In an unexpected move, furniture giant Ikea has sent a solo indie developer a cease and desist letter reviewed by Kotaku, demanding he make changes to his unreleased survival horror game set in an Ikea-like furniture store. Lawyers representing Ikea are claiming that the game commits trademark infringement because some press outlets have drawn comparisons between their official brand and the game. The Swedish firm have given developer Jacob Shaw just ten days to “change the game and remove all indicia associated with the famous Ikea stores.”
The Store Is Closed is an unreleased co-op survival game, that’s just in the final week of a successful Kickstarter campaign that’s raised just over $49,000. Created by a lone developer, going by the studio name Ziggy, the game describes itself as “being set in an infinite furniture store.”
“You’ll need to craft weapons, and build fortifications to survive the night,” continues the blurb. “Explore the underground SCP laboratories and build towers to the sky to find a way out.” You know, like in a real Ikea? Crucially, nowhere in any of the game’s promotional materials, on its Steam, during its Kickstarter campaign—nowhere—has the word “Ikea” ever been uttered.
Yet despite this, and despite the game absolutely not being on sale anywhere, Ikea’s New York lawyers, Fross Zelnick, have written to Shaw demanding that he entirely change anything in the game that might remind people of their brand.
“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 authorization, indicia associated with the famous IKEA stores.”
It then goes on to list the infringing aspects of Shaw’s game.
“Your game uses a blue and yellow sign with a Scandinavian name on the store, a blue box-like building, yellow vertical stiped shirts identical to those worn by IKEA personnel, a gray path on the floor, furniture that looks like IKEA furniture, and product signage that looks like IKEA signage. All the foregoing immediately suggest that the game takes place in an IKEA store.”
Shaw gave me access to an early alpha build of the game, during which the “blue box-like building” and “blue and yellow sign” appear, in their totality, on the menu screen. After that, you don’t see them. There’s currently no branding at all in-game. The store is called “STYR.” Clearly a joke spelling of “STORE,” it is, by coincidence, a Swedish word, meaning “controls.” You know what’s not a Swedish word? “Ikea.” It’s the initials of its founder, a farm he grew up on, and a nearby village. Notably, stores like Tiffany have a trademark over the color that they use in their packaging, so in some ways Ikea isn’t coming completely out of left field here.
Then there are the claims that it has “furniture that looks like Ikea furniture.” But Shaw disputes that he designed any furniture with Ikea in mind. “I bought generic furniture asset packs to make this game,” Shaw said, meaning that this is furniture that can be featured in any game for a price. “I don’t know what that means.” The game does, however, have a grey path on the floor. It is also common for stores to have signage that tells the customer where to go.
Ikea’s argument hinges that the game infringes on their brand because press sites have made the association, rather than the game itself aligning naming Ikea.
One headline says, ‘Someone Has Made a Survival Horror Game Set In IKEA.’ Another headline says, ‘The Backrooms meets Sons of the Forest in new IKEA horror game.’
Those were the two headlines we could find, but it’s possible there are more. The letter also includes the subheadings of these stories as part of the evidence, going on to then state:
“Further, numerous comments by readers of these stories make an association with IKEA stores.”
Based on all this, Shaw has been told that his “unauthorized use of the IKEA indicia constitutes unfair competition and false advertising under Sections 43(a) of the U.S. Trademark Act, 15 U.S. C § 1125(a), and state unfair competition and false advertising laws.”
The lawyers then tell the developer, “You can of course easily make a video game set in a furniture store that does not look like, or suggest, an IKEA store.” The presumed game development experts go on to explain, “You can easily make changes to your game to avoid these problems, especially since you do not plan to release the game until 2024.”
They then immediately go on to inform Shaw that he has “ten working days of the date of this letter” to make all such changes, removing all their claimed “indicia.” Grey paths and all. The game is not up for sale yet.
Ikea is a company that saw revenues of $25.4 billion last year, and Jacob Shaw is some 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’s seeking legal advice, he’s certain he’ll 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’ve got to desperately revamp the entire look of the game so I don’t get sued.”
Clearly owners of trademarks have a legal imperative to protect them, lest they lose them and their brand becomes recognized as generic. Presumably that’s part of Ikea’s motivation here, as overreaching as it might seem to anyone not familiar with trademark law. Hopefully simply removing the blue box building on the menu screen should really be enough to get rid of the rest of this nonsense, not least because the U.S. luxuriates in far more reasonable allowances for spoof than the U.K.
Updated: 10/31/22, 12.00a.m. ET: Ikea UK got back to us this morning, providing the following statement:
While we think it’s flattering that others are inspired by the IKEA brand, we must be diligent to ensure that the IKEA trademarks and trade dress are not misapplied. Various elements of the video game currently correspond in appearance with the IKEA brand features. We’ve reached out to the creator of the video and asked them to make changes to those elements to ensure that this is no longer the case. They expressed that they understand our request and agreed to make those changes. This should all be well in time for the expected 2024 launch of the game.