Bluehole may have handled the situation poorly, but their concerns are valid and Epic will need to respond.
On Friday Bluehole, the developer behind Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), publicly called out Epic Games for “replicating” elements of PUBG in their new mode for Fornite called “Fortnite: Battle Royale“. This was met with sharp criticism because the statement suggested that Bluehole was claiming ownership over the “battle royale” genre. There are many battle royale style games on Steam already and Rockstar recently introduced their own similar mode in GTA Online. So it seemed odd that Bluehole would single out Fortnite and ignore the rest. However, in a recent interview with PC Gamer, Bluehole’s VP and executive producer Changhan Kim clarified Bluehole’s position on the matter.
Essentially, Bluehole is upset that Epic games used PUBG‘s name in their marketing and promotion of Fortnite: Battle Royale without their permission. They’re also concerned that Epic may develop features for their Unreal Engine to specially improve their game without sharing them with Bluehole. PUBG runs on Unreal Engine 4, which Epic owns and licenses to them and many other developers.
Changhan Kim specifically mentioned that they are not trying to claim ownership of the battle royale genre, specifically mentioning that there are many others on the market and it would unfair to do so. This is certainly a relief, as we are sure to see many developers attempt their own battle royale style game in the future.
While it’s certainly unfortunate that Bluehole saw fit to go public with this instead of first addressing it with Epic, their concerns are still valid. Epic’s use of the PUBG name in their in-house marketing isn’t unprecedented, however, it is concerning that they didn’t feel the need to clear it with Bluehole first. These two companies are business partners, with Epic receiving royalties from the success of PUBG, and Bluehole relying on Epic to provide updates and support for their engine. There’s clearly a conflict of interest when Epic and Bluehole are essentially competing for the same demographic. While Bluehole wouldn’t have been able to stop Epic, the right thing for Epic to do would have been to at least disclose the existence of the mode, especially if they were going to use PUBG‘s name in the marketing. Whether or not there is any legal issues is moot, it’s just something partners do when they want to maintain an amicable relationship.
Bluehole isn’t without blame here, however. By choosing the go public with this, they have opened themselves of to criticism and have already felt the need to clarify their initial position. It’s the kind of mistake you would expect a small company that has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight could make. Just as Epic should have communicated with Bluehole, Bluehole should have first gone to Epic with their concerns. Again, it’s just the right way to treat your business partners.
Perhaps there is bigger conflict between the companies, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t the first time Epic has found itself being targeted over it’s licensing of the Unreal Engine. Silicon Knights sued them in 2005, claiming they did not provide the support and updates that the license agreement promised. The suit very much ended in Epic’s favor, so this could stand as a precedent if Bluehole decides to continue pressuring Epic.
At this point, we’re waiting for Epic’s response to Bluehole’s concerns. But the real question is what kind of residual damage will this have to Bluehole, Epic, and the battle royale genre as a whole.