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McClone
by Ryan Creighton on 05/23/12 10:55:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

[this article by Ryan Henson Creighton is re-posted from the Untold Entertainment blog, which is awesome.]

My more mature colleagues warn me not to be too "precious" about my work. i get my back up at that, because to me it's akin to saying "don't be too passionate". But i've seen preciousness in the capital-I Indie scene lately, and i now feel i have a better sense of what my colleagues are warning me about.

This week, yet another capital-I Indie game developer - one of the Elite - has had their game "cloned", and the community has become butthurt on their behalf (as i write this, the developers themselves haven't officially commented).

The game was Johann Sebastian Joust. In it, each player holds a Playstation Move motion controller and must move through the physical space in time to a Bach piece. If a player moves out of time with the music, his controller blinks off and he's "out". So the game is a challenge to swat at each others' controllers to send those players out of the game, while still moving in time to the music yourself.

Joust co-creator Doug plays his game at Indiecade 2011 while i sit nearby with Ponycorns, butthurt and criminally un-awarded (not pictured)

i Hate All the Things

Here's a bit of disclosure: i didn't particularly like Joust when i saw it at IndieCade (after it beat out my own game for the Community Impact award), but it was clear that lots of other people did. When i played JS Joust at GDC this year, i waited a long time for a turn, and then was swatted "out" almost immediately by someone who had been in for a few rounds. i don't like a game where i instantly fail my first time and then have to wait a long time before i can try again. As a day camp counsellor in my youth, i tried to avoid playing eliminate-and-wait games with my group, where kids would get killed early and would wait around starting small fires while everyone else played and had fun. Remember that our own games press absolutely destroyed Silicon Knights because of Too Human's overlong resurrection sequence. "Just let me play again already!"

Sitting out: the very definition of unfun. (Photo by Amanda Summerlin)

While i'm at it, i didn't enjoy World of Goo, i was bored by Fez, and i thought the writing in Braid was utter tripe (although i did enjoy the rest of the game ... except for the special stars, because they were so much bullshit). i didn't play past the first chapter of Sword and Sworcery because it didn't grab me, and i felt The Graveyard and Passage were supremely pretentious. But that's okay. The fact that i didn't go nuts for these games doesn't mean that you can't enjoy them, and it shouldn't taint your own view of them. Feel free to dump on my upcoming game Spellirium if it's not your cup of tea. Different people like different things, and that's fine: media is never objectively good. i hope we can agree to that, at least.

The exception, of course, is "Rushmore", which is OBJECTIVELY the greatest movie ever made.

The Slimiest Form of Flattery

What we may not be able to agree to is my opinion on the fact that there's a new game on the iTunes store that is similar to JS Joust, and that that, too, is perfectly alright. What's happened is that a game that i've only ever seen at festivals and conferences, being closely overseen (or downright babysat) by one of its creators, with a setup requiring special equipment that not a lot of people own, AND a laptop, AND an external sound system ... a game that i don't think i can even purchase ? (i checked the developers' site, and their store is closed. Let's say i buy 16 Move controllers and get all my friends together and hook my laptop up to an external speaker that i'm inexplicably lugging around ... can i buy Johann Sebastian Joust? i don't think i can. Please let me know if i'm mistaken here.)

UPDATE: There was a 30-day window in which to purchase JS Joust during the Venus Patrol Kickstarter campaign, which wrapped up last October.

Anyway, what's happened is that a game similar to THAT game has now been made available on the iPhone, a device that magnitudes more people own than they do Move controllers. These players can now access the similar game and play it wherever they want, and it's far more likely their friends can join in with them ... and when they're finished, there's no special tear-down. Just put the game back in your pocket.

i got the festival game! i put it in my pants.

As an aside, i see shades of piracy justification in this story. One of the most common excuses people provide for justifying stealing movies and music is that the content has not been made available by the rights holder in the time and place and for the price that the consumer so chooses. How many of us have watched "Game of Thrones", vs the number of us who are legit HBO subscribers or (one-year-later) iTunes purchasers? People have heard about JS Joust, and likely want to play it ... but for lack of a vast pile of Move controllers, or airfare to California or Cologne to attend a conference or festival where the game is being played, they can't experience it. Thanks to Papa Quash, now they can, and with stuff they already own. People want to experience media they've heard about and that critics are lauding; Die Gute Fabrik has garnered a lot of press and many accolades for their game. Now, people want to play it. But Joust is not convenient (or possible) for them to play.

Fight for Your Right to Parlay

To be clear, this is not an issue of legal rights. Game mechanics or styles of play cannot be copyrighted (though frighteningly, like the ghost racer from Hard Drivin' or the compass arrow pointing to your destination in Crazy Taxi, they can sometimes be patented). A trademark infringement would have the iPod clone being called Johann Sebastian Fight, or Ludwig Von Joust, and that's not the case here. Some of the folks i bickered with on Twitter today said that while the "clone" was not legally infringing, it was morally infringing. Again, i disagree, and that's where being too precious comes into it.

Someone asked me how i would feel if another developer cloned Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure on some platform other than the web, the iPad or the BlackBerry Playbook. My answer? "Litigious", because that would be an infringement of both my trademark and copyright. But i didn't invent the point n' click graphic adventure game genre ... (in fact, i "cloned" it for Ponycorns) ... so if someone wanted to team up with one or more 5-year-old little girls and make a game using scanned crayon drawings and adorable voiceovers, how angry could i possibly get? As has been proven time and again, it's the execution, not the idea, that matters.

Alright: who wants to be the first jackhole to release Suzie's Mystical Horseyhorn Escapade?

McExecution

It's possible that Henry Ford would have been precious and felt butthurt if he'd lived to see Ray Kroc apply Ford's concept of assembly line efficiency to assembling hamburgers at McDonald's. It's more likely that Kroc himself was butthurt when the likes of Colonel Sanders, Dave Thomas, and John Fitzsimmons Burgerking had success with their operationally identical fast food chains (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's, and Fitzsimmons's Meaty-time Corral, respectively). Burger King is a "clone" of McDonalds, from the concept of franchised food, down to the signature sandwich. Rather than decry Burger King as a rip-off, sometimes i'm happy to have the option, and i can really go for a Whopper.

Clones are bad! (nom nom nom) i'm (glorm!) so offended right now! BRAAPPP!

Pepsi is a cola drink. Coca-cola is another cola drink. So is Cott's cola, for times when i'm feeling frugal. These are similar expressions of the same concept. And i'm awfully glad that they all exist.

Imagine that only three McDonald's restaurants existed before Burger King franchises swept the nation and became available everywhere. And those three restaurants were in Illinois, far from where you live. (Illinois people, you're going to have to use your imaginations here.) You could hold out for that McDonald's experience, because you believed the hype and the press, and you think that Burger King is a moral abasement and that they really screwed over McDonald's when BK went nation-wide with the franchised fast food burger concept. OR, you could STFU and go get a Whopper. Perhaps you could enjoy something from McDonald's if you ever happened to swing the airfare to Chicago?

OR, if you're McDonald's, you could finally get around to building restaurants where everyone can access them, and spin your marketing to position yourself against your clone as the original, best experience. (Count the number of times Coke used the word "original" in its ads during the cola wars of the 1980's.)

OR you can keep McDonald's to those three restaurants in Illinois, and continue perpetuating the elite mystique about your product with your nose in the air. Looking at a print of the Mona Lisa is fine, but true art fans have travelled to the Louvre to see it in person. Die Gute Fabrik has lots of options here, and they're all marketing-related.

The Choice of a New Generation

The tack i hope they don't take is to rally the captial-I Indie scene troops to their cause, and blacklist the developers of Quash Papa as if the indie community is the goddamned Illuminati. Yeti Town is a clone of Triple Town, but being a reluctant Canadian, i don't like winter - and i DO like teddy bears, so i can make my choice as a consumer to play Triple Town. Dream Heights is a clone of Tiny Tower, but i don't want to play either of those games, because the clone Lil' Kingdom has adorable baby dragons and i'd rather spend my money on them. i don't care that Nimblebit, the concept's progenitor (arguably), isn't getting my money, because Nimblebit didn't give me the baby dragons that i so richly deserve as a consumer.

Dragons up! Skyscrapers down!

Pepsi tastes better than Coke, in my subjective opinion, and i prefer a Whopper to a Big Mac. Two Snow White films are being marketed simultaneously right now. i'm more interested in watching "Snow White and the Huntsman" than "Mirror Mirror" because i don't care for Julia Roberts in the latter, and the dramatic treatment - the execution - of Huntsman is more appealing to me than the comedic treatment of Mirror Mirror. Marvel Comics has better heroes, while DC Comics has better villains.

Spider-man fights a guy named Kangaroo? Srsly?

Dear capital-I Indies: welcome to the world of creating media for worldwide audiences. You're not fourteen any more, and while some of you may still live with your parents, you need to stop listening to them when they tell you you're a rare and precious snowflake. You're going to get ripped off - that's bidness, baby - and sometimes audiences will prefer the clone to the original. Your excellent and once-unique ideas can and should and will be spread far and wide - tinkered with, reconstituted, explored, and backwards-engineered. Just as Braid is Super Mario Bros. with time reversal and Machinarium is Gobliiins with different artwork, you have hacked and cloned and explored game mechanics and ideas throughout your careers. If your game gets ripped off, don't bitch. Be flattered, be angry, and execute better.


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Comments


Tony Downey
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Steambirds holds my favourite lesson about cloning. They have been cloned time and time again, beaten to new markets and platforms, and yet they are doing just fine. How?

One, they did a great job branding and building a community that did advertising for them. They were cloned on the App store, but by the time they got there, they were a featured release because of their previous work and fans.

Two, they were always a step ahead of their cloners anyway. By the time a clone of their latest version hit, they were months of development into a new, better version with new features and concepts. Rather than fighting cloners they outmaneuvered them. Brilliant.

I've always felt that my value as a creative isn't the work that I've produced, it's that I can continue producing new work. When the cloners clone my future output before I do it myself, I'll be scared.

Christer Kaitila
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Well said! Too many highbrow indies (myself included, at one point) have a knee-jerk reaction of offence to game clones, when instead we need to take a good hard look at our own games and realize that everything has already been done in the past. We're not half as original as we think we are.

E McNeill
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The arguments in this post (and in the comments above) are incredibly simplistic. I don't have time to rebut them all point-by-point, but luckily Colin Northway has done most of the work for me: http://northwaygames.com/?p=748

My perspective is this: Inventing a new game is really, really difficult. Reskinning or cloning an existing game is not. When the clone can get more credit than the invention, the creative ecosystem is polluted. Game designers could try to protect themselves with patents or secrecy, but that would stymie creativity in its own way. Instead, our only apparent line of defense is either to pursue a narrow path of constantly trying to stay ahead of the cloners (which does not appeal to me), or to create a social environment in which cloning is recognized as unethical and (hopefully) discouraged.

P.S. "Braid is Super Mario Bros. with time reversal" <-- Please tell me that this is a joke.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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You hit every topic I wanted to, right down to "Braid is Super Mario Bros. with time reversal".

Heck, since copying is the cheap way of making a buck, I think I'll start doing it. And if you're smart you'll start doing it too. And so will he and she and he and she and.... on and on and on until no one is innovating. This article seems very childish and envious of some ruling Indie Elite that has the power to change the tides of consumerism (ironic since the indie movement is the underdog trying to break from the publishing paradigm that really does control consumerism by holding marketing channels with an iron fist).

I was cloning games when I was five because of pure instinct. I quickly outgrew it when I was still a kid because I want to contribute to society, not merely extract from it, and because I both enjoy and have pride in creative productivity beyond simply paying my bills every month. And no, you don't have to fathom a game of entirely unique atoms, nor do you get to flatten the ethical dilemma to something bite-sized because "everything has been remixed" or "nothing under the sun is new" or whatever the pablum du jour to protect the uncreative is. It's time all adults in this industry reach the level of appreciation of creative efforts and respect for the success of those who earned it instead of those who strong-armed their way into the market that I reached when I was a kid :|.

With all that said, full disclosure: I have played neither JSJ nor their clone, nor do I know the mindset of the developers of said clone, so I have no judgment on that particular instance at this particular moment. Still, the lack of respect for creativity in a creative industry is a far-flung trend that I will continue to address.

Benjamin Quintero
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It's this kind of thinking that disincentivizes individuals from put themselves out there when it's easier to copy what someone else has done, but with teddy bears.

E Zachary Knight
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You have a disturbing lack of faith in human ingenuity and creativity. Very few people like to do what "everyone else is doing". Most people would rather stand out from the crowd and be their own person. It is that desire that will drive creativity despite the presence of cloners.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I agree with both of you. Benjamin addresses my fears and Zachary addresses my hopes.

I think we need more than just drive though, we need protection through unity and spreading the message. I am going to continue innovating on my personal projects as much as I can, but I can't lie and say that cloning doesn't phase me: there's a growing fear in the pit of my stomach that I can't rationalize away, nor do I think it's completely irrational to have said fear. Not to mention that I have to be creative on personal projects because the mainstream I am employed in does not take risks, an attitude which is not helped when those who do take risks can so easily be taken advantage of.

Benjamin Quintero
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Zach, it's not that I have a lack of faith, it's just fact. If there was a kid who sat next to you in school and copied your answers and looked over your shoulder all the time and survived through you then you might be a little annoyed. You might be even more annoyed if he earned awards and accolades for his "talent" because he also cheated in classes where you made an honest effort and only got out with a B+ instead of his A-. That's all I'm saying.

In school, you can just move to another chair, but it's not about location in video games, it's about ideas. Ideas don't come as easily as an empty chair. And clones are no different than THAT kid who cheated through English because he wasn't creative enough to come up with his own interpretations of the reading assignment.

Yes, I get it that life is not fair =) a lesson I assume that most of us have learned by now. That doesn't condone the actions those who live by that rule for their own gain. I have nothing against people who look at a game, make that their target, and end up with something different by the end of the creative process. What I don't appreciate is a content swap, then pretending that you don't understand why people are calling you out.

E Zachary Knight
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Ben, (I get to call you that since you called me Zach ;) )

I think the test of time will bring the results that you seek here. For the kid who cheats his way through school, he will eventually reach a point where cheating will not help him and he will fail. He will fail hard. For kids who cheat their way through school, this often comes when it is time to enter the work force. They lack the basic skills needed to do a good job and will be hit with the ramifications.

For cloners, they will eventually be found out, or struggle and fail as a business. Cloning can only carry you so far. As people start to look for fresh ideas, fresh experiences, they will see that the cloners are not where such can be found and they will leave them. They will eventually fail.

"What I don't appreciate is a content swap, then pretending that you don't understand why people are calling you out."

Yeah, I don't really appreciate that either. People need to learn to own their mistakes. We have a societal mentality that nothing bad that happens is "our fault" It is always the fault of some external factor outside our control.

That said, if you fail in your game creation, you should not blame that failure on clones. They are not the reason you failed. You failed because you didn't do all that you could do to succeed. So the proper response should be to look, learn and apply what you learn. Take ownership of of the failure and succeed.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Lars Doucet
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I think the root of the problem with the anti-cloning crowd is "Loss Aversion":

"Simply put, we hate losing what we’ve got. People tend to place a much higher value on losses than on gains. So the gains we get from copying the work of others don’t make a big impression, but when it’s our ideas being copied, we perceive this as a loss and we get territorial."
http://www.everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series/

Copying is a VALUABLE thing that promotes creativity and enhances culture. Stifling it stifles innovation. The downside to pursuing an open, permissive, and copy-friendly culture is that someone else will occasionally copy your stuff and beat you to a market and "steal" "your" customers.

I'll take that trade-off.


E McNeill
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I have never heard *anyone* argue that games shouldn't borrow elements from each other, or mix up existing game mechanics in new ways. That's not what cloning is. Cloning has nothing to do with creativity.

Lars Doucet
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Cloning is the side-effect of the freedom to copy. Just like people saying things you don't like is the side effect of freedom of speech.

Furthermore, what is the difference between "creatively building upon" a very simple game with only a few mechanics and "cloning" it? Usually the difference is quite subjective, as in this case.

E Zachary Knight
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Cloning is one of the driving factors of innovation and creativity. However, it is not on the side of the cloners that that innovation and creativity is kindled. It is on the side of those that are cloned.

There are two responses to being cloned:

1) Mope, complain and whine.
2) Get back to work creating cool stuff.

Personally, I am a fan of #2 and hold that as my personal philosophy. I guess there are some people who prefer #1, but I don't know why.

E McNeill
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Lars: I'm not arguing for a legalistic solution. Just because a thing is legal does not mean that it is good.

There is a fuzzy line between inspiration and outright cloning. That doesn't mean that the line doesn't exist. If I were to take a new, innovative game and plainly reskin it (like, say, Yeti Town did), would you defend that as an ethical creative act? If not, we agree that cloning is bad.


Zachary: Arguing that something is unethical != whining, nor is it as ineffectual as you imply. Please be less dismissive.

E Zachary Knight
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McNeill,

Ethical arguments are much the same as moral arguments. They are subjective and people vary widely on those spectrums. They are often very ineffective as they tend to cement opinion rather than alter it. Ethical arguments also have a high propensity of ending in flame wars and personal attacks from both sides.

I don't see how any of that is desirable or effective.

As for the idea that cloning drives creativity, please see my first paragraph. It is not the cloner that is driven to innovate but those that are cloned. But those that are cloned cannot innovate if they are wasting their time getting into ethical arguments over the practice of cloning.

In the end, it is the consumer, the fan, that determines what is successful and what is not. If the consumer determines that the clone is more successful than the original, that means the developer of the original needs to return to that ability to innovate and create and try something different to get that edge up on the competition.

Lars Doucet
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McNeill,

I'm not claiming you're arguing for a legalistic solution, either. I'm saying that I emphatically disagree with your position that there is something morally wrong with cloning and that we should, as a community, see cloners as Bad People Doing Bad Things. At most, I would see the absolute worst cases (which I do not think applies to PQ) as "kinda bad."

I do not think Copyright is good simply because it is legal. In fact, I think if anything Copyright should be *weaker.* My position is simply that Copyright is as FAR as I am willing to go in supporting an artist's "exclusive rights" to the ideas embodied in their work.

I'd say artists should have a very limited exclusive right to their work - the original 17 years seems super generous to me. As for your Yeti Town example - I'd have to look into the particulars of the case.

Regardless of what any legal standard says, here's my "moral" standard:
If they copied enough elements for it to be a direct rip off of the unique expression of the idea embodied in Triple Town, I'd say that's bad. This standard for me is VERY high.

Kingdom Rush is a good example of where my hammer comes down. When Kingdom Rush was "cloned" it wasn't "cloned" so much as outright copied, down to the exact same level designs and original art assets. However, if someone just used the same mechanics as Triple Town, why should Spry Fox get to "own" those mechanics? Again, I'd have to look more into the triple town case to pass judgment.

Here's a different example - what exactly did Angry Birds bring to Crush the Castle that was particularly new? Cartoon Birds and a different theme? Why aren't they guilty of cloning?

Based on what I've seen so far, Papa Quash has more than enough difference to get a pass in my book, especially because the mechanics for JS Joust and PQ are so simple. You're not morally entitled to monopolize a new idea just because it's simple. In fact, the simpler an idea is, the less protection it deserves, moral, legal, whatever.

That's not because simple isn't creative and beautiful and valuable (it's all of those thing), but because it's very easy for lots of different people to come up with the same simple idea. Whether someone looked at another simple idea first before making their own version of it is kind of irrelevant in my book.

If someone wants to clone Defender's Quest, go for it! If you make a tower defense game where the towers are party members and they level up between battles, great! I'll even give you some of my level up formulas if you want to use them, for those who don't feel like reverse-engineering them.

If you copy every single last detail beyond the mechanics, down to the characters, story, art, and music, then we might have a problem but then we're way past cloning, aren't we?

Do your own implementation, but the same mechanics? You don't even NEED my permission to do that.

Tony Downey
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I think it's fair if Yeti Town is left out of the conversation on cloning entirely. The developers of Yeti Town didn't just copy the mechanics, UI, tutorial, style, reward structure, and more - they exploited their working relationship with SpryFox to get internal information, then ended their relationship the day the game was released on the App Store. It's less of an intellectual property argument and more of a corporate breach of contract lawsuit.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"I have never heard *anyone* argue that games shouldn't borrow elements from each other, or mix up existing game mechanics in new ways. That's not what cloning is. Cloning has nothing to do with creativity."

Quoted for truth.

"Cloning is the side-effect of the freedom to copy. Just like people saying things you don't like is the side effect of freedom of speech."

That is an interesting statement, which I kind of like, even though I don't like "cloning". That things are trade offs is good to remember. However, it is also important to note that your freedom of speech does not allow you to threaten someone even if "you don't mean it", to say you have a bomb on an airplane, to yell "fire!" in a crowded theatre, to slander, etc. So legally and ethically copying someone else's work in a manner that allows you to shortcut efforts by exploiting the fact that they did research, marketing, good-will earning, tuning, etc, without stepping back and letting them get _some_ return on their investment and then distancing yourself from what you are copying by adding to it or differentiating "enough" (yes, it's subjective) is not something we should so easily allow.

"...There are two responses to being cloned:..."

Absolutely invalid. The true cost of being cloned is the time you put into making the game to begin with, perhaps taking out loans, justified with the money you will earn when the game is sold (and if you are making your game for free this dialog changes, but a lot of for-profit games have been cloned lately so I will address it from that angle). So your second option is naive in light of financial pressure and, as Mcneal said, a bit dismissive. So more realistically your option to being cloned is to fight it or to go out of business because the money you needed from the success of your game isn't some immature, imaginary "score" that people are merely "whining" about; it is financial compensation for your contributions to society, a fact of life necessity rightfully deserved. To ignore it and keep going assumes that you are one of the handful of developers that has enough money to take a hit on your indie project and shrug it off and somehow have the financials to try it again (and what, hope you don't get cloned again and have the profit of your work diluted yet again? Really how long can you pay rent with "hope"?).

"As for your Yeti Town example - I'd have to look into the particulars of the case. "

Regarding Yeti Town vs Triple Town, the developer of Triple Town pointed out that Yeti Town had the same mechanics down to the price of resources, so I don't think that's even a gray area; it is clearly someone trying to push the boundaries of the law. Not to mention the fact that Spry Fox was in negotiations with 6Wave Lolapps for publishing rights and showed Triple Town to them under an NDA shortly before they somehow published Yeti Town. http://venturebeat.com/2012/01/29/spry-fox-sues-6waves-lolapps-fo
r-copying-triple-town-game/

"Here's a good example - what exactly did Angry Birds bring to Crush the Castle that was particularly new? Cartoon Birds and a different theme? Why aren't they guilty of cloning?"

Having played both, I think the difference between Angry Birds and Crush the Castle is far more than simply thematic (though the theme and quality of AB is much beyond CtC). The aiming mechanic in AB is much more intuitive. These are also level-based game, where much of the work necessary to bring the game to the public is in level design. The interactions with objects and enemies in CtC is very flat and binary, while in AB structural pieces can be in various levels of damage and the pigs can even progress through damage states and roll around. Most importantly, and what kept me playing Angry Birds for what is certainly hundreds of hours, is the scoring system -- which CtC lacked, hurting its replay significantly. Oh yes, and to complicate things even more, CtC was admittedly inspired by a game called Castle Clout, which looks far more similar to it than it does to Angry Birds. These games can be compared here: http://armorgames.com/play/3233/castle-clout-return-of-the-king and here: http://armorgames.com/play/3614/crush-the-castle. But none of this is slimy, as "The developers cite the game, Castle Clout, released October 4, 2008 by Liam Bowmers, as their inspiration.[1][4] Armor Games requested and received permission from Bowmers to use his ideas for the development of Crush the Castle.[1]" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crush_the_Castle).

Anyway, anyone who says they don't mind others cloning their game for profit as long as the art and sounds are original, please let me know what games you are working on :). I can grab some free art and sounds and easily compete with you in your market. Even if I'm not likely to outmarket you on a game by game basis, I look forward to building up my wealth by scatter shotting as such a cloning strategy should allow me to output games much faster than you can. Maybe when I get enough money you can sell your studio to me for a steal and I can join the ruling elites that have billions of dollars without really contributing to society.

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

"Absolutely invalid. The true cost of being cloned is the time you put into making the game to begin with, perhaps taking out loans, justified with the money you will earn when the game is sold (and if you are making your game for free this dialog changes, but a lot of for-profit games have been cloned lately so I will address it from that angle). So your second option is naive in light of financial pressure and, as Mcneal said, a bit dismissive. So more realistically your option to being cloned is to fight it or to go out of business because the money you needed from the success of your game isn't some immature, imaginary "score" that people are merely "whining" about; it is financial compensation for your contributions to society, a fact of life necessity rightfully deserved. To ignore it and keep going assumes that you are one of the handful of developers that has enough money to take a hit on your indie project and shrug it off and somehow have the financials to try it again (and what, hope you don't get cloned again and have the profit of your work diluted yet again? Really how long can you pay rent with "hope"?)."

Since this is the only response to one of my comments, I will only respond to it.

Your arguments tend to lean toward entitlement based on my reading of them. To think we are somehow entitled to success simply because we have what we think is a novel idea is beyond insane. No free market could exist if that were to be held to 100%. IF we were to do that, we would be in far worse shape as a nation, as a world.

Once you have implemented your idea and released it to the public, aside from limited (supposedly) protections such as copyright, patent and trademark, you have no right to tell others what they can do with your ideas. It is this entitlement attitude, these moral rights arguments that have led copyright law to its absurd levels it has today. It is this entitlement attitude, these moral rights arguments that have led patent law to allow things like gene, business method and software patents to take hold.

Whenever someone makes a moral argument for why they are right, it never ends there. Someone else with a stronger moral conviction will come later down the line and take more. That is why I think fighting cloning is not worth the effort. That is why I would rather focus on making good games than deal with trying to stop people from cloning my ideas. It has nothing to do with my financial situation.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Your arguments tend to lean toward entitlement"

As a general rule, and I want you to know that as I type this I have read only this -- I don't respond to people who drop the "E" word. It's embarassingly unproductive and distracting. Okay I read a little further and saw the word insane, so I am looking forward to finishing this, just know that I am only doing it to show the same respect you showed by reading my post _despite_ my disdain for this catch all word (if someone wants something I don't want them to want or think they should want I can call them "entitled" for wanting it and _win_! Teeheehee!)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Your arguments tend to lean toward entitlement based on my reading of them."

"based on my reading of them" is the problem. I say this because I don't think you can possibly twist what I said into "...we are... entitled to success simply because we have what we think is a novel idea...". I don't think I or anyone should have bars of gold delivered overnight because some differentiation algorithm dictates it, I don't think what I said can be reasonably twisted to that extreme, and I honestly don't know that you think that is what I said. But at that point I am accusing you of intentionally misrepresenting me or being unable to comprehend, which is quite unfair. I don't want to go this route out of respect but particularly because I largely agree with the rest of what you wrote! Well, I agree that copyright is imperfect and patent laws are just horribly broken, though I don't like seeing that word "entitlement" again and feel it is linguistic "fat". Everyone making any normative claim can be disdainfully accused of being "entitled" to their desired outcome for the normative claim; I could say nothing "entitles" you to a free market, nothing "entitles" you to us being a nation in any decent shape, yadda yadda yadda. It's the equivalent of nuclear winter in discourse, and I wish people would stop using it.

But let me address this: "Once you have implemented your idea and released it to the public, aside from limited (supposedly) protections such as copyright, patent and trademark, you have no right to tell others what they can do with your ideas." And I want to address it without talking about "rights" or how it feels emotionally icky to fail because someone copied you or anything fuzzy like that. If I live in a society and I am a self-interested agent, I want gains for any effort I choose to allocate my limited time on this earth to. So if direct cloning (not extending a gameplay mechanic, simply arriving on market faster than they could because they did the research and taking market share) is allowed, and I know other agents are acting in rational self-interest, then I know they are going to want to clone. It is just mathematically simpler to accomplish a task when part of that task is done for you (the research, building up a fan base, fine-tuning variables, etc). So every agent is deadlocked waiting for some idiot to innovate so they can jump on them. With no incentive to be that first idiot, no innovation will occur.

Where there is room for discourse is: What should we do about this? Should we have stricter laws? Just be socially aware of cloning? I am more for the latter, but it seems like even doing that is too much for some people - any time a clone story comes out now people make blog posts going "boohoo entitled indie auteur thinks they deserve money for their work! Waahhhh!"

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

"As a general rule, and I want you to know that as I type this I have read only this -- I don't respond to people who drop the "E" word. It's embarassingly unproductive and distracting. Okay I read a little further and saw the word insane, so I am looking forward to finishing this, just know that I am only doing it to show the same respect you showed by reading my post _despite_ my disdain for this catch all word (if someone wants something I don't want them to want or think they should want I can call them "entitled" for wanting it and _win_! Teeheehee!) "

I guess if you want to take my comment as such, that is your prerogative. However, I would like to point out, that every expanse of copyright law, every expanse of patent law, every expanse of trademark law has always, and I do mean always, been framed based on the argument of "the artist deserves this expanded protection." In every case, the cultural pool of nations that take up such expansions is dwindled and harmed beyond repair. In the US, we will not see a work enter the public domain for another 10 years. Works created today will not enter the public domain until our great-grand children are in their 40s and 50s.

At this time we have music royalty collection agencies who take money from indie bands and give it to bands and singers in the top 100. We have patent wars that are costing innovative companies millions, shutting them down due to legal fees forcing them into bankruptcy. We have people suing companies for having similar ideas as their own.

All this is insane. I don't know any way else to describe it. When the cost of creativity is bankruptcy because someone else thought of a similar idea as you and sued you over it, that is insane.

These moral/ethical discussions are never kept simply to academic pursuits. Eventually someone will take that moral argument and try to expand it to a legal one and threaten others with costly legal battles and even costlier legislation. I don't want to see that happen.

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

This is the line that I took as what I considered "entitlement"

"So more realistically your option to being cloned is to fight it or to go out of business because the money you needed from the success of your game isn't some immature, imaginary "score" that people are merely "whining" about; it is financial compensation for your contributions to society, a fact of life necessity rightfully deserved. "

In here you are stating that such financial awards from success are "necessity rightfully deserved." I am not sure at all how else to parse this statement. You other comments certainly didn't lend this statement to any other meaning.

I am glad that you are not willing to seek a legal solution to cloning. I think that is very commendable. However, not everyone has the same conviction as you. Many others would like to see copyright and patent extended to cover ideas rather than expression. That is where I see the problem.

If you want to see a more socially aware society and market on the topic of cloning, then I guess that is noble. But I tend to err on the side of caution. Sort of a "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." kind of guy. People will take these moral issues and turn them into legal issues. I would much rather see the greater gaming community and industry look at cloning as simply another avenue of competition and compete.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Okay, this is kind of enlightening now. Sorry I really do have a reflex disdain for "entitlement" after hearing it so much recently (in ugly political contexts no less), but I'm glad I read the rest of what you have to say :).

"In here you are stating that such financial awards from success are "necessity rightfully deserved." I am not sure at all how else to parse this statement. You other comments certainly didn't lend this statement to any other meaning. "

So I don't mean it to sound like "if you make something you deserve money even if people don't want it" or anything. But if you make something and someone else copies it (and once again I'm talking about copying that is "too close" to the original; fuzzy but I don't know how to draw the line right now) and then it sells well, that shows that the public did want it. And so in that sense, though I hate the word as it has taken a negative connotation, I do feel that the original creator is "entitled" to the profits of the work. This is an instance of someone being "entitled" that I feel so strongly about that, if you dismiss it, I must believe that you feel no one is "entitled" to anything. If your labor yields fruits (happy customers) and you still are not entitled to said fruits despite the labor, then what does "entitlement" mean?

Here's another way I see it: if we as a society are given the choice between rewarding creators and rewarding copycats, we should reward creators as incentivizing copycats incentivizes people to become deadlocked waiting for _someone else_ to create, and creation will never occur. Now I would make games out of love as much as anyone in this industry -- if I didn't need a stable job and an income to support myself. But as a society we have a system where you really need a job to function -- even if you could grow your own food and build your own house, how are you going to pay property taxes? How are you going to afford your computer to make your game? Your website to market and distribute it?

"If you want to see a more socially aware society and market on the topic of cloning, then I guess that is noble. But I tend to err on the side of caution. Sort of a "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." kind of guy."

But so is the road to Heaven. So how do you know which road you are on?

"People will take these moral issues and turn them into legal issues. I would much rather see the greater gaming community and industry look at cloning as simply another avenue of competition and compete."

So I think software patents should be abolished, or at the very _least_ limited to something like a year protection. And you certainly shouldn't be able to patent a "piece" of software like an algorithm that will take common use; at that point you are constraining a "tool" that I need to make my product, not the "product" itself -- and that is simply absurd! If I spent money on an education that allows me to come up with a solution to a part of a problem I need to solve to create my product, what gives anyone the right to utilize the government to force me to pay them to exercise my talent? Yet this is the software patent system we have now, and it is a disgraceful mess.

With that said, I don't know that I feel so strongly against copyright as you. I definitely think the climate around copyright right now is bad (individuals getting sued tens of thousands for sharing music in a non-profit way, the BS movement where companies want you to think you are merely "licensing" a product when you purchase it, etc), I feel these types of issues are not the "fault" of copyright directly, or at least that they do not nullify its value. If we didn't have copyright in some form, wouldn't I be legally able to buy a game day one, create copies, and sell it at will? Wouldn't the laws of supply and demand shrink the price as many people do this and thus the profitability of IP drops quickly to zero? Wouldn't people realize this and then no longer make games/movies/etc? Now, I am for a future where everyone makes entertainment for free -- the only reason I am so concerned over getting paid for my work is because my landlord will kick me out in a heart beat if I don't pay my rent, and he won't listen to my "but I give the fruits of _my_ labor away for free!" line :P.

I don't want our society to get to this future by going down a route that hurts me -- like by abolishing copyright so I can no longer make a living in the software field but still requiring me to pay student loans for the CS degree I spent six figures on with the understanding that such a field honestly rewarded its workers. I am definitely interested in a future of completely free work, perhaps sustained via a post-scarcity society with robotic labor for the "work" that people don't intrinsically want to do, I just don't think that's going to happen before I die and I don't want to see the price of my labor nullified but the price I must pay for everything else (food, rent, student loans) stay the same. What are your thoughts?

E McNeill
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Zachary:

I've had productive, civil conversations about ethics on the internet before. I've persuaded other people and been persuaded. I also believe Gamasutra is an excellent site for such civil debate. Beyond that, ethical discussions are incredibly important; I'm willing to brave the flames to have them.

You argue that the people who are being cloned are driven towards greater creativity; I assume this is because they need to innovate further to keep one step ahead of the cloners. That's a lot of effort that these creators would (in a just world) otherwise be able to spend on, say, another game. This argument seems analogous to saying that the victims of thievery are incentivized to be more productive so that they can make more money. Technically true, but hardly an acceptable dynamic.

E McNeill
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Lars:

"If they copied enough elements for it to be a direct rip off of the unique expression of the idea embodied in Triple Town, I'd say that's bad. This standard for me is VERY high."

Then we agree that a line exists. :) Arguments about the exact dimensions of the line are also interesting, but perhaps not as important as that one point. Regarding the Angry Birds example, I think you can intelligently discuss whether it hewed too closely to its inspiration. I tend to argue that it was *not* a clone (and in fact I have argued that point on this very site: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/AdamSaltsman/20110919/90242/Why_Br
ainstorming_is_NOT_Game_Design.php#comment121317).

I think that clones of very simple games tend to be less excusable-- the fact that it's so simple usually indicates that there's plenty of room for expansion or improvement, and there's no reason not to try to take advantage of that. I also tend to think that the "soul" of games (especially simple ones) is in the deep mechanics rather than the theme. I'd give more leeway to a game that tweaked some physics algorithms than a game that just reskinned its predecessor.

Jason Wilson
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The simple truth is make a better product. No one can copy you if you make the best version of what you make. If someone can do it better than you, then they deserve to beat you.

Benjamin Quintero
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translation: "the one with the deepest pockets wins..."

E Zachary Knight
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Is the Olympic racer sponsored by Nike always the one who wins the gold medal? No. It is always the one who trained the hardeest, who ran the fastest. Why does money change things for game development?

Lars Doucet
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@E Zachary,

In all fairness to Ben, on the Olympics analogy, it's usually the person who takes the most drugs :P

Jason Wilson
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Deep pockets can certainly add to a marketing budget and hire a bigger art team, but its no substitute for a great idea and the passion to make it succeed.

I'm not going to lie and say that an original creation has never been muscled out by someone with a big bank account, but if you're your not doing something that can stand up against a clone than it might not have been that great to begin with.

For someone to clone your game that means you've made something, put it to market, and it's worth cloning. That already gives you distinct advantages over the clone. If you can't capitalize on being first to market with a novel idea, then you were doomed to fail anyway.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Is the Olympic racer sponsored by Nike always the one who wins the gold medal? No. It is always the one who trained the hardeest, who ran the fastest. Why does money change things for game development?"

You can't convince olympic judges to give you medals by outmarketing your competition.

"In all fairness to Ben, on the Olympics analogy, it's usually the person who takes the most drugs :P"

I often compare publishers to steroids, so I find this quite agreeable :).

"If you can't capitalize on being first to market with a novel idea, then you were doomed to fail anyway."

Poisonously naive as advice, depressingly accurate as truth.

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

But you can compete for a sustaining niche market. There is no written rule that money=success. Sure money can help alleviate risk and make it easier to find success, but having a lack of money, but a determination to succeed, can bring success.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"having a lack of money, but a determination to succeed, can bring success."

Here's hoping. I think the main difference between us atm is that I don't share that optimism.

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

I kind of have to have that optimism based on my current path. If I don't then I might as well drop out of the games industry.

E Zachary Knight
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As a developer working on what could technically be called a clone (although there seems to be a statute of limitations in that regard, meaning that cloning a decades old game is not technically cloning. Yeah I don't get it either.) I have no problem with the concept of cloning. Cloning is a product of the freedom to copy and innovate. It happens everywhere. You see it most prominently in entertainment (2-3 tornado, volcano or earthquake movies coming out within a single year period).

The proper response to being cloned should never be to mope, complain, threaten or whine. It should be to recognize what people like about your work and get busy making it better.

I have written about this in the past when Ridiculous Fishing got "cloned" Back then, I didn't think there was an issue and I still don't. I hate the idea that such behavior should be prevented via legal means or through "moral" means. Such reactions are never good. They always tend to be overly restrictive on creativity. I would much rather work in an environment where creativity is unrestricted, even if that means risking being cloned, than work in an environment in which creativity is stifled because I might trod previously trodden ground.

Simon Jensen
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I think that this article kind of misses the distinction between mechanics and the stuff that makes an actual game.

The big problem is that the definiton of 'Clone' is too fluid. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_clone ) it can mean anything from a xeroxed copy to a valid legitimate derivative work. Triple Town was cloned like a Xerox, JSJ was also cloned, but the clone is not a straight copy it's somewhere in the grey area between extremes, and 3079 is a Minecraft clone that went it's own way and became a legitimate (albeit inferior) derivative work.

Cloning, the kind we generally get outraged about, is making an exact duplicate. Not just reusing someone else's mechanics. It's the stuff that if you have deep pockets and a legal department you can call 'trade secret' and get to enforce it. Hence why you haven't seen any starcraft clones in the last decade, just poor attempts to replicate their 3way RTS mechanics.

Yes, if you invent a new mechanic, someone else is going to use it (see cover based shooters).

But using the unit statistics from CIV in your own game and wrapping them your own graphics is, and should be, wrong.

If you don't do the work, you don't deserve to succeed just because you can throw a bigger marketing push behind it.

And the whole 'I wouldn't be angry if someone else makes my ponycorns game' argument is pretty moot as it was a random Game Jam game that went moderately viral, not something made to support the livelyhood of a team.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I noticed that about the wikipedia article too. It seems like we are using a word in a way that covers too much ground. When I speak against cloning, I believe some people are picturing, say, Galaga vs Space Invaders while I am picturing Yeti Town vs Triple Town. I think the word cloning should imply effortless duplication and should be seen as a bad thing, and if you bring up an example of a game that is "similar yet different enough" we need another word for that. Perhaps that word exists and I am drawing a blank.

I find it interesting that copying all the statistics from CIV but changing the art is not legally protected, yet copying all the art and using it in a completely new game is. As a programmer, I find it particularly offensive that the creative (yes programming and numbers can be creative) work that I do is seen as worthless whereas the creative work that an artist does should be protected. And I say this thinking software patents should be abolished!

It's starting to seem like society is going to be downhill from now, because I *know* that I have good intentions when I type what I type but then I get sidetracked (see my back and forth with E Zachary Knight) trying to delineate gray areas and trying to defend myself against strawmen (just because I think a creator should get paid for their work doesn't mean I think _any_ creator should get paid even if the public does not value said work, but I must waste time pointing things like this out). As our species becomes more intelligent and more capable of having discussions, it seems like we are also getting caught up with semantic quibbling and playing the "what if" game and will eventually have no time to enjoy the life we are arguing to perfect, so what's the point? :(. Hopefully this sort of thing can stabilize by better standardizing the use of words.

Joachim Tresoor
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@Jeffrey: As a programmer, your creative work is the source code, and that's protected. Then again, this protection is harder to enforce, because two programmers arriving at nearly identical source code to implement an algorithm is much more likely than two artists arriving at nearly identical pixel arrangements to represent a ponycorn.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Good points.

Simon Jensen
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exactly! That's what makes the Yeti / Triple town thing so deplorable, because they had access to early builds and 'guts' from Triple town and then turn around and use them. Coding and game balance elements are just as protected as the visual elements, however enforcement of your creation is ludicrously hard. (see Sun vs Google court battle over 7 lines of code that's going on 3 years at this point)

That's why Zynga can get away with 'refining other peoples ideas', because unless you're EA you cant back up your protections.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Actually, I thought about this overnight and wanted to add to it.

So obviously someone can't copy paste my source file just like someone can't copy paste an artist's psd. But someone could implement a game very similar to mine from scratch, whereas they can't simply draw Mario or Master Chief, give them the same name, clothes, and colors to make it obvious, come up with a new plot for them to participate in that still uses the existing fiction, and use those characters in their own game. In other words, using Mario in a game with completely new mechanics is illegal, but ripping off a core gameplay mechanic and putting on new window-dressing is perfectly fine. With software patents as bothersome as they are, I don't want to have stricter protection for code per se -- but that is the imbalance in creative protection I was talking about where society seems to value assets and data but not process for some reason. Perhaps it's because process, game mechanics, and the fine tuning that goes into them are harder to understand and harder to build laws around.

Interesting times ahead.

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Simon Jensen
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Copyright is GOOD. Artists/Creators SHOULD be able to make something and protect it. If you write a book you should be able to control who sells it. If you make the Best Game Ever you should be able prevent other people from selling copies of it.

If you just get rid of copyright law, no one will ever create anything and share it with the world, and THAT would be really really sad, and we'd all have to get manufacturing jobs or something equally un-creative.

It's the corporations, system and the legal hell that have become so ensnared with shareholders and profits (RIAA,MPAA) that the current system is broken (thanks Disney). Add to that the complex nature of the inner guts of games and the way the system works makes it neigh-on impossible to enforce your rights.

As for the 'leading industry' quip? The average household spends 5% of their annual income on 'entertainment'. The gamest industry is only big when viewed from the inside, in the overall world it's a little Cessna Piper single engine plane. GM is larger than the games industry, like a nice Harrier or cargo helicopter. The medical industry, is the aircraft carrier, it's all about perspective. Hell, Walmart has a market cap of 222billion, that's over 45 times the size of EA.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Yeah it's hard to see a strong future for entertainment if copyright is abolished right now. I think we need to evolve to either a post-scarcity society where people do things because they like to and not because it will get them money, or mature to a point where people respect each others' work and won't simply steal it even though they legally can. I'm not sure which is more likely or if either is possible, but I don't expect to see it in my lifetime.

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Simon Jensen
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psst music and art are still protected by copyright, so saying look how awesome things are now, kinda defeats your arguement.

Pop out and leech down the top 15 hits off youtube right now and start selling them on your own website as a super mp3 bundle for only $0.99 and see what happens.

And you can bet your ass Versache will sue you into oblivion if you steal his designs and sell them to walmart.

Thats what copyright is for.

Protecting the creator to control their creative endeavors.

Style isn't a product, Good music isn't a product they're value judegments,..
However the individual designs and songs are. So are games.

And please.. find me one serious artist who says that they're being 'repressed by copyright" and I can find you a 100 you think that guy must be an idiot.

The only people 'repressed by copyright' are self entitled consumers who think that they should be able to do whatever they want with no concern about work that other people do.

Good thing they generally grow out of it when they grow up and realize what it takes to make a living and maintain their own creative integrity.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"And if copyright is good how come it protects the super rich over everyone else?"

Everything protects the super rich over everyone else. That's what happens in a game with positive reinforcement (imagine Mario Kart except the lightning and blue shell always go to the person in first place and the blue shell targets the person in last place). That's not a problem with copyright, that's a problem with selfishness and greed in a system designed to exploit the weak.

There are problems with copyright though, namely that true creators of value (us) are failing to collectivize and end up signing away the rights to our work to suits. We work for flat wages, or at best bonuses that we lose because we're laid off right when the game ships. Now I'm not saying everyone who works on a game should keep the copyright to what they put in as that could lead to a legal mess when the game ships, but those copyrights should be conglomerated in a way that protects the actual value creators, not the suits. I believe that is happening more and more with indie movements in various IP fields, and I would say it is this letting copyright do what it is supposed to do (protect and encourage value creators) and escaping the exploitative nature that it has become lately (positive reinforcement so those who are already rich can siphon wealth from society without adding value).

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Mark Nowotarski
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Since patent/copyright/trademark all seemed to be lumped together here, I thought I would help with a little clarification:

Patent: Does indeed protect ideas, but they have to be technological ideas, not abstract ideas. So the abstract idea of a game where if a player moves out of time with music he/she is out, is not (easily) patentable. The technological idea of said same game implemented on a Playstation, however, is.

Copyright: Protects artistic expression, but not any kind of idea. You don’t have to apply for it. You get it the moment you artistically express yourself.

Trademark: Protects the source of a product. If you put your brand on something then it says it came from you. That testifies to the quality of a product (good or bad). That’s why Coke/Pepsi get totally nuts over their trademarks. They go to extraordinary lengths to produce a consistent high quality product. If someone makes crap and puts “Coke” on the can, then everyone will think Coke makes crap and their brand value is destroyed.

I hope this helps.


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