Battle royale gaming blew up in 2017 with the release of two gigantic games, Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite. While Fortnite started off as a tower defense game, the amazing success of PUBG showed Fortnite developers Epic Games and People Can Fly that the world of battle royale could be amazingly lucrative.
For a largely free game, it's impressive to see just how much the title has made Epic Games. As of March of 2018, Forbes Magazine estimated that the game had made approximately $126 million in US dollars. That's roughly £97,110,720 with today's current exchange rate. In either currency, that's an amazing amount for a mainly free game. So how did they get there? There are two ways, one more troublesome than the other.
Firstly, the battle royale mode with tower defense included is the free mode and is the most used mode of the game. There are still Founders Pack versions of the game, either standard or deluxe, that include PVE modes such as Fortnite: Save the World where players fight against hordes of zombies. These versions also include loot piñata packs and game banners, and are about the average cost of a game these days with those added perks. In addition, there are a lot of items that a player could pay real money for such as skins for characters, weapons, and emotes. So why are we here talking about all of this? Emotes.
Toward the end of 2018 actors, dancers, and rappers, were coming out against Fortnite and its dance emotes. As of the end of May, 2018, there were 58 different dance emotes. With so many options, perhaps it's inevitable that someone would say that a dance move looked like something they had done, and that's exactly what happened. Actor and dancer Alfonso Ribeiro and rapper 2 Milly both have filed lawsuits in the US court system, specifically the state of California, claiming their dances were stolen. In addition, their dances have also been monetized, earning Epic Games millions of dollars when bundled into all of the other emotes, skins, and items that can be purchased.
One way or the other, these lawsuits will set a precedent in not just gaming but also dancing, as the question seems to be can a dance move be copyrighted? Another individual attempting to sue is the mother of Russell Horning, aka "The Backpack Kid", a social media influencer who claims the dance emote "Floss" is an exact copy of his signature dance, "Flossing". His dance includes perhaps three different actions, and that doesn't really feel like that's enough to really say 'hey, that's mine' to me, but the other two individuals, Alfonso Ribeiro and 2 Milly, have longer dances that might have merit. Though where's the cutoff for what's a dance that can be copyrighted or not? Five moves? More? What a can of worms we've opened up here.
If you're new to the videogame world, you may be wondering if this is the first game to include dance emotes, and it's not. Titles such as Overwatch, Destiny, Destiny 2, and Rift even had a version of one of the dances Epic Games is being sued over, "The Carlton". So why haven't they been sued? Probably because they're not a major part of the game, whereas emotes are extremely important in Fortnite and have made a lot of money. It's hard to ignore it this time around.
So what's "The Carlton"? That would be the dance Alfonso Ribeiro created for the show Fresh Prince of Bel Aire, a dance that illustrated how a rich stuck up person might try to dance. It's amazing, intricate, and hilarious and even helped him win his season of Dancing with the Stars. The dance evolved over the years on the show and is longer than "Floss"/"Flossing". Alfonso isn't just suing because he hasn't been properly compensated, though, he's suing because he feels Epic Games took his likeness and gave no credit to the creator of the dance. His dance move is the emote "Fresh".
Possibly the most upset over the matter yet he hasn't filed a lawsuit as of writing this article is Donald Faison of the show Scrubs. His character, Turk, had a dance known as the "Poison Dance" that Donald had formulated himself. This dance is difficult and is a variation on the Running Man, a dance that's been around since at least the eighties. His version is more intricate, though, and looks great. So what did Epic call this dance? It's their default Victory Dance, so this one comes with the game. Still, if you go off of the grounds Alfonso has laid out, Donald has grounds to file his own suit it seems.
What's the point of all of this? The question of whether dancing can be copyrighted. A dance routine, that's another topic all together as those tend to be a few or several minutes long and incorporate many moves strung together. A dance move itself, like the running man for example, is one or two actions, maybe a little more, repeated over and over. As a former dancer myself (tap, ballet, jazz, modern...), it's understandable where everyone is coming from. I would be angry if I had a signature dance move that had made me famous and a game company capitalized on it without asking or giving me credit or compensation. Without thinking up the dance move in the first place, the company would have had to use something else to copy as that dance wouldn't exist. The Carlton could only have been created by Alfonso, the Poison Dance being the same for Donald. They show their personality, their creativity, and their passion for the art. To have it taken and not at least reference them or even ask them seems rude.
Is there a chance that any of these lawsuits may be successful? Well the developers of Forza Horizon 4 , Turn 10 Studios owned by Microsoft, think they might be. As of the 16th of January this year, they removed two dance emotes from their game, a version of "Flossing" and "The Carlton". Perhaps other games with similar dances will follow suit.
Or there's another option that doesn't seem to have been tried yet. Asking. One has to wonder if all of this could have been avoided if they had at least asked everyone: Alfonso Ribeiro, 2 Milly, "Backpack Kid", Donald Faison, and another artist who hasn't sued but has spoken out, rapper BlocBoy JB, as well as others they might have just taken from. For some, maybe it is about compensation as the dance emote wouldn't exist without them, but recognition is important too.
So with all this, what's your opinion? Will this set a strange precedent for games in the future and for dancing in the future as well? It's hard to say. Either way, politeness goes a long way and maybe, had Epic Games taken some time to be considerate, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Ah the times, they are a changin', though I'm sure Bob Dylan never thought that phrase would be used in regards to videogames. Perhaps this is the end of dance emotes or we will be entering an interesting realm where dances with a certain number of moves can be trademarked or copyrighted.