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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Saving King's Quest

A while back I got an email from Matt of the Save King's Quest IX! project. You may or may not have heard about this via a couple other blogs, but in short:

Our goal here is simple: the release of King's Quest IX: Every Cloak Has A Silver Lining.

King's Quest IX was a fan game that had been in the works since 2002. It was being made by fans for fans, and was going to be made available to all as a free download. Unfortunately, Vivendi Universal Games, which owns the rights to King's Quest, has recently issued a cease and desist letter to the fans making the game -- essentially shutting it down.

I've written in the past about how tenuous doing mods or fan work of commercial property can be for people. To their credit, they knew all of this walking in and these guys show much more understanding of IP and copyright law than your average mod team. Normally I'd be commenting on how "inspired by" or "clone" works are much safer, but these guys have an answer to that:

Also, it doesn't matter that the game was going to be free. Just because you don’t charge money for something doesn't mean you aren’t infringing on someone else's copyright.

The game would have to be changed to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a King's Quest game. The game makers don't want to do that for two reasons:

1) It would require a tremendous amount of work. Months and months of work.

2) It would no longer be a King's Quest game, and that was the whole point in the first place.

The best thing we can do is appeal to Vivendi to reach an agreement with the makers of the game, so it can continue legally. Please visit our website and email Vivendi if you'd like to help.
-- Save King's Quest Forums

OK, you got me there. The only other out I could see would be parody, although I can only imagine that might require a massive, potentially complete, rewrite as well. So really the only avenue is to appeal to Vivendi.

Now, the King's Quest series is near and dear to my heart. Heck, I made out with one of my first girlfriends while that game was on in the background (yes, I am that dorky). They were pioneering games with tremendous design value. So here's what I will be emailing to Vivendi:

Dear Vivendi,

I am writing on behalf of the effort to save the fan work King's Quest IX: Every Cloak Has A Silver Lining. I am a long time gamer, modder and programmer. I completely understand the need to protect your license and copyright, even for games for which you may not have any current plans to develop. It is not only your right, but your responsibility to maintain control over the use of the King's Quest series.

However, I would ask that you re-examine this particular case. Clearly this project is being done by serious fans who want to do the license justice. They are being as mindful as to respect the property as much as they are being respectful of your rights to the franchise. They have no commercial ambitions for the game, and while I completely understand that by itself that does grant any privilege to use an intellectual property - it might be an advantage for you.

For instance, you might note the change LucasArts recently took with the Unreal Tournament 2004 mod Troopers. Instead of shutting the mod down, they developed a relationship which allowed LucasArts to control aspects of the mod including it's distrubition. In return, the project got better production assets and turned into a much better game. Even though though Troopers could have potentially competed with future titles like Star Wars Battlefront, the game instead simply helped emboldened a fan base and had no visible impact on sales.

In this case, allowing King's Quest IX to be public would only aid the franchise's visibility at very little, if any, cost to Vivendi. I'm certain that the team would be open to negotiation at this point if there were specific concerns that Vivendi wished to express. Allowing free downloads for such games has been a long standing method to extend the vitality of a license, and it would be a shame to see King's Quest lose it's vitality by being shelved.

I hope you see your way to give this work a chance to be played.

Thanks for your time,

Joshua Birk

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