Independent developer Vlambeer recently had the rug pulled out from under it when rival publisher Gamenauts released a game almost identical to their own. We speak to Rami Ismail from the developer about the moral issues surrounding indie development.
If you haven’t yet played Radical Fishing, stop what you’re doing and correct that situation right now.
Done that? Good. Then you know that despite its MS Paint visuals (which are oddly charming), it’s an excellently fun game from Super Crate Box developer Vlambeer, a two-man Dutch team made up of Rami Ismail, who handles business and development; and Jan Willem Nijman, who’s in charge of game design. The pair have been planning an iOS sequel to the game featuring upgraded visuals for some time now, but they were forced to announce the game earlier than they intended. The reason? This:
You’ll probably notice the somewhat striking similarities between Ninja Fishing and Vlambeer’s own Radical Fishing. The difference is that Ninja Fishing is already available on the App Store and, according to publisher Gamenauts’ Twitter account, already climbing the charts in Top Paid Apps. Vlambeer, conversely, are still working on their iOS version of the game and both they and the community were somewhat put out to see Gamenauts jumping the gun somewhat.
We caught up with Rami Ismail from Vlambeer to find out his thoughts on the matter.
Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing upgrades the primitive visuals of the original game with an attractive, angular design.
“Gamenauts admitted they were ‘inspired’ by Radical Fishing both on the Internet and in our negotiations,” said Ismail when questioned regarding the (admittedly unlikely) possibility of Gamenauts coming up with the idea independently and coincidentally. “If you want something outside of that, besides being inspired in terms of gameplay, Ninja Fishing pretty much uses identical upgrades to Radical Fishing.”
Gamenauts claimed that they had offered to put Vlambeer in the game’s credits prior to launch, but that Vlambeer had declined. They refused to go into further details. Ismail explained to us what happened:
“When the first wave of public tweets about the issues reached us, Gamenauts contacted us telling us they had always planned on crediting us and apologizing for not contacting us before,” he said. “We proposed to them that they would delay their game until our own iOS version of Radical Fishing launched, so we could launch simultaneously. They offered us credits and a revenue share, but we really didn’t want those: all we wanted was for both games to launch side-by-side and let the games speak for themselves. We don’t like taking money, we don’t like lawyering up. We want to make games.”
This isn’t the first time this debate has been raised: the meteoric rise to popularity of Rovio’s Angry Birds caused a number of people to point out that, in fact, Crush the Castle had already done it all before. Despite all this, Vlambeer isn’t planning any legal action to protect their intellectual property.
The question of originality in iOS and web gaming is, sadly, not a new one.
“We want to earn money through our games, not through legal action,” Ismail said. “We don’t think the legal or financial aspects are the main problems here, it’s the morals: if you base something on another product so much, you should at least send an email up front to see if you’re not interfering with the original creators’ plans. We think creators should be original and creative. The problem with clones isn’t that developers should defend better, as defending IP — especially games — is a grey area and to be honest, we’re thankful for that. We don’t want the sort of patent wars that are plaguing the mobile phone hardware market to appear in our industry.”
This sort of situation is exactly why mainstream commercial publishers and their PR teams keep information surrounding new products on such a tight leash — it’s to carefully control the information flowing out to not only the public, but to competitors too. Did Ismail see the iOS and web game development industries moving in that direction?
“We don’t think that’s a desirable future for any industry,” he said. “We’re not going in that direction ourselves. We just want to make the best games we want and share those with the world. An [Edge] article wrote that ‘when you have no originality in your games, you can have no history, and you can have no personal quirks. You’ll end up with customers, perhaps, but not genuine fans — and games built around the concept of customers along are often pretty miserable.’ The last few days have been encouraging, with so many people speaking up without us ever asking for it. We’re just really proud and glad to have fans instead of customers.”
Vlambeer is currently working on Radical Fishing sequel Ridiculous Fishing for iOS alongside the promotional Serious Sam spinoff Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, due to arrive later this summer.
UPDATE: We contacted Gamenauts for comment on the matter, and this was their response:
“First of all, Gamenauts wanted to clarify that they made sure the mechanics in Ninja Fishing are not identical to Radical Fishing contrary to popular belief. Vlambeer’s original involved fishing for fish and then shooting them with bullets. Gamenauts made sure to change that, creating hazards underwater like mines when the player gets deeper into the water as well as dynamite flying up in the air with the fish, adding an extra challenge. They also made sure to change the shooting mechanics to slashing mechanics — with a katana — to keep with the ninja backstory that they also created.
Gamenauts also wants to clarify that they were unaware Vlambeer was planning on releasing an iOS version of Radical Fishing (Ridiculous Fishing) upon announcing Ninja Fishing. That is why they did not contact Vlambeer earlier, as Vlambeer did not announce Ridiculous Fishing until after the fact.”