This guide is a text version of the video from GameSpot. Recommended for viewing for more visual references, links, etc.
Author and presenter = Dave Jewitt
Impermanence Of Names
This is an MP5.
But depending on what games you've played you may know it better as the
Viper 5 (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.)
Compact-5 (Payday 2)
9mm SMG (Battledudes)
or simply as a Sub-Machine Gun.
This is a trend that's long followed the shooter genre.
Some games give weapons an accurate or realistic namesake, while others have either incorrect or nonsensical titles.
Lachmann Sub / Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022)
But why do weapon names in video games seem so random?
Is it a case of law, licensing, or something even trickier to work around?
How video game weapons get their names and how these names and designs have changed over the years has fascinated me, so I wanted to dive a little deeper into the phenomenon.
To break down and understand how games name their guns, I've spoken to the keeper of firearms and artillery at the Royal Armouries Museum, Jonathan Ferguson, as well as firearms manufacturers and game developers.
Personally, this has been a fascinating subject to delve into, and hopefully I've managed to get most of it right.
So join me as we unpick the weird world of virtual firearm design and weapon names.
GoldenEye 007 Example
Now more than ever, games and designers understand that players are familiar with the names and aesthetics of certain weapons.
Realistic weapon names can be used to draw in fans, add authenticity, or communicate to players how a virtual firearm may work in-game.
But games have also had a peculiar history with tapping into the names and designs of real-world weapons.
For instance, just because you as a player know that you're behind the trigger of an FN P90 doesn't mean that the game will necessarily name it so, something that has been an issue for developers ever since the days of GoldenEye 64.
GoldenEye 64 was the first game to use realistic 3D depictions of weapons, many of which were digital versions of real-world guns.
And at one point, the game featured their real names. So let's have a look at the game's real names.
However, late in the game's production, the names had to be changed due to licensing concerns.
Almost every gun in the game got a new name.
the Walther PPK became the PP7,
the M16 became the AR33,
and the VZ-61 Scorpion was renamed to the Klobb, in reference to Nintendo's Ken Lobb.
Former employee of Nintendo of America.Since 2002, he has been working at Microsoft (Xbox Game Studios)
Video games and the gaming industry have come a long way since 1997's GoldenEye.
And as games have become more realistic, the prospect of using real-world weapons in gaming has evolved.
Despite that, many games have featured realistic weapons with accurate names.
The «Trade Dress»
But firearms are a product, and their manufacturers are companies that have their own branding and trademarks they want to protect.
For this video, I reached out to over a dozen game studios and weapon manufacturers, most of which declined to comment.
However, I was able to speak to one firearms manufacturer who wished to remain anonymous to break down what games can and can't use when it comes to their virtual weaponry.
Originally posted by Anonymous Firearms manufacturer:
Our company in particular is pretty protective over their intellectual properties and brand.
Generally speaking, external companies such as games studios or companies making airsoft replicas will need a firearm manufacturer's permission and require licensing, if they want to use a weapon's name, logo, and the gun's "trade dress".
From the videogame developers thing the issue may not be quite so black and white.
But if a video game has an accurate portrayal of a weapon featuring brand names as well as accurate markings and operation, then there is a good chance that someone has at least reached out to that firearms company to reach an agreement.
The details of those relationships are strictly confidential, doubly so as these arrangements are often made before a game is even announced.
So while games may opt to use a G18 or P90 instead of a Glock 18 or FN P90, what about weapons called things like M16 or AK-47?
Jonathan Ferguson's Commentary
Jonathan FergusonKeeper of Firearms & Artillery, Royal Armouries
I still don't think those of us outside the legal profession or maybe these big AAA developers actually know where the line is drawn, legally speaking.
The bit we can kind of get our heads around is the naming.
So it's pretty well established that you can use military designations for things, because that's the property of a nation state, of its people, you know it kind of falls under fair use of one sort or another.
So you can call something an M4A1, you probably can't call it a Colt M4A1.
And that's fine, you don't lose much as a developer by losing the name Colt.
Yes, it has brand recognition, but you're much more interested in that military designation that the players know.
So I think that the naming side of it has been established quite clearly from GoldenEye onwards that if you are completely risk averse, call them something completely different.
If you're a little bit more bold, use designations, but you might have to check whether or not those are actually trademarked, because it may be that they are.
Some designations might look military, but are actually the in-house company name for them and are just as protected as a name, you know, like a pro's name.
However, the design and aesthetics of a weapon come under different considerations.
The trade dress that we mentioned earlier is a US copyright law that protects a product's commercial image, be that size, shape, colour, etc.
It's worth mentioning that while trade dress is an element of American copyright law, the US market is often an important one to tap into for developers.
Originally posted by International Trademark Association:Trade Dress
The overall commercial image (look and feel) of a product or service that indicates or identifies the source of the product or service and distinguishes it from those of others
But the intention of trade dress is to protect a product whose design has become recognised with a company.
For example, the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle is now tightly associated with that company.
But to put it into gun terms, the MP5's familiar shape and design themes are recognisable even without the branding.
Which is something games have tapped into, but can also be considered as the MP5's trade dress.
So, while a firearms or airsoft manufacturer could find themselves in legal trouble for making something that looks like an MP5, and indeed many have been taken to court for this in the past, what is less clear is how trade dress applies to virtual representations.
Trade dress is something that builds from the consumer's recognition of a product, but firearms manufacturers can also apply for design patents, which can offer another layer of legal protection for a weapon's ornamental design.
However, many manufacturers have been happy to either offer licence for little to no money, or will choose not to pursue any legal action against game studios because they're well aware of the huge brand recognition and exposure that games can bring to their products.
To really try and break down the legality behind using names and design for virtual weapons, I want to mention a couple of legal cases involving Battlefield's and Call of Duty's use of trade dresses in their games.
And while they're more about military vehicles than firearms, they do give some insight on the issue.
AM General vs Activision Blizzard
AM General, the designers and manufacturers of the Humvee vehicles sued Activision Blizzard for the vehicle's appearance in the Modern Warfare series.
AMG brought suit in 2017 for trademark and trade dress infringement, but a 2020 court ruled in favour of Activision Blizzard, and stated that Call of Duty had a strong first amendment case for using the Humvee because their inclusion represented genuine artistic expression, with the goal of creating a more realistic depiction of the armed forces.
This was also backed up in the 2011 case of Brown versus the Entertainment Merchants Association, which saw the Supreme Court strike down a 2005 California law banning the sale of certain violent video games.
Ruling that video games were protected free speech under the First Amendment as other forms of media similar to books, TV shows, and movies, which generally don't need to license products when depicting them.
That is, at least within an American court of law.
Bell Helicopter vs EA
In 2012, there was a similar case with Electronic Arts and Battlefield 3's use of Bell Helicopters.
Originally, EA intended to pay a license fee for the use of the helicopter to rights holder Textron, but talk stalled and the game was released with virtual depictions of the helicopter regardless.
While EA also referenced first amendment protection via something called the Rogers Test, which is basically used to break down whether or not the use of another's trademark has artistic relevance, and if so, if the use of that trademark is misleading in regards to the source of the work.
A judge ruled that as players were able to operate these helicopters, it was plausible that consumers could believe that Textron provided expertise to create a realistic simulation of their aircraft, thus failing the second prong of the Rogers Test.
EA eventually settled out of court, but it has been theorized that one of the reasons for doing so was to prevent creating a precedent that could be used against games using unlicensed trademarks and designs in the future.
However, EA later announced that while they would continue to feature real-world firearms in their games, they would no longer pay for the rights to use them.
In a 2013 interview with Reuters[www.reuters.com] , the then-EA president of labels, Frank Gibeau, stated that,
We're telling a story, and we have a point of view, and a book doesn't pay for saying the word "Colt"
Despite that, these cases have actually affected EA's gun design and naming in the years since. So I wanted to find out more about how this issue is affecting current weapon design.
Alexander Formoso's Commentary
Back in 2023, I spoke to Alexander Formoso, who at the time was in charge of weapon implementation for Battlefield 2042, on how the law and licensing can affect a game's development.
Alexander Formoso(Previously) Game Designer, Battlefield 2042
The issue with licensing, or that type of licensing, like bulk licensing, is that it slows down your production pipeline to a crawl.
Most of the times you are making stuff and it's taking a lot of devs, like art, concept art and designers to put everything together.
And then you might not have that license for that point.
And then if you don't get it later, then that's a lot of wasted work.
So what do you do?
And that's where the fictional stuff comes in.
We have found that even though using the real world designations, it's very popular and it resonates with a lot of people.
Using the fictional ones, it's like a balance of, hey, if we keep the way these companies use their denominations and we follow those numberings, those acronyms and so on, then they recognize the weapon, they recognize the manufacturer.
We don't have to tell them what it is.
And it allows us to respect the weapon.
We try always to be super respectful with like rate of fire, magazine sizes, the dimensions of a weapon, even though the name might not match.
So they will recognize the weapon, they will recognize the manufacturers.
But we were allowed to completely finish the weapon in time without that litigation.
Question About The Weapon Model
But does this perspective differ to that of real world weapon manufacturers?
While it may change between companies, I wanted to know how much control a gun maker might want over their virtual versions.
Originally posted by Anonymous Firearms manufacturer:
So it's certainly easier for them.
I mean, they don't need to get in touch with anyone.
They don't need to sign any NDAs or any kind of agreements.
They have their room full of artists and they come up with a thousand different ways to sort of create this digital thing.
And I think Call of Duty is more on the spectrum of kind of fantasy genre than the ultra realism anyway.
You know, if they're calling it something else, then that's perfectly fine for us.
Originally posted by Alexander Formoso:
We actually don't have to change anything mechanically or visually or in audio related to the original gun.
As long as we avoid the intellectual property, which is like the name and everything.
And an example of that is like in the game, there is the K30, like the submachine gun.
The real version of that weapon has a patented mechanism to control recoil and so on.
And we can say that the virtual version has something like that, we can use the same terminology, but it looks the same.
It sounds the same.
It has a mechanism that kind of works like that.
So everybody recognizes it.
Negative Consequences In Reality
It appears as many game studios share a similar sentiment to Electronic Arts' approach, as a lot of developers continue to create realistic virtual representations while choosing not to directly license firearms.
However, it's not just the court of law that has become a consideration for game designers, but also the court of public opinion.
Regardless of what side of the argument you are on, a company choosing to license firearms and be monetarily associated with weapon manufacturers at least has the potential to result in negative publicity.
Or create the belief that games are funding arms manufacturers, or acting as advertisements.
But it unfortunately goes even deeper than that.
Following the horrific events of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre[en.wikipedia.org] , the affected families sued Remington.
As the gunman used a Remington Bushmaster AR-15, the family's claims stated that the company's marketing practices, including their weapons featuring in video games, were in part responsible for the shooting.
While they admitted no liability, in 2022 Remington settled and paid $73 million dollars to the affected families.
According to a Wall Street Journal article from 2023[www.wsj.com] , documents that were obtained during this lawsuit show that in 2009, Freedom Group and Remington signed a previously undisclosed product placement deal with Activision to include the ACR in 2009's Modern Warfare 2.
One of the most popular rifles in Call of Duty history, and a weapon that would return embossed with the Remington branding in 2011's Modern Warfare 3.
The argument that video games cause violence still persists.
And will often, unfortunately, resurface around moments of tragedy.
There have been claims made in the past that perpetrators of gun violence and mass shootings trained by playing first person shooters, and this connection was drawn once again following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
In the wake of this event, the previous White House legal advisor on video games, Constance Steinkuehler, said video games are not a gun violence problem, but video games do have a PR problem.
Which does make me wonder if part of the consideration behind weapons having fictional names or designs in video games is to add another degree of separation between a game's virtual arsenal and their real world counterparts.
And we must consider that studios as a whole, as well as the individual developers within those studios, can have different preferences in terms of featuring real world weapons and manufacturers, or be more inclined to design guns that are a little less real and a little more unique to their game.
Call of Duty's relationship with realistic weaponry makes for an interesting case, as it has changed substantially over the years.
Plenty of previous Call of Duty titles have featured realistic weapons under their real names, but the arsenals in more recent releases have had extensive, yet quite subtle alterations.
Previously, firearms and weapon accessory manufacturers have also appeared in the special thanks section within the credits of many Call of Duty titles.
MP5 in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (2020)
As we've seen across the Firearms Expert React series, almost every Call of Duty firearm nowadays has an obvious source of inspiration, but will have a multitude of small featured altered and come equipped with safe-to-use military designations or names that are entirely fictional.
During an infringement lawsuit between MP5's manufacturer Heckler & Koch and German sports guns GmbH, H&K actually detailed what it believed to be the MP5's trade dress.
Elements such as:
the MP5 silhouette,
trigger group and fire select switch,
as well as the body casing
What's interesting, its the despite it being unclear how much trade dress can be used against virtual versions of weapons, the MP5-inspired Lachmann Sub from the 2022 version of Modern Warfare II appears to have been designed around the specific elements that were called out by Heckler & Koch during legal proceedings.
There is a myth that changing 10% or more of an original design can help avoid copyright issues, and while this is not true, my theory is that these virtual weapon designers are making a lot of these changes in an attempt to work around a weapon's trade dress.
But is that even possible?
On top of that, it could be argued that these alterations have a creative merit and allow the weapons to be considered as an artistic recreation, potentially granting similar protections to what we saw in the AMG Humvee case.
This could be supported by the fact that the Humvee case was finalized in March 2020, and there are clearly different design considerations between 2019's Modern Warfare, 2020's Black Ops Cold War and the 2022 and 2023 releases of Modern Warfare II and III.
As graphics become sharper and models increase in fidelity, it's clear that virtual weapon designs are a growing concern across gaming, and after hearing from anonymous sources from other studios, the decisions and changes that are being made by gaming's largest franchises can make ripples across the entire genre.
Comments From Weapons Developers
Originally posted by Anonymous Developer1:
The likely outcome, for AAA games at least, is that in-universe designs will only loosely be inspired by the real thing, or make use of things like designs in US military service where they can be reasonably assured of not getting sued.
Originally posted by Anonymous Developer2:
We were unconfident on the legal ambiguity of the topic.
For years, all of gaming was using real models in all sorts of games.
In the end, we decided that if it's not a problem for anyone else, it shouldn't be for us.
We tried not to mention brands, but focus on the models.
I'm also getting antsy seeing one of the major franchises with gun models like Call of Duty moving into "creative recreations" and "aftermarket mods".
«Aftermarket Part» for Call of Duty Modern Warfare III
Originally posted by Anonymous Developer3:
We tried to be clever with the selection of a weapon's era to try and avoid this problem altogether, although we can't say we are completely safe from it.
How Battlefield and EA dealt with it seems to be the new norm, making recreations while changing a few elements.
Accurate (and Not-so-accurate) Names
It appears as though it is far better to change a weapon's design to discourage litigation in the first place, especially as most players won't care what a weapon is called or if it has slight changes to its design.
It's also important to remember that larger franchises may have the backing of large legal teams or the capital to work with intellectual property lawyers, with some studios even running their weapon designs through those teams to ensure their virtual guns can be safely used.
But what about the studios who WANT to work directly with firearms manufacturers?
That want to feature accurate real-world models and brands?
Еscарe frоm Таrkоv is a game to which realism and authenticity is an essential part of the appeal, and they make some of the most realistic virtual guns in gaming as a result.
The developer, Bаttlеstаtе Gаmеs, said, It has been pretty transparent that part of Таrkоv's budget goes towards licensing those weapons.
Milsims are an interesting genre, as they often portray real modern fighting forces like those you see in Squad or from a period of history as seen in Hell Let Loose.
The setting of these games allow them to use realistic firearms designs and designations within a specific military, retaining the authenticity that fans of the genre love, without as much concern for the legality of their arsenals.
While in more mainstream titles, even fictional weapon names can be used to create a feeling of authenticity, if not realism.
Sometimes I even enjoy trying to decipher the fictional names given to recognisable weapons, like Call of Duty's FAMAS being the FR.556, references to the weapon's country of origin and its calibre.
Or Battlefield 2042's AK-24, which is simply an AK-12, with an implied futuristic model number.
FR 5.56 (FR 556) from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023)
Cost Of Licensing And Representings
But as the cost of licensing is a big factor.
And if your players don't really care what a weapon is called, why spend money on securing the accurate name, especially if your game features a lot of guns?
But while some manufacturers have offered licences for little to no money, can a partnership come at a cost beyond a monetary one?
In many industries, brands will have conditions as to how their product is represented, used, or how their brand name is featured.
In a 2012 Eurogamer article which featured an interview with Barrett Rifles, their spokesman stated that
Originally posted by Barret Rifles Spokeperson:
We want to know explicitly how the rifle is to be used.
Ensuring that we are shown in a positive light, such as the good guys using the rifle, and that the gun isn't used by individuals, organisations, countries or companies that would be shown as enemies of the United States or its citizens.
But every company has their own values and preferences. So is this element of control something that still exists?
Originally posted by Alexander Formoso:
That's basically an extension of what happens in racing games, where some manufacturers are super particular about how their products are being represented into the game.
And what you can do to them if they accept crashes and deformations and the car looking all damaged. So for us it's the same.
When it's about representing the product true to its original counterpart, we're always open to that.
But if they get into the performance side of things, then it's something that basically we cannot guarantee.
I think that at least from a design point, we shouldn't be making a game around the specifications from the manufacturers.
I think that especially in games like Battlefield, people have a very skewed idea of how guns should work or ranges at the guns which operate and so on.
So the more that we will stick to the original manufacturer's wishes, the crazier or weirder the game will end up looking and playing.
But Does It Really Matter?
While it may differ between manufacturers, we asked our anonymous source if they would seek any creative control in games featuring their weapons.
Originally posted by Anonymous Firearms Manufacturer:
Some of the smaller game production companies will just do it and that they may be on our radar but it doesn't really matter that much.
But most of the big gaming studios that are putting out A+ titles are going to reach out to us.
But you know, we don't provide CAD drawings or anything like that.
Like all of the artwork related to the guns is all them.
As plenty of guns in games have become iconic pop culture firearms, it might not matter what a video game calls this gun.
As most gamers will know it as a Glock, simply because the gun already has such an established pop culture presence.
So does it really matter what it's called?
Personally while I enjoy the highly detailed and faithfully recreated weapons from Milsims or games like Еscаpе frоm Таrkоv, I can also appreciate games that use real world objects to inspire unique creations while also bringing their own authenticity to their weapons.
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