Legal Fallout

Posted January 10, 2012 by Richard Plant in Editorial
Fallout MMO

Bethesda Softworks is a big cheese in the games industry right now, having developed the overwhelmingly well-received open world RPG, as well as developing a nice sideline in publishing, bringing out Splash Damage’s Brink and id software’s Rage, among others. With all that excitement, you might be forgiven for forgetting that Bethesda also owns the rights to another massive franchise — the Fallout universe.

Well, up until yesterday, they only owned the offline portions of that property. While Bethsoft were busy with Fallout 3, and the Obsidian-developed New Vegas, original series publishers Interplay Entertainment still owned the rights to a proposed Fallout MMO. The online game licence became the subject of a tortuous lawsuit, originally filed in 2009, which only managed to squirt forth a decision last night — Interplay no longer has any right to use the brand or IP in any ongoing development.

The sticky situation dates back to 2007, when Bethesda and parent company ZeniMax Media stepped in to pick up the Fallout assets from the struggling studio, which had gone into virtual hibernation in 2005 after being unable to meet debt commitments and pay workers’ salaries. In exchange for exclusive rights to the series, Bethesda paid almost six million dollars, and agreed to license Interplay to continue development on the Fallout MMO.

However, multiple strings were attached. Bethsoft insisted that to keep hold of the rights, Interplay would have to prove that the IP was in “full scale” development, and that sufficient funding was in place to see the project through to completion. According to the lawsuit, no such commitments were put in place.

Fallout MMO

Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

Yesterday’s court decision puts an end to the saga, with full  rights reverting to Bethesda and Interplay receiving two million dollars. Interplay will retain the right to sell the original Fallout games (Fallout 1 & 2, Brotherhood of Steel) until December 2013, when all rights will return to Bethesda.

“While we strongly believe in the merits of our suits, we are pleased to avoid the distraction and expense of litigation while completely resolving all claims to the Fallout IP,” said Robert Altman, Chairman and CEO of ZeniMax. “Fallout is an important property of ZeniMax and we are now able to develop future Fallout titles for our fans without third party involvement or the overhang of others’ legal claims.”

Here at Citizen Game, we’re hardly in a position to judge the merits of the case, although we applaud any steps that bring the post-nuclear roleplaying MMO closer to our screens.

About the Author

Richard Plant

Author, producer, dreamweaver… also actor. Willing to talk at length about JRPGs for food.