Patents. They are a familiar concept in our world, with large court battles between the biggest technology firms. Could that work in a computer game? In a world where technology progresses, and players are the ones progressing it, patents could well make sense. However, combine that unusual idea with the cruel word count in the Developer Journal and it leads to a difficult concept to get your head around. The idea to day is to gather up all the other information we have found out and hopefully understand patent a little bit better. But first if you haven’t caught up on the Technology and Research Developer Journal yet then you can check out the Journal Abridged, or if you want to know a bit more about technology in Elyria part 1 of this Journal Discussed will help you out.
Firstly let’s look at the basics. Patents are a law created by an individual or group that protects a technology they have discovered from being crafted or processed by others in the Kingdom without breaking that law. It is in effect for three weeks after being issued unless an extension is granted, often at a cost, which lasts an additional three weeks. Sounds simple enough but let’s break that down a bit!
How do you actually create a patent? Well first of it is not automatic. If you make a discovery while carrying out research you have to apply for a patent. Caspian helpfully detailed how they intend this to work on the IRC. The chat is a great place for discussion and back and forth but doesn’t let itself to nice quotes so to be clear the below is a summary of the information he gave rather than a direct quote:
You use a Patent Contract and submit it to the government. A Patent Contract is a template type for Contract Writers. This is presented to a Patent Registrar, someone the government gives the power to approve patents, along with evidence of a final product. The patent will then go into law if approved by the Patent Registrar.
This means you will need to discover the technology, find a scribe with sufficient skill in contract writing to make your patent and then gain approval of the contract from the state. With final approval going to the Patent Registrars they might well be powerful individuals within a Kingdom. It will be interesting to see what sort of people opt for those roles and whether there is room for corruption to sneak into the system.
This leads me to wonder who can create a patent? The system appears to be open to any individual or guild that discovers a new technology. From the Developer Journal it does not appear that schools have this option and instead share their technology freely. However, can all individuals or guilds actually create one? Can they afford the skilled scribe? Have they got enough cash to pay the fee require by the corrupt Patent Registrar to look favourably on their application? Will patents be accessible only by the rich?
We have done the how and who now to the where. You will note that when describing patents I said they are to protect your technology from others in your Kingdom. That is because patents have a limited range and only apply in the Kingdom you register them in, and we learnt from Caspian:
You can only register a patent in the kingdom you’re a citizen of.
This means while you could emigrate, become a citizen of another Kingdom and then register the same patent again. How easy that is we do not know (yet!) though if it is anything like Earth changing citizenship could be a time consuming process. Guilds can get around this issue if they have branches in different Kingdoms. Though again it has to be true branches with citizens of that Kingdom forming the membership. Again the bigger guilds are at an advantage, able to spread their reach much further than an individual. Do they have considerable extra cost? Not that that we know, but they seem to be able to protect that investment and profit from it over a much larger area.
The timing of the patent is also an interesting one. To be clear while everything we read is up for discussion at this stage in development the timing of patents is one of those features that are even more fluid. Currently the Developer Journal states that the maximum length of a patent is a total of 6 weeks. However, from discussion with Caspain in the IRC this may not be the final figure, obviously a lot depends on player testing. While nothing is confirmed discussion did suggest we could expect a 6 + 6 weeks patent period, so a total of 3 months maximum.
What breaks the law and what do you do about it? That first part is something I am confused about, and I think it is one of those simple misunderstandings that I manage to get myself into. Currently it doesn’t seem clear what breaks the law. The Developers Journal suggested that crafting an item broke the law, however in later discussions it seemed like if you had learnt to craft an item either through your own research or reverse engineering then crafting it was fine but trading it broke the law. Hopefully we will get some clarity on that!
Whichever is the case when someone breaks a patent law what happens? Well just like with every other law, nothing unless you do something about it. Enforcing laws is something we have to take an active part in. There is no mechanic that prevents a player from breaking the law or automatically reprimands them, that is all on us. It makes it an interesting situation as it gives you avenues to try to recoup some of the investment you made into the new technology. For example, charging a fee in return for not enforcing the law, therefore effectively licencing the item.
However, what if you do want to enforce that law? What if you do want to stop others from creating it or trading it? Well firstly you have to found out who is doing it, which may not be easy to do. Then you have to bring them to justice, which again they might well resist. You are looking at hiring people with skills you as a crafter may not have, such as forensic skills or combat skills if they resist arrest. This is likely to be costly. We do not know much about the justice system but I speculate that you have to target the individuals breaking the patent, and if there are a part of a larger organisation with multiple members all breaking the law that is a lot of work. I can see guilds that focus on research having enforcement arms who are mercenaries tied to the guild just to carry out the enforcement of patents. Again this favours the larger guilds.
Why does the patent system out me so on-edge? Which I cannot deny, it does make me feel strangely nervous. There is so much about the technology and research element of the game that appeals to me, it appeals so much it is one of the stand out features of the game so far. However patents, see to be there to remove the enjoyment from the rest of the system. Soulbound Studios see research as something linked to organisations and co-operation:
I think no matter how we structure the mechanic, schools and guilds that band together to research the same technology as an individual will research it sooner. If it happens to be a school, Great! The technology is now freely available to everyone. If it’s a guild, great, they’re going to patent it…
That to me is fine. This is an MMO, it is a multiplayer game and multiplayer mechanics should be welcomed. However, if you want to research blacksmithing will you only ever do so as part of the No.1 Blacksmithing Guild? Is there any reason to create the Forge Guild, or The Metal Beaters, or any other blacksmithing guild? So much of the patent system favours not just team work but huge powerful guilds out to crush all others. I love working in smaller groups where I can feel a part of something rather than just a nameless body in the masses. The idea that we are not going to see any variety, that there is not going to be room for smaller organisations, feels off to me.
The main thing that concerns me is fun. The part of the technology and research system that sounded so appealing was that over time you get access to new things. You get progression and that sounded exciting. If you are not in the big guild with the patent, because it is not a playstyle you enjoy part of that progression is lost. Every time something new and exciting happens you cannot access it for months without risking your character, is that fun? Once you can access it, it is old hat and does that present the same excitement?
Sometimes realism in a game is great. I am just not sure mimicking the domination of the technology giants in our world is the best thing to recreate.