No Man’s Sky, a video game featuring procedurally generated planets and galaxies for players to explore, was recently released for the PlayStation 4 and PC.
The game had been massively anticipated ever since its announcement at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (“E3”) in 2014 on Sony’s stage. Due to its long gestation period, it had very public missteps. Now that the game is out, we thought it would be worth taking a look at some of these and what other indie studios and aspiring developers can learn from them.
No Man’s Sky was developed by Hello Games, based out of the United Kingdom. When No Man’s Sky was originally described in the press, Hello Games founder Sean Murray stated that the game’s unique ability to populate a quintillion planets out of whole cloth was based on a “super-formula.” This “super-formula” was created by Belgian plant geneticist Johan Gielis. Gielis created the Dutch company Genicap to monetize use of the super-formula. The American patent filing describes a mathematical formula that can create a variety of patterns.
Right on the cusp of launching, Jeroen Sparrow from Genicap is quoted as basically saying that if Hello Games did in fact use the super-formula, they would want to collect royalties from its use. Essentially, if it is being used, they would be open to licensing it to Murray. Of course, Murray said it was a non-issue.
Before going even further into the weeds with specifics on whether the patent is enforceable or how both companies would hypothetically move forward were the formula actually used by the game, we should note that this was quite the public spectacle for Hello Games. It was just another misstep for a promising indie game that received increasing attention since its original E3 debut. When Murray originally mentioned the super-formula a year ago, he probably did not expect this reaction right on the eve of the game’s debut. The last thing any studio would want is to have a game delayed because of an oversight in how it may or may not have used proprietary technology in its game. Despite going gold, Murray and his small team were working on a substantial day one patch that changed the algorithms that determined how the game would populate planets. Can you imagine having years’ worth of work being halted because of something you said years ago when the game was still a work in progress?
So, the takeaway: if you are considering using patented technology, reach out if you plan to use that technology as the basis or core of what you are doing. If you are still unsure how the tech may fit in, refrain from publicly stating that you will use the tech. No need to risk the threat of an injunction or potential legal action simply because you have not agreed to licensing that technology or are using it without permission.