Inside Pulse 12

Encore Extra Stage: The Konami Dance Game Lawsuit

Earlier this year, Konami officially filed out a lawsuit against Roxor Games in regards to their In The Groove game infringing on certain copyrights set forward by their own Dance Dance Revolution franchise. This lawsuit has recently been amended to include both the RedOctane and MadCatz companies for the same infringements.

Needless to say, both DDR and ITG fanbases have not taken the news with a grain of salt. Message boards on sites such as DDRFreak and ITGFreak were flooded with posts when the original suit came to light, and while the amendment hasn’t gotten as much attention, there is still lots of talk on the issue.

And by “lots of talk”, I mean lots of generic opinions from all these would-be lawyers such as:

“This is just the beginning of Konami’s genocide of other dance games.”

“Anyways, Konami is jealous because their music sucks now and their steps are too easy.”

“i think that konami should go suck a dick”

“Red Octane is in the suit now, they’re just a hop and a skip from suing Harmonix for Guitar Hero.”

“how can you have a dancing game style genre, when the originators are not allowing other versions??”

“I’ve already boycotted Konami home products because of the lawsuit (and microwaved the ones I already owned)”

All of which, of course, have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LAWSUIT.

About 95% of the talk thus far on the issue stems from the initial thought of “I like DDR better! or “I like ITG better!” This leads to skewed opinions that reflect nothing more than the likes and dislikes of the poster. DDR loyalists are damn happy about the lawsuit, and want to see ITG go down in flames for being a “cheap rip-off”. ITG loyalists are threatened to the core, and claim Konami is being selfish and greedy for “not letting anyone else into the ‘dance games’ market” and “trying to bankrupt Roxor”. Oh yeah, add “DDR games are too easy” and “Konami won’t put out another arcade mix” as airtight legal defenses.

None of these opinions truly reflect what is going on here. Although to be fair, not many of us really do. I have no law degree, and the majority of these forum posters are in their mid-late teens to early 20’s with no clue as to how the system works. So here goes my faint attempt to understand what exactly Konami is trying to accomplish with this lawsuit, and what exactly is being sued over.


THE DOCUMENT ITSELF

The most recent version of the Konami lawsuit can be found here in this pdf file. This is what’s known as a “complaint”, or the initial filing of the suit. If you like reading through pages and pages of legalese in Engrish (Konami of Japan filed this), be my guest. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Head hurting much? Yeah, mine too. Moving on…

There are a few major counts in the complaint, buried among which are the following accusations:

Roxor is infringing on Konami patents by retrofitting DDR arcade cabinets with ITG arcade kits.

Roxor is infringing on Konami patents by using software techniques and gameplay applications already patented, and without permission in their own ITG arcade and home version games.

Roxor has created a situation that creates confusion in regards the Konami brand name.

RedOctane is infringing on Konami patents by publishing Roxor’s ITG home version game.

MadCatz is infringing on Konami patents by using software techniques and gameplay applications already patented, and without permission in their MC Grooves dance CRAZE home version game.

All parties involved are promoting ‘unfair competition’ with the above counts.

Also included is the “relief requested”, or what Konami wants in paid damages. Summing up, Konami is asking for all profits made by the other three companies named in the suit in regards to the sales of their games, as well as the destruction of all materials relating to the games.

It sounds harsh, I agree. However, all this is what would be awarded to Konami if they win a case that’s taken all the way to court. All parties involved will be able to discuss the matter outside of court, and attempt to reach a settlement without going through the messy process of a trial with lawyers and judges and who knows what else. All parties involved will make all attempts necessary to avoid the actual trial, make no mistake about it.

Finally, copies of all the patents Konami feels that are violated are included as a reference. While the legalese strips the game’s essentials down to its core and makes it seem boring as hell, the diagrams included are rather interesting. If you want to see some rare concept drawings as to what DDR originally looked like, its there for the curious.

So the document has been made available, and contains all the points in Konami’s case. This doesn’t stop most everyone else from (a) ignoring it and flaming Konami with no real things to back it up or (b) dismissing each count of the complaint as negligible and stupid due to their opinions of the DDR/ITG franchise. (Sigh) I expect nothing less from people who look at the forest but don’t see the trees.


BEFORE ITG

Before getting into what Roxor is being sued for, lets go back in time for a bit. Before ITG’s existence, there was a PC program on the Internet known as Stepmania. In fact, there still is.

Stepmania is a freeware program that emulates DDR to the core. The goal is to hit scrolling targets scrolling from the bottom of the screen to the top as accurately as possible in time to the music, just like DDR. All the gameplay modifications from practically ALL the past games are included, such as Solo Mode from DDR Solo, and Dance Magic Mode from DDR Disney Mix. Song courses are also implemented in both Nonstop and Oni forms. Finally, song mods are included by the truckload, plus tons of mods that have never appeared in DDR. Surely this is cause enough for Konami to say “Whoa there, buddy…” right?

Well, not exactly. For one, the program is 100% customizable. The initial program you download and install is completely bare bones, and has nothing to play. Its up to you to add whatever you want to it in order to make it play however you like. The graphics, announcers, gameplay mechanics, songs, courses, etc. are completely customizable. You can even install stuff to make the game play like Pump It Up, EZ 2 Dancer, or other similar programs. And since it comes with no songs, its up to you to find/create songs to play on the game. And unless someone else did it for you, you’ll have to create the all step charts from scratch. So its up to the end user to customize the program to his/her liking.

The other big thing is that, like I said before, its freeware. Nobody is making a dime off this program; not even the creators. It’s free for anyone to download and try out as they see fit. There’s no fee to continue playing after setup, there’s no paid download service for new songs and steps. No songs are even endorsed for this program other than users recommending certain things for other users. Also, Konami’s profits have NOT been adversely affected by the existence of this program. Sure there might be a few dollars lost from Stepmania users who are too cheap to buy the real thing, but considering sales of DDR on all platforms last year ALONE increased by 1.2 million units in this country, Konami isn’t hurting at all.

Stepmania itself is akin to most freeware programs that look like clones of popular titles. I’m sure you’ve seen/played free knockoffs of Tetris, Breakout, Pac-Man, and others. None of those exactly hinder the profits of their bestsellers, and neither does this, despite any legality(s) that come into play. Essentially, Stepmania is harmless, and Konami ignores it so that the users have their fun.

So what happens when the Stepmania creators decide, “Hey, lets take our game, partner up with a game company, change it around a little, add our own unique songs, develop it to run solely on DDR arcade machines, and sell it for a profit!”

Huston, we have a problem…


AGAINST ROXOR…

Here’s the company the lawsuit used to be solely against. It was also the most anticipated by quite a few dance game fans in general, although it was hard to pinpoint exactly WHAT Roxor could be sued for. Luckily we know now.

The first lawsuit mainly concentrated on the arcade version of ITG. If you go back to the first accusation I listed, Konami wants damages for Roxor’s selling of ITG arcade kits that can ONLY be installed in DDR machines. And from the looks of it, Konami does have a point.

From the looks of it, ITG’s entire existence is based on the fact that Konami Computer Entertainment of Japan (KCET) stopped making arcade DDR games for the Japanese market for the time being. Not because they stopped making arcade mixes for the American market. In fact, I’ve got a full-blown theory as to WHY there are no new American arcade mixes, which involves the hardcore audience shooting themselves in the foot five years ago in regards to it. But that’s for another column…

Back to the subject at hand. After about a year or so passed after DDR Extreme was released in Japan, the hardcore fans grew somewhat tired of it. Used to their 2-3 mixes per year, they began to crave something NEW to play in the arcades. And apparently the new home versions didn’t count. (I still don’t see why that is.) So the creators of Stepmania teamed with Roxor Games in order to “solve” this problem by creating a brand new dance game. And In The Groove was the result. The problem, however, was that it was essentially Stepmania modified a bit, including 95% of what made DDR…well, DDR! It was a four-floor panel dance game. It had arrows scrolling from the bottom to the top of the screen. And of course it had added things, like more mods, “hands” and “mines”, and harder step patterns for the hardcore fans. Needless to say many hardcore fans transitioned into ITG without a problem, and the game was a bit hit amongst them. That is, when you could find a machine. (The locations have since expanded, but many states are still without an ITG game, or only contain a select few machines.)

However, at the time, the only way to play ITG was to strip an existing DDR cabinet of the 573 hardware, and replace it with an ITG “boxor”, or the official name of the arcade kit. And boxors did not have a dedicated cabinet of their OWN either. In fact, any given boxor had specific instructions that stated the arcade operator had to take the existing DDR game out, as well as “re-sticker” the machine with the ITG marquee. This essentially eliminated any DDR game that met this “upgrade”.

So why is this count in the lawsuit? Well, Konami patented the DDR machine. From the flashing lights at the top, to the buttons on the face of the unit, to the internal floor sensors that registered your steps. And considering that DDR was such a unique game to require such an elaborate interface, it was made relatively clear that the DDR machine was created solely to house a DDR game within it. And since ITG is not a licensed Konami product, it is apparently illegal to alter the machine and then use it to make a profit. It seems relatively open and shut.

Or does it? Many of the machines that are currently in the US currently house illegal bootlegs of the latest Japanese arcade releases. You are most likely playing on bootlegged DDRMAX2 or DDR Extreme machine right now if you live outside of California. And even then, the actual amount of “legal” machines for use in this country I can count on one hand. So in a sense, these machines have already been altered with an illegal program. Especially if you see something like DDR Megamix or DDR Extreme Plus, which are hacked versions of the DDR Extreme game being sold by shady people from overseas. (And if you’re wondering why THOSE guys aren’t being sued…well, they’re simply too hard to track. You have to FIND them before you can sue them, right?)

Others have used the argument that since Konami was not making any more arcade mixes for our territory, the machines weren’t going to be updated anyway had it not been for ITG. Basically, “Konami’s finished playing with its toy, so they won’t share.” But remember, the machine is PATENTED. This gives Konami 20 years to do as they please with their invention, and altering it without Konami’s permission is apparently a violation of their patented work.

Believe it or not, even though Konami doesn’t put out “new mixes” in the arcades, there’s a strong chance that the current mixes (bootlegged or not) are used as indirect advertising. Most machines in America right now are either DDRMAX2 or DDR Extreme Japan games. We also have DDRMAX2 and DDR Extreme American home versions. So as people play in the arcades, they think to themselves “Hey, this is pretty fun! And there are home games with the same name! Maybe I should pick them up for the PS2 later!” (And you wonder why Konami decided NOT to deviate from Japan’s name scheme in America.) Despite whatever differences the versions have, Konami still makes an impact on the casual user here.

So how will this accusation go in court? I’m really not sure. There’s a lot of material here that seems too shaky to predict it going one way or the other.

The next arcade accusation involves Roxor infringing on Konami’s brand name. Here is something that seems more concrete. The directions in a boxor indicate that the operator must completely cosmetically change a DDR cabinet and remove all traces of the Dance Dance Revolution and Konami trademarks. But usually, this doesn’t happen. Many people simply replace the hardware inside, change the title marquee, and call it a day. This still leaves the patented Konami logos all over the front and sides of the machine.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but there are a LOT more DDR players that don’t go online in America than those that do. So these players are NOT well versed in telling the difference between DDR and ITG. So if these people to play an ITG machine, and they see “Dance Dance Revolution” trademarks plastered all over the machine and the pads, SOME OF THEM are going to make the incorrect association that this is part of Konami’s DDR series and assume its a sequel. And depending on their opinions of the game, they won’t be praising/hating Roxor. They’ll be holding KONAMI in various regards instead. Plus, it doesn’t help matters if both games are super-similar to help confuse the arcade patron even further.

Even though the directions CLEARLY STATE to remove everything, not everyone is going to adhere to it. So Roxor has essentially created a situation where ITG could be considered a Konami product by those not in the know, and infringe on Konami’s brand loyalty in the process. I see Konami pulling out on top here.


AGAINST ROXOR/REDOCTANE

I’m bundling Roxor and RedOctane in this section as the following accusations reflect them both.

Probably the BIGGEST of the accusations involves Roxor infringing on Konami’s patents in regards to the gameplay aspects of ITG. This argument was made more apparent when RedOctane was named in the suit. And it could be the count that really gets both companies in trouble.

Roxor developed this game to be like DDR. A LOT like DDR. In some cases, the games are practically inseparable. Here’s just a partial list of the similarities I’ve already discussed in my recent In The Groove review for the PS2:

A game where you hit arrow panels with your feet in time to the music? Check.

Four panels arranged Left/Down/Up/Right on the screen? Check.

Four difficulties, including a beginner’s difficulty, and an optional fifth difficulty for some of the songs? Check.

Step patterns rated on a numerical scale? Check.

Songs from artists made famous on DDR games? Check.

Eurobeat, Trance, and Techno in abundance? Check.

Six step rankings, each corresponding to another popular dance franchise? Check.

Three song sets, with an ability to turn on Event Mode? Check.

All of DDR’s mods, most of them renamed? Check.

Letter grades involved when scoring? Check.

A mode that allows you to play an abundance of named song courses? Check.

A mode copied and pasted from a long forgotten DDR game, treating it like its all new? Check.

A mode designed to help someone lose weight? Check.

A mode that teaches you how to play a four-panel dance game? Check.

A mode that allows you to practice any song on any difficulty at any point? Check.

BUT THIS ISN’T DDR! IT’S A 100% ORIGINAL GAME! STOP MAKING UNFAIR COMPARISONS! IT’S WHAT EVER[y] FAN OF DANCE GAMES HAS EVER WANTED!!!

Of course the last part was tongue in cheek, but you see where I’m going with this. Its as if Roxor developed what it though would be the next DDR sequel, but without Konami’s permission.

It turns out that DDR’s core gameplay elements were copyrighted as well. Yes, they COPYRIGHTED the method of vertically scrolling targets from the bottom to the top of the screen, with you hitting your foot on specially designed floor panels in time to the music. They also copyrighted the “judgment window” for the steps, or in layman’s terms, the amount of time required to obtain a Perfect, Great, etc, etc. Other areas of the game, including the infamous “Edit Mode” from the home versions, are also included.

With these areas copyrighted by Konami already, it’s painfully obvious that Roxor’s at fault for ignoring them. Simply comparing the two games side by side will show how one so perfectly imitates the other. The guide arrows are in the same place. The mods DDR has are all perfectly represented in ITG. Both games use the same song selection process. Both games use ascending letter grades. Despite your personal opinion of the quality of each game, the core mechanics are the same.

As far as RedOctane’s roll in this, they are the official publishers of the ITG home version. They are responsible for distributing the game to home market, and stand to make a profit on each copy sold. Their role, Konami feels, is clearly defined. (And for the record, the suit has nothing to do with RedOctane’s brand of dance pad peripherals. So for those looking to by an Ignition or Afterburner, you have nothing to worry about.)

I really can’t see how Roxor/RedOctane can find a way out of this claim, as even your average Joe who’s never seen either game in his life could tell you they both look the same.


AGAINST MADCATZ

Konami is suing MadCatz basically over the same reason of infringing copyrighted software in their gameplay. Their MC Grooves dance CRAZE game’s main mode also features scrolling targets in time to the music, with the only difference being that the “Up” and “Down” arrows on screen are reversed in position. Which is essentially the equivalent of Bugs Bunny wearing a fake mustache to fool Elmer Fudd into thinking he’s someone else. “Hey, it worked in the cartoons,” MadCatz said to themselves.

Sorry, MadCatz. Welcome to real life.


UNFAIR COMPETITON

The big item that all three companies, in Konami’s eyes, are guilty of is “unfair competition”. Of course this brought out every Tom, Dick, and Gordon (Guess which old cartoon that line came from to win a cookie!) out of the woodwork to say “Looks like Konami can’t handle the competition from ‘better companies’!” before adding a decent “LOL” after their comments for the added arrogant effect.

What many don’t realize is the fact there is “fair competition”, and “unfair competition”. And there are laws in this country that govern this aspect of the business world so that everyone has a fair chance to market their products.

An example of “fair competition” would be the following hypothetical scenario: Konami’s “Beatmania” franchise going head-to-head with Harmonix’ “Frequency” or “Amplitude” games. Both games have the same basic objective: to mix music in real time as accurately as possible in order to earn high scores. However, each game goes about things differently. Beatmania uses a stationary screen where lines representing seven keys and a turntable reach the bottom. Its your job to hit the keys (and spin the turntable) at the right time in order to earn as many “Greats” and “Just Greats” as possible in order to contribute to an overall high score, EX score, and grade. Frequency and Amplitude take a different approach. There are six columns of instruments you must constantly shift between in order to make a song as complete as possible. You must accurately hit as many notes as possible in a column in order to complete it, with no “judgment windows” to speak of. (Either you hit it, or you miss it.) The games also include power ups, freestyle sections, and real-time remixing of any song on the list. While similar in concept, they differ greatly in execution.

Not so with DDR and ITG. In the arcades, you don’t see ITG sitting next to a DDR most times. Instead, you see ITG literally take the place of an existing DDR machine. Not only does Konami LOSE a spot in a specific arcade, but they lose potential advertising to new players. In both the arcade AND home versions, ITG uses copyrighted gameplay elements without permission in order to gain an advantage and make a profit. They are essentially taking the DDR concept, throwing it back in Konami’s faces, and adding things to it in order seem like the better game.

Now, explain to me how this is fair competition, if you don’t mind.


DEFINING THE DANCE GAME GENRE

All of this is pretty overwhelming, I agree. Konami’s going after three different companies, and have pretty solid cases against all of them. To the untrained eye, it looks like Konami’s trying to eliminate the competition in the genre they created through legal means, rather than in game sales. In fact, many people have already jumped to this conclusion. Just scroll back up to the funny quotes I’ve pulled and see! And yet, nothing can be further from the truth.

Apparently, the majority of us have come to define the “dance game” as “a game where one hits buttons with his/her feet in time to the music, and getting judged for each step.” And so many purists have taken this to heart that any “deviation” from this set-up created by Konami is a travesty. I can definitely see their point, as there are quite a few games I’ve seen that follow this formula to the letter. BUT…this is not what Konami is doing.

Wanna know how I know? Taking a look as to what Konami is NOT suing, as well as WHO they’re not suing, will prove it.

Roxor: Throughout the lawsuit, the In The Groove sequel was never mentioned. Never even touched on. While the suit may target the ITG franchise as a whole, In The Groove 2 was absent. Mainly because the game has its own cabinet designed by Andamiro, the makers of Pump It Up. With ITG2 not being a threat to existing DDR cabinets (especially since this particular lawsuit will scare them into not releasing ITG2 boxors for them), this game is a little more legal.

Andamiro/Mastiff: The people behind Pump It Up aren’t being targeted either. They WERE targeted in 2001, however, due to the fact that their game infringed on (a) the same gameplay copyrights, and (b) hardware copyrights, as their arcade machines duplicated various parts of the original DDR arcade machines, despite the different configurations. The suit was settled out of court, with the deal being that Andamiro could continue manufacturing PIU machines and games as long as Konami gets a piece of the profits. And with Andamiro and Mastiff being so good, they are competing in the arcades (and soon the home market) fairly.

MadCatz: They aren’t being sued for making their own home dance pads. They also aren’t being sued as the official US publishers of the Pump It Up: Exceed home version. The game looks to be coming out as originally scheduled, with no problems whatsoever. See the previous paragraph as to why.

RedOctane: They are also not being sued for creating their own brand of dance pads. Especially since the Ignition and Afterburner pads are so much in higher in quality than what Konami offers.

Cobalt Flux: The first people behind creating a high-end metal dance pad with quality materials. They aren’t being touched.

Pop’nKO M&E LLC: These guys are putting out their own dance game in the same vein of DDR entitled Neon FM: Dance Radio. It is a five-panel game, and they are arranged in a order unique from any other dance game. Apparently they’ve already spoken with Konami about any and all legal matters, and they are safe to develop and publish this game. Hence why they aren’t being named in the lawsuit at this time.

Ubisoft: Huh? Ubisoft? Why in the hell would THEY be possibly targeted? Well, they created a dance game a while back called Disney’s Jungle Book: Rhythm And Groove that came bundled with a dance pad similar to what is used in DDR. But a closer look sees that the game runs on different core gameplay mechanics. There were even TWO VERSIONS of the game made. (PS1 and PS2). I see they were allowed to compete without any hassle.

Metro Graphics/THQ: The people behind the monstrosity known as Brittney’s Dance Beat on the PS2. It uses a dance pad, but also runs on different core gameplay mechanics. I never saw Konami suing THEM back when the game was released.

Some of these “non-targets” may be silly to you, and I agree. However, if Konami really WAS the evil money-grubbing corporation that wanted to eliminate all other competition from the “dance game” genre, they would have named as many targets in the lawsuit as they possible could. Their legal department would scour as many potential targets as they could. They’d fight tooth and nail until they were the ONLY ONES with the rights to making dance-related games, and producing all peripherals for them.

But they are not. They are only going after the companies they feel have visibly violated their patents and copyrights. They are defending their property as a company should, not ridding the world of their competition. Besides, there’s more than one way to make a dance game.

Let’s look at EyeToy: Groove, for example.

Here’s a game that does NOT use a floor pad as a control device. Instead, you get put on camera, and get to use your HANDS and ARMS! Targets come from the MIDDLE of the screen, and there are SIX of them! New gameplay elements are introduced, such as posing for a picture, and free styling on camera for extra points! It’s a dance game, and its NOT DDR! IMAGINE THAT! (And for the record, I know that DDR has made use of the EyeToy camera with their latest versions, but Sony did it first, and did it with more original concepts.) Oh yeah, and Konami’s not suing Sony for making this unique dance game either.

And yes, all you fanboys. This game counts. Saying it doesn’t proves your ignorance further than I could do it myself.

So there’s more than one way to skin a cat, it seems. Konami may have patented one way to create a dance game, but there are plenty of others out there that aren’t being targeted, and one that breaks the conventional definition dance game fans have created for this particular genre. Perhaps a “redefinition” of this genre is in order. Allow me to offer one:

Dance Game. (Noun) (1) A video game that requires the player to stand on two feet and respond to verbal and aural cues given from the game in order to move certain body parts in time to the music. (2) A game where you are judged for adequately timing your motions along with the music. (see: Dance Dance Revolution, EyeToy Groove)

Not the best definition in the world, but it fits for now, doesn’t it? (What do you mean, “certain body parts” sounds…HEY! PERVERTS!)


CONCLUSIONS

After all is said and done, after all the facts have been presented, and after all this analysis, I believe I’ve come to the following conclusion: Like it or not, Konami holds the patents in regards to Dance Dance Revolution’s hardware and gameplay aspects. And like it or not, they are enforcing and defending these copyrights as any business would. Despite what you, the reader, think of the games involved within this lawsuit, Konami is fully in the legal right to do this. And as a business major, I fully support them in this endeavor.

Note that my opinions of the individual games do not figure in to my assessment. As far as THAT is concerned, I like both DDR and ITG. I’ve said in my recent review that there are things I feel ITG does better than DDR, and vice versa. But no matter what my opinions are, you have to call a spade a spade when you get right down to it. Roxor infringed on the copyrights Konami held, knowingly or unknowingly. They shot their own selves in the foot for being so careless, and now they have to reap what they sow.

Now this isn’t to say that the lawsuit will go all the way to court. There’s a high probability that this will be settled out of court between all parties. Like the Andamiro situation, I can definitely see Konami gaining royalties from Roxor and the other companies so they can continue their products. You may not like it, but hey, at least they’ll still be around.

Now I will say if this lawsuit is amended again to cover more territory that I find either ridiculous or unfounded, I will reassess my opinion on the matter. But for right now, Konami is doing what should be expected of them as a company.

If only the idiot fanboys would put their opinions to the side for three seconds and take a long look at what REALLY is going on…

Until next time, all.


Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete