Minecraft creator challenges trademark belligerents to winner-take-all Quake deathmatch

Notch, the game developer who struck gold with his multimillion-dollar bestselling low-rez indiegame Minecraft, has a novel proposal for resolving the stupid trademark threats he's been receiving from Bethesda games, who are upset that he's working on a game called "Scrolls" (Bethesda makes a game called "Elder Scrolls"). Rather than giving a whack of dough to lawyers to settle this, Notch has challenged Bethesda's devs to a three-on-three Quake 3 blood match, top fragger take all.
I challenge Bethesda to a game of Quake 3. Three of our best warriors against three of your best warriors. We select one level, you select the other, we randomize the order. 20 minute matches, highest total frag count per team across both levels wins.

If we win, you drop the lawsuit.

If you win, we will change the name of Scrolls to something you’re fine with.

Regardless of the outcome, we could still have a small text somewhere saying our game is not related to your game series in any way, if you wish.

I am serious, by the way.

Hey, Bethesda! Let’s settle this! (Thanks Fipi Lele!)

(Image: QuakeLive.jpg, Wikimedia Commons/Timothee Besset)


  1. Notch best be careful, Bethesda is best buds with Id now, since Zenimax owns them both, and they could probably call up Carmack and others to put some hurt on him in Quake

    1. Darxlith, I imagine getting to play against Carmack would be worth having to change the name of an unreleased game.

      1. That’s a very good point, I suppose I would probably do the same thing given the situation, especially if it had to be through LAN, so I’d get to meet and shake hands with the guy. Notch is even smarter than I thought, fair play to him.

  2. I think squirt guns at 10 paces would have been more mature, but I doubt that Bethesda’s lawyers are up to that.

  3. They should TOTALLY do this and TELEVISE THAT SHIT!  I don’t care what channel (ALL CHANNELS – well, maybe except FOX, who would likely cancel coverage mid-match), just put it on TV/NETFLIX/WHATEVER.

    @Draxlith:disqus :  You know… you have a point.  Hmm.  There should be a “no sploits/no console” clause… or maybe that doesn’t matter!  Maybe it should be “greatest hackers win” instead of “top fraggers.”  Dunno… both groups’ collective kung fu is strong.

    I hope they do this and open it for spectating/record it for posterity, even if they don’t do a TV deal.

  4. Actually, it sounds like Notch is the one that tried to trademark “Scrolls” and Bethesda, rightly, sued him. 

    1. Can’t see how this is “rightly”. You can’t just expect nouns in your name to be trademarked. LucasArts couldn’t sue everybody who used the word Atlantis in one of their games just because they had the Indiana Jones and the Fate fo Atlantis game; they could sue for using Indiana Jones though. Facebook aren’t suing My Year Book because a generic noun is in both of their names. “Elder Scrolls” is their trademark and have had a number of follow-up titles that stick to that name. “Scrolls” probably shouldn’t be allowed to be trademarked because of the likely confusion, but it isn’t grounds for litigation, it’s for the WIPO to say that there is prior art.

      And in response to @boingboing-8c19c8f5a3b029dbbb74fa00624201ed:disqus : yes, you’re correct but same point above applies. Mariner is not a generic word in the timepiece world.

    2. At Mojang’s lawyer’s advice (and against his own choice in the matter; he was outvoted), he filed a trademark for “Scrolls.”

      Bethesda has published a series of games under the series title “The Elder Scrolls: _(installment)_”.

      I have never heard or seen anyone, ever, refer to any title in the series as anything but “The Elder Scrolls: _(installment)_” or (much more commonly) simply by the installment name (Arena, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, etc.). Bethesda isn’t the new Tim Langdell (of ‘EDGE’ trademark trolling), but only a lawyer would see the possibility of confusion.

      What’s next, Bethesda suing any poker/gambling franchise that has “Vegas” in their name (in conflict with Fallout: New Vegas)? Okay, Scrolls is in vaguely the same genre, but come on, people.

    3. “Rightly”?  Bethesda does not have a game named “Scrolls”.  They have a game named “Elder Scrolls”.  Note the difference in the string, there.  A whole extra word makes the Bethesda title 85% larger.

      That would be like me making a game named “Gathering” and being sued by WotC because their card game “Magic: The Gathering” includes a word in my title as one of it’s parts.

    4. I see how this could seem like the right thing to do from the viewpoint of someone with something to gain from the American culture of frivolous litigation and a coincidence of words in two game titles belonging to franchises with nothing else in common.

  5. This sounds a lot like trying to win an argument through WoW PvP.  Which is to say, dorky, illogical, and resolves nothing.

    Though I guess the context changes a little when the alternative is court.  A few rounds of Quake would be a lot quicker and cheaper.  On the other hand, unless they get this agreement signed, notarized and determined legally binding, BethSoft can always just lose and then sue anyway.

  6. There are laws on the books that prevent competing businesses from using names that are too similar to each other. That’s why Timex doesn’t offer a watch called the Mariner, or why Toyota doesn’t sell a truck called the Trailfinder.

  7. Can we get a level in Terminator: Future Shock…  always did like that game.

    Heck at this point it’s graphics aren’t any better than Minecraft anyway…

  8. Notch: “Fine, fine, you beat us fair and square.  Our next game will now be called, ‘The Elder Rolls of Paper IV: Oblivion.'”

  9. Now that we have video games, I don’t understand why more disagreements are not settled with duels.

    We could be living in the new golden age of duels, people!

    1. Indeed – but they should be required to do it in Red Dead Redemption. If we’re gonna do duels, you gotta do it right…

  10. Having met a good number of Bethesda’s dev folks (who seemed personable enough) and a good number of their business folks (who seemed like the sort that get marketing degrees because they’re bad at math and too transparently mean to work HR) my guess is Notch is in for easy work.

  11. Isn’t this somewhat similar to the whole “edge” thing not that long back?  I guess the major diff would be the Elder Scrolls being something actually worked on instead of an IP that hasn’t been used since forever, but I do like the idea of this.

  12. Cory, your wife could try this with the Daily Mail : the challenge would make for fun publicity, even without the fun of cleaning their clock if they were dumb enough to accept.

  13. I approve of this method of settling disputes while at the same time freeing up our court systems.

  14. Looks like we may have a new diplomatic tool.  Imagine Libyans deciding the future over a best of 13 Quake2 CTF round.  As a method of conflict resolution, where the only other alternative is real conflict, I can highly recommend this course of action in future.  It will also mean that countries will have to fund great gamers, same as they do now for athletes.  Imagine that.

    1. Korea then has a huge leg up on the rest of world, especially in Starcraft.

      That or you could do like Berkley and build an Overmind-type bot solution to the problem.

  15. Oh wait, I get it.  Claiming a mark that is descriptive and generic for the purpose (“scrolls” in a fantasy game) is about as fair as camping in a FPS.  If Notch uses a spawn-camper map, total frags would be  ridiculous.  If they both used that strategy, it would prove the point – unfairly squatting a valuable resource just ruins the game for everyone.  Everyone would have more fun just playing their best game.

  16. I honestly think this, if it actually happens, could be a huge PR win for both Notch *and* Bethesda.  Instead of Bethesda looking like thugs, they would look fun minded, reasonable, and geeky–and isn’t that what you want out of a game company?

    Bethesda, if you are reading this, do it–then get your finest PR wonks on it pronto.  Both companies could make a lot of money and not hurt anything/one in the process.

  17. Christ, Doctorow, you couldn’t even take a half a graf to note that while it’s a clever and funny move on notch’s part, that’s not in the slightest how Trademark law works, and no lawyer could even entertain such a notion.

    There’s such a well of hatred for lawyers these days that utterly and unfairly dismisses their role as advocates for personal and corporate interests.  The assumption embedded in statements like “lawyers being lawyers” is that they’re acting in pure self interest, ginning up nonsense to keep the little guy down and line their pockets.  This represents such a small minority of lawyers in the world.  Most of them are good, honest people doing their job… namely representing their clients in matters of law.

    You may not like the way trademark law is written, but for the time being it’s written in such a way that lawyers must act on situations like this or be negligent in their duties.

    I’m not a lawyer, but vague common sense and cursory investigation of these matters isn’t so tough…  I guess it’s just so much easier to irrationally hate lawyers.

    Also, p.s., there’s every indication that whatever his personal feelings, notch is, in fact, acting as a responsible business owner and mojang has it’s own lawyers involved, as it ought : http://twitter.com/#!/notch/status/103926706913546240

    1. What I don’t like is people helping perpetuate a status quo that simply isn’t working.

      I’ve heard all kinds of reasons for why it’s absolutely *necessary* for Bethesda/Zenimax to sue Mojang, and they all go down to “That’s just how Trademark law is.”

      But look at this: “Scrolls” and “The Elder Scrolls [number]: [name]” aren’t remotely similar. The games aren’t remotely similar (one is a card game, one is an open world 3D action-RPG). The Elder Scrolls games aren’t even called “Scrolls” or even “Elder Scrolls”. So any reasonable person should see that there should be no conflict here. There is no risk of confusion between the names, no dilution of trademarks, no copying or stealing or whatever.

      But people are telling me that Bethesda still HAS to sue Mojang, otherwise they are basically giving up their rights to their trademark of Elder Scrolls – according to US law. 

      If that is truly the case – if a court can’t see that if Bethesda says now “We won’t contest their naming of their game – our names and games aren’t even remotely similar” shouldn’t mean that they aren’t allowed to protect their trademark when someone comes out with, say, an RPG called “Old Scrolls: The Rim of the Sky” or whatever, then things are screwed up beyond words. 

      I have no respect for people who just shrug their shoulders and say “Well, that’s just how trademark law is. They are truly *forced* to sue a small developer on the other side of the world for a name that isn’t really similar, on a game that isn’t similar at all”. If things are truly *that* screwed up, all lawyers with a work ethic should rise up and say “We can’t work under these conditions! What kind of laws makes us do thousands of clearly spurious lawsuits? Things need to change now!”

      But anyway, I think it’s all pretty bogus anyway. I don’t believe that things are *quite* that screwed up. I don’t believe that Bethesda/Zenimax are quite that “forced” to sue Mojang.

      When Minecraft hit it big, some small developer made a remarkably similar game with the remarkably similar name Fortresscraft. Mojang didn’t sue, and the universe didn’t explode. Sure, they’re not in the U.S., but still. Bethesda publishes several games with one word titles (Brink, Rage, Doom) that occur in other game titles. I haven’t heard of the other developers suing Bethesda for their use and trademarking of those words – and the universe didn’t end.

      I’ve also heard that Bethesda *has* to sue Mojang, otherwise Mojang could pull a Langdell and sue Bethesda. That really, Bethesda are the victims here!

      Now that’s just silly. Sure, it could possibly happen – but even lawyers should be able to look at probabilities. The probability that Mojang (the guys who don’t sue companies that make very similar games with similar names) will sue? Slim to none. The probability that Bethesda loses face and looks like bullies if they sue over something like this? Big.

      1. It’s very stupid, but it also generates lots of billable hours for everyone involved. Patent law is just as screwed up; got a new product that isn’t wholly new because you don’t come from a universe with FTL travel? Better hope you have a whole bunch of patents as mutually-assured destruction in case any established player decides that you’re infringing on one of their rubber-stamped obvious patents. This has been playing out all year with HTC suing Apple suing Samsung suing Motorola suing HTC suing Nokia suing Kodak suing Apple suing LG suing… you get the idea.

      2. I hear you and agree… when laws aren’t working, they ought to be changed.  I’m outspoken in my opposition to software patents, for example, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand why Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, etc. keep buying them.

        You’re as entitled to your opinion on trademark law as I am to mine on patent law, but the facts do remain, screwed up or otherwise, that not defending your trademark weakens it… eventually to the point of total dilution.

        I’m frankly of mixed feelings on if there is sufficient similarity between The Elder Scrolls and Scrolls to cause confusion in the marketplace, nor am I entirely certain about the details of proving that standard but, alas, waiting until there is confusion in the marketplace and dealing with it then is worse for both organizations than settling it now.

        Anyway, my main argument is that if you hate this, get out your stationary and start writing your congresspeople…  they’re the ones who make laws, not the lawyers.

        1. Fair enough. 

          My point is though, that either things aren’t really as screwed up as people claim (if Bethesda really are *forced* to sue in a case like this, I’d classify it as royally screwed up, for reasons outlined above) or I’d expect lawyers to be at the forefront of people telling the government “Things need to change, this isn’t working!”

          I know that lawyers don’t make the laws, but they are the people who are directly involved and working it. Just like if there is a problem with a health care system where patients aren’t getting the care they need, I don’t expect doctors to just say “Well, that’s just how the system is – we have to work with it.” I expect everyone who knows about the problem to do something, but I expect doctors in particular to say “No, this won’t do – I can’t work under these conditions, this isn’t how things should work.”

          Everyone else can do something too, if they know what should be done (well, I can’t write my congresspeople – I’m not American). But the group that is directly in the know and the group directly affected (lawyers in this case) are the ones that I expect not to shrug their shoulders and say “That’s how things are” if things aren’t working.

          And again – many similar cases (there are many games with words like Doom and Rage in them) don’t lead to lawsuits. Maybe those who own IPs and trademarks with the word Doom and Rage in the title are “diluting their trademarks” by not challenging Bethesda, but I have a heck of a lot more respect for that. In the end, a trademark is just a trademark. We know that Rage isn’t the same thing as Fists of Rage (or whatever a game may be called) and as long as the people who own this potential Fists of Rage trademark, people can continue happily buying both games without anyone looking stupid. 

          Might a lack of legal action bite them in the future? Maybe – but for a company selling products to the masses, public image should be more important. So what if someone makes a game called The Rim of Sky and Bethesda has lost their ability to challenge that? People would say that the makers of Rim of Sky are asses for trying to get a free ride on Skyrim’s popularity, and most wouldn’t support that company.

    1. The difference is that Bethesda is an active software developer with a vested interest in protecting their trademarks for titles in active development, while Tim Langdell is a lonely, sad, arrogant little man trying to cling to imagined past glories (and licensing revenue so he doesn’t have to put in an honest day’s work) and getting his kicks out of trolling the entire game industry. 

      I don’t know what trademark law is in Sweden, but I do know that in the US, if you allow dilution of your trademark, it can be taken away from you. Like it or not, Bethesda HAS to demonstrate that they’re protecting the trademarks to The Elder Scrolls or they risk losing the protections to the very name of one of their long-running franchises.

      1. I understand that they are an active developer, and a great one at that.  I have a problem with the current way copyright and patent laws are enforced.  Along that logic, Nintendo should have sued the makers of Super Meat Boy for using the word “Super” because it dilutes their Mario franchise or the SNES.  Its just stupid and it doesnt make sense.  You can’t own a word that you didn’t invent.

        1. Oh, it’s quite stupid (see my sentiments on how stupid it is a few posts above), but it’s still a very different situation to the outright fraud perpetuated by Langdell. There’s a question as to whether Mojang can even trademark “Scrolls,” as it’s a generic noun, but that’s not up to Bethesda to decide. I’m just saying, as stupid as it is, Bethesda’s lawyers do have an obligation to do what they can–comparing them to Langdell is like a lesser Godwin.

          1. I totally agree that the real problem here are the laws that govern copyrights/patents.  They almost force these companies to fight among themselves for ownership of ideas.  The current patent laws make it almost impossible for new players to enter the market, since a big name competitor/patent hoarder can blow them out of the water over some stupid vague description of an idea they once had.

          1. To be fair, one can hold the opinion that all three are utterly insane at this point in history. But at the same time, the three are different, and I do see a lot of people confusing them.

  18. Plenty of video games use words in common that are part of registered trademarks. It’s kind of a fun mini-game to think of them. Here are some from memory and using a little help from Amazon.

    Evil – Resident Evil: Evil Dead: Beyond Good and Evil

    Super – Super Mario Bros: Super Meat Boy: Super Street Fighter IV: Super Scribblenauts

    Man – Pac-Man: Mega Man: Xplosion Man: Gitaroo Man

    Quest – Dragon Quest: King’s Quest: Quest 64: Puzzle Quest: Castlequest: Castlevania II:Simon’s Quest

    Dragon – Dragon Age: Dragon Quest: Dragon’s Lair: Blue Dragon: Spyro the Dragon: Double Dragon

    Legend – The Legend of Zelda: Legend of Heroes: Brutal Legend: The Legend of Kage: The Legend of Dragoon: Mega Man Legends: Burnout Legends

    Castle – Castlevania: Castle Crashers: Castlequest: Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Crystal Castles

    Dungeon – Dungeon Siege: Dungeon Keeper: Dungeons: Dungeon Explorer: Dungeon Maker: Dungeons & Dragons

    Sword – Heavenly Sword: Swords: Dragon Quest Swords: Sword of Mana: Rondo of Swords: The Legend of Zelda:Four Swords: The Legend of Zelda:The Skyward Sword

    Puzzle – Puzzle Bobble: Puzzle Quest: Puzzle Fighter: Puzzle League

    There are many, many more examples besides these. The Mojang/Betheseda dispute makes about as much sense as Konami suing THQ for releasing “Quest 64”. (Konami created Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – “Simon’s Quest” is clearly tradmarked right on the front of the Nintendo box).

    Many of these similarly named games are in the same exact genre, yet somehow customers can tell them apart. Also, I don’t see any trademark “dilution” with any of these IPs, unless someone is actually convinced that the release of Super Meat Boy makes Nintendo more likely to lose their trademark on Super Mario Bros? Then why was Nintendo in talks to release Super Meat Boy on the Wii? Wouldn’t that create some confusion amongst customers, or show that Nintendo is unwilling to challenge attacks on their trademark? Or is it that Nintendo knows their customers aren’t total idiots and can tell two obviously different games apart from each other?

    Bethesda doesn’t have an argument. They should take the offer to settle this in a good PR stunt and save face while they can.

  19. Even if Bethesda is staffed by complete blithering morons they’d have to see this as a good deal.  

    Win? You get what you want and you don’t come of looking like a douc … er … feminine hygiene product.  Loose, and loose gracefully, you still win in the hearts and minds, and face it … the names aren’t really that close.  Keep this fight up, and everyone will know you alright, but we’ll use your name in the same sentence with Lodsys.  

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