Back in 2017, AM General, manufacturer of the Humvee, sued Activision for using the iconic military vehicle’s likeness in its various Call of Duty games. The company claimed Activision had deceived players “into believing that AM General licenses the games,” to use the vehicles in the first-person shooter franchise, when it reality, it had not asked it for permission to do so.
Now, District Court Judge George Daniels has ruled in Activision’s favor, saying the vehicles were not used in the game to capitalize on AM General’s brand, but to further the game’s sense of realism. In his ruling, Judge Daniels said that “if realism is an artistic goal,” of the game, which it by all accounts is, “then the presence in modern warfare games of vehicles employed by actual militaries undoubtedly furthers that goal.”
Judge Daniels also found that Activison’s use of the Humvee’s likeness did not explicitly mislead consumers as to AM General’s association with the Call of Duty Franchise. AM General had tried to argue the vehicles’ presence would mislead consumers, citing a survey it conducted that indicated 16 percent of consumers were confused about the relationship between the two parties. Daniels ultimately concluded that “less than 20 percent confusion regarding two companies’ ‘association’ is at most some confusion,” and not enough to allow the lawsuit to proceed.
This ruling could have wide-reaching implications for the video game industry as a whole. As GT Planet points out, any developer working on a game that pursues realism as one of its artistic goals could cite this ruling as justification for using real-world vehicles in the game without seeking permission or paying a licensing fee to a manufacturer. A good example of this would be racing simulators, such as the iRacing service that the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series currently runs on. Games like these are made with the specific intent of being realistic, and having a real-world race car like the Corvette C8.R or Cadillac DPi-V.R certainly adds to the realism. This could protect a developer from legal proceedings against it from GM or any other automaker whose car it decides to use.
It will be interesting to see if popular GM race cars begin to pop up in more racing simulators and racing video games without the developer seeking the automaker’s permission. It’s not just race cars that we may see unlicensed in games, either. Other GM vehicles like the automaker’s Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison-based Infantry Squad Vehicle may also now be poised to appear in military games or other titles without the brand’s permission.