Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Video Game “Abomb” Becomes Federal Lawsuit

Recently, we learned of a proposed class action filed in the Middle District of Florida against video game maker, Bethesda Softworks, LLC. In the lawsuit, captioned Walewski v. ZeniMax Media, Inc., No. 11CV01178, 2011 WL 2790627 (M.D. Fla. July 18, 2011), Bethesda and its parent corporation ZeniMax are accused of deceptive conduct in “designing, manufacturing, marketing, distributing and selling a defectively designed video game” to consumers. As video game aficionados, we here at Abnormal Use were intrigued. According to the complaint, Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has an inherent design defect that occurs suddenly and without warning. The animation defect, referred to in the complaint as an “abomb,” causes spell effects, doorways and traps to freeze, thus “crippling” the player’s gameplay. Because the abomb drops in “as little as 200 hours of gameplay,” players must rush to finish the game and cannot enjoy the “enormous world” and “unlimited possibilities” advertised on the game’s packaging.

At first glance, the complaint reads more like an editorial from The Onion mocking gamers than a pleading in federal court. We would hate to be the attorney charged with explaining to a federal judge how the abomb affects spell casting and hinders a gamer’s ability to become a Level 35 dark elf. However, we here at Abnormal Use can sympathize with the plaintiff’s abhorrence of video game freezing.

We can still remember our younger days when video game defects could easily be cured by blowing into the cartridge and banging the Nintendo console a few times. As technology has improved, these old-fashioned remedies are no longer available. But is a federal court the proper venue to redress these problems?

If the basis of these claims were another product, a computer for example, rather than a video game, this lawsuit likely would receive less scrutiny. If our computers froze after 200 hours of use, denying us access to the Internet, we may be more likely to consider the product defective. But a video game? Maybe it’s the stigma talking, but we doubt this one will hold up in a court of law.

This defect allegedly occurs after at least 200 hours of gameplay. In the named plaintiff’s case, the defect arose after 450 hours. What is the shelf life on a video game? The plaintiff may not consider 450 hours ample time to explore Oblivion, but we consider it the equivalent of a pickup truck rolling over 200,000 miles. Four hundred fifty hours is over an hour of gameplay per day for a year. Maybe the abomb is Bethesda’s cue that your social life may be lacking.

According to reports, a Florida magistrate has recently recommended the case be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. However, it will be interesting to see if this is just the beginning of the video game defect lawsuit. We too have experienced our own fair share of “abombs.” We just choose to if them the old-fashioned way – by turning the game off.

P.S. According to the complaint, every copy of Oblivion is affected with the abomb. We can personally attest that we purchased Oblivion when it was released in 2008 and we still maintain the ability to cast spells and open doors (not that we do this type of thing on a regular basis).

Comments

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  2. While I think that that class action should be thrown out of court, comparing a software to pickup truck is a stretch.

    Pickups break after some distance because the physical part of it will tire. Software will not get tired. If it does not have a bug, it will work no matter how many times you run it.

    Oblivion has apparently a bug that manifests itself very rarely. It is not the number of hours that triggers it, but rather some rare condition.

    Making sure that there are no bugs at all is most often impossible and of possible than it is extremely costly.

    It would be better to base arguments on what the software really is and how does it work. If you apply the pickup argument on other situations involving software, you may get very bad conclusions.

    That could set a very dangerous precedent, even more harmful than the original suit. As a software developer, I do not want to base my decisions on “what would be true if I would be writing a pickup”. It would be too unpredictable.