Warner Bros. patents their Nemesis System to the dismay of gamers

Warner Bros. patents their Nemesis System to the dismay of gamers

This story about WB's patent of the Nemesis System, boiled down, in 2:05 minutes.

What's the fuss?

The gaming division of Warner Bros. managed to successfully patent their signature Nemesis System, famously used in their somewhat-recent Lord of the Rings based video games. This move is not a popular one amongst the gaming community as it serves to stifle future innovation.

The situation

2014's Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and 2017's Middle-earth: Shadow of War were both pretty solid games. These action games stood out from the competition due to the games' Nemesis System which took what usually are generic, unchallenging NPCs (non-player character) enemies that and transformed them into personal rivals that you actually enjoyed fighting against.

In the mythology, Orcs are humanoid creatures that serve Sauron's (the main antagonist) armies in his quest for world domination. In the game, these creatures serve as your main enemies, with each faction led by a captain. If a captain slays you in battle, they will become more powerful by gaining new abilities and a promotion to boot. The next time you go toe-to-toe with your new nemesis, they'll look different, remember your past actions, and likely taunt you for your previous failure. Inversely, if you manage to overcome the captain instead, another Orc will take their place in the hierarchy. This results in a fun mechanic that motivates the player to battle their personalized opponents again and again while creating their own stories unique to their play experience.

After numerous attempts going back to 2016, Warner Bros. was finally successful in patenting the system until 2035, with the US Patent and Trademark Office releasing an official notice earlier this week. 

Boiling it down

Imagine if your favorite fiction author patented the concept of a genre that restricted other writers from building upon it. Or a certain camera technique from your favorite movie was patented so it could only be used by a certain cinematographer. Selfishness is the enemy of innovation. The video game industry would not be the juggernaut it is today without the sharing and improvement of existing systems. We have decades of amazing video games because these originators shared their knowledge for others to build upon.

By patenting this system, Warner Bros. threatens progress by effectively locking out other developers from using it themselves. Keep in mind, it's not like the Nemesis System (or the other numerous systems these games draw upon) are completely unique in themselves - they have benefited from the iteration of past concepts. Ultimately, this notion of "take but not give" is a greedy, corporate move that hopefully doesn't inspire other developers to go down the same path.

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