IGDA board member Tim Langdell recently angered many people in the indie gaming scene with an eyebrow-raising lawsuit against Mobigames, one which prompted the two-man indie game development team to have Apple remove their popular iPhone game "Edge" from distribution in Europe and the United States.
Earlier today, fellow IGDA board member and game attorney Tom Buscaglia remarked in the comments section of a Gamasutra blogger's post that "this matter had nothing to do with the IGDA." In a sense, he's right. Legally speaking, Langdell was acting as an individual when he sued Mobigames. He was not acting in his capacity as an IGDA board member. Nor was this an action that the IGDA approved of in advance. It isn't really fair to simply paint the IGDA with a Tim Langdell brush.
But in another, equally important sense, the notion that this debacle has nothing to do with the IGDA is dead wrong. It comes from Langdell's position in the organization. Suppose that someone on the board of the SEIU was found to be a regular Wal-Mart shopper. Technically speaking, her behavior would be personal. She would not be acting as an SEIU board member when she went shopping for herself and for her home. And yet, it would be silly to argue that her position with the SEIU should make no difference to the ensuing reaction. People take umbrage at perceived hypocrisy, especially among those whom they expect to represent and defend them.
That, I believe, is why it is in fact highly relevant that Tim Langdell is an IGDA board member. The IGDA is, by its very name, an organization intended to stand up for game developers. It isn't a stretch to expect that same standard of behavior by the members of its board.
Putting aside for the moment the strength of any claim Langdell would have against Mobigames, this particular incident has brought under public scrutiny a history of behavior by Langdell that suggests abuse of the trademark system, part of the very same system of intellectual property protections that game developers rely upon to safeguard their creations.
Consider, for instance, Galactic Edge Spacelines, pulled from Langdell's web site shortly after members of the TIGS forums found it and subjected it to ridicule (it is being preserved for posterity here). What is this if not bald-faced, bad faith use merely to reserve rights in the mark, as the Lanham Act calls it? Am I to believe that Tim Langdell actually started investing in space travel? I especially like the bit about unnamed "experts" predicting that Edge Games would offer the world's first commercial suborbital space flights ahead of Virgin. If Carless's piece was yellow journalism (as Buscaglia called it), then this bit is like a clipping from the Weekly World News--which is to say, it looks suspiciously like it was entirely made up.
And then there is, of course, "MIRRORS a game by EDGE," a game of which there evidently exist no screenshots, concept art, or details of any kind, but which nonetheless appears prominently on the front page of edgegames.com. Also highly amusing: Langdell has evidently trademarked "MIRROR'S SPORE" and "SOUL SPORE" this year, according to an online search on Britain's Intellectual Property Office website. Whether he intends to provoke litigation with Electronic Arts, I can only imagine.
Meanwhile, a search of the USPTO's TESS database for trademarks registered to "Edge Games" reveals no fewer than 28 registrations, ranging from "Edge" to "The Edge" to "Cutting Edge," for products and services ranging from web cams to backpacks to drinking mugs.
What is ultimately most disturbing about all of this is not merely that Langdell comes off looking like a small-time Leo Stoller, but that he is one of the heads of the International Game Developers Association. He has threatened a pair of independent game developers with the bludgeon of litigation where his only conceivable source of damages would be the money he lost on a prospective licensing deal. It's the game development equivalent of being visited by the Godfather and being told that you need to pay for protection, or he'll break your legs.
If corruption at the top was enough to ruin the reputation of American unions (which were once one of the most powerful and well-regarded institutions in the United States), there is no reason to believe that the IGDA will fare any better. The time for circling the wagons is over. If the members of the IGDA board truly want to act in the best interests of their organization, the best thing they can do is to assert that they do not condone Langdell's behavior. Their cautious tip-toeing around the issue has cost them dearly in credibility--as it should be.