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Have Atari and Codemasters gone mad?

By on August 22, 2008
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Earlier this week, Codemasters and Atari, among others, launched an unprecedented legal assault on their customers.

In a bizarre move, the firms, together with Topware Interactive, Reality Pump and Techland, have appointed Davenport Lyons to serve notice on 25,000 UK residents, threatening to take them to court unless the cough up £300 each.

The action follows a judgement at London’s Patents County Courts which ordered a British woman called Isabella Barwinska to pay Topware over £16,000 for illegally sharing a copy of Dream Pinball 3D.

Rob Fahey at Gamesindustry.biz has already set out in his gamesindustry.biz editorial the questionable moral, legal and practical implications of the legal threats and comments that similar activities in France were “were deemed to be, in essence, extortion.”

ELSPA has said that it does not “condone this activity in any way“, Peter Moore of EA has said that he is “not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer” and none of the major publishers or format holders have come out in support of the move.

I am all in favour of publishers trying to maximise revenues from their intellectual property, because in the long run, more money to publishers means more investment and better games.

But heavy-handed suing of ordinary people is not only foolish, it’s been proven to be damaging in the past. The music industry tried and not only failed, it made the major companies look like out-of-touch, ageing dinosaurs who were struggling to understand the new consumer, let alone know how to sell to them.

The strange thing is that both Codemasters and Atari are, elsewhere in their organisation, embracing the change. Codemaster’s activities with Lord of the Rings Online, Archlord and others, have shown a company that not only gets online but is highly adaptable, not being afraid to change the business model (i.e. switching to a no-subscription micro-transaction model after launch for certain titles) when necessary.

And Atari’s new management have been clear that their objective is to focus on online opportunities.

So taking these reactionary, aggressive and deeply unpopular steps seems like a very surprising decision.

I hope that the brands won’t be permanently tarnished in the consumers’ minds.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com