Well, this is a difficult one for me to write, if only because if I don’t choose my words carefully I could wind up on the receiving end of a very nasty email from a person who theoretically has the authority to destroy a significant portion of my career. At the same time, though, it bears reporting, and this is one of those rare instances where writing with pure journalistic impartiality would actually come off as opinionated editorial. So I’m hosed either way.
*note – this article has been edited by yours truly to correct some errors. These are noted where appropriate.
Tim Langdell may not be a name most gamers have heard, but he’s been in the business for over 20 years, and is the owner of EDGE Games, a media empire that spans magazines, games, movies, and various other properties.
He also owns the word “edge.” And he’s not afraid to say so. Basically Langdell’s recent career has been focused less on producing stuff and more on suing companies – any companies – that use the word “edge” in any capacity. He went after EA for Mirror’s Edge, though they ignored him. He was more lucky with 20th Century Fox over its 1997 movie The Edge, apparently securing some sort of payment for the use of his word. He’s got ongoing actions against the creators up upcoming games Edge of Twilight and Edge of Extinction, and he already got concessions from computer manufacturer Velocity Micro for their Velocity Edge gaming PC. Namco’s Soul Edge Calibur is another victim; it’s why it has a different name in the States. The man owns the trademark to the word, what can I say.
Not long ago he went after a tiny indie developer – Mobigame (no relation to mobygames.com, or info on whether they’re suing) for its popular and well-received iPhone game – wait for it – Edge. And now Edge is no longer on the App Store. Then, when Mobigame offered to rename its game Edgy, Langdell trademarked that word.
“Asshole,” you’re thinking. But there’s a wrinkle. There are two wrinkles, actually.
First, like it or not, Langdell does own the trademark to the word, and he’s built a successful brand based on it. And respected games biz attorney Tom Buscaglia has made his opinion clear, that Langdell’s rights and claims are viable under the law. So “asshole” or not is really irrelevant. The law is not about determining whether someone is or is not a rectum. The law is about protecting people and their property.
The second wrinkle is more significant, and invalidating of the whole “law” thing, at least in the views of some: Tim Langdell sits on the board of the IGDA – the International Game Developers Association. An organization whose stated mission is to “improve developers’ careers and lives through community, professional development, and advocacy.” He was elected by the IGDA membership (I’m pretty sure I voted for him; he had me at Edge Magazine)*note – this is the result of my failing to do research; Langdell has nothing to do with Edge magazine; he merely claimed to have in his candidacy statement (and apparently elsewhere). It would seem that Langdell has a habit of passing off as his own anything that uses the word “edge” and against which he has won any sort of injunction, as was apparently the case with Edge magazine. Apologies for the mistake and serves a three year term.
And now things are getting really ugly. Langdell’s actions are viewed by many as self-serving and contrary to the objectives of the IGDA. After all, Mobigame is a tiny indie with no money for a defense; it has essentially no recourse against his actions. So the question becomes, regardless of the legality of his trademark claim, is it right for him to be threatening litigation against a developer that, as an IGDA board member, he’s theoretically sworn to protect?
Tom Buscaglia is also a board member. I know I voted for him, I always vote for him. Tom is a tireless supporter of the industry. And as he rightly points out, one does not relinquish one’s rights under the law simply because one dons the mantle of IGDA board member. But in the eyes of many, this has become not an issue of law but of ethical superiority, a modern-day David vs. Goliath story with the added twist that Goliath is supposedly David’s advocate.
Calls have begun growing louder for Langdell’s removal from the board, and the already-contentious IGDA membership has devolved into flame wars and finger-pointing that, as usual, is more dedicated to attacking the IGDA as a whole than the supposed villain of this story. Over at the Gamasutra Network, editor Simon Carless posted, removed, then re-posted with commentary a pretty charged article siding with Mobigame and pointing to chicanery on Edge Games’ Wikipedia page. According to Carless, his original post was removed after he received threats from Langdell, then he changed his mind and put it back up. Tom Buscaglia has called the piece “a hatchet job,” accusing Carless of failing to perform due diligence on his piece and failing to get Langdell’s side of the story. Kotaku, Eurogamer, and other influential sites have been relentless in their attacks on Langdell, Kotaku even going so far as to suggest Langdell is guilty of infringement, based on the highly suspicious placement of company logo and game title for EDGE Games’ new title Mirrors on the EDGE Games website.
And as the rhetoric began boiling over, many accused the IGDA board of circling the wagons to protect one of its own while ignoring the needs of a developer the entire organization was founded to protect. Langdell is not stepping down, there are logistical problems associated with a membership-wide vote to remove him (largely related to the crushing apathy of most IGDA members), and it’s not even clear whether he should go or not. One side points to the legitimacy of Langdell’s trademark; the other believes this issue has transcended law, that the legitimacy of his trademark is no longer at issue.
I’ve written a monthly column for the IGDA since 2003, and I’m a huge and vocal supporter of the organization. At the same time, I strongly believe that the IGDA, in its current incarnation, simply can’t serve its mission as an advocate of developers. It’s crippled by its own bylaws and refuses (or can’t) take the action necessary to provide value-added services for members. Aside from the many and active SIGs (Special Interest Groups), and of course my brilliant column, plus the other excellent monthly columns and occasional interesting forum chatter, there’s nothing there.
But at the same time, the accusations that the IGDA and its board have become part of the self-serving evil empire are far-fetched. Think what you will of Tim Langdell’s decision to seek recompense from anyone who uses the word “edge,” the board – including him – is comprised of people who have the thankless task of trying to make the IGDA into something that’s valuable for the community, even as the very structure of the organization makes that impossible. I guarantee you that nobody runs for the IGDA board for prestige or money.
Obviously this is a sticky subject for me, because I have an association with the IGDA that I’d like to maintain. What’s worse, many developers – members and nonmembers alike – are very committed to the foolish postulation that no one who hasn’t shipped a game has any right to even voice an opinion about IGDA reform (or anything involving the industry), an utterly asinine position that eliminates from their equation a huge population of games industry community members who don’t make games but aren’t necessarily worthless: including analysts/press like me, lawyers like Tom Buscaglia, and gamers themselves. It could be argued that the IGDA’s impotence is not the fault of the IGDA itself, but of the shortsighted jackasses who refuse to acknowledge that a creative industry is a far more complex system than just those who do the creating.
And so the scandal of the month is Tim Langdell’s ongoing battle with Mobigame, though as usual the real victims are gamers, since Edge – whatever it winds up being called – is a great iPhone game that we can’t get, at least for now. Meanwhile the IGDA, well-meaning but emasculate, exists to continue its existence, while the developers who so desperately need a powerful advocate scoff at the input of those who might be able to point it in the right direction.