Summit Summary: The VGBA European Summit celebrates its fifth anniversary

Written on 4 Oct 2019

The fifth annual Video Game Bar Association European Summit took place on 19 August in Cologne. For the first time, the conference was organised as a part of gamescom’s developer conference devcom, separating the event from the more consumer-focused gamescom congress. In-house counsels and lawyers specialised in the video game industry enjoyed a day of lively networking and informative talks and panels covering everything from business trends in the games space to the EU digital single market, e-sports regulation, youth protection and toxic players.

Trends in the Games Business

Discussing trends in the games business were the VGBA’s Joseph Olin and Dean Takahashi (Lead Writer, GamesBeat). They covered game streaming as the next big thing and discussed how VR might yet become a gamechanger. Both agreed that artificial intelligence might be the single most important trend of our time, and would offer much challenges for the lawyers as well, for instance by sorting out the IP ownership of AI-created assets.

EU Digital Content Directive

Konstantin Ewald then gave an update in the EU Digital Content Directive. With the implementation deadline now set (1 January 2022), digital content providers in Europe should start preparing. In particular the way app stores and digital content are being built will have to change according to the consumer protection rules, which give more rights and warranties to consumers of digital content. Under the “New Deal for Consumers”, the EU is also preparing to introduce GDPR-style fines for widespread consumer rights violations.

Panel: EU Digital Single Market Update – Copyright and Geoblocking

Moderated by Christian-Henner Hentsch of the German games industry trade association, panellists Jari-Pekka Kaleva (COO, European Games Developer Federation, EGDF) and David Sweeney (General Counsel, Interactive Software Federation of Europe, ISFE) discussed the state of the EU DSM initiative. David Sweeney expressed his concern that the EU legislator did not always seem to have a good understanding of the games industry. As it became clear during the panel, different pricing in the different countries is a major issue. According to Sweeney, audio-visual content has been around for 100 years and is still very relevant and highly territorial when it comes to legal rights. Jari-Pekka Kaleva, on the other hand, thought that even a globally harmonized digital market area was possible – maybe not in 10, but in 50 years.

GDPR = CCPA?

William W. Bucher presented in a truly lively way what European GDPR compliant companies need to do in order to comply with California’s new privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Nevada has already followed suit with a similar law, and he expects other US states to follow.

Litigation Update

Kostyantyn Lobov did a whistle-stop tour of recent litigation in the industry, covering the disputes around bots in World of Warcraft, a trademark suit of the band Iron Maiden against the video game company Ion Maiden, the pending lawsuit concerning the use of HUMVEEs in action games, and an indie developer taking CBS to court claiming “Star Trek: Discovery” plagiarised his storyline and characters from a game involving space tardigrades.

Policy-making in Games and eSports

Britta Dassler (Member of the German Parliament) gave a keynote speech with insights on a legislator’s perspective on regulating eSports. The debate over how to classify eSports in relation to more traditional forms of sports is far from settled. According to Ms. Dassler, a key issue in the current decision-making process is the extent to which existing legislation on traditional sport is applicable to eSports.

Joseph Schenck followed up with an analysis of the recent lawsuit filed by Fortnite player Tfue against his team Faze Clan, and together with Ryan Morrison and Britta Dassler – and some intense audience participation – discussed the legal side of professionalization of eSports teams and players. The panel also touched upon the issues of maturing player contracts and the benefit of working with lawyers that understand specific business models (because who needs merchandising rights?).

Youth protection and media regulation

Felix Hilgert and Paul Gardner discussed regulatory developments in Germany and the UK. Regulators in Germany have been active in the youth protection space with updated guidelines on things like advertising to minors and rewarded ads in games, as well as a crackdown on allegedly unsuitable filter software. Meanwhile, the ICO in the UK has published detailed guidance in what they consider “age appropriate design”. Paul Gartner explained that the ICO document is a statutory code and therefore must be regarded as having effects similar to a legislative text, and would have effects on the design of mobile games and apps beyond the mere privacy implications.

Panel: Dealing with toxic players

Finally, the last panel of this year`s conference, moderated by Sean Kane, united three in-house counsel from major publishers to discuss a possible definition of “toxic player”, how to draw the line between acceptable free speech trash talk and unacceptable harassment, and when consumer support teams could escalate to legal departments.

Many thanks to our research associate Dimitrina Shindova for her contributions to this report.