IKEA bullies indie developer in game-changing furniture store

from the horror department

Big companies really should know better how trademark law works. Or, failing that, their corporate boards should. And yet, all too often we see big companies take an aggressive approach to anything remotely resembling trademark infringement that they don’t like.

Take The store is closed, a yet unreleased video game from a Kickstarter campaign. This game takes place in an endless furniture store, has horror and crafting game elements, and heavy exploration gameplay. Said horror store is briefly shown to have blue box architecture, a Scandinavian name, and gray floors. For this reason, IKEA contacted the game’s creator, Jacob Shaw, demanding that the game be changed to remove all this “trademark counterfeiting”.

“Our client has learned that you are developing a video game, ‘The Store is Closed’,” the legal letter explains, “which uses, without our client’s permission, clues associated with famous IKEA stores. Your game uses a panel blue and yellow with a Scandinavian name on the store, a building in the shape of a blue box, yellow vertical striped shirts identical to those worn by IKEA staff, a gray path on the floor, furniture that looks like IKEA furniture and signage product that looks like IKEA signage All of the above immediately suggests that the game is set in an IKEA store.

Where to start. For starters, some of the items listed among the complaints are fleeting at best. For example, Kotaku’s review of a version of the game notes that the store appearance and signage that IKEA complains about only appear on the menu screen, rather than in the game itself. Also, IKEA is not mentioned anywhere in the game or the Kickstarter. Instead, the store is called STYR, which is a Swedish word for “checks”. As Kotaku notes, IKEA isn’t even a Swedish or Scandinavian word.

As for the claim that the furniture looks like IKEA furniture, well…

Shaw denies designing furniture with Ikea in mind. “I purchased generic furniture asset packs to make this game,” Shaw said, meaning these are pieces of furniture that can be featured in any game for a price. “I don’t know what that means.” The game however has a gray path on the floor. It is also common for stores to have signs telling the customer where to go.

None of this constitutes trademark infringement. But, where IKEA is probably irritated is when several news outlets that reviewed early versions of the game have referenced the company, stating that the store reminded them of playing the whole thing at an IKEA store. But this still is not a trademark infringement. The First Amendment allows content creators to create parodies or homages using real-world marks and it happens all the time. Just think of almost everything in many Grand Theft Auto games, for example.

But IKEA’s threatening letter demanded that Shaw remove all “offensive” content within 10 days or risk legal action. And, because brand bullying works, Shaw complies.

“I was going to spend the last week of my Kickstarter preparing an update for all the new alpha testers,” Shaw told Kotaku. “But now I desperately have to revamp the whole look of the game so I don’t get sued.”

All the while, IKEA trots the well-worn excuse that it had to take these steps or risk losing its marks, which isn’t true either.

In fact, the real horror here isn’t so much the game, but the mega-brand bullying a small creator for no reason.

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Companies: ikea

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