PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds publisher PUBG Corporation is no longer suing Epic Games over Fortnite.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, or PUBG, is a popular battle royale-style shooter game that spawned countless imitators. In January, PUBG Corporation filed a lawsuit in Korea alleging that the maker of free-to-play competitor Fortnite ripped off PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Although its concept is similar to PUBG, Fortnite is wildly popular in its own right. "We filed the suit to protect our copyright in January, " an unnamed PUBG Corporation official told The Korea Times at the time.
As reported by Bloomberg, that lawsuit is now over. Court documents are no longer online, and according to the local court system’s website, the case is now closed. PUBG Corporation also confirmed that the lawsuit is over and confirmed it had sent Epic’s lawyers a letter withdrawing the lawsuit on Monday. There’s no word from PUBG Corporation or Epic about why the lawsuit stopped, or if the parties agreed to a settlement. The lawsuit was filed in Korea and because the country’s privacy laws are stricter than in the US, case information isn’t available to non-parties outside a docket sheet that provides only the basics of the case.
Epic Games declined to comment on this story. Bluehole and PUBG Corporation did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds cemented a new genre of online shooter: the battle royale, where a large group of players—some playing solo, and some in squads—compete to be the last person standing on a large map. It enjoyed a brief moment of intense popularity before an army of rip-offs, clones, and competitors rose up to challenge it. One of these new competitors was Fortnite, a take on the battle royale genre from Epic Games that added some light base-building elements. Now, Fornite is one of the most popular game on the planet, surpassing even PUBG. It made $318 million in the month of May alone.
As Fornite and other games rose in popularity, PUBG Corporation began to sue. It also went after low-effort, smartphone-based clones coming out of China in April and alleged intellectual ownership of everything from the phrase “Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner” (the words a player sees when they win a game of PUBG) to the frying pan. You can read the incredible 155-page complaint here.
Even before the lawsuits, PUBG was vocal about feeling slighted by competitors. In a press release from September 2017, developer Bluehole, the team responsible for designing and coding PUBG, called out Epic Games for ripping it off.
“After listening to the growing feedback from our community and reviewing the gameplay for ourselves, we are concerned that Fortnite may be replicating the experience for which PUBG is known,” Bluehole representative Chang Han Kim said in a statement at the time. “We have also noticed that Epic Games references PUBG in the promotion of Fortnite to their community and in communications with the press. This was never discussed with us and we don’t feel that it’s right.”
In December of 2017, PUBG creator Brendan Greene told the BBC that the video game industry needed stronger copyright protection. "There's no intellectual property protection in games,” he said. “Some amazing games pass under the radar. Then someone else takes the idea, has a marketing budget, and suddenly has a popular game because they ripped off someone else's idea. I think it's something the industry needs to look into.”
PUBG’s makers are upset that the battle royale genre has taken off in a big way. But publisher PUBG Corporation and developer Bluehole didn’t invent the genre. The Hunger Games popularized in the US, but the Japanese novel Battle Royale and director Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film adaptation started the trend; and before that, there was pro wrestling. The point is that you can’t copyright a genre, Ethan Jacobs, an intellectual property lawyer with Holland Law LLP in San Francisco told me over the phone—no one owns it.
“Genre and game mechanics aren’t protected by copyright law,” Jacobs told me. “[PUBG Corporation] wouldn't have a claim under US law if those were the things that they were saying were infringed.”
This point may explain why PUBG Corporation filed its lawsuit in Korea, not the US.
“Korean copyright law is stricter than American,” Ryan Morrison, an intellectual property lawyer with Morrison/Lee who specializes in video games, told me over the phone in May. “They’re also home to one of the only truly internet savvy copyright acts that exists.”
In 2009, Korea passed a law that allowed its Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism to delete infringing reproductions from the internet or block people’s access to said reproductions. “If they find Fortnite to be a copyright infringing game...they could straight up say you’re not allowed to play Fortnite in Korea,” Morrison said. “I can’t imagine that’s how this plays out.”
Now that the lawsuit is over and Fortnite continues to be one of the most popular games in the world, that’s unlikely to happen.