Aug 1, 2022 - Technology

Why Bungie keeps suing video game harassers and cheaters

Video game screenshot of a blue, glowing sci-fi warrior swinging a staff against a large black-and-white enemy
Destiny 2. Screenshot: Bungie

Destiny-creator Bungie's unusual spate of lawsuits against cheaters and harassers is part of a legal strategy to improve the community around its games, the studio's top lawyer tells Axios.

Why it matters: Bungie is taking actions against behaviors often viewed as the unavoidable wounds incurred by making or playing games.

What they're saying: "We have seen historically that bad actors will often be tolerated because the people with the skills and power to remove them do not focus their efforts there," Bungie general counsel Don McGowan tells Axios.

  • "To put it simply, we disagree. In our view, removing harassment and abuse from our community is not only the right thing to do, it is also good business."

Catch-up quick: The company has been suing a lot in the past year.

  • Summer 2021: Bungie files five lawsuits — three on the same day, one joined by Ubisoft — against the makers and sellers of programs that let people cheat in Destiny's multiplayer matches.
  • Spring 2022: Bungie sues a player who allegedly impersonated the company to trigger nearly 100 bogus YouTube copyright takedowns against popular fan-run accounts.
  • Summer 2022: Bungie sues a player they say repeatedly threatened one of their employees, mused publicly about burning the studio down and sold game items in violation of the studio's copyright.

Between the lines: Bungie isn't the first studio to sue perceived bad actors, though it might be the most aggressive.

  • Many game companies may avoid filing suits because they don't think they can identify anonymous online perpetrators or don't think they can recover the costs of pursuing "cheaters, harassers and abusers," McGowan says.
  • But Bungie, founded 31 years ago, has been laying groundwork for this strategy since 2020, a year after it split from publisher Activision and the year it hired McGowan, the former longtime top lawyer for the famously litigious Pokémon Company International.

Under McGowan, Bungie initially targeted cheaters in "a strategic push."

  • "This is an issue that impacts many studios across the industry, and it is critical to deal with it to maintain a healthy and happy community that wants to play your game," he says.
  • Harassers of Bungie's developers — a problem so chronic the studio recently said it was dialing back communications with fans — are in the crosshairs now, too.
  • Bungie workers "do not deserve any of the mistreatment that is sometimes directed their way," McGowan says. "They are doing a job and as their lawyer, my team and I have a set of skills that make it possible for us to defend them as well as the integrity of our players' experience."

Warning shots: Bungie has adopted an aggressive tone meant to ward off others.

  • In its suit against the alleged impersonator who infuriated Destiny fans, the suit states: "Serious consequences await anyone else foolish enough to volunteer as a Defendant by targeting Bungie's community for attack."

Results: A $13.5 million settlement against a cheating group sued last summer, and a $2 million one from a suit brought alongside Riot in early 2021. Plus:

  • A contentious row with a cheat-maker that disputes Bungie's argument that their actions necessarily violated copyright.
  • Multiple requests for default judgments against defendants who are off the grid.
  • And briefs by Bungie that read like whodunnits as they explain how they've digitally identified some of their targets.

What's next: When McGowan counted Bungie's recent lawsuits for Axios, he added a parenthetical: "So far."

Bottom line: “We believe very strongly that most people do not want to be in communities where cheating or harassment is allowed to thrive,” Bungie general counsel Don McGowan tells Axios.

  • “Tolerating bad actors chases away a lot of people who would like to enjoy our products.

Sign up for the Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper