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Indie developer Frontwire Studios has been working on a free "fan game" based on Free Radical's reportedly cancelled Star Wars Battlefront 3 (replete with Star Wars vehicles, characters and planets) and now it plans to launch the game on Steam for free.
That's important because for a long time the studio has been saying the project, Galaxy In Turmoil, wouldn't see a formal Steam release because of the massive risk it runs of inciting legal action from Star Wars owner Disney.
Now Frontwire says it has reached an accord with Valve to release Galaxy In Turmoil on Steam at some point in the future as a free fan game, and Frontwire president Tony Romanelli tells Game Informer that the studio's legal counsel has advised Galaxy In Turmoil will be protected as, among other things, a parody.
"Our counsel has advised us that we currently fall into three of the four major defenses for Fair Use claims," Romanelli told Game Informer in an email. "Due to the nature of the campaign we are developing, we can be classed as a parody. We're re-imagining a lot of what Star Wars is as well by creating everything from the ground up....In addition, we're actually using this as a tool for educational purposes."
Game Informer also contacted video game attorney (and occasional Gamasutra blogger) Ryan Morrison for further insight, and the Fair Use Protection Account founder noted that Frontwire's understanding may be a bit off the mark ("it actually infuriates me") based on his understanding of U.S. law.
"It doesn't take more than a five second Google search to see this game has nothing to do with parody law. And if you further examine fair use, you will see it is a defense, not a right," wrote Morrison. "Not charging for your product is a factor in fair use, but not the end all be all. You can't just remake a game start to finish, utilizing every asset of the original, and pretend it's okay because it's free. After so many games have been taken down over similar [circumstances], and after so many developers' lives have been ruined from this, it's just the definition of insanity at this point.“
Note that Frontwire is a relatively young venture that got its start as a fan project to recreate Battlefront 3 based on a leaked Xbox 360 build. It is now working to build Galaxy In Turmoil in Unreal Engine 4 with a team that includes a number of volunteers, and according to its website the studio is refraining from using any Battlefront 3 assets in Galaxy In Turmoil.
For a broader overview of fair use and what game developers should know about it, check out this 2014 series of blog posts from video game attorney Zachary Strebeck on the topic.