The Nemesis system, founded by Warner Bros titles Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, is a feature the gaming community has always wanted other developers to utilise since its inception in 2014. That has never happened in the seven years since, however, and it’s because the publisher has actually successfully patented the mechanic in question. News of this broke over the previous week, but after multiple unsuccessful attempts, the US Patent and Trademark Office will allow the patent to stand starting 23rd February 2021. Warner Bros can choose to maintain it through until the year 2035.
The patent covers: “Nemesis characters, nemesis forts, social vendettas and followers in computer games”. Effectively, another developer cannot copy the Nemesis system like for like. This can be gotten around by creating your own take on the feature and dressing it up with your own phrases and terms — the dialogue wheel in Mass Effect is one famous example. BioWare holds the patent for the RPG’s specific dialogue wheel, but that hasn’t stopped games from using branching dialogue choices since then. It’s all about how you present it. However, the action taken by Warner Bros to patent the mechanic still doesn’t set a particularly positive precedent.
John Wick Hex and Volume creator Mike Bithell took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the matter, saying: “This is really gross, especially for a franchise that built its brilliant nemesis system on top of a whole heap of mechanics replicated from other games. As all games do. Because that’s how culture and creativity works. Be a better neighbor, WB.” Meanwhile, Sony Santa Monica employee Alanah Pearce shared her own thoughts in the video embedded above. The general gaming community hasn’t taken too kindly to the actions of Warner Bros either, with some worried that patenting gameplay could spark a worrying trend from other companies.
There are ways of getting around patents, but when there’s such a large roadblock already blocking some of your paths, this could deter smaller indie teams from even trying to create something of their own in the first place. How do you react to this? Share your thoughts in the comments below.