Last week, independent developer Vlambeer accused rival publisher Gamenauts of misappropriating their iOS game idea. We talk to Gamenauts to get their side of the story.
Ninja Fishing: Knockoff or ‘inspired by?’
Recently, independent developer Vlambeer was somewhat dismayed to discover that publisher Gamenauts was releasing a new game suspiciously similar to its own Ridiculous Fishing — itself a reimagining of the team’s earlier Radical Fishing, a web game well worth your time. We spoke to Rami Ismail from the developer in order to find out exactly what he thought of the situation, and came to the conclusion that it was more a question of morality and decency rather than copyright and IP protection. In short, Ismail saw it as a little rude that the product was developed without consulting his team to see if it would interfere with their plans, but wasn’t planning to pursue legal action. He wanted Vlambeer to earn its money through its games, not through litigation.
In the interests of balance, we got in touch with Gamenauts to find out their take on the situation. A spokesperson from the company got back to us, and their responses highlight the difference between a small, independent, creative team and a more business-focused publisher.
“We were inspired by the main fishing mechanic from Radical Fishing,” admitted a spokesperson for the company when quizzed on where Ninja Fishing’s idea really came from. “But we wanted to put our own spin on it by adding many new things such as the katana slashing mechanic [replacing Radical/Ridiculous' gun shooting system]. Aside from a new theme and style of presentation, there are also many tweaks and changes in Ninja Fishing that might not seem obvious at first. For example, we’ve changed the ways the fish are tossed.”
Gamenauts seem to be up front about their inspiration, it seems, but also believe that some relatively minor changes make it acceptable to release a game that is a clear clone of another developer’s work. After all, intellectual property — such as game ideas — is less tightly controlled in the web and mobile games market, as we’ve seen on a number of occasions. The ubiquitous Angry Birds, for example, is often cited as a Crush the Castle knockoff.
“We don’t think it’s a negative thing to draw inspiration,” continued the spokesperson. “As long as the product adds new elements and attempts to improve the original one, that is. As you mentioned, Angry Birds is one such example, and another would be Tiny Wings being an inspired version of Wavespark, along with many others. This is the case not only on the iOS platform but in the whole of gaming in general.”
On Twitter, Gamenauts claimed that they’d offered Vlambeer a mention in Ninja Fishing’s credits, but that the smaller developer had declined. The spokesperson from the publisher remained tight-lipped about the reasons surrounding it.
“We weren’t given a reason and I don’t think I’m in a position to answer that, as it was Vlambeer’s decision,” they said. “We complied with their request to remove the credits. The discussions we had with Vlambeer were very friendly and professional. Ultimately we didn’t reach an agreement, but I can’t go into the details.”
Gamenauts believe that Ninja Fishing’s minor changes to the core mechanics of Vlambeer’s game are enough to distinguish it.
Vlambeer’s Ismail, on the other hand, was more than happy to go into details when we spoke to him last week:
“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.” As you may have gathered, Gamenauts didn’t agree to a simultaneous release, and Vlambeer is still yet to release its own game.
So what’s the solution? As a small developer trying to let its games speak for themselves, Vlambeer is obviously unhappy with what it sees as the amoral “borrowing” of ideas without consideration of the original creator’s feelings. But Ismail didn’t feel that going the way of the tightly-controlled PR circus that is the mainstream games industry was the right thing to do. Gamenauts, conversely, were a little more philosophical on the issue:
“I don’t really have a strong opinion of the issue of controlling PR announcements, reveals and so on,” they said. “But I imagine the budgets can be an issue because the mobile and web market are dominated by smaller, independent teams.”
The ideal situation, then, would be somewhere in between the two extremes: a world where developers feel they can protect their original ideas, but one far away from the increasingly-wearisome “countdown to a reveal of a trailer for a product that’s a year away” culture we have in the mainstream.
While we’re on, I’d like a million dollars. And a pony.