After listening to this week's episode of This American Life on software patents, I was curious to investigate patents within the gaming sphere. Although we routinely hear about console manufacturers' patents, patents from publishers are a less frequent source for headlines.
Editor's note: Another week, another Superannuation Internet excavation. This week the mysterious figure digs up some surprisingly specific patents held by various publishers. All of what Superannuation finds is available to the public. These could very well be true gaming secrets. Read on...
Electronic Arts hold patents for things like: a gaming console with a wireless controller, avatar-based virtual world chatting, episodic content delivery, Mass Effect's dialogue wheel, simulating the remainder of racing game race, Spore's evolution mechanics, a game simulating DJing, and Def Jam Icon's remix mechanics. The gaming giant has applied for further patents for Madden's Playmaker feature, video playing during loading screens, and cross-platform cloud saves, among other items.
Activision's handful of patents mostly pertain to various aspects of their music games. The few non-music game Activision patents include Blur's social networking integration, virtual universe wish lists, and a steering wheel game controller implementation.
Zynga, a company dealing in a field prone to patent litigation, unsurprisingly has a number of patents, such as "Clan wars", "Embedding of games into third party websites" and "Crew creation for question progression. (For the most part, other publishers do not hold much in the way of patents.)
Much to my surprise, the most prolific filers of US patents were not market-leading publishing giants like Electronic Arts and Activision, but Square Enix and Konami. The Final Fantasy publisher has received 142 patents, including a "Video game with fast forward and slow motion features" and a "Network game not requiring continuous connectivity." Konami Digital Entertainment holds 257 patents, including a device apparently capable of detecting a genre of music, a "Transformable toy" and baseball game mechanics.
Several weeks ago, Turbine moved a number of domains, including middleearthshadowofmordor.com, middleearthgame.com, middleearthshadowofmordorgame.com, shadowofmordor.com, and shadowofmordorgame.com, onto its servers, seemingly suggesting some sort of new gaming development set in Tolkien's universe. The Saul Zaentz Company -- who control an assortment of media rights for Tolkien's fantasy novels -- filed a trademark registration for "Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor" for an assortment of items including games, and another registration for "M-E Middle Earth" in relation to "online chat rooms" for "participants of multiplayer computer games."
Given that Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online is yet to encompass Mordor, the logical leap might be to assume that "Shadow of Modor" is a new expansion of the Tolkien MMO, but Turbine already announced the next expansion pack "Helm's Deep" last month, and none of the domains registered contained the game's title or LOTRO acronym -- two factors that could indicate this is another game entirely. Shortly before last year's E3, domains for Monolith's Guardians of Middle-Earth MOBA popped up on Turbine's servers, could this be another smaller-scale multiplayer title? WB did also strike a deal with a Korean MMO firm last year to turn the company's properties into regional online titles, and that could explain a more generic domain like "middleearthgame.com."
Whatever "Shadow of Mordor" is, I'm going to guess we might see it at E3.
According to his CV, Tom Ivey -- the last remaining senior designer of Donkey Kong Country Returns at Retro Studios -- left Retro a few months ago to join Armature Studio, the studio founded by Metroid Prime leads and currently working on the portable counterpart to the next Batman Arkham game. The other senior designers -- Mike Wikan and Kynan Pearson -- left Retro in 2011 and 2010, respectively.
Several resumes indicate a San Francisco team at beleaguered social games giant Zynga was prepping a swashbuckling social title called Pirateville. Pirateville was, however, likely cancelled: an art director and a senior artist stopped working on Pirateville in March, and an artist describes the title as "unreleased."
One resume says Pirateville was one of Zynga's "invest and express" line of games, Zynga's jargon for "-ville" titles allowing players to invest time and money to generate expressive in-game objects. A Zynga art director states that they spent 15 months working on Pirateville and led "a team of 12 artists", possibly suggesting Pirateville was intended to be a major social title. Assets in their portfolio seem to show Pirateville was a browser-based Facebook title, a type of game Zynga is trying move away from in its transition to mobile. Zynga even registered a Pirateville Twitter account in February, a possible sign an announcement was not too far away.
Pirateville is not the only seemingly cancelled game with "pirates" in the title that Zynga's San Francisco headquarters worked on- a small team at the studio apparently spent a year working on a mobile game called Dragons & Pirates.
Superannuation is a self-described "internet extraordinaire" residing somewhere in the Pacific timezone. He tweets and can be reached at heyheymayday AT gmail DOT com.
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