As expected, Warner Bros' application for a patent on Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system has been granted.
IGN reports the US Patent and Trademark Office released an issue notice, which is currently offline, on 3rd February 2021 confirming the patent goes into effect on 23rd February 2021, with an option to maintain until 2035.
As we reported last week, Warner Bros. has been trying to gain approval for this patent since March 2016, although reference to it is made as early as March 2015. Monolith Productions' Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor came out in September 2014.
The patent is dubbed "Nemesis characters, nemesis forts, social vendettas and followers in computer games", and is now assigned to Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. Its current status is listed as "pending", but it is expected to be updated to reflect its recent approval.
According to the patent listing, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a final rejection in November 2019. But Warner Bros stuck to its guns, and in October 2020 a "Notice of Allowance" was issued. This indicated Warner was able to overcome the rejections, and the USPTO believed the invention qualifies for a patent.
The revelation of the Nemesis patent, brought to light by the superb video on the Nemesis system by Game Maker's Toolkit below, has sparked a debate about the rights and wrongs of Warner Bros' actions here.
"This is really gross, especially for a franchise that built its brilliant nemesis system on top of a whole heap of mechanics replicated from other games," Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell tweeted.
"As all games do. Because that's how culture and creativity works. Be a better neighbour, WB."
"Since I was forced to learn a bit about this: a patent is not a copyright and having one doesn't necessarily mean they'll enforce it or win a case on it," Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail tweeted.
"What it does mean is they made a move to ensure they legally could and that in itself is 'meh' enough that I hate it."
"lmao what a load of shit," Obsidian design director Josh Sawyer wrote on Twitter last week.
"If you take someone's design and make a better version of it, you should be given a trophy and a triumph through the streets and the people who made the previous version should applaud you and say, 'wow that was really cool.' "
Has the patent put off other developers from having a stab at a Nemesis-style system of their own over the years? Tweets by narrative designer and writer Cat Manning suggests it may have:
"I looked at the patent and it's so broad as to be absurd! Multiple other emergent narrative systems that I have seen and worked on could be described with their language! It probably would not be legally enforceable but I and other indie devs don't have the money to find out!
"I have zero interest in copying the Nemesis system whole cloth! Personally there are a number of other things there I would do differently. But the patent is so broad that I'm still worried that it's a license to stop ANY similar work from being developed!"
In truth many developers and publishers over the years have obtained patents for video game mechanics that have appeared in later games. BioWare, for example, has a patent for Mass Effect's dialogue wheel, but dialogue wheels have appeared in subsequent games. Sega once held a patent on Crazy Taxi's compass arrow, although this expired in 2018. Nintendo currently holds a patent on Eternal Darkness' sanity meter.
With the Nemesis system patent finally secured, thoughts now turn to whether it could be set to return in some form in an upcoming Warner Bros. game. A new Middle-earth, perhaps? Batman? Harry Potter?