22 Nov 10
dislekcia

Getting cloned and not looking like a douchebag

I have very few emotional parallels to what it feels like find out that your game is being cloned. It’s an extremely difficult thing to explain how your creative joy turns into sheer anger and undermines the hope that keeps you doing this every day. This post tries to figure out “where to from here”, after establishing where “here” is…

The closest thing I can come up with personally is an amalgamation of the girlfriend you’d been living with for four years telling you she’s found someone else and that scene from the movie Contact where Ellie Sattler gets her research stolen by a slick bastard at a press conference. It’s a cocktail of seething anger at the creative bankruptcy of some faceless entity across the internets, combined with the crushing realisation that perhaps relying on game sales to stave off your own impending bankruptcy might just be a pipe dream after all. It hits twice as hard when you realise that the clone is going to reach the market first… With your idea, for your fans.

So: Yes, Desktop Dungeons is being cloned on the iPhone. No, I won’t link to the clone – you’re all very smart and those who aren’t have access to google. Yes, the cloner has contacted us. Yes, we’ve contacted lawyers. No, I won’t be writing about how the negotiation/legal thing is going… Yet. This post has been two weeks in the making, mainly because it’s hard to write honestly about something that’s this aggravating and secondly because I really don’t want to say something that might be legally stupid.

That brings me to the point of this article, because as cathartic as ranting and raving about how incredibly gormless the entire act of cloning a game is whilst cleverly juxtaposing the problem of creativity in a post-modern world (hint: the kicker is in the financial attitude – if primary motivation is profit, go die in a fire) that doesn’t actually help us right now. This has happened. It was always going to happen at some point. Now we need to figure out how to come out of it without being total douchebags, no matter how upset we might be.

So what do you? Do you pull out the Zen attitude, say “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, wax lyrical about the benefits of secondary marketing through positive comparison to an inferior competitor and steadfastly ignore it? Do you lawyer up, file patents, nail down your copyright claims and come out guns blazing? Do you rely on the indie community and pull a name-and-shame campaign in order to get at least some form of resolution?

It’s an exceedingly tricky thing to think about. Sometimes it seems like you’re balancing your creative drive vs your business acumen (both of which my British wit compels me to admit are things I’m not really very good at) and trying to make very important decisions with zero idea of where they’ll lead. At what point does cloning impact your bottom line – and at what point does thinking like that start to undermine your humanity?

I don’t know. I have none of those answers. What I do hope is that QCF survives this and we can advise future South African indies should similar things happen to them… In terms of dealing with right now, we have a couple of options:

1. The Unity build is playable, but we’re nowhere near done with graphics and sound. We could theoretically put new features on hold and slam out an iPhone version that matches the Desktop Dungeons freeware. We’d probably charge $1 – $2 on that, at least compete with the clone and help not go bankrupt.

2. Stick it out, see what happens with the clone and keep working on features for the full while we get the new content in. We’re at least a few months from release of Desktop Dungeons: The Full Version so we’d probably be seriously risking running out of money towards the end.

We’re really not sure which path to take. To be honest, we’re starting to care more about work that would benefit both paths – if something would only benefit the full, it’s hard to get motivated to do it right now. We need some advice from our players: What do you all want, an iPhone version NOW with a delayed full version or no iPhone release right now and a bigger, prettier full game sooner?

P.S. There’s a secret positive subtext to this entire post: We recently bought a development Mac, so all of you Mac players that have really wanted to play a native version of DD, we’re one step closer!

P.P.S. No, I won’t approve comments that link to the clone… Duh?


67 Responses to “Getting cloned and not looking like a douchebag”

  1. Tobias S. Says:

    I read a bit about this whole story and I am amazed. It’s hard to believe that someone likes indie games and all that (being a regular guy, you know) but at the same time completely ignores the fact that he stole 80% of the work to get a game being successful!

    Chris: it’s not like you just pirated a game to play it, you pirated the complete game and sell it. It’s a commercial grade rip-off! Not a similar game. The balancing, the replayability, most of the UI. You can’t honestly say “i just did something similar”.
    And: you also abuse the community as well! Your game piggybacks DD’s success. If it weren’t a rip-off, you would likely struggle to get any attention in the scene and in the store as well.

    If you would rip-off EA like this, there would be no discussion. Cease and desist and over.

    You could hardly have missed that QCF are still working on it, so you should have asked about their intentions. As fan and as indie colleague.

    If I truly loved indies and DD in particular and if all this would be just a misunderstanding, then I’d be quick to offer some compensation in form of a license.

  2. Chris Says:

    Hey dislekcia,

    Thanks for reading my post and not being offended.

    Regarding not noticing if you were already in iPhone dev: I could easily have just missed it. I didn’t search very hard because I didn’t want to be a douchebag and clone an indy dev’s game.

    If I had decided to go forth with cloning your game, it would have at least started with an exact copy of what you had. After releasing it and becoming comfortable with the genre, I probably would have tinkered with it then.

    The problem here is the difference between what is *ethical* and what is illegal. Obviously, it it’s pretty unethical to copy someone else’s game design down to the exact numbers. But sadly, you have no legal leg to stand on, as I understand it. I’m not a lawyer, blah blah.

    But you just have to look at the history of cases to do with games (not just video games, also board games). The tools at your disposal for protections are copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

    Patents are expensive (and should never be granted for software anyway… grrr) so you don’t have those. Trademarks protect specific names and variations on them. The cloner can’t call his game Desktop Dungeons, or a very close variant. I can’t think of an example for DD, but as an example, I couldn’t write a book about wizards that had Barry Hotter as the lead character. However, they are useless against anything considered to be a general term, such as the class Rogue.

    So that leaves copyright. Copyright protects direct copying of an *specific* implementation, in all of it’s gory details. I can’t copy J.K. Rowling’s text, and if they had pirated your source files, they could not use them directly. But copyright expressly does not protect someone from recreating a work.

    I can freely observe the Mona Lisa and then go home and try and paint a copy. I can read a book and go home and try to write the same story. And I can play a game, remember it’s mechanics, and recreate the EXACT same game legally. They have only copied a tiny amount of information from your game, that the info was available to be freely observed, and that it’s mathematical.

    It doesn’t matter that that tiny bit of info (stats of classes, effects of spells, etc) is the really important part of the game. All that matters is that it is a small amount of the content (the code, the images, the work to put it all together), and that it is mathematical in nature. You can’t copyright it.

    Examples of this abound. Tetris was cloned by everyone, and lawsuits against them resulted in the statement that you could make whatever version of tetris you want… *provided* the title was not ___tris. So Blocktris would be a violation, but Falling Blocks Game would be fine. Essentially, only the trademark on the actual name had any weight.

    There’s apparently a whole industry in China in copying popular North American and European boardgames. They copy all the mechanics exactly, but create new art, new boards, new text in Mandarin, etc. Perfectly legal.

    Games Workshop cease and desisted FUMBBL, a place to play their game Blood Bowl online in a Java client. FUMBBL carefully removed all references to names used in Blood Bowl and started their own client from scratch. There hasn’t been a peep from GW since, and GW is very aggressive with lawsuits.

    It’s not fair for you guys; I agree. But suing isn’t the solution.

    You have more passion for the game than the cloner will, you are intimately familiar with it and will be able to improve it. You have some *amazing* art that I only just saw from your older posts, and you have loyal fans like me.

    You need to get a version into iPhone as fast as possible. Put “Alpha” on the splash screen. Offer it for an introductory price. It can be ugly looking, as long as it’s stable and has the features of the PC DD. Just get it out there so that you are claiming mindshare in the iPhone market and so that your fans can help bury the cloner.

    Then just start iterating and improving. You’ll catch up quick, and as soon as you are at parity or a bit better, he’ll fold. He doesn’t really care about DD, and he’ll be off after lower hanging fruit. Of course, the game will hang around collecting sales, but as long as you have most of the mindshare, it will be irrelevant.

    Good luck!

    If you want to talk further about this, please send me an email at the address I used in both these posts. I’d love to chat more.

  3. Jordan Says:

    I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to read all the replies, but if this has already been said, then consider the post a vote in its favor:

    Integrity and resolution to a job well done pays off 9 times out of 10. When the next round of games comes out, people will remember the difference between QCF and the competition. And especially when the sequels come out, people will remember the difference between DD and the competition.

    Large business have to learn this lesson again and again and again (see: EA 10 years ago, Activision today), where they start to think that once you’ve made a reputation with a franchise, it will live forever and it doesn’t need to be upkept. They have the assets to dig their own graves for a long time and still come out alive, but it does hurt them in the long run; don’t ever believe that it doesn’t.

    As people become connected to more people and organizations than ever before, it’s not as clear as it was in years past how valuable reputation and legacy are; but they are indeed valuable. They do make a difference. And if this is the 1 time out of 10 where it doesn’t pay off, you can at least have the satisfaction that you did the right thing. And if you’ve been doing it long enough, confidence in the knowledge that you were also playing the odds.

    DO NOT SHIP TOO EARLY.

  4. bob Says:

    Your own fault for being windows only.

  5. Mystic X Says:

    I bet that it sucks to be 1:1 copied for an iPhone game (I bought that game, because i liked the idea), but maybe the game that shall not be named is good advertising for DD-iPhone?

    Lots of people seem to like “The ineffable game”, so there will be a ready market of people looking for more games like it, most of them are probably blissfully unaware that DD is the original, but if the connection between DD and clone brings in sales on top of the sales DD’s PC-fame itself brings, that can only be a good thing IMO…

  6. Peilei Says:

    Yes, it sucks that someone published a clone of DD for iPhone. Does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. Legally, you probably don’t have a leg to stand on.

    As a devoted DD fan, I bought the clone. It lacks… if you publish DD on the iPhone, I will buy it. I trust that you will do better.

    I understand how you guys feel. The reality is that DD being cloned is the best thing that could happen. Even better that it happens again and again. Your formula works, but imagine 10 years of independent development of DD derivative games. DD will have given birth to many generations of games. This is the success that everyone speaks of. Of course, it is sweeter if you reap success in the initial “generation” . So, develop!

    You can do better. Set the standard. There are no truly new ideas only slightly different approaches. DD does represent a signpost in game development. A unique implementation that has brought Rogue into the 21st century, but the journey doesn’t stop there. As the father of DD, you have the advantage to continue this journey or you can get upset and give up.

    You have my $3 when you publish DD on the iPhone. See you when you get there.

  7. Bretzel Says:

    @Chris

    How do you feel about getting money for a game you just copied, while the orginal authors are not getting a single penny (yet) ?

    You copied a FREE game and sold it, WHILE the authors are still in the making of the commercial version.

    How wrong is that ?

    Copying an already existing commercial game, now it’s a lot more friendly, and the original authors can take it much easily as a form of flattery even though it’s still kinda weird regarding the word “creativity”.

    I dunno, but for me this is just so wrong in many way, you should have at least asked the permission…This is beyond me.

    And making a great game required time, a lot of time. Rushing a release is like the worst advice I’ve ever heard.

  8. Marisa Says:

    Wow, that sucks. I don’t know what a good move would be in this situation, but I’m eagerly awaiting the new PC version. I don’t have an iPhone, so I can’t say I care about that either way.

    I do think that you could raise money through pre-orders (or, say, a minor upgrade to the existing game with the promise of further updates – including the new release – being included in that price). I know I’d be happy to pay for DD, since it’s already given me many (many) hours of enjoyment.

    Also, Bretzel, Chris said that he DIDN’T make a clone; he considered it (and decided it was a dick move, so he didn’t).

  9. Michael B Says:

    My vote: put out an iPhone game ASAP. I, like some others here, tried it and assumed there was an iPhone version. I think you could make a small fortune, which could only help. Don’t waste time on lawsuits – put out a superior game, make it clear you’re the original developer (“the first! the bestest!”), and get on with your life.

  10. SK Says:

    Rude ? Obviously.
    Illegal ? Certainly not.

    Like it or not, but copying and (usually) improving programs made by other people is the essence of the software industry. People fight against patents for this very reason. Suing these guys on this ground won’t be seen lightly by a lot of people in the open source community. It would cause more harm than good.

    I know it sound harsh, but it’s the truth.

    I also understand how you feel, after all this is an easy opportunity to gather funds you’ve partially missed. On the other hand, there’s a lot of room for improvement in your project, and you are in the best position to deliver it.

    My advice, for what it’s worth, is to publish an official iphone (or whatever) version, improve it and forget about the clone.

  11. RekzkarZ Says:

    Interesting controversy!

    A) I’d be pissed & I’d issue a ‘cease & desist’ + discuss some win-win approach to the issue w/the people.
    B) you don’t link to them, but I found out about you from reviews of their app AND a link on their blog
    C) your game sounds great, I will try & play it soon!
    D) imitation is flattery, but stealing is less flattering.
    E) if you want to get into iPhone scene, do it. While tons of folks bash iPhone & app store, it is a more intelligent paradigm (albeit the % apple takes is cruel and the ‘lock-down’ approach is harsh) — the model is your device/computer comes with a large & easily installed range of software. Makes sense.
    F) you make your own destiny.
    G) roguelikes are not exactly imitations but iterations. I think of them as variations on a theme. Copying your exact iteration is unacceptable, but using your work to inspire a different work seems reasonable. (I noted the imitator calls his game an iPhone version of your game, so that seems fairly clear. Another worthy mention — just bc your game is called “desktop dungeon” doesn’t seem to have any relation to being on a PC, phone, or even a gamebox, IMO.)
    Thanks for all the work, I hope you get what you want out of it all.

    rekzkarz.com

  12. Joen Says:

    Basically you need to release an iphone version of your product ASAP. Even if it is exactly like the desktop version you need to just get it out there, that will help you guys out a lot.

  13. Breaking News: Clone Of IGF Nominated Desktop Dungeons Taken Down From iTunes App Store | PC Gaming | Lazygamer .:: Console and PC Gaming News ::. Says:

    […] Design member Danny Day also recently posted up an article on their company blog title Getting cloned and not looking like a douchebag in which he is quoted in the introduction as […]

  14. Stephen Says:

    Hmmm, I would be game for an iphone release of the freeware. I would’ve actually PAID for the freeware. First day playing and I’ve been at it for around 6 hours, too addicting. Hopefully the whole cloning debacle won’t hurt you guys and your development on this game, because I’ve already decided I will be a day one buyer.

  15. Aaron Says:

    I have worked in software for many years and seen many products (good and bad) get cloned.

    Legally the guy who cloned your game probably did nothing wrong. He has his own code and artwork — legally the only leg you could stand on would be intent, and ironically your best evidence there would be the statement he made saying that your game is awesome and was an inspiration for him.

    Ethically he did nothing wrong either — cloning brings more developers into the market and leads to all developers differentiating their products. This has been happening since the birth of the software industry. Sure, competition makes things tougher for YOU, but the reality is that it leads to both you AND your competitors working harder to come up with new ideas. It’s way better for gamers to have two companies working on games in this genre instead of just one. Who knows what your competitor might have done in his next three versions?

    Finally, I just want to add that if you had a history of releasing rock-solid titles and $50 million in annual revenues, I bet 90% of the guys commenting here would HATE you for the action you took to shut down a poor indie developer who cloned your game because his resources are sooo limited. Ironic, isn’t it?

    I don’t think you’re a douchebag. But I do think you’re naive as far as the way the software industry works. You have a great idea and a verrrry early stage implementation at this point (after one day of playing, my copy of DD has started crashing every time I try to open it). As a gamer I’d like to see FIVE similar games out there and every developer working hard to come up with amazing ideas in their next version so that it stands out.

    Legal tricks will insulate your monopoly for a while, but not forever. What you really need to be doing right now is focusing on your own product and also on your BUSINESS MODEL. Find some advisors who have succeeded in this industry and can give you good advice (if you had the right advisors, they would have told you that not porting DD to the iPhone in 30 days flat was doing something wrong, because the game is simple and the iPhone is the best platform ever for it).

    Ultimately ideas are worth nothing. Execution is worth everything. The market doesn’t care whether you live or die — it just wants to see this idea grow. Think big, build a great operation, and you can still be the guy who takes your idea to the big time. Think small, and this first clone will only be the beginning of your problems.

  16. dislekcia Says:

    @Aaron: Mind sending in a crash report or two? 🙂

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree on your business model points. We have indeed been getting advice from people that I think you’d consider good advisors and their advice has been exactly the opposite: Don’t release to iPhone without enough buzz to make sure you can hit that top 10 list in the first week; Build your buzz first, release to less fickle platforms first, then hit the App Store when you’re good and ready to.

    So that’s what we’ve been doing. Growing our buzz and building the best game we can at the same time. I don’t think you could argue with the effectiveness of starting a year ago as an unnoticed studio at the tip of Africa, through to the biggest dream any of us has ever had of being IGF nominees and attending the GDC.

    How much bigger can we dream than a multiplatform release of a game we love building? Perhaps waxing philosophical about the pointier bits of the industry that we have to deal with are also part of that buzz-building? 😉

  17. Local indie game wins Design award at IGF Awards 2011 Says:

    […] from the iStore, so there was definately substance to their claim. This is also a great read: QCF Design Getting cloned and not looking like a douchebag I have very few emotional parallels to what it […]


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