Feb

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Sagas with Friends: Trademark and IP Wars

Mark Stephens

Intellectual property is big news in the tech space - just ask Apple and Samsung how many billions of dollars? When it comes to gaming some notable companies have walked roughshod over others in recent years and claimed the moral high-ground afterwards. Yes we’re looking at you Zynga! There is never a dull moment here and new wars are brewing with one of the biggest names in social gaming headlining the news recently: King.

Back in May last year we posted about Zynga’s latest game release called Running with Friends, which bore more than a passing resemblance to Subway Surfers.

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With Zynga being one of the biggest names on the block in previous years they have tended to get away with such things again and again. So we figured they wouldn’t mind too much when we changed our web name to Monkeybin & Friends and the name of MindFeud changed to BoardRush & Friends.

Skeletons in the Closet?

Now the current leader of the pack, UK developer King, is getting embroiled in a few disputes about IP and trademarks.

Is it a case of the bigger you get the more you get copied…or the more people look for skeletons in your closet?

Or are those being copied reaping a little of what they sowed when they took someone else’s idea and ran with it, as has often happened. If there is one general truth in social gaming, it’s that it’s hard to be truly original with game design and mechanics.

Occasionally you get breakthrough new ideas and innovations, but with the millions of games out there these days, we all know how much re-hashing of old ideas goes on.

As the developer of three of the games in Facebook’s Top 5, King is finding out what happens when you’re at the top. You are not only the hunter, but you are the hunted too. Everyone is watching – it almost goes with territory that your games will be ripped off, and any games that you do release will be closely inspected for signs of IP infringement.

We were reminded of that recently with a couple of stories.

King is the Hunter

It was reported recently that King had previously tried to trademark the word “candy” and objected when Indie RPG makers Stoic attempted to do likewise with “The Banner Saga”, which is the actual name of their game. However this triggered a an opposition notice from King who, of course, have made a lot of games with “saga” in the title and who are making their own claim for that word.

Before we go any further we should point out that “saga” is an old Norse word meaning a tale about old heroes, so it would seem to hold quite a lot more in common with a game about Vikings (which The Banner Saga is), than with matching three pieces of pink or yellow candy. I think we can all agree on that?
Stoic have been rather stoic in their defence, pointing out that they “won’t make a viking saga without the word saga" in it. Unsurprisingly the gaming community has rallied around them, leading to the following quote from the developer:

“King.com claims they’re not attempting to prevent us from using The Banner Saga, and yet their legal opposition to our trademark filing remains. We’re humbled by the outpouring of support and honored to have others stand with us for the right to their own Saga. We just want to make great games.”

King is the Hunted

Elsewhere, Venturebeat reported that King told them that it would remove one of its games, Pac-Avoid, from its Royalgames.com website, due to claims that it was infringing another developer’s IP. This seemed to have something to do with other reports in GamesBeat that King allegedly hired a small studio to deliberately copy a game called Scamperghost.

This led to the following statement from King.com:

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“King believes that [intellectual property] — 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.”

The history of these two games goes back a little further, according to one of the developers of Scamperghost, who claims that King got burnt back in 2009 when his company preferred to make a deal with MaxFames rather than King; this, he alleges, cause King to go out and blatantly copy the game.

His view is clear:

“They are welcome to make Scamperghost clones all day if they want…I only resurfaced the “Scamperghost vs. Pac-Avoid” article because it shows a dark side of King’s history where they did the exact thing they are now attacking other developers for — they copied our game, and they infringed Namco’s Pac-Man trademark by naming their clone Pac-Avoid.”

So, in going after smaller independent developers like Stoic, many people feel that King is practicing double-standards. That wouldn’t be a first in the world of gaming would it?