In case you haven’t heard, Gearbox and Sega are being sued by a disheartened fan that believes that early footage of Aliens: Colonial Marines was misleading. Yesterday, Gearbox stepped out to say that the lawsuit was “frivolous”. I don’t need to defend Gearbox or their game, but they’re absolutely right; a Gearbox loss in this case could establish some pretty terrible legal precedent for the gaming industry.
Let’s be frank: Aliens: Colonial Marines was a disaster. Years in the making, it debuted to a largely negative response and became another notch in Gearbox’s hit-or-miss track record after their Duke Nukem Forever blunder, another game that the studio expressed a lot of passion for publicly that failed to live anywhere close to expectations. It’s why people scoffed at their recent Homeworld purchase. Hell, I don’t even like pre-release content. In a lot of cases, I’d rather know as little about the game as possible. I’m not just talking about the battery of trailers and demos that are released for a game in the days and weeks leading up to its release that I get all kinds of PR about, I’m talking about ones – like the one this lawsuit references – that are released long in advance. I understand the need for a publicly-traded company to keep investors (and the public) privy to upcoming projects, especially if they’re based on popular franchises or carry some hefty budgets like Aliens: Colonial Marines did. Did I need to see BioShock Infinite unveiled three years ago? Couldn’t I have just waited until six months ago and be totally oblivious about Ken Levine’s actions in the meantime? Sure.
The heart of the matter is that just because the demo differs from the final game, which it often will, is not the basis for a lawsuit. All media, be it game, movie, or music, is work-in-progress until it’s released. Expectations will be different, end results will be different. BioShock Infinite is very different now than its original CGI teaser trailer all those years ago, but you can’t file a lawsuit against them just because you didn’t like the end result (not that you’d need to). Have you ever played a demo you loved only to be let down by the final product? It happens. The demo for Crackdown sold me a $59.99 copy of that game, which really only had three times the content of the demo without a time limit. In that regard, it was kinda disappointing.
The thing is, the precedent established by the expectations of a demo or early trailer not matching the final product is dangerous. Gearbox should win this battle, but that Aliens: Colonial Marines sure was a disaster, wasn’t it?