After Years Of Trying, WB Games Successfully Patented Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System

After Years Of Trying, WB Games Successfully Patented Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System
Screenshot: WB Games

After trying multiple times since 2015, WB Games has successfully secured a patent on the nemesis system featured in Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, Shadow of War. The patent goes into later this month.

As reported by IGN, on February 3 the US Patent and Trademark Office released an issue notice confirming that WB Games’ patent on the system was approved and would become effective officially on February 23, 2021.

(That issue notice link wasn’t working at the time of publication.)

The nemesis system first appeared in 2014’s open-world-stab-athon Shadow of Mordor, and would be expanded on greatly in the 2017 sequel Shadow of War. The Nemesis System uses randomly generated orcs to populate the world. Players then attack these orcs, sometimes killing them, taking control of them, or even losing to them. As these events happen the orcs will react, becoming more powerful, gaining new abilities, and directly referencing past experiences with the player. It’s a cool system. And soon, only one publisher, WB Games, will have the ability to use it.

Shadow Of Mordor’s Nemesis System Could Have Been Way More Complex

Shadow of Mordor surprised everyone with its unique features like the oft-praised “nemesis system“. The game’s novelty and ambition meant that it couldn’t accomplish everything it set out to though. Developer Monolith opened up this week about some things that were left on the cutting room floor.

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Once the patent becomes active, other developers or publishers wanting to use a Nemesis System will have to cut a deal with WB Games or face legal action.

Since 2015, shortly after the release of Shadow of Mordor, WB Games has been trying and failing to secure this patent. Previous issues included a lack of specificity, which is very important in a patent, and conflicts with other existing patents.

WB Games will have the ability to maintain this patent until 2035, assuming they keep all their orcs in order legally and financially.

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  • Can’t say I agree with this patent. All it’s going to do is limit rival options like you got in Odyssey or cause WB to start jumping up and down about every sort of rival system. At least we got Odyssey before this trash came in.

    • Star Renegades does something very similar, too. It was really great to see a small-time indie making use of this kind of mechanic in a rogue-like, but I guess that’s the end of that particular path of innovation. Fucking disgusting.

      • Software patents are shit, make no mistake about it, but they’re notoriously difficult to enforce in games because ultimately you can only patent a process, not an outcome.

        If your game just happens to have guys that you didn’t manage to kill earlier in the game come back again later in the game more powerfully to taunt you that won’t infringe this patent. Space Rangers 2 was doing that in 2004.

        Ultimately the Nemesis System is just a clumsy and half arsed way to simulate a dynamic world, of which there will be literally thousands of better iterations, especially as processing power continues to evolve.

        Also, patents don’t have a “use it or lose it” mechanic, like is arguably the case with trademarks. You can completely fail to pursue anyone over your patent and it will still be good until expiry.

        Quite often in situations such as this the patent is taken out defensively to prevent other people from suing you later, not as a way to troll other companies for cheap rent payments.

        • That last bit smells very off, to me. But for the benefit of the doubt, when you say ‘quite often in situations such as this’, what kind of examples are we talking about here? Because the only situations I’m familiar with are the trolling kind. Getting sued later for something you’ve pioneered/created has pretty much only ever succeeded when multinationals have bullied tiny players who can’t afford to pay lawyers to fight a slam dunk case that they’d win if it went to court. WB absolutely does not fall into that category.

          • Up front disclaimer: per my comment #1, software patents are shit.

            Secondly, just because a patent is alleged to be taken out defensively doesn’t mean it will be used as such, that was just a throwaway line. Still, many large companies do use patents defensively, for example see

            The classic example of a defensive patent is the Wizards of the Coast patent for, in part, the tap mechanic. There is a lot of internet lawyering out there about whether or not that patent would have been specific enough to survive a court case but we don’t know because it was never defended in court. It just sat there while other collectible card games did similar shit for years.

            In the end of the day, what does seem to be the case is that although patenting isn’t uncommon in computer gaming few of the big software companies seem to be aggressively suing other computer game developers for patent infringement. Instead, most of the media coverage appears to involve patent trolling companies using overly broad patents to sue larger companies for cash, which makes sense, since there is obviously little incentive to sue indie devs working out of their garage for cash.

            Now I say ‘most’, but obviously there’s no easy data available on that, so maybe that term is too strong. Lots of stuff happens in the law that gets no coverage at all and lots of cases that are filed never end up going anywhere. Certainly, however, there are a hell of a lot of software patents out there, there are relatively few articles about large game companies suing other companies for patent infringement (mobile phone companies, on the other hand, sure), and nobody writes articles about people not getting sued for patent infringement.

            Regardless, you say “getting sued later for something you’ve pioneered/created has pretty much only ever succeeded when multinationals have bullied tiny players” but seriously, when was the last time you are aware of that an indie dev was sued by a big gaming company for patent infringement? (Trademark and copyright infringement, sure.) That shit would be eaten up by gaming sites such as Kotaku but there’s nothing specific that I can either recall, nor can I find, of that even after a bit of googling.

        • …seriously, when was the last time you are aware of that an indie dev was sued by a big gaming company for patent infringement? (Trademark and copyright infringement, sure.) That shit would be eaten up by gaming sites such as Kotaku but there’s nothing specific that I can either recall, nor can I find, of that even after a bit of googling.

          I kinda figure that’s like asking how many people have been run over by cars, when people expressed concern about the possibility that the newly-invented car might run people over. You’re giving these guys WAY too much credit. The lack of suing over a ‘mechanic’ is undoubtedly (in my mind) less about goodwill and entirely about the lack of opportunity to date. How many AAA publishers have ANY patents on a game mechanic?

          The closest I can think of is the weird bullshit multiplayer matching algorithm designed to get people a better chance at wins by matching them with lower-skill players when they return from an absence or during their first time playing. Can’t remember who had that one. EA, I think? Sony?

    • Odysseys attempt at the nemesis system was garbage. It felt half arsed, bare bones and didn’t even fit or work well in the game or universe

      • Dude, I got chased by like six mercs across a map while trying to do a mission on the hardest difficulty which guaranteed that every single encounter and mission I did was different, distinct and actually required stealth. I’m not gonna complain about a feature I enjoyed when the outcome was a more dynamic and challenging mission experience. If I want the Nemesis system itself, I’ll play play Shadows of Mordor, since that game doesn’t offend me either. It’s something I can play while on the phone to friends overseas and that’s good enough.

  • This is a dick move that does nothing good for anyone. People won’t fucking pay WB to use a nemesis system, they just won’t make use of an interesting and engaging mechanic. This way lies madness and it shouldn’t be allowed. Can you imagine WB paying Ubisoft to make use of the AC’s third-person-combat counter-attack system? No, they just would’ve done something different (and probably worse) for the Arkham games.

    Fuck off, WB. The fact that this sort of bullshit can actually happen is what’s wrong with the industry and, to an extent, with the world in general. Capitalism has gone too far. It needs reining in.

    • Pretty much what i was saying above before my post got wiped.

      Patenting game mechanics is stupid an completely stagnates a genre. Imagine if capcom won the move set lawsuit against snk years ago making use of the now standard dp and fb moves prevalent in games gated off to capcom only? The fightimg game landscape would be a barren wssteland.

      And lets be honest this is less about getting a “license” for the mechanic and more patent squatting so anybody who makes a game with a “nemesis” is a landmine lawsuit waiting to happen.

      • Pretty much. The real problem is that others can’t iterate on and improve on those nascent ideas, that ‘first draft’ of a system, if they’ve got legal looking over their shoulder telling them they can’t go anywhere fucking near it.

        It means that WB’s version of the ‘nemesis system’ is the start and end of that particular path in game development. All innovation moving forward relies on WB and WB alone. And that’s a fucked way to slowly start strangling the creativity of an entire industry.

        What’s going to get patented next? Are we going to end up with a select cartel of AAA publishers who eventually corner the market on patenting any promising avenues for evolution in gaming mechanics? Indies won’t be able to pay those fucking licences, and AAA won’t want to see money go to a competitor, so every mechanic patented becomes a new creative dead end.

        It is literally the worst thing I can see happening to the industry – worse than microtransactions, even.

  • From what I understand about patents is they are only as useful as their ability to stand up to a legal challenge. It will be interesting to see if anyone tries to get this patent removed, or it will be another loading screen mini-game blight.

    • Its going to need another AAA publisher with clout to pull this off and lets be honest theyre more likely to actually copy this trend since its easy funds and market control then to try and stop this prescedent

    • But it exists as a threat… cause WB games has to defend the patent or lose it, and zamerican patent legal cases are just unpredictable and risky.

  • i wonder if this could mean that WB may be looking at making the nemesis system a stand alone piece of software that they then license out to other developers and publishers like Speedtree and the old PhysX

  • What is very concerning is the amount of AAA executives and accountants looking at this and wondering “What high level game play can we patent”

    • Patenting game mechanics isn’t unusual. AAA game companies have whole departments dedicated to such stuff

  • Perhaps the system has its merits but it ruined Shadow Of Mordor for me. I’m not the most adept gamer and offing one of the higher level orcs (or whatever they were) was difficult enough for me only for the bastard to continually reappear with all the others I’d taken ages to kill.

    There should have been the option to turn it off.

    Also, as someone that was laid off from Activision thanks to the Phillips collision detection trademark debacle, patenting and idea is clearly silly and stifles innovation.

  • Its funny they have actually gone and done this, and not sure the point actually, as not many other games have actually used a similar system since the 1st shadow of Mordor came out. Maybe they want to use it more on other series, but would have thought they would have by now. Doubt we will here many examples of anyone being penalized due to the patent.

  • I never found a way to avoid the encounters. Once a fight started the previously beaten orcs kept reappearing up to three or four at a time. It was an endless uphill battle that just wore me down.

    I’m definite there’s a problem with the game rather than me just not being very good at it. I couldn’t find a way to turn down the difficulty sufficiently to make it playable and, of course, there’s no way to turn off the system so eventually I gave up which was a great disappointment.

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