Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Trademark Bullies Strike Again

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 22, 2014

When I heard that the Candy Crush Saga creators actually hired gambling industry experts as consultants to help them extract the maximum amount of money from their players, I thought they were real scumbuckets.

Apparently, that comparison was completely unfair to actual scumbuckets.

Now they have gone and trademarks words commonly used by games.

Like “Candy.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, if your game has the word “candy” in it (at least in the title), you may be screwed.

Of course, they claim that it’s only to protect themselves from obvious attempts by unscrupulous developers to fool customers into getting the wrong game on the app store. Yeah. Nice try. I can feel their pain, and almost be understanding, but it appears they are relentlessly going on the attack.

And then… they also grabbed the word “Saga.” And went on the attack. The really cool recently-released indie RPG “The Banner Saga“?  While it’s laughable that they could claim that this strategy RPG based on Norse mythology could be confused with a colorful puzzle game about candy,  this is no joke. This happened.

During my years of “indie evangelism” (back when nobody knew what “indie” was), I’d frequently take the big publishers to task for acting like soulless organizations of suits. When EA spokespeople brag about how the rising cost of making games for next-gen machines makes it impossible for indies to compete against them ever again (yeah, that was LAST gen), it’s great fun to see them hoisted by their own petard. We still make lots of jokes about them, even though they are no longer quite the gatekeepers they once were.

But with few exceptions, I really don’t consider the big publishers “evil.” I know too many publishers – or rather, the people who work for publishers. Yeah, I’ve known some real douchebags who were in important positions at publishers, and some real clueless people at the top sometimes, but as a whole, they are still often staffed by people who do love games and have at least some level of enlightened self-interested care for their customers. Some folks who are dang passionate about gaming, and really know their stuff, and try to work within the system to make quality stuff.

To me, as an indie, they are – at worst – an obstacle. If that. Sometimes even a (distant) ally. Not an enemy.

Until they start pulling crap like this. Maybe I was too quick to turn a blind eye on Bethesda and the “Scrolls” crap, but this has got to stop. As indies, we don’t have much in the way of the primary weapon in this war – MONEY. And sadly, in a straight-up fight, even if the bad guys lose, the only winners are the lawyers.

But… we do have our own little forms of protest.

Like this. I am so doing this:


It’s a game jam (we love game jams!) with a theme of …. CANDY! With bonus points for all the other common words these evil schmucks are trying to monopolize via trademark.

The rules are simple: Make a game involving candies.

There’s really not a whole lot of point, other than to turn rage and frustration into something productive, and maybe draw a tiny bit of attention to the serious problem the hobby and industry are facing. It may be too late to save “Candy.” Or “Saga.”As one of the creators of the event, Laurent Raymond, states at The Escapist, “I have little ambition about the whole thing. We’re going to enjoy coding silly things, mock them, change a few minds and then everyone will forget the event as soon as it ends. I wish it would mean something but this is not the first time that it’s happened, and most of the time it’s handled by just letting the rage pass. We’ll just add fun to that rage for once.”

I’m also worried about an avalanche of common words getting trademarked. This is ridiculous, and gamers and game developers both are getting screwed here. How soon until every noun and verb in the English language is monopolized?

I am planning on participating in this event.

And if there’s anything else you can think of to raise awareness of this issue, to get the government to stop issuing these kinds of monopolies, please do so. This must stop.

Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism, Politics - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • David Montgomery-Blake said,

    Candy Scroll Saga: Messiah Complex!

  • McTeddy said,

    Wow, I hadn’t heard about the banner saga thing. According to the article, it was a legal technicality that they needed to do and they had no intention of forcing Banner Saga to change name… but still.

    What pisses me off about this whole situation is that I fully support copyright and trademark laws. I believe that they serve a valid purpose in protecting creators… but this crap is a clear abuse.

    I have no idea what we can do. Oh well… guess I’m just going to hope for the best.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That’s it exactly, McTeddy. I mean, I do feel for folks who have a successful game that competitors can “cash in on” by blatantly trying to capitalize on customer confusion. That makes sense, albeit it’s a tough battle.

    And I can see trademarking your franchise.

    The problem is that trademarking the common words like that – the individual words – is WAAAY too broad, and trademark law *requires* that they are vigorously enforced. You can lose your trademark protection if your defendant can demonstrate that you did not take reasonable effort to protect your trademark.

    So effectively, because of the very broad trademark, they are required by law to be jerkwads, and to basically make a whole bunch of innocent parties pay (in time, money, and / or lawyers) to defend themselves throughout the industry. It also creates a “chilling effect” as developers back away from certain topics (not just titles) out of risk avoidance.

    This really bones the whole industry, and the hobby as a whole.

  • ShadowTiger said,

    This seems like the kind of thing that would happen less often if the loser had to pay the legal fees of the winner.

    I personally think trademark should be more specific to the presentation. Its silly that the words of your game should be changed if the font and game style are completely different.

    I think for multiple word titles you should need at least 2 of the words… for example
    The Ancient Scrolls or
    Candy Rush

    The real issue I have is does NOT enforcing trademark actually damage the industry. I understand there are cheap knock off games but people can usually look at it and tell. Just like you can take a knock-off t-shirt and pretty quickly figure out its not genuine.

    Also, Apple does some policing of this sort (not sure if it works at all) but that might be a better way to handle things than in a courtroom. At least for games.

  • finbikkifin said,

    “And then… they also grabbed the word “Saga.” […] this is no joke. This happened.”

    It didn’t, actually. They didn’t get the trademark for Saga. They tried, failed, and went after Stoic anyway.

    But don’t worry! They said they’d only use their Candy trademark responsibly and wouldn’t abuse it to take down indie games that weren’t blatant clones of their games!