Thursday, March 27, 2014

Copyright Wars

Have you joined the thousands who have stopped playing Candy Crush?  Only a couple of days ago, King Digital Entertainment went public with a very disappointing IPO.  How could such a successful game perform so poorly?  It could be because of a recent copyright scandal.  As more people learn more details from social media, they just want to stop playing the game.  So, what exactly happened?

First, let's remind ourselves what copyrights are for.  They protect the creator of a work of art, fiction, video game, etc.  They help ensure that you get the profits from sales of the work instead of some other Joe Blow who had nothing to do with the creation of the work.

However, more and more, we see examples of people taking advantage of copyright laws in attempts to do what Joe Blow would like to do: earn money when they don't deserve it.

I believe this is what King tried to do and (thankfully) failed.

First off, let's all admit it.  Candy Crush Saga is a fun and addictive game.  One night I tried it out, and I couldn't stop until I ran out of credits.  King did a good job in the presentation of the game, and I believe they should earn money.  Good for them.

However, they started going a little crazy when they tried to "protect" their interests.  Understandably, they went after knock-offs--that is, lower quality games that are similar to Candy Crush.  But they went too far when they tried to trademark the names "Candy" and "Saga."  And they even went after similar games that were created long before Candy Crush existed.

One game in particular is CandySwipe by Albert Ransom, which was created two years prior to the release of Candy Crush.  In fact, Ransom accuses King of stealing parts of his game.  The candy pieces look similar, and so is the use of the word "Sweet."

This snopes article gives a good summary of the saga surrounding Candy Crush, including what Ransom is saying.

What do I think?

#1) I tried out CandySwipe tonight.  There's a demo version you can try for free. My verdict: the games are just too different.  CandySwipe plays like an amateur game with one annoying bug: the screen is too close to the top, and my iPhone "top" menu came down on me at least 10 times while playing.  It also took me a while to realize it's not a three-in-a-row game, but rather a "swiping" game, where you swipe a series of connected pieces to make them disappear.  If you can swipe something like ten in a cluster, you might get a "Sweet!"

I got bored with the game after a few minutes.

I doubt that the gang at King even knew CandySwipe existed.  It's one of those coincidences similar to the story of Larry Potter vs. Harry Potter.  Basically, when someone creates an awesome good-quality story or game, chances are that out of the thousands of mediocre creators who are trying to create similar products, at least one of them will create a product that's remarkably similar.  And to that one mediocre creator, it will feel like the really successful person stole their ideas.

So, no ... King did not swipe ideas from CandySwipe.  (Though as the snopes article pointed out, they may have well swiped ideas from Bejeweled, who also swiped ideas from earlier incarnations of the three-in-a-row variety of games.)  I wish Ransom luck, and I hope he continues to enjoy the cash he's earning from the scandal.  Just, please fix those bugs!

#2) Either way, I find the actions of King to be despicable.  Even though they didn't steal from CandySwipe, and Ransom didn't steal from Candy Crush, there was no reason for either one of them to go after the other.  Ransom's game came out first, so there really should be no standing for King to sue.

King shouldn't have tried to trademark "Candy" and "Saga."  I don't know how many games I've played with those words in the title, and it's silly to expect that others can't use those names.  By the way, since the snopes article was written, King has dropped their attempt to trademark those words.  Though, they successfully pulled it off in Europe.

King shouldn't have threatened to go after "The Banner Saga" which has nothing to do with candy at all, and has zero chance of being confused with "Candy Crush."

I'm just happy that King's attempts failed.  We need less misuse of copyright laws that try to Crush competition and Swipe profits from others who are just trying to make their own living.  I'm glad it blew up in their face, and people could see the greed for what it was.

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