Epic Games faces complaints of UEFN DMCA takedown manipulation and ‘like cheating’ Epic Games faces complaints of UEFN DMCA takedown manipulation and ‘like cheating’
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Epic Games is facing some pressure from popular creators to do more about bad behavior among map creators in the community-focused version of Fortnite.

Dubbed UEFN (Unreal Editor for Fortnite), the version of Fortnite for amateur and pro creators alike has generated $320 million in payouts last year. But the competition for that money among creators of Fortnite Island, or user-generated maps, has gotten ugly.

Some creators have filed Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests alleging trademark violations for those allegedly copying their games. Epic Games [appeared to be] issuing automatic suspensions of those creators, perhaps out of fear of doing the right thing on a legal front. (Epic noted it is using humans to moderate these disputes).

But that has made some of those on the receiving end of “bogus” DMCA takedowns unhappy. Andre “Typical Gamer” Rebelo has a social following of 25 million people, and he has spent hundreds of hours creating his own Fortnite maps in the past year. Since 2009, he has gotten about eight billion views on social media. In an interview with GamesBeat, Rebelo said he thinks Epic Games needs to do more about the problems and communicate more.

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He pointed out another big problem is “like cheating.” In this, Fortnite map creators are tricking players into “favoriting” their maps to gain access to hard-to-get weapons in the game. They place an interaction over the top of the “like” symbol in the interface of the game. Then when a user clicks on it, they get a message of thanks for favoriting the map when, in fact, the user was just trying to do something in the game, Rebelo said.

He noted some of the big makers of the most popular Fortnite islands are guilty of doing this, and it has helped them stay on top. For some of those map makers, there is a lot of money at stake — perhaps $15 million in revenues for some games that use these tactics to stay at the top. The maps can use the tactic to climb up the “most favorited” list of games, which can ensure tons of players.

Last week it also pushed the “most favorited” list lower in the user interface of what players see when they’re searching through discovery screens for maps to play. After GamesBeat asked about Rebelo’s concerns yesterday, Epic Games issued the following tweet today:

Other problems

One top map maker, Geerzy (link) tried trademarking common language for popular maps like “The Pit” to substantiate DMCA strikes against all other “pit maps.” Others pointed out that Geerzy didn’t invent “The Pit” (which originally came from a Minecraft modder). Last week, Epic reinstated one of the map makers that Geerzy had targeted with a DMCA strike.

A spokesperson for Epic Games said in an email to GamesBeat, “The DMCA is an essential tool to protect intellectual property rights while fostering innovation. Striking the right balance between these interests is critical to creating a fair ecosystem. We take bad faith uses of the DMCA system seriously, and do not tolerate bogus copyright claims. Anyone found abusing the DMCA system may be subject to serious legal consequences and Epic account bans. Tricking players into liking or favoriting an island is also a violation of our rules. This is a relatively new trend that is now a point of focus for enforcement. Creators who repeatedly try to scam players will face monetization penalties and see their Islands removed and accounts suspended. “

Rebelo liked that reaction.

What Rebelo didn’t like about Epic’s solution is that they took DMCA takedown requests so seriously that they didn’t give due process to the accused, suspending a map for 10 days while Epic Games figured out if there was merit to the DMCA takedown request. (The law itself requires that 10-day period).

“That was guilty until proven innocent,” Rebelo said.

And it meant that the popular rising maps could get hit from an incumbent rival’s takedown request and then its momentum in the charts could be stopped or stalled altogether, Rebelo said. That could mean hundreds of thousands of lost revenue in a just a day. That can’t be recovered, even if a strike is temporary.

Rebelo started getting good results and building a team of developers behind the scenes. He released maps, some that were very popular. Then he got hit with a “false DMCA.”

“We couldn’t get it cleared up,” Rebelo said. “There are a lot of frustrations that come about with the way the current process works. Epic is legally obliged to follow the DMCA protocol.”

Typical Gamer, whose name is Andre Rebelo, is one of Fortnite’s most recognized creators.

Rebelo said that when someone files a DMCA, there isn’t necessarily any distinction about who files it. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a well-known brand, a popular creator, or an ordinary user. When it’s filed, there is a 10-day suspension of the map, with or without evidence, Rebelo said, based on what he has witnessed.

“The problem is that this 10-day takedown period removes [the map] from discovery, whether it’s legit or not. And discovery would essentially be the algorithm that can make or break a map,” he said.

If your map is doing well, a rival can take you out of the viral discovery channels.

“Even if you come back up, you may never be the same. And that for some people may be life changing amounts of money,” Rebelo said. “For other people, that might be the money that they need to sustain their team. So it’s definitely a prevalent issue.”

Rebelo said that competitors taking down rival maps is something that has surfaced on social media. In Rebelo’s case, there was no evidence offered, yet his map was taken down. It was later restored, but with no penalty for the person filing the false DMCA, he said.

“It doesn’t seem to matter who you are,” he said. “You can just file a DMCA and it will [lead to] action.

It gets more confusing who owns what in a world of user-generated content, where a lot of content is borrowed from brands in the real world. The Halo-based “Red vs. Blue” maps are a good example of that. Halo is owned by Microsoft, but modders have been making user-generated content based on Red vs. Blue for a long time. That’s an area where it’s not clear who owns what among the creators of the maps, and that makes Epic’s job harder. Particularly if competing DMCA takedown requests are flying back and forth.

“Several people that have reached out to me of bad actors who have multiple times abused the system and even given false information in their DMCA takedowns. And, at times, no evidence at all. So there’s really no repercussions for filing these,” Rebelo said. “People use it as a way to get a competitive advantage because they’re not facing any repercussions.”

Rebelo had lawyers available to deal with the takedown request. But other amateurs may not have the resources to clear up a matter quickly. Sometimes a request could involve a legit case of “copycatting,” but who is to say in a world of Red vs. Blue maps that one side came up with an idea first and others copied it.

“I try to always go through the proper systems. But it really does feel like sometimes you’re at the mercy of Epic,” he said. “The problem is that by the point the ruling comes out, the damage is done.”

Fortnite’s discovery system works like a carousel, where it shows content for a limited time as the maps it wants to highlight.

Typical Gamer at Rewired Fest.

The “like buttons” take the form of lightning bolts. But someone can create similar images for people to click upon that really mean something else.

“You go to the lightning bolt, and it looks like you can get it, so you try to pick it up. Then it asks you if you want to favorite the map,” he said.

Many players might just go ahead and “like” the map because they think it might let them pick up a cool item. But it turns out there is no item to pick up and you’re tricked into the like.

“Most kids will continue from there and they won’t report it. But it’s clearly deceptive,” he said.

Some of the biggest maps on the platform did this, Rebelo said.

“Shame on them,” he said. “They should know better. There should be repercussions.”

At the very least, Rebelo thinks Epic Games should be more communicative about the actions it is taking and the reasons for those actions.

Aside from Typical Gamer, another popular creator upset about this is SypherPK. We’ll keep you updated as this develops.

[Story updated 4:53 p.m. on 4/4/2024 with additional information].

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