Yesterday, VentureBeat reported that Atari submitted a copyright infringement claim against indie developer Black Powder Media for their game, Vector Tanks 3. Atari’s claim is that the game looks too similar to Battlezone, their 1980s arcade title.
Black Powder Media responded with the following:
“Anything that has even a passing resemblance to an Atari classic has been issued a copyright infringement claim…
So – thanks to their special relationship with Apple – Atari has successfully scrubbed the app store of their perceived competition. It looks as though Apple complied without so much as a rebuttal or independent evaluation.”
Today, Develop reports that Atari has released statement regarding some of the specific claims made by Black Powder Media:
“While we have great respect for the indie developer community and greatly appreciate the enthusiasm that they have for our renowned properties, we need to vigorously protect our intellectual property and ensure that it is represented in highly innovative games”
Atari also said that they remain committed to working with indie developers to build iOS remakes of its arcade classics. This comment by Atari contradicts a comment made by Vector Tanks 3 programmer Peter Hirschberg to VentureBeat:
“The cruel irony here is that I tried for years to get ahold of Atari to license their IP but they seemed to have fallen off the planet. Now this. It’s very depressing.”
Atari declined to comment on Black Powder Media’s statement regarding Atari having a favorable relationship with Apple.
Analysis: While I would agree that Atari seems to have stopped this game from coming to the iOS platform, I’d suspect this is because Atari has an extensive library of games. For Apple to remain competitive, they need to offer as many of the titles people want, so this seems more about a business decision rather than favoritism. This isn’t to say that I don’t completely disagree with Black Powder Media’s position here: They are making a game that is similar to Atari’s Battlezone, but if the story and gameplay mechanics are different, then would this be such an issue?
It’s impossible to copyright a tank or a wheel because they’re everywhere, and that’s where I think the problem lies: Vector Tanks 3 looks too similar. I’m of the mindset that, as long as a new product isn’t a blatant ripoff (e.g. copying everything and just renaming it or slightly changing the textures), then it should be allowed to be made. At the very least, Atari ought to have had Black Powder Media prove how Vector Tanks 3 differs from Battlezone before demanding it get pulled from a store.
This isn’t the first time Atari has flexed their legal muscle. Last year, Gaming Bus reported that Atari was threatening legal action against the retro fan base. One person at the center of our article was Andrew Davie at Atari2600.org. Atari claimed that no one should use the name Atari because it was copyrighted. At that time, he said he was disappointed and considering all options. According to a statement at Atari2600.org, things have changed:
“OK, water under the bridge. Let’s face it, Atari have been a bit over-zealous with their claims of ownership of various Interweb sites using ‘Atari’ in their domain name. And it’s all seemed a bit absurd. However, being one of those affected by this kerfuffle, I’m happy to report some satisfactory progress in resolution of the issue.”
Now, if Black Powder Media has been honest in regards to making a new game not based on the Battlezone IP, then I hope Atari will reverse this decision because it does seem a little extreme to me.