Bugdom at center of game controversy

A case of art imitating life, perhaps: Much as Rollie McFly has to square off against King Thorax in Pangea Software's game Bugdom, the PC conversion of Pangea Software's game at the center of a simmering David and Goliath controversy. Independent PC game publisher Ideas from the Deep alleges that PC and console giant Take Two Interactive is pirating the PC version of Bugdom. Rather than bringing a civil action against the larger publisher, has reported the situation to the FBI.

A crooked path

Bugdom was originally released for the Macintosh by Pangea Software in 1999. Pangea doesn't make games for Windows, so it later licensed the Windows publishing rights to Gathering of Developers, which commissioned a third-party developer to make the conversion. Take-Two acquired Gathering but let its Bugdom license lapse, according to Ideas From the Deep (IFD), which contends that Take Two has continued to sell copies of Bugdom under its Global Star label.

It's this convoluted chain of licensing and acquisition that has made it so hard for IFD to get its own version onto store shelves, according to IFD's co-founder, Lane Roathe. For the longest time, said Roathe, he couldn't even get Take Two to acknowledge that they were selling the game.

"I finally got a hold of Global Star and they admitted they don't have the rights to it," Roathe told MacCentral . This, said Roathe, happened in July, 2004 -- two and a half years after IFD acquired the rights to the PC version of Bugdom and first tried to initiate contact with Take Two to make them stop selling the Global Star version.

Regardless, said Roathe, the Global Star version of Bugdom remains in circulation, and as near as IFD can tell, no attempt has been made to either get it off store shelves or to make royalty payments either to Pangea Software or to IFD. Roathe estimates that Take Two may have sold upwards of 75,000 copies of the game during its run.

A representative of Take Two Interactive did not respond to MacCentral's request for comment.

IFD's visibility in Web search engines makes the company a target of customers who buy the Global Star-branded version of Bugdom and expect technical support for the title. IFD has to turn those customers away at the door, as the version they have is not the same version IFD develops and sells.

IFD sends such users an e-mail telling that they have unwittingly bought a pirated copy, and instructs them to return the software to the retailer they bought it from and request a refund.

Referred to the FBI

IFD, a small, independent publisher of games and other software, doesn't have the finances to hire a lawyer to take Take Two to court, either.

"The least expensive quote I got from a lawyer is $200,000," Roathe said. "And it's way too complicated for a contingency lawyer to handle."

IFD's solution was to complain about the situation to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has acknowledged the complaint, said Roathe. "My thinking was, 'It doesn't seem to be legal to do that.'"

Roathe said that with the Global Star-published version of Bugdom still in retail circulation, his version of Bugdom hasn't been picked up by retail distributors.

"Distributors are confused about this game that's coming from a completely different publisher," Roathe said. "And it's affected what we can do for Bugdom 2."

A less buggy Bugdom

IFD's version of Bugdom was developed separately from Global Star's earlier release and is less buggy, if you will, than its Global Star counterpart. Improvements in IFD's release include support for Windows XP, and the eradication of a saved game problem.

IFD also has secured the PC rights to other titles in Pangea's stable.

Roathe doubts that Bugdom is still marketable as a PC game in the retail space, as Take Two has distributed its own version for the past five years. "If they'd gotten their version off of store shelves when they were supposed to three years ago, it might have made a difference," said Roathe.

But Roathe said Bugdom remains a strong seller on IFD's own Web site. In fact, the only place you can buy IFD's version of Bugdom is from its Web site, where it's available as an online download purchase or for shipping as a CD-ROM.

Pangea Software continues to market the Macintosh version of Bugdom itself, now available as a downloadable shareware title.

For more game info, visit Macworld's Games Subject Page.

This story, "Bugdom at center of game controversy" was originally published by PCWorld.

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