Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A More Vile Form of Copying

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 31, 2012

There’s a form of copying that’s far more pernicious than piracy.

They say the key to creativity is hiding your sources. It’s mostly true. Even as Chris Crawford argued nearly 25 years ago, creativity and originality is a spectrum with one idealized end that lies only in theory. But the other extreme is all too real. It’s one thing to create games that are inspired by favorite titles. We make ’em, we play ’em, we even loudly request that “someone” create a modern remake / clone of these beloved games.  In general, that’s reasonable and acceptable to gamers and developers. Even encouraged. But there’s a fuzzy line that should not be crossed, and because it’s fuzzy developers and publishers usually try their best to stay well away from it.

But every schoolyard has a bully or two. And we’ve got ours.

I am not joking with indies when I quote Howard Aiken and tell them not to worry about anybody “stealing” their ideas (because, as Aiken says, if your idea is any good you’ll have to ram it down their throats). That’s usually true. Until an indie is successful at ramming it down people’s throats, that is… by generating tons of success, media buzz, or simply executing extremely well and grabbing attention from the industry.

At that point, unfortunately, it seems that small but scrappy indies become nothing but prey for the big publishers. We’ve seen it before with ‘Splosion Man and Capcom. And now it looks like we’re seeing it again with well-funded LOLApps:

Copycat Companies Might Not Lose Lawsuits, But They Should Lose Our Respect, Argues Kevin Dent

Or everybody’s favorite “bad guy” Facebook game king, Zynga:

Zynga’s Cloning Protection Racket

I would hope that indie companies would do their due diligence when dealing with these companies and refuse to do any business with them after this kind of crap. A publisher that pulls this kind of stunt should find itself left completely alone, with any third parties avoiding them like the plague that they are. As a creative industry, we should have zero tolerance for this kind of plagiarism, particularly amongst publishers whose business require a relationship of trust. If that trust is betrayed, that business should be at serious risk, and the publisher should become a cautionary tale for the rest of the industry.

The lesson to smaller, independent developers (“indie” or not): Be very, very careful dealing with publishers. Not paranoid – there are some great opportunities out there. Just be careful. And do your best to publicize the shameful, unethical behavior, and let players know that about the original games.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Xian said,

    You might not be able to copyright game mechanics, but there have been several “look and feel” lawsuits, just recently Apple vs Samsung with their phones and tablets.

    Of course, that gets back to the underlying problem; the small indie can’t afford to fight the legion of lawyers the corporations can call in. They can win in the court of public opinion though, so I would hope that people would avoid them afterwards, although I doubt if the average person is even aware of their tactics and blatant ripoff.

  • Charles said,

    Man, the let us buy you cheap or we’ll drown you thing…

    I would be buying Tiny Tower right now if I only had an ithingy.

  • Avalon said,

    Zynga needs to go to hell. Can’t stand these cutthroats!

  • Rubes said,

    For a good legal discussion of this issue, I would recommend checking out Tom Buscaglia’s blog at http://gameattorney.com/blog/?p=98.

  • GhanBuriGhan said,

    Gareth Fouche had an interesting blog discussing this as well:

  • Anon said,

    I wonder what you guys would’ve said in the early eighties when everybody & his dog cloned Pac Man…
    Of course, Atari couldn’t make the game available on every platform and licensing could’ve gotten expensive but game concept cloning was every bit as rampant as it is today.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yup, that was surely the case. If you ever read Steven Levy’s book, “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution,” it talks a great deal about one particular case with Sierra and a Pac-Man clone. There were a lot of lawsuits at the time over “look & feel.” And it was as fuzzy back then as it is now.

  • Avalon said,

    … the difference is that Zynga is a company ran by people who have calculators in place where other people have a heart, are not interested in being innovative or being passionate about game development whatsoever, who sue everyone to hell who have the word ‘ville’ in their game’s title name and who copy and clone other games concepts and designs like there is no tomorrow. On top they treat their employees like sh*te. You could nearly say they are the Microsoft of Games anno 2000, just by a couple of magnitudes worse.

  • Some Indies are Dickweeds said,

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