As Candy Crush Saga publisher King is taking a lot of flak for its bullish common word trademarks, a developer has come forward claiming that the popular publisher cloned its game. What's more: the developer behind the clone has confirmed that it was indeed asked to replicate said game.
The game in question is called Scamperghost. It was a Pac-Man-like affair developed by the now ironically-named indie outfit Stolen Goose, whose Matthew Cox recently blew the whistle on the whole affair on his personal blog.
You see, back in 2009 Stolen Goose was in talks to get the game published by King for its Royalgames.com website. The negotiations fell through, however, when Stolen Goose was given a better offer by MaxGames.com. Naturally, Stolen Goose went with the higher paying offer, leaving King without an "avoider game".
Things get stranger as back in 2010 King's Lars Jörnow - the very man Stolen Goose was in talks with - admitted in an e-mail to Cox that it cloned Scamperghost with the incredibly similar Pac-Avoid.
"We wanted to sponsor Scamper Ghost since it's a great game and since we were actively looking for an avoider game at the time," Jörnow explained. "The flash world is filled of similar-looking games, and there are probably hundreds of avoider-games with similar menus, a box with enemies, and coins - and we thought Scamper Ghost was awesome."
"Scamper Ghost is a great game. We're sorry our deal didn't turn out with you guys - you made out with more money and we were left without an avoider game that we had already planned on. We needed an avoider game and sponsored a similar game."
Now "similar game" can mean anything. Canabalt and Robot Unicorn Attack are similar endless runners, for example, but I can't foresee the former's creator suing the latter. But in this particular instance, it's closer to a carbon-copy than a different take on the same genre - as one can see in the video above.
Things get especially dicey when Pac-Avoid developer, Matt Porter of the now-defunct studio Epic Shadow, e-mailed Cox in 2010 to explain that it had been duped into developing the clone as Jörnow told the Pac-Avoid developer that Stolen Goose had backed out of a contract - something Cox is adamant never happened.
"First off, sorry that we (Andrew and I of EpicShadow) cloned your game for Lars of King.com," Porter began in an e-mail obtained by Eurogamer through Cox. "I know there's a ton of rumour[s] as to what happened, so here's the exact details, you believing them is your decision. Lars approached us one day explaining that you (Stolen Goose) had signed a contract, had been working with him on finishing the deal, and then got a better deal and backed out. As tempting as more cash would be, if contract was signed, douche move."
"He [Jörnow] asked us to clone the game very quickly, and even wanted to beat the release of the original game," Porter continued. "He offered us $3K, and the only reasons we took the project was because we found it immoral that you backed out of a deal (as it was told to us, perhaps not as it was), and because we were short on cash and in a very s***** living condition.
"Anyway, we made the game, gave it to him, and specifically asked to not be in the credits or mentioned in any way because we still found the whole situation shady. He paid us, we gave him the game, we called it the end.
"The reasons I didn't respond to your first email was because Lars told me to stay out of it, and that he would respond on the forums to take care of it," Porter added. "We again wanted nothing to do with the game post completion, and I agreed to not respond.
"The reason I'm telling you now is because it keeps coming up now and again, and it bugs me. It bugs me because I don't agree with the entire situation, and I'm not an asshole as one may think when hearing of this situation. I do honestly believe the blame should be put mostly on Lars, but regardless, I am sorry that we got into the entire ordeal."
So how does King justify all of this? Cox sent Eurogamer the unabridged versions of its 2010 correspondence with Jörnow where he claimed that King gave Stolen Goose a 2.5 month head start as a courtesy to the cloned developer.
"The game Pac-Avoid was actually ready for publication around the same time that Scamper Ghost was published, but out of respect for you and your game and the similarities between the two games we decided to wait more than 2.5 months with the publication. It would be nice if you take this for what it is: a game inspired by your game."
Just today King responded to the cloning allegations in a statement to Polygon where it plainly stated "King does not clone other peoples' games." The publisher added "King believes that IP - both our own IP and that of others - is important and should be properly protected. Like any prudent company, we take all appropriate steps to protect our IP in a sensible and fair way. At the same time, we are respectful of the rights and IP of other developers."
"Before we launch any game, we do a thorough search of other games in the marketplace, as well as a review of trademark filings, to ensure that we are not infringing anyone else's IP. However, for the avoidance of doubt, in this case, this game - which was coded by a third party developer five years ago - has been taken down."
The publisher still hasn't responded to the allegations that it deceived Epic Shadow to get the team to do its bidding, but we've requested comment on this and will update as we find out more.
These days Cox isn't particularly sore about the clone. A copy is a copy and he explained in an e-mail to Eurogamer yesterday that he was happy with the $7000 he received from MaxGames - more than double the $3000 King was offering. But he wanted to make his story known in response to King's recent trademark disputes.
"I don't care so much that they made a lesser copy of our game. Let people do what they want to do," Cox said of the 2009 cloning ordeal. "This is only an issue now because they're using their massive financial wealth and legal power to limit the innovations of smaller developers."
"it's just a blatant double standard to be trademark trolling against other companies now," he added. "And that's the real issue here. Not the copying of our game... The double standard."
"Should King be able to just own the use of the word Candy?! When they have a history of doing the exact same thing only even worse?" Cox concluded before dropping the proverbial mic to point out that "Pac-Avoid uses half of Namco's Pac Man trademark."