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.
I’m a supporter of the SIG side of the IGDA for sure (I’m restarting the Students SIG pretty much by myself – so hopefully the IGDA won’t be too inwards to stop students more then they have so far in the future 😉 ). I’m still not sure what the rest, what there is of it, is really.
Anyway, I’ve not got a good opinion one way or the other on this issue. For one problem; Tim Langdell is working on the new IGDA website, which I want to see completed this century. He also hasn’t provided any opinion on the matter himself (nor has much of the board to be honest), probably by legal stance – but then again, this is what people have been calling him on, being a board member deciding things but not telling anyone anything (the board minutes basically say “is working on the website”…and that’s it).
I am sure the bylaws and involvement of the membership needs to improve. It’s very, VERY “us versus them” (probably somewhat justified since only recently the IGDA even got a blog) – seriously, even though I’ve contacted the board, I doubt more then 100 people actively involve themselves with them – and that’ll be mainly SIG and chapter leaders. The general membership is a bit bewildered and unable to do anything about this, or just apathetic.
I’d love to vote for Darius next year, only because he’s actually told us what he’s about and going to do, and I want to also press the IGDA (or do the damn thing myself) to improve the voting procedure (my first vote was this year, lack of information or what!), since he’ll probably otherwise end up being again the only one doing that.
Oh well, I see you also have dodged a bit – I see the sides, the slight editorial comment, but not really any course of action to take to improve the IGDA, or solve or resolve this particular problem at least. Any ideas? Or is this, like some other sites comments I’ve seen, stanceless and simply going to wait out everything, good or bad? 😉
No, I have opinions on how the IGDA should be reformed, but this article is really not the place for them. Once I’ve got them a little more organized in my mind I’ll doubtless post something wordy about it.
As for dodging a bit, that was on purpose. There is no course of action to resolve this particular problem: Langdell has the law on his side, and whether or not he’s “right” to behave the way he is is a matter of opinion. The key issue isn’t his behavior but the fact that the IGDA, as it exists right now, doesn’t provide sufficient value to justify membership and can’t deliver on its promises of advocacy.
Darius is a friend of mine, and even if he weren’t he’d have my vote for the board. His decision to actively campaign and make his intended actions known is (hopefully) going to start a trend; until now we’ve voted based on a 1-paragraph bio/campaign statement on the website. That’s like voting based on looks (which has also happened in previous elections). My only concern with Darius is that despite his energy and will to make things better, the existing organizational structure will tie his hands. I hope that’s not the case.
Dustin Clingman is another example of someone who should be on the board – in his case, he ran twice and lost twice, simply because he lacked the name recognition of some of his competitors. Like Darius, he has the sort of passion and drive that board members need.
Which is not to say that I have a real beef with any of the current board members. The fact is there’s only so much they can do, because of the way the IGDA is set up. Jason’s departure was a huge blow, but even he was sharply limited in breadth of power. The new ED looks like an excellent choice and I look forward to seeing what he’ll do with the organization, but there are still underlying issues that must be addressed if the IGDA is to be relevant.
I know next to nothing about trademark or copyright law, but I have read several articles over the years about someone who either tried to, or succeeded at, tradmarking their own, parent-bestowed, name, or even a word in common use. I’ve shivered at this new wrinkle offered up by what I perceive as the Greedy. I have a name that is the same as a now-dead famous person. Heaven help me if she had decided to trademark her name. Would I now be paying royalties to her estate? I happen to love my front porch. Should I be allowed to even attempt to trade mark the term “Front Porch”? Of course not. I strongly support a creator’s right to trademark or copyright their creations, including titles. But for the gummint to allow the all-uses copyrighting or trademarking of one word, well, different territory altogether. And I think it’s wrong.
In the tiniest bit of support for the little guy, I went to the Mobigame site and tried to download the free version of Edge. Can’t be done, as Steerpike said. My attempt solves nothing, but it’s is a vote.
The fine points of trademark law are definitely not the issue here. There is no claim, nor any ruling about any claim, that Langdell owns the word “Edge”. What he does legitimately claim is the use of the word in the context of a game or game-related publication. There are plenty of analogies: Suppose somebody wanted to make a magazine about XBOX 360 games called “iGame”? Apple would certainly have a case, because this can easily be seen as an attempt to confuse or mislead consumers into associating the magazine with Apple products. Nobody in the industry would likely fall for it, but the magazine would very likely get real money from consumers.
One of the problems in all Intellectual Property judgements is the fact that a judge cannot be legitimately expected to be an expert in any particular area of consumer interest, and that litigant pocket depth has a strong effect on how convincing they can make their portrayal of what a real consumer or member of the target audience would see. This is why we had patents on using XOR to display a cursor back in the 1990s, and why using the same word as the title of a game review magazine as the title of an actual game is seen as potentially infringing or confusing.
So, barring omniscient judges or free perfect legal counsel, the real issue here is an ethics issue, not a legal one. Because Mr. Langdell is willing to front a lawsuit against a shoestring developer, and because even if they fought they might well not get a lawyer good enough to show their case well, he wins.
Now, as to remaining on the board of the IGDA, this is the one area of the case that seems pretty clear based just on the normal standards of doing business. If I work for two different organizations and there is any chance that the two organizations’ interests might come into conflict or a question of conflict, it is my professional, moral, and to a certain extent (depending on state laws, published policies of the two organizations, and other factors) legal responsibility to recuse myself from my relevant duties in either organization when such conflict occurs. If such conflict becomes commonplace or predominant in my responsibilities, it is my responsibility to resign from one or both positions.
What state is the IGDA incorporated in? What are the conflict of interest laws in that state?
First–Your title made me smile.
Second–Remove this man. He is a scumbag of epic proportions. Scumbags like him often hide behind the law because it’s impossible to invent laws so good that they prevent bad people from exploiting them. “Edge” was a word long before this piece of work came along. And he should not continue to serve on the IGDA if his “ethics” regularly reveal a persistent conflict of interest between IGDA’s mission statement and his personal need to rape anyone and everything. “Legal” and “Right” are, sadly, not always the same.
Yes, he has the “thankless task of trying to make the IGDA into something that’s valuable for the community.” Well, it’s not thankless, is it? He’s seeing to that quite readily. Hey, if he has to try to nurture small time developers, think of how much GOOD he can do if he rapes a few for some extra cash along the way?
Third–I applaud your dedication to duty, your vigilance, and your restraint. You are a credit to the IGDA and I will utter prayers for death for anyone that says otherwise.
That’s a good article on the issues IGDA are currently facing with Tim on the board. But I’m slightly confused by your conclusion that “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.” Where did this generalisation come from? I’ve been following this story closely for months now and I haven’t seen any developer of games take that stance. I have seen your friend Tom take that stance on the IGDA forums, despite the fact that he himself is not a developer. But that is the only case I am aware of. Could you point out where this is happening?
Great comment Matt. I too haven’t heard of Dustin Clingman, but then again I don’t know a great many people. If the board and ED doesn’t do anything to promote or work the elections better, don’t worry, I will be 🙂 In my small way, I think it’s something that can better the organisation (other things, well, I’ve not got many solutions on how to provide more benefits without things costing money, hoo boy).
The ethics thing is something pretty serious, like I said, it’s harder to tell without any information from Tim Langdell himself. The fact that he is mainly sending out cease & desist letters as the law requires for this kind of upkeep doesn’t make him immediately right or wrong. If it was Mobigame doing the same thing, for instance, to EA, who could say…
However I am more convinced by Jason’s arguments that if it conflicted with an organisation you were attached to, you must remove yourself from it for the benefit of everyone, or at least seriously explain it. If he had thought that being a board member meant no one could look at what else he was doing, well, there have been problems with IGDA board members doing this underhandedly in the past (Mike Capps basically).
Oh, you didn’t link to Corvus’ petition to get the required votes to call a vote for the issue of Tim Langdell either – might be worth putting that somewhere, either here or your possibly-future-opinion-piece 🙂
Another thing is, as part of the preservation SIG want to gather basically all the IGDA’s history (and current news), which I’m working and planning slowly. Things like these events do need some real explanation even if, suddenly, the IGDA ceased to exist any further organisations could learn from it – so thanks again for posting something rather in-depth and not TIGsource-boarderline-troll.
Well thank you, Jay. It may just come to that. 🙂
I’m not certain about the specifics of IGDA’s incorporation. For some reason I’ve always thought it was Canadian, but that might just be because former ED Jason Della Rocca was. I’ll have to look into it.
The key to the complaint, as Paul notes, is not exactly that Langdell owns the word “edge.” I took a bit of writerly license there. Just as Spike points out that she couldn’t trademark her front porch, you can’t just trademark a word and leave it at that. The basis of his argument is that he’s built a strong, recognizable brand using that word – EDGE Games, Edge Magazine, etc.
One key question that I don’t know the answer to is this: is Mobigame an IGDA member? If not, despite what I may think of his behavior, Langdell could claim that it’s not a conflict of interest. If they are, though, it does seem appropriate that he either refrain from pursuing this while he’s on the board, or recuse himself from the board until the issue is resolved.
In response to Paul Sinnett’s question, I was referring less to the Tim Langdell situation and more to the general reaction that developers have to nondevelopers who are nonetheless part of the industry. Tom Buscaglia doesn’t take that position in his posts; he takes the position that those who aren’t members of the IGDA are less entitled to voice opinions about the operation of the org. It’s a position I agree with.
If I had a dollar for every time some developer wrote me and said “You haven’t shipped any games, you’re not a developer, why should any developer listen to you,” I’d have about a zillion dollars. There is a strong mine’s-bigger-than-yours attitude in the industry, which is unfortunate because the development community really would do better as a support system rather than an infighting Stars Upon Thars clique.
1. Mobigames poses an infinitesimal threat to the reputation of Langdell’s businesses.
2. While it may be legal to have a trademark on the work “Edge”, owning the trademark on a short, commonly used word is anything but ethical, and constitutes an abuse of ownership laws that is becoming all too common these days (*cough Worlds.com *cough*)
3. Abuse of trademarks and copyrights has become extremely destructive to innovation and the growth of young, perfectly legitimate businesses (is anyone accusing Mobigames of harming Langdell’s reputation? Anybody? Bueller?), only this time it been done by the guy who’s supposed to promote the growth of the same industry he is now working to stifle.
4. Therefore, what in the hell is wrong with some controversy? A lot of things are legal Steerpike. Doesn’t make them moral, or ethical, or harmless.
Well said, Arouet. Perhaps I will concentrate my efforts on designing a property called “The” and sue anyone that tries to cash in on my success. No one can stop me! NO one!
Never said that what he’s doing is moral, ethical, or harmless; I just feel it’s important to point out that it IS legal, according to the lawyers. I agree with everything you said, Arouet.
As for avoiding controversy, I’m just trying to present both sides somewhat equally. I work for the IGDA, remember, a job I’d like to keep; as such it’s only prudent that I temper my actual feelings – whatever they may be – with at least a veil of discretion.
Frankly I see this as an opportunity for IGDA reform. It’s more a means to an end as far as I’m concerned. If we can get aggressive, solution-minded people like Darius onto the board, we might be able to tackle the next key issue: making membership matter.
I was referring to the post by Tom where he writes: ‘if any of you “free user accounts” posting for the first time here want a response from me either join or provide your full name, age, whether you make games or play them and if you make games, years in the industry and list of games published.’
He also had, in defence of Tim, on his blog, ‘it is a totally punkassed remark about someone who has been making games since before you old enough to choke your chicken! Maybe you think that everyone in the industry over 40 should just walk out onto he ice flows…I mean really. Totally cheap shot there Max! At least he has game credits. So perhaps you should back off on and snide remarks.’
I suspect very few of those critical zillions you speak of have actually shipped a game either. I think you are exaggerating the comments of a few blowhard developers into an unrealistic generalisation and forming your conclusions on that.
It’s true game development has some loud-mouths and we are in many cases our own worst enemies; but with friends like Tom…
Hmm… having reviewed Tom’s comments I must take back the earlier remark, and possibly reevaluate my high opinion of him. I’ve always admired Tom for his legal counsel for aspiring developers and his strong anti-censorship advocacy. I’m disappointed to see that he failed to behave with any level of professionalism or decorum in this matter.
As for your suggestion that the “developers-only” crowd are a vocal minority, I’m sure you’re right. But, being vocal, they tend to be the ones who are heard. If there’s a quiet majority out there who values the entire ecosystem of the development community, I hope they start making their views known. That, too, is an issue worthy of tackling when IGDA reform is discussed.
Speaking as a lawyer, I think his claims are highly suspect and I would be surprised to see him succeeding with them in Britain. That said, the law sometimes is an ass and not only in USA!
I am delighted to see one of our fearless leaders sticking his neck out for what he believes. Someone has to do it Steerpike and if not you….who? Kay
All a registered trademark does is provide proof of first use in any litigation (and a few minor other perks). Generally, as the word “edge” is a common word with a generic meaning anyone claiming to have trademarked it would lose in any lawsuit absent proof of confusion of source. It’s possible that any attorney holding him/herself out as experienced in trademark law could face sanctions for asserting such a claim.
What we’re really seeing is indications that developers are afraid to stand up to a bully. The cost of litigation is a legitimate issue, however, and I would not want to denigrate anyone fearing it. Whether IGDA should have a bully on its board is of course up to the members of IGDA, and as a former member of that mostly toothless masturbatory group I have no opinion on its choice of leadership.
Eurogamer is still following up on this. Here’s their latest, which goes into much greater detail than my humble post: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/the-edge-of-reason
As to your feelings about the IGDA, Ernest, I can’t disagree, though I prefer to see events like this as an opportunity to galvanize the membership and realize true reform.
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