In a strange choice of legal grandstanding, ZeniMax Media Inc (who owns Bethesda and the Doom franchise) sent an email to the dev of a fan-game. The letter stated that Kornel Kisielewicz’s roguelike DoomRL infringed on their trademark for the popular FPS series.
The oddness of this action is due to the long history of modding and fan remakes that has spawned a rather large community and the rarity of legal warnings within that group. The best example of this is Brutal Doom and it’s spinoff Brutal Doom 64 which was just nominated (and lost) for ‘Best Fan Creation’. Two titles were removed from the category due to Nintendo’s involvement but ZeniMax did not pursue action against the game infringing on its properties.
The delayed reaction of this letter is also weird as DoomRL was created back in 2003. It could be that Kisielewicz’s latest foray into a Kickstarter campaign for Jupiter Hell attracted ZeniMax’s attention. This still doesn’t make that much sense since no action (yet) has been taken on this ‘spiritual successor’ to DoomRL.
But, the updated crowdfunded roguelike is its own game and only takes inspiration from Doom. Even further, the name ‘DoomRL’ has been changed to ‘D**mRL’ and Kisielewicz has disavowed relations with ZeniMax in an update. “Jupiter Hell is in no way affiliated with, sponsored by or endorsed by ZeniMax, nor does it wish to be.”
The dev also states that he’s not sure what he’s going to do with the legal threat in regards to DoomRL and it currently is still up for download. The campaign itself is still a little shy of the £60,000 goal (approx $76,000 USD) and ends on December 13th.
The idea of a roguelike mixing with Doom lore fits perfectly and it’s a shame seeing a fan-game that’s been around since 2003 get threatened. At what point do mods and homages become part of a game’s history enough to warrant their own communities free of legal ramifications? That’s probably an idyllic question and I know the matter is not as black and white as that. But it seems like 20+ years of fan recreations must be worth something in keeping a series alive and hopefully someone sees the value of Kisielewicz’s work. If not, there’s always a chance to raise hell on Jupiter.
The full letter the dev received in below:
So… Zenimax have just written to me demanding I take down the DoomRL site… :-/ pic.twitter.com/tXAwdq59Zz
— Kornel Kisielewicz (@epyoncf) December 2, 2016