Article Updated 4/16.12 (See Below)
As we discussed back in January, video games have a long and complex history with plagiarism, rip offs and imitations that goes back to the earliest days of the industry. Though many of the issues died down after the video game crash of 1983, many questions have been re-raised in recent years due to the rise in mobile, social media and casual gaming.
However, a recent pair of allegations put these allegations in a new light as they involve two of the largest and most popular companies in gaming, Electronic Arts and Games Workshop.
Though the allegations are currently just observations made by fans of the relevant games, they could be setting the stage for a battle between two very powerful companies and very large fan bases.
Warhammer 40,000 (Warhammer 40K) got its start and is best known as a tabletop strategy game famous for intricate models and complex, involved battles. However, the series did make the jump to video games after publisher THQ licensed it to video game development, thus giving birth to the popular “Dawn of War” series of games.
Command and Conquer (C&C) is series of real-time strategy (RTS) games that were first made popular by Westwood studios. Westwood was bought out by EA in 1998, which set up the studio as a subsidary that continued to develop the series. However, in 2003 EA liquidated the subsidiary that was Westwood, which was named Westwood Pacific, and continued developing the series with other developers, mostly EA Los Angeles.
However, when EA decided to start work on a C&C Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, they turned to another in-house studio, EA Phenomic, which took over development of the game, named Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances (C&C:TA).
The decision to make C&C:TA was a largely unpopular one with fans of the series but the game has progressed and is now in beta testing.
However, on Reddit, two different users noted extreme similarities between models of tanks used in C&C:TA and established models in the Warhammer 40K series. First, user Bro-jangles noticed the similarities between C&C:TA’s Bombard Tank and Baneblade in the Warhammer 40K series. The next day Corevirus noticed similarities between C&C:TA’s Grinder Tank to the Ork Bonecruncha in the Warhammer series.
To be clear, these are new tanks to the C&C series, introduced for C&C:TA, this means no past games are involved and no work from EA Los Angeles nor Westwood is involved. However, many in the gaming community are wondering if EA Phenomic plagiarized Warhammer 40K in the making of their new game.
To be completely clear, I’m no expert on 3D model design nor am I an expert on programming. So obviously this analysis is not something I’m perfect for. Also, we don’t know the full backstory of this case and it could be that the models used in C&C:TA were licensed correctly, purchased from a third party or otherwise obtained legitimately (possibly from a single source that works with both companies).
Still, it doesn’t take a long look at the case to see many strinking similarities.
First, with the Bombard tank, there are a lot of immediately clear similarities from the shape of the tank, the positioning of and relative size of the three guns on the front, the two turrets on the sides and the location of the exhaust pipes on the back, to name just a few.
While there are still some differences, such as the shape of the lowest gun on the front and the size/shape of the main cannon, those differences are overwhelmed by the similarities.
With the Grinder take case, there is an equal number of matching elements including the spiked drum on the front, the double-gun turret at top, the body in three sections, the location/style of the exhaust pipes and the pipe work down the side of the upper part of the main body of the tank, once again, just to name a few.
Once again, there are some differences including that the drum appears to be placed farther out in the Warhmammer 40K version and the fact that the C&C:TA version seems to have a small gun on top of the main turret. Once again though, those differences are overwhelmed by the striking similarities between the two.
All in all, the similarities are far too great to just write off as coincidence. While some of the larger ideas can be copied without it being a plagiarism, there are too many similar details (going well beyond what’s discussed above) to be mere coincidence.
To reiterate, this doesn’t mean that EA Phenomic plagiarized Warhammer 40K as there is still no word from either EA or Games Workshop about the case. We don’t know if it was a legitimate use or even if it was EA Phenomic that created the models at all.
Still, it seems obvious that the similarities are far more than just coincidence.
Prior to writing this article I reached out to both EA and Games Workshop. EA wrote back saying that they were looking into the matter and would be in touch with me. I will update this article when and if I get more full reply.
In the meantime, what we have is a very unusual case. Most recent video game plagiarism controversies have centered around one or more smaller companies or upstarts. Whether it’s a larger company accused of taking from a smaller competitor or the other way around, it’s still rare to see two big, well-established companies at opposite ends of a controversy.
Currently thought, this isn’t a matter of litigation or even really a dispute between them. Right now it’s just a few fans noticing some very striking similarities between two sets of models. As I said above, it could be completely legitimate or have another explanation. However, coincidence doesn’t appear to be one of them.
We won’t know until we hear back from the companies involved and that could take a long while as both sides have to sort through a lot material to find out just what happened.
I heard from EA over the weekend and they issued the following statement:
Games Workshop and EA are aware of the IP issues around the artwork in question, which have now been resolved. The artwork was internal EA concept art that was unintentionally released publicly. No Warhammer 40,000 tanks have ever made an appearance in Command and Conquer Tiberium Alliances, and never will. Games Workshop and EA continue to have a strong relationship working together on Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning and the new free to play game Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes which just entered open beta.
It’s still unclear why EA was building concept art around Warhammer 40K tanks (other than possibly the above mentioned Warhammer online game) nor how the art was released in such a manner, but it does appear that the tanks were not actually used in the game.