The Korea Herald


[KH Explains] NCSoft, Kakao Games clash over copyright infringement

Legal battle between two Korean game giants sends warning to Lineage-like titles

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : April 13, 2023 - 14:48

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Logos for NCSoft and Kakao Games (Provided by each company) Logos for NCSoft and Kakao Games (Provided by each company)

NCSoft and Kakao Games -- two of the biggest game companies in South Korea -- are clashing over the issue of copyright infringement as the companies have taken the case to court.

NCSoft filed a lawsuit against XL Games and its parent company Kakao Games with the Seoul Central District Court on April 5, claiming that the game developers’ ArcheAge War imitated the content and system of NCSoft’s Lineage 2M. NCSoft is seeking compensation of 1.1 billion won ($830,000), according to industry sources.

“NCSoft judged that ArcheAge War went beyond similarities in genre and stole and plagiarized the intellectual property rights of NCSoft. NCSoft decided to file a lawsuit to protect the company’s IP after analyzing the issue and discussing it with internal and external experts,” NCSoft said in a statement.

NCSoft added that the legal measure was a necessary step to establish a clear standard for game content copyrights to not only protect the company’s IPs but also strengthen the competitiveness of the Korean game industry.

Kakao Games released a rebuttal shortly after, stating that NCSoft’s claims do not violate the law as they are about certain in-game factors that have been used widely for similar genre games and that the company will respond to the lawsuit accordingly.

“XL Games is a company that has stuck with the MMORPG genre without the boundaries of platforms for over 20 years, launched multiple games in the domestic and overseas markets and stored development know-how,” said Kakao Games in a statement.

MMORPG stands for massively multiplayer online role-playing game. NCSoft is well known for its hit game Lineage, an MMORPG set in a medieval fantasy world released in 1998, and different versions of the Lineage series that followed Korea’s first-generation MMORPG.

Behind the names of the companies, CEO of XL Games Song Jae-kyung is at the heart of the feud. Song established XL Games in 2003. He was dubbed "the father of Lineage" as he is credited with creating MMORPGs with Kim Taek-jin, founder and CEO of NCSoft.

Many gamers of ArcheAge have posted comments about how similar ArcheAge War is to Lineage 2M in an online community.

“Isn’t ArcheAge War doing too much copying and pasting? Although it is a Lineage-like (game), I have never seen a game like this,” one user wrote.

In-game images of Lineage 2M(left) and ArcheAge War (NCSoft) In-game images of Lineage 2M(left) and ArcheAge War (NCSoft)

Among Korean gamers, Lineage-like games refer to the MMORPGs that resemble some of the major features of Lineage such as the player-versus-player system and pay-to-win settings. Lineage players have long denounced how a gaming character’s ability can be exponentially enhanced with more cash spent to buy in-game items and upgrade levels.

According to NCSoft, ArcheAge War infringed on the copyrights of Lineage 2M by copying Lineage 2M’s systems of character class, main and secondary weapons, and core content required for the growth of characters and battles. NCSoft also claims that ArcheAge War’s user interface violated the IP rights of Lineage 2M.

For instance, NCSoft said that ArcheAge War has the same feature as both games’ main weapons have stimulating effects when skills are used.

Kakao Games said ArcheAge War was developed to fit the cross-platform environments of computers and mobiles by reinterpreting the world concept, characters and regions of ArcheAge, an MMORPG for computers released in 2013.

“Considering the playing environment of mobile MMORPG users, we focused on delivering the fun of the growth of characters and various content through popular and simple interfaces and controls,” said Kakao Games.

Lineage 2M was released in November 2019. ArcheAge War was released on March 21. Since the launch, ArcheAge War’s sales on the Google Play Store jumped to be ranked second of all mobile games as of Wednesday. Lineage 2M was ranked in fifth place.

NCSoft previously filed an intellectual property infringement lawsuit against another game developer Webzen in June 2021. As that case is still ongoing, game industry officials believe this case with Kakao Games and XL Games could take several years to reach a conclusion.

An official at a game developer based in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province where Kakao Games and NCSoft are located told The Korea Herald that it might be difficult for NCSoft to win the case in the end as there are many other MMORPGs that resemble Lineage.

“NCSoft appears to be sending a warning to its competitors with this lawsuit,” the official said.

The stock price of NCSoft decreased to 374,500 won per share as of Thursday’s closing from 378,500 won per share a week ago, while the shares of Kakao Games went up to 42,000 won as of Thursday’s closing from 39,950 won a week ago.

In-game images of Lineage 2M (left) and ArcheAge War (NCSoft) In-game images of Lineage 2M (left) and ArcheAge War (NCSoft)