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Krafton, the developer behind PlayUnknown's Battlegrounds," and the maker of PUBG Mobile, last year's No. 6 top-grossing mobile game on a global basis, is suing the app stores and a rival game maker, Garena, over copyright infringement involving Garena Online's Free Fire games. The lawsuit alleges Garena's games copy numerous aspects of its own, including its opening, its game structure and play, the combination and selection of weapons, armor and unique objects, locations and the overall color schemes, materials and textures.
Google's YouTube is also named in the lawsuit for hosting videos of the infringing material.
Garena has responded to the lawsuit with a statement. A company spokesperson said, "Krafton's claims are groundless."
According to the complaint, Garena started selling a game in Singapore that allegedly copied aspects of Krafton's game, shortly after Battlegrounds' launch in 2017. Apple and Google began selling a mobile version of this game, which was originally called Free Fire: Battlegrounds and is now called Free Fire. The Singapore claims were settled between the two companies, but Krafton never entered into a licensing agreement with Garena, the filing states.
Then, on 28 September 2021, Garena released a new title called Free Fire MAX, which is a separate mobile game distributed on Apple and Google's app stores. This game is meant to offer the same user experience as Free Fire, Krafton says, and it also infringes on numerous aspects of Battlegrounds, the claim says. The company noted the infringing game has gone on to earn "hundreds of millions of dollars" from its global sales. Apple and Google similarly profited, as they take commissions from games distributed through their app store platforms.
Meanwhile, Krafton named YouTube in the lawsuit because it hosts videos of Free Fire and Free Fire MAX gameplay. The videos have been viewed hundreds of millions of times, or in some cases, more than a million times. YouTube also hosts a feature-length live-action film that's an infringing dramatization of Battlegrounds, the claim states.
Krafton says it's turning to courts to resolve the matter because Apple and Google have not done so. It said it asked the app stores to stop distributing the game on December 21, 2021, but they refused. YouTube also won't take down the infringing videos.
The lawsuit comes shortly after the November launch of Krafton's follow-up title, PUBG: New State, which contains a number of new elements. The company is likely worried its latest release will be "copied," too, if this issue is not resolved.
Clones of popular apps and games have been a common problem on app stores, and the growth of the subscription market has made the activity even more popular. Just this week, in fact, Apple had to clear out clones of a popular online game, Wordle, for example. Apple is also facing a lawsuit from another developer who lost money to clone apps. Like Wordle, other viral games in years past, like Threes and Flappy Bird, have faced clones, as well. But in many cases, the games are simpler, easier to copy and faded from popularity faster. For games like PUBG Mobile, however, the financial impact of being copied is at a much larger scale.
PUBG Mobile earned $2.7 billion in 2020, which grew to $2.9 billion by 2021, according to Sensor Tower data. Garena Free Fire saw about $1.2 billion last year, for comparison.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on January 10, 2022. Krafton is asking for a jury trial to resolve the matter. To win, Krafton will have to prove to the court that Garena has infringed in the eyes of the law, not just by offering a similar "battle royale"-style game.
Krafton has often defended its gaming empire, having more recently won a lawsuit against cheaters. PUBG also previously settled copyright claims with NetEase, also over PUBG clones, but dropped a similar suit with Epic Games over Fortnite in 2018.
Krafton did not return a request for comment. The article was updated on 1/13/22, 6:20 pm ET, with Garena's comment.