In an unexpected move, furniture giant Ikea has sent a solo indie developer a cease and desist letter reviewed by My boxrequiring him to make changes to his unpublished Survival horror game set in an Ikea-like furniture store. Lawyers representing Ikea claims the game commits trademark infringement because some news outlets drew comparisons between their official trademark and the game. The Swedish company gave developer Jacob Shaw just ten days to “change the game and remove all clues associated with famous Ikea stores”.
The store is closed is a never-before-seen cooperative survival game, it’s just in the last week from a successful Kickstarter campaign which grossed just over $49,000. Created by a lone developer, under the studio name Ziggy, the game describes itself as “taking place in an infinite furniture store”.
“You will need to craft weapons and build fortifications to survive the night,” the blurb continues. “Explore underground SCP labs and build skyward towers to find a way out.” You know, like in a real Ikea? Importantly, nowhere in the game’s promotional material, on its Steam, during its Kickstarter campaign – anywhere – was the word “Ikea” ever mentioned.
Yet despite this, and despite the game absolutely not being for sale anywhere, New York lawyers for Ikea, Fross Zelnick, wrote to Shaw asking him to entirely change anything in the game that might remind people their mark.
“Our client learned that you were developing a video game, ‘The store is closed“”, explains the legal letter, “which uses, without the authorization of our client, indicia associated with famous IKEA stores.”
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He then lists the counterfeit aspects of Shaw’s game.
“Your game uses a blue and yellow sign with a Scandinavian name on the store, a blue box-shaped building, yellow vertical striped shirts identical to those worn by IKEA staff, a gray path on the floor, furniture that looks like to IKEA furniture, and product signage that resembles IKEA signage.All of the above immediately suggests that the game is set in an IKEA store.
Shaw gave me access to an early alpha version of the game, during which the “blue box building” and “blue and yellow sign” appear, in full, on the menu screen. After that, you don’t see them. There is currently no in-game branding. The store is called “STYR”. This is clearly a spelling joke of “STORE”, it is, coincidentally, a Swedish word, which means “controls”. You know what is not a Swedish word? “Ikea.” These are the initials of its founder, a farm on which he grew up and a nearby village. Notably, stores like Tiffany have a mark on the color they use in their packaging, so in some ways Ikea isn’t completely out of left field here.
Then there are the claims he has “furniture that looks like Ikea furniture.” But 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 signage that tells the customer where to go.
Ikea’s argument is that the game infringes on their brand because News sites made the association, rather than the game itself, aligning Ikea’s naming.
A title reads: “Someone made an IKEA survival horror game”. Another headline says, “The Backrooms meets Sons of the Forest in new IKEA horror game.”
These are the two titles that we were able to find, but it is possible that there are others. The letter also includes the captions for those stories as part of the evidence, then states:
“Furthermore, many reader comments to these stories establish an association with IKEA stores.”
Based on all of this, Shaw has been advised that its “unauthorized use of the IKEA indicia constitutes unfair competition and false advertising under Sections 43(a) of the US Trademark Act, 15 US C § 1125 ( a), and state unfair competition and false advertising laws.
The lawyers then tell the developer, “You could of course easily create a video game set in a furniture store that doesn’t look like or suggest an IKEA store.” The alleged game development experts go on to explain, “You can easily make changes to your game to avoid these issues, especially since you don’t plan to release the game until 2024.”
They then immediately proceed to notify Shaw that it has “ten business days from the date of this letter” to make all such changes, removing all of their claimed “hints”. Gray paths and all. The game is not for sale yet.
Ikea is a company that has seen revenue of $25.4 billion last year, and Jacob Shaw is a guy in the UK who tried to raise £10,000 ($11,575) on Kickstarter, so Shaw says he has no choice but to comply. While he seeks legal advice, he is certain he will have to capitulate, given the costs involved in challenging anything.
“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.”
It is clear that trademark owners have a legal imperative to protect them, lest they lose them and their mark be recognized as generic. Presumably that’s part of Ikea’s motivation here, as exaggerated as that might seem to anyone unfamiliar with trademark law.. Hopefully just removing the blue box build from the menu screen should really be enough to get rid of the rest of that nonsense, not least because the US enjoys much more reasonable allowances for parody than the UK.
We reached out to Ikea in the US (where the threats originate) and the UK (where the game is based), as well as brand experts, to ask for a comment, and will update if they respond.
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