Monday, February 22, 2010

That "new" "official" Infocom web site

This story has already guttered out, but the serious disassembly happened on Usenet where most people won't see it. So I will dedicate a few hectopixels to documenting the situation.

It began on Thursday, Feb 18th, when Jason Scott -- who should have known better -- posted:

GOOD LUCK, KID: (from @textfiles on Twitter)

The caps were apparently insufficient sarcasm, as this drew a flood -- okay, a small backwash -- of "Oh my god Infocom returns could it be true!" posts, on Twitter and various gaming web forums.

Let us now consider the facts.

The web site has the old Infocom logo, the tagline "Interactive Fiction revisited", and this promo image:

Exciting, huh? The image name implies a game called "Triumvirate", presumably a follow-up to Trinity.

Except, alpha, the web site is not new. It appears to have been registered in June of 2007, and it was last updated in July of 2007. That "coming soon" has been frozen for two and a half years now.

And beta, the web site is not owned by Activision. It's registered to a guy in Germany named Oliver Klaeffling. Now, I have no beef with some IF fan deciding to write a followup to Trinity. That's fanfic, and fanfic is cool. But you shouldn't start cheering for the logo on his web site; cheer for the work. And Klaeffling does not appear to have finished the work.

"But what about the trademark?" you ask. Okay, this is where the story gets -- not exactly interesting, but at least a little bit convoluted.

Activision bought Infocom in 1986. That included all the games and all the trademarks. However, they stopped using the Infocom label on new releases after Return to Zork in 1993. (Zork Nemesis and Grand Inquisitor were just labelled "Activision".) They continued to reprint the old text games as "Infocom" until 2002, and then they dropped it entirely.

I don't know exactly when the legal status shifted, but at some time after 2002, the "Infocom" trademark was up for grabs. (In contrast, Activision kept a firm grip on "Zork".)

In July of 2007, Oliver Klaeffling applied for the Infocom trademark. He had already registered the domain, and he put up the image you see above. Then -- nothing. He never completed the trademark application process. The USPTO declared it "abandoned" in October 2008.

At almost the same time -- October 2007 -- another Infocom trademark application went in, this one by "Omni Consumer Products LLC". This is a deliberately silly company name, but it's a real (small) company. It consists of Pete Hottelet finding fictional products (such as "Brawndo" from Idiocracy) and getting permission make them as real (licensed) products.

So that's where the "Infocom" trademark is now: it's held by the maker of Brawndo. Take that as the character note of the 21st century, if you like. Hottelet does not appear to have to have done anything IF-related, but Dave Cornelson said he was emailing him about the trademark, and maybe something will come of that.

Where does this leave Klaeffling? He doesn't have a trademark, and Activision still owns the copyright on Trinity. In the past, Activision people have been generous about permitting free fan-made games in the Infocom settings. But I have no idea if those people are still at Activision. I also have no idea if Klaeffling intended to release his game for free or as a commercial product. Also, of course, I have no idea how far he got implementing it. Conclusion: I have no idea. But it's safe to say the game isn't coming out this month.

Footnotes: Thanks to Stuart Moore for posting facts rapidly on Also this handy trademark blog post from 2007.

Comments imported from Gameshelf

Sslaxx (Feb 22, 2010 at 5:19 PM):

An awfully convoluted tail, is it not? I'd be interested to see if the Brawndo guy does anything with the trademark (other than be a troll with it).

BTW - Yeah, I'm Stuart Moore...

David Cornelson (Feb 22, 2010 at 5:23 PM):

Pete and I are talking about a deal. He seems very open to it. More later.

Sslaxx (Nov 18, 2010 at 8:08 PM):

And coming back to this months later, I guess that fell through, huh? Thing is, guy's got to do something with the trademark otherwise he loses it. And who'd want someone like Malinche owning the trademark?

Andrew Plotkin (Nov 18, 2010 at 11:22 PM):

I assume you're referring to the fact that Klaeffling's domain now shows a "not available" error.

The trademark was out of his grasp long before we noticed this stuff. As for whether it fell through, well, it's been another eight months since he put the site up. I don't think anybody expects a game to materialize now. But if he surprises us, it would be good news.

Nobody's trolling that I'm aware of. I mean, the worst thing that's happened to the Infocom trademarks in the past few years is Activision's licensing "Zork" to that casual-MMO company, which was completely legitimate; it just produced a game that bored me.

Sslaxx (Nov 23, 2010 at 5:13 AM):

It was meant in reply to David, Zarf.

Zidders Roofurry (Jan 12, 2013 at 1:16 PM):

Heya, everyone.

So...I grew up on Infocom games & feel kinda....well, sad/angry? (not really ANGRY angry, mind you) that the Infocom name has been passed around/kicked around a bit. I mean..the name is a pretty big name in gaming history. SOMEone who had something to do with stuff back then should own it.

I mean, it just doesn't feel right that someone who had nothing to do with the great games Infocom put out back in the day is just sitting on it and doing nothing of any real merit with it.

Text based games helped me learn to read, they helped me fall in love with reading, in fact. They're the reason I love writing, too. They helped me escape from all the bad crap I went through as a kid. That meant a lot to me then and it would mean a lot to me now to see the Infocom name owned by someone who will appreciate it.

Andrew Plotkin (Jan 12, 2013 at 5:35 PM):

If the trademark were owned by an IF author or fan, would you even know the difference? I don't expect it would magically cause any new games to happen.

Activision just re-released the games for iOS, using the title "Lost Treasures of Infocom". I can't see how that would be improved by a legal fight over it.

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