Warner Brothers, a games publisher who has published series like the popular “Batman” and “Middle-Earth” games, has successfully patented their Nemesis system from their “Middle-Earth” games after over five years of trying to do so. The patent’s label is US 20160279522A1 and is for “Nemesis characters, nemesis forts, social vendettas and followers in computer games.”
The mountains of praise that the “Middle-Earth” games received has been attributed to the Nemesis system for one of the unique mechanics in the game. Its general usage is as follows: every enemy, big or small, follows a flexible hierarchy that is constantly shifting depending on your success or failure. The smallest and most insignificant orc can be lauded as a grand hero, skyrocketing through the ranks if you lose to them. This has led to many organic and surprising moments in the game, lending it a strong amount of replayability.
Critics from across the gaming landscape responded incredibly well to the Nemesis system, with some considering it a major selling point of the game that a normal enemy killing you can cause a major upheaval in the hierarchy of the game’s enemies. Jim Sterling and Yahtzee Croshaw both sang high praises for the system, despite their ambivalence toward the rest of the game.
Considering the amount of positive press the system has gotten, it is a logical — albeit absolutely, gut-wrenchingly sinister — step for Warner Brothers to keep its concept just to itself. And after nearly six years of attempts, rephrases and drafts, the system was finally patented. Immediately, the decision garnered backlash from nearly every part of the industry, from small indie developers to AAA studios. The patent has raised concerns of the potential stagnation of the system by not letting other people use it.
Due to the age of the system and the game it’s from, there are already games that use strikingly similar systems, like “Star Renegades,” which apes the system so closely that it could viably be targeted for its similarities to Nemesis. There is also currently a game-jam called Jamesis that is hosted by Ben Verschoor, which will take advantage of the Nemesis system’s structure before the patent is fully brought through.
However, while the outcry is rather understandable, it is important to note that this isn’t the first time a game mechanic has been patented. Many others have attempted to do it long before Warner Brothers did. A very famous example of this was the patent on loading screen minigames done by Namco, which actively stifled the creation of the boredom, preventing loading screen minigames that many older games used, even though games did in fact use it in the end.
That does bring up how the patent got through. Considering the countless revisions and edits to the original patent, there is a chance that the vague and indistinct nature of the patent may be its own downfall. Depending on how strict Warner Brothers wishes to be on the patent, it could be next to meaningless due to said revisions.
Regardless, this will no doubt discourage the usage of similar systems in the future. Much like the patent on minigames, while the enforcement doesn’t have to be strict, the fact that there may be potential backlash for its usage is enough for many to back away from such a great mechanic.
Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu