Xfire sues over GameSpy Comrade

Creator of PC gaming utility files suit claiming IGN Entertainment's latest software violates its copyright; Xfire attempt to prevent release of Battlefield 2142 denied.

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Electronic Arts' futuristic first-person shooter Battlefield 2142 seems to be an unfortunate magnet of controversy that centers around other companies. Earlier this month, a user agreement inserted into copies of the game regarding IGA Worldwide's in-game advertising technology incorporated into the game sparked cries of spyware from some gamers--cries IGA Worldwide flatly denied.

Now Battlefield 2142 is caught up in a legal tangle between rival in-game instant messaging programs Xfire and GameSpy Comrade. On October 16, Viacom-owned Xfire filed suit against News Corp subsidiary IGN Entertainment over its GameSpy Comrade program, which comes on the Battlefield 2142 disc. IGN Entertainment also owns IGN.com, a GameSpot competitor.

Xfire is claiming that GameSpy Comrade's "Buddy Sync" feature illegally infringes on its copyrights. Buddy Sync retrieves users' friends lists from other instant messaging programs like AOL Instant Messanger and Xfire, and gives players the option of automatically inviting those friends who have GameSpy accounts to join the users' friends lists on Comrade.

Xfire filed the suit and a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent IGN or any of its partners from distributing Comrade the day before Battlefield 2142 was scheduled to ship to retail. In a filing in support of the restraining order, Xfire CEO Michael Cassidy specified how his company believes the Comrade program works. First, Cassidy said it reads the user's Xfire handle from the XfireUser.ini file, then visits a formulaic URL on the Xfire site to get a list of the user's friends (for instance, to find the friends list of Xfire user Aragorn, Comrade would go to http://www.xfire.com/friends/aragorn). The names on that friends list are then compared with a central IGN database of Comrade users' Xfire handles, and if any matches turn up, the user is asked if they want to invite those people to their Comrade buddy lists.

In its request for a restraining order, Xfire said the release of EA's shooter could irreparably harm it, specifically by infringing its copyrights, disclosing trade secrets in the form of its member's friends lists, and siphoning off Xfire users to IGN's program.

In response, IGN said that Xfire has no copyright to a user's name and list of friends, adding that the lists and names were created by the users. In addition, IGN said that Xfire has accused the company of misappropriating trade secrets, "even though the alleged 'secret'--a user's own screen name and friends list--is prominently posted on a publicly accessible area of Xfire's own Web site..." It also said that the company could accomplish the same effect by requiring users to type in their Xfire handle and friends lists instead of having an automated process retrieve the same information.

"Xfire's case is really a thinly veiled attempt to hijack Electronic Arts' release of Battlefield 2142, after EA decided to incorporate IGN's Comrade program in Battlefield 2142 instead of [Xfire]," IGN said.

EA also weighed in on the case, as the company's senior product manager, Richard Briggs, told the court that the release of Battlefield 2142 was carefully timed in advance of the holiday shopping season and launches of the PlayStation 3 and Wii systems. Briggs estimated that a delay would reduce its sales "by at least half." He added that such a delay could cause EA to lose goodwill with retailers, promotional partners, and consumers, "all of whom have no connection to the dispute between Xfire and IGN."

The next day, District Court Judge Susan Illston denied Xfire's request for the restraining order, saying the company had not demonstrated probable success on the merits of the case (one of the criteria to obtain a temporary restraining order), but had "raised serious questions as to the merits of at least some of its claims."

Representatives for IGN and Xfire declined to comment on the case.

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