Bethesda Tells Popular Doom Fan Game To Shut Down

DoomRL is a free roguelike that uses the Doom setting to offer random, digestible adventures full of super shotguns and cacodemons. Now, a takedown request from ZeniMax threatens to put an end to the project.

In a tweet yesterday, DoomRL creator Kornel Kisielewicz shared an email from ZeniMax requesting the removal of all trademarks. They threatened further legal action if Kisielewicz did not comply.

Such action is common and many major corporations take action to secure their exclusive rights to their intellectual properties. Nintendo is particularly aggressive in this regard. They have taken down numerous fan games this year, including Pokemon Uranium and AM2R, a Metroid 2 remake.

The original Doom was shareware free to be distributed amongst gamers and fans. The series also has a community of dedicated modders and map creators. A popular mod, Brutal Doom 64, was nominated for "Best Fan Creation" at this year's game awards. While creations using Nintendo properties were removed from consideration, it is worth noting that Brutal Doom 64 was not.

Kisielewicz recently launched a Kickstarter for a project called Jupiter Hell. It markets itself as the spiritual successor to DoomRL. No apparent action has been taken against this project. As of the time of writing, the DoomRL site is up and the game remains available for download on PC, Mac and Linux.

"DoomRL has been around since 2003," Kisielewicz told Kotaku. "It's worth to at least let it go with a bang."


    In his tweets, Kisielewicz does agree that DoomRL is illegal. People sometimes forget that it was only the Doom source code that was made open source back in 1997, not the art assets or trademarks. Brutal Doom tends to be fine because it still requires you buy a copy of Doom 2 to get the wad files legally, but this game uses the assets directly.

    Edited to add: the headline is misleading. Zenimax didn't ask or demand the game be shut down, they only asked that their trademarks be removed. Considering this is a textbook case of trademark dilution, Zenimax has no choice but to defend their marks here.

    Last edited 03/12/16 9:26 am

      They do have a choice, plus I never would have heard of this game if not for their takedown notice, so is it really protecting them when you end up bringing way more attention to the game?

        Yes, of course. Attention to the game isn't what Zenimax cares about, or they'd be asking for the game to be taken down (which they're not). They're only asking for the trademarks to be removed, as long as Kisielewicz does that then both sides get what they want.

          "both sides get what they want"

          If this is what Kisielewicz wants, I wonder why he went down the path of using trademarked assets?

            From the wording of the letter, Zenimax isn't concerned with the assets, just the use of the trademark "Doom" in the name and/or on the website. Their letter is quite gentle compared to others in this situation since they're not asking for the game to be taken down or even revised, they just want their trademarks removed. If it had been called DeimosRL instead I doubt there'd be any problem.

      Not only is this not a "textbook case of trademark dilution", it's actually not a case of trademark dilution at all. Everyone throws around that term, following it up with "has no choice but to defend their marks" without actually understanding trademark dilution at all.

      Mojang using "Scroll" was a possible case of Trademark Dilution
      Pokemon Uranium was not a case of Trademark Dilution
      DoomRL was not a case of Trademark Diltion

        Sorry, you're mistaken. It is a textbook case of trademark dilution, specifically "dilution by blurring" as defined in the Federal Trademark Dilution Act (15 USC §1125). The criteria for dilution by blurring include degree of similarity (Doom and DoomRL are extremely similar, and DoomRL uses a slightly modified Doom logo), inherent distinctiveness (Doom has well-established distinctiveness in video gaming), extent of substantive exclusive use of the mark by the owner (with a release this year, the Doom trademark is in ongoing use), recognisability (Doom is immediately recognised in gaming), intended association (DoomRL is specifically named to draw a connection to Doom) and actual association.

        Zenimax has a clear case in five of the six factors defining trademark dilution by blurring. The only way it could be any more textbook is if they demonstrate that actual people believe DoomRL is associated with Doom, which would be trivially easy to do.

        Edit: Trademarks don't need to be defended to remain intact, but trademark dilution does. The reason is because a defence against dilution is distinctiveness (how diluted the mark already is), so if dilution cases aren't protected at the time they assist the defendant's case in subsequent cases and eventually prevent the owner from protecting against dilution in future.

        See also this conversation with Ryan Morrison (aka videogameattorney) where he confirms both that fan games (and specifically DoomRL) are not legal, and that Zenimax is obligated to defend their mark in this instance.

        Last edited 03/12/16 1:56 pm

    Just change the names and a few of the colours and done, looks nothing like doom.

    Id was fine with DoomRL for the 6 years between its creation and zenimax buying them.
    Zenimax was fine with DoomRL for the 7 years between buying Id and now.

    So why now?

    And I know this is going to be particularly childish, that it was technically illegal and that you need to shut down these sort of projects to protect your brand, lest there be precedent that can be used against you later on if you want to shut down another infringing fan-project, but none-the-less: fuck you, Zenimax.

      "Why now" is likely because Kisielewicz is using DoomRL as advertising to support a new Kickstarter campaign for another Doom-like project (that doesn't infringe on trademarks, for the record), which makes DoomRL's use commercial under US law.

      Last edited 03/12/16 2:19 pm

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