Hey everyone! We've got some news for you, and this time it's big...
This might come as a bigger surprise to some than others, but we've decided to change the name of our game, from Fallout: Equestria to Ashes of Equestria.
In our latest podcast, released along with this blog post, we discuss the name change in more detail, talk about the current state of development, and answer some of your questions.
Now before we get inundated with emails and cries of lamentation ring from the rooftops, we have not received any legal letters, nor are we planning to 'sell out'. The name of our organisation remains the same, The Overmare Studios, and always will. The rest of the game’s content remains the same; we are still making an open world RPG based on the story of LittlePip and co, written by Kkat. We’re only changing the name of the game, and of course the logo. If that satisfies you, feel free to admire our sweet new logo, stop reading and go play our latest demo!. But if not, read on to find out why exactly we're doing this, and what it entails for the future.
Obligatory disclaimer: We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. Any statements made with regards to the law are based on our own limited and flawed understanding, and not any sort of professional qualification or anything that should be taken seriously.
The Overmare Studios has had an interesting relationship with copyright over the years. Back when we were making our Fallout 3 mod, IP wasn't really an issue for us. The nature of modding meant we had access to all of Fallout 3's content as well as its engine. The mechanical changes were minimal, and the extra content (aside from the story, for which we always had Kkat's permission) was entirely our own. As a mod, we figured our work was just too insignificant to be the source of any real controversy.
When we first switched to Unity, that attitude remained: we'd be adding our own content to an existing game, we just needed a little more freedom to get some of the animations right, and we'd pick up some neato graphics in the meantime. And as for the engine code, well we'd just re-make it, port all the mechanics across, easy! Should take, what, a few months? Right? (Spoiler: No.)
In our first understanding of the new Unity regime, we'd still be taking a lot of content - mainly models - from Fallout 3. At first we thought that this was just.. fine. We figured it was like a mod, but with a different engine. No-one could possibly care about little old us and our little pony game. All that changed, though, when Fighting is Magic was targeted by Hasbro's lawyers. Like was the case for many others, our Skype chat blew up at the news; it was Code Red across all systems. Could Hasbro or Bethesda kill our project just as casually as they did the most anticipated pony game of the time? We didn't want to find out. After some heavy deliberation and legal loophole searching, we came across the Non-commercial user-generated content exemption to be soon made effective in, you guessed it, Canada. This is why, when we finally launched theovermare.com, we used only Canadian servers - just in case. The full story can be found in our 'C&D Is Magic' blog post and video, but in short, the bill gives creators the legal right to create 'mash-up' content, to use existing IP provided that they don't try to make any money from it. This is the kind of wholly sensible provision that wouldn't be passed in the US if Jesus himself burst through the roof of the Capitol to express his support. As such, we were resigned to plastering the website and eventual product with disclaimers, warning potential players that the game was only legal in Canada and anyone else downloaded at their own risk, with the expectation (and hope) that such warnings would be roundly ignored.
The Canadian era lasted a good couple of years, but as time passed, our development process improved, and the true nature of our task became slowly apparent, we found ourselves using less and less of the Fallout 3 assets. Especially as we approached our first public release, we found that we weren't using any Fallout 3 assets at all, and had no plans to do so in the near future.
The decision was made over time, but eventually confirmed outright: we were no longer making 'Fallout 3 with ponies'. We would not be using any copyrighted material that we didn't have an explicit license to use. Fallout: Equestria would be a title that could truly stand on its own. There was just one little problem... Trademarks. Raise your hand if you are surprised.
Out of all the various IP legislation, trademark law is probably the most well-meaning but onerous and stifling, especially to community creators like us. The problem is how easily it can be interpreted in different ways, and as a result even abused. While the validity of the idea has been disputed, corporate lawyers are all too eager to apply the 'use it or lose it' principle when it comes to trademarks. Only 'use it' means, in this case, ruthlessly litigate into the ground anyone who uses one letter of one word of their brand name, or one squiggly line from their logo.
One thing that is completely untrue, however, is the idea that even one legal letter - the dreaded 'Cease and Desist' - means the end of a project then and there. The verbiage doesn't refer to the project as a whole; it can only refer to the use of the specific IP outlined in the letter. A C&D is essentially waiver of the right to sue, provided you comply with the order. The danger isn't receiving the letter in itself, but where the use of that IP is so integral to a project that they would have no choice but to shut down. This is what happened to Fighting is Magic.
So, what IPs are we using at this point, exactly? Let's go through each possibility and confirm or debunk it.
- The general design of ponies, or the idea of a post-apocalyptic game
I'm sure that most people reading will know that this is nonsense, but I'll mention it just to get it out of the way. One, rightly so, cannot copyright or trademark a general design or concept. You can patent a concept, but patents don't apply to creative works.
- The names/colours of the Mane 6 (or any specific characters)
All trademarks must have a well-defined scope. This is because trademarks are supposed to protect the reputation of specific product brands. Clearly, if you're looking for gourmet dog food, you wouldn't buy some Cesar(tm) brand staplers because you were 'confused' (well, you'd have to be really confused at that point). The names of some of the Mane 6 are indeed trademarked in the US and internationally, but almost exclusively for toys. The scope does not include games of any sort. This is, of course, assuming that it would even matter in our case; the girls themselves play very minor roles, late on in the story. They aren't involved in any branding, and are closer to cameos and easter eggs than main characters. And if Hasbro decided to change the scope to include games later down the line, and some incredibly bored lawyer decided to pick us up on it, we could simply add the odd letter to the names, a-la the many 'adult' parodies. This would obviously require very little effort on our part.
- The word 'Equestria'
Interestingly enough, Hasbro hasn't even bothered to trademark this one. The only active scopes are in hairdressing, and actual equestrian products for actual horses. Not an issue for us.
- The word 'Fallout'
This is the big one. Bethesda is famously litigious when it comes to names, and we don't imagine they'd be any less protective of Fallout. By some miracle, it turns out that, for a while, 'Fallout' on its own wasn't actually trademarked for the type of game we wanted to make. Its scope included "downloadable games for consoles" and "games produced on CD for PC", but not "downloadable games for PC" - that was limited to "Fallout: New Vegas" as a whole. This odd situation abruptly came to an end with the release of Fallout 4, but since we've been using and planning to use the name in this capacity since long before the trademark was even filed, we would technically be safe... technically.
Obviously, this isn't a space we really want to reside in, and we certainly wouldn't want to rely on our own limited knowledge to keep us out of court. We resolved that, if the C&D showed up in our inbox, we'd just change the name and be done with it.
Once it entered our minds, though, the idea of changing our name.. sort of stuck around. You, dear reader, likely don't know how frustrating it is to hear "Fallout Equestria? That's the Fallout 3 mod, right?", or seeing as the top YouTube comment "This is gonna get C&D'd so hard". There seemed to be this constant feeling among the public, particularly people new to the fandom, that we were ripping off someone else's work, that we were operating underground, outside the law. We found ourselves almost artificially limiting our exposure, hiding like Eastern Bloc dissidents, constantly afraid that the Stasi would burst through the door at any moment. An unfounded fear, perhaps, but a present one.
Eventually, we decided enough was enough. If we couldn't use our existing name, we'd change it on our own terms. It would be a clean break of sorts, a way to tell the world that yes, we really are making our own game almost entirely from scratch, a way to finally put those copyright ghosts to bed.
With the team finally committed to the name change, we had a new question: what were we going to change it to? The team leaders deliberated for quite some time, but good ideas were few and far between. We decided to open suggestions up to the team as a whole, giving everyone the opportunity to give ideas and have their say. We ended up with six viable options, that all the team leaders would be relatively happy with using if it came down to it.
We then let the whole team vote on the shortlist, using the Ranked Pairs method. This allowed everyone to rank their choices, outputting a similarly ranked list of results that is pretty much the most correct and representative possible. The results were as follows:
- Ashes of Equestria
- Balefire's Wake
- Fall of Harmony
- Decay of Harmony
- Harmony Falls
- Harmony's Decay
The top two were vastly preferred to the various 'Harmony' variants, but in the end Ashes rose to the top, by a small but still significant enough margin.
Despite changing the name, we would like to stress that our unofficial subtitle will still be "the Fallout: Equestria game, based on the story by Kkat", in reference to the novel on which it's based, and its author. While all future material will refer to the game as Ashes..., we certainly won't bite your head off for using the old name every now and then. We are not trying to hide our roots, just ensure our future.
So, what does this mean for the future? In short, it means our options are far more open than they were before.
For one, we now have an itch.io page! We'll be putting all our releases on there, as well as our website - completely free, as it shall ever be. A Steam release, one of our most common requests, is now not completely out of the question, at least not for same reasons. But due to the general Greenlight (or soon, Steam Direct) process, we can’t promise it either.
Another possibility is donations. Despite many offers, we've always flat out refused donations in the past because of the copyright issues, and while we still never plan on personally profiting from the project, we will always have expenses to cover. This includes but is not limited to server costs, Unity assets (such as the wonderful but frightfully expensive Amplify Texture), other software licenses, and convention expenditure, to name a few.
However, the final product is and always will be free, even if we might consider opening up donations in the future. We are not doing this for the money, but from now on we are able to accept it.
As always, whether you're new to the project or a follower since our early days, we are truly grateful for your support. We hope you'll stay with us as we go on into a new and exciting future.