certainly aware of the product they were selling.
This story is far from over. Though SEGA is potentially settling for a paltry $1.25M (which, let’s be honest, they could find in their sofa cushions), the ripples will be felt throughout the industry. Personally, I hope this does not dissuade future developers from taking risks in their games. Taking chances is how this medium broke free of the basement and took over the world.
Gamers tend to be less vindictive, despite what online forums may have you think. Most of us would rather give a developer another chance than burn them to the ground after one wrong turn. That’s why Hideo Kojima is allowed to make more games, even though he went mercury-lined-hat-MAD many years ago. While this settlement will tarnish the name of SEGA for a short time, it shouldn’t cripple the industry. Hopefully it will just make publishers and developers think longer about the end products they release.
We can only dream.