Well, this wasn’t the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War news we’d been hoping to hear. As Lord of the Rings fans await the announcement of a sequel, it has been revealed that game publisher Warner Bros. Interactive have been successful in securing a patent for the “Nemesis” gameplay system first introduced in 2014’s sublime Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Widely considered the game’s one true highlight, the Nemesis system created a web of intelligent Orc NPCs who would interact with each other as well as protagonist, Talion, in way that felt emergent and organic. For example, an Orc officer you defeat in the early stages of the game could reappear later, specifically commenting on your last encounter with them.
The patent will go into effect from Feburary 23rd, 2021. IGN reports that a notice was released by the US Patent and Trademark Office to confirm Warner’s successful application. The patent covers “Nemesis characters, nemesis forts, social vendettas and followers in computer games,” preventing this system from being replicating by other game developers without the possible threat of legal action.
Naturally, this move by the publisher has sparked controversy among the video game development community, Warner Bros. Interactive having pursued this patent since 2015. Mike Bithell, the creator of hits such as Thomas Was Alone, Volume, John Wick Hex, and The Solitaire Conspiracy, called the move “gross”, pointing out that Shadow of Mordor itself borrowed a multitude of systems and mechanics from other games.
This is really gross, especially for a franchise that built its brilliant nemesis system on top of a whole heap of mechanics replicated from other games. As all games do. Because that’s how culture and creativity works. Be a better neighbor, WB. https://t.co/4AvMe7GQWk
— Mike Bithell, TWA demo out now on Switch! (@mikeBithell) February 6, 2021
Since Shadow of Mordor made its big debut, we’ve been aching for other games to include their own spin on the Nemesis system. However, that looks far less likely now – patents such as these in the video games industry only protect the interests of publishers and not hard-working developers, ultimately harming innovation.