Grinding Gears: Celebrity Sues Over Likeness

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Gears, by flickr user Joe deSousa, licensed by Creative Commons.

War, what is it good for?

Video games these days are becoming more life-like than ever. With advanced graphics and new technology, studios are able to push the boundaries on making games similar to live action movies. However, one former football player / professional wrestler has a gear to grind with a certain character in a popular franchise. Lenwood Hamilton is claiming that the character “Cole Train” in the Gears of War video game is based off his own likeness, down to the physical traits and personality. He has filed suit against Microsoft and Epic Games, the games’ creators, and is seeking unspecified damages.

Hamilton contends that the video game character is modeled after him, including a football backstory, mannerisms, and style of clothing. Hamilton reportedly was brainstorming with voice actor Leister Speight on a wrestling-related game in the 1980s based off Hamilton’s likeness. While the two never agreed on that project, Speight went on to lend his voice to a character with striking similarities to Hamilton, and that character eventually became Cole Train. Microsoft and Epic Games has yet to comment publicly. The first Gears of War game was released in 2006 on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console, and to date has seen 5 video game launches in the last 10 years, including the latest game “Gears of War 4”. The franchise has sold over 17mm copies (usually priced at $59.99) in that time, and Gears 4 sold about 615k copies in its first week of release.

As someone familiar with Gears of War, it is hard to deny the resemblance between Hamilton and Cole Train. The case could come down to evidence (or lack thereof) supporting the allegations. It is unclear what Hamilton is claiming; intellectual property on the idea of a game, civil rights infringement on the character creation, or consumer rights issues on the selling of his likeness. Still, it is possible that Microsoft and Epic could offer a settlement rather than spend a day in court. Microsoft is obviously a fan of playing games, but certainly not when it comes to lawsuits.