Plagiarism in Mobile Gaming

Many industries have faced problems with plagiarism, most frequently (but not exclusively) in the world of print. It’s never easy to encounter plagiarism of your work, and it’s sometimes annoying when you discover someone else’s work has been ripped off.

Unfortunately for mobile game developers, a recent spate of plagiarism has left app marketplaces across multiple mobile platforms with a diverse selection of games that have been ripped off or otherwise copied. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the current state of plagiarism in mobile gaming.

What is Plagiarism?

Before we look at the current state of the problem, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of what it is. Plagiarism is the copying of another party’s ideas and passing them off as your own, normally followed, in the case of mobile games, by confusion for the buyers and lost sales or adoption for the original, innocent party.

Taking inspiration from something is not plagiarism. If we look at any sort of software, there are many pieces that have been blatantly inspired by other apps and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Being inspired by some great features or a brilliant UI benefits the end user by providing them with a better experience, as long as it’s not causing negative knock-on effects for the original creator.

However, what we’re seeing in the world of mobile games is not just inspiration. We’re seeing copies of games that are almost identical, right down to the price of items in the game, the colours of tiny details, or the gameplay mechanics that have been repeatedly tweaked and tested.

A comparison between Yeti Town and Triple Town (image courtesy of EDGE-online.com)

Case Study: Triple Town

When we were discussing ideas for this article, one particular case study came up: Triple Town, a turn-based, single-player tile matching game. Triple Town is an original game developed by a smaller company, Spry Fox, which was originally released for the Kindle in late 2010. It was brought to Facebook and Google+ in October last year and, in January, released on iOS and Android.

The Seattle-based game developer recently filed a lawsuit against 6waves, another studio that it claims plagiarised Triple Town when they released Yeti Town. Part of their complaint was published online in a blog post.

First: Yeti Town, as launched by 6waves, was a nearly perfect copy of Triple Town. We’re not just talking about the game’s basic mechanics here. We’re talking about tons of little details, from the language in the tutorial, to many of our UI elements, to the quantities and prices of every single item in the store (how exactly did 6waves “independently” decide to price 200 turns for 950 coins, or 4 wildcards for 1500 coins each? That’s quite a coincidence!)

It’s pretty easy to see the similarities between the two games, but what makes this more interesting is that the developer in question had access, under NDA, to the app before release. If true, that takes being unethical and unlawful to a whole other level.

Case Study: Zynga

I’ll be honest, I had never heard of either of the two aforementioned developers before writing this article. However, one i’m sure you all know is Farmville developers Zynga. Zynga has been accused recently of copying two games (unrelated, I believe): Bingo Blitz and Tiny Tower.

In a Twitter post, Nimblebit (developer of Tiny Tower) sent out an image addressing Zynga (see part of it below) where the clear similarities are evident. It seems that even the big name developers can be accused of copying, on multiple accounts.

Part of "Dear Zynga..."

Why Do They Do It?

It’s simple really; games like Tiny Tower have been proven successful and developers are trying to make money out of it themselves, by copying it and (sometimes) mixing it with their large user base.

As a consumer, I like it when companies take inspiration from successful or well designed assets. However, I don’t like it when they’re shamelessly ripping off other developers’ work. That’s not to say no other company should create a game centred around managing a skyscraper, because most games share a lot of similarities with others. However, developers should put their own spin on the wider concept of the game or there’s no point in creating one at all.

Would you still buy a cloned game?


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