Some of the biggest selling video games in the world are based on sport. Companies like Electronic Arts have been built on allowing armchair competitors to play their favourite sports with the aid of a keyboard or mouse or joystick. With the advent of GPS, real-time weather and telemetry data the lines between the real sport and the virtual competition are blurring all the time.
Professional sports organisers and rights holders have also realised for a long time that video game rights are a valuable commodity. As sailing becomes more professional, organisers are also starting to realise the value of their brands, but can you protect a race that is sailed on open water?
This year, the Rolex Fastnet Race, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club is offering an official virtual version of the race. The online version of the Rolex Fastnet Race is being provided by Manyplayers – the same company that run the popular online version of the Volvo Ocean Race. Meanwhile in Sweden, another online sailing platform – sailonline.org was promoting a virtual event that just happened to start in Cowes and finish in Plymouth running at the same time as the Fastnet Race.
The Sailonline race didn’t get very far though. The company’s website reads:
We are sorry to inform that we have to cancel the ongoing race “Cowes-Plymouth challenge 2009” that started earlier today. Sailonline has been contacted by solicitors engaged by RORC and in order to avoid any disputes regarding rights etc we have decided to cancel our race.
What is most interesting is not that RORC finally decided to protect its commercial interests, but the reactions of sailonline players, most of whom seem to think that some kind of Corinthian spirit should prevail. It is almost impossible to imagine a company trying to run a virtual car-race based in Monaco on a certain weekend in May and not get shut down by F1, or someone trying to get away with running a virtual football game on the same day as the superbowl.
Had Sailonline run the Cowes to Plymouth course in January, then one could make an argument that they were just having an online race, but to run it on the day of the Rolext Fastnet Race they are gaining from the rights held by RORC.
Some might complain that the Manyplayers gameplay is childishly simple, but at the end of the day, the rights holders have entered into a commercial agreement and are quite entitled to shut-down any service that seeks to use the tradition and value of a brand for for advantage.
The official online game can be found at: http://www.virtualregatta.com/index_fastnet.php?langue=EN&id_tracking=32