22 Nov 10

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. Breakdance McFunkypants Says:

    Take heart in the fact that you have earned the goodwill of many people online and this respect, albeit intangible is as good as gold. I have no doubt that there already are fifty clones of Desktop Dungeons in existence, depending on your definition of a clone. Sadly, if you extend this definition just a teensy weensy bit wider, DD can clearly be called a clone of hundreds of past games, heck any roguelike if you cast the net wide enough.

    You should NOT be afraid or threatened by competitors with similar products: youare 100% correct that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and much more importantly you should swallow some bitter tasting humble pie and accept that nothing is truly original. Desktop Dungeons ROCKS, it WILL SELL regardless of the competition.

    I would venture to predict that this clone will have zero effect on your sales. It won’t matter. At all!

    What really matters, in terms of a game’s worth and profitability, is the “soul”, not the idea. It is the specifics, the shape of level two, the art used for the avatars, the sound and music, the plot and “feel”. Nobody can take that away from you.

    I respectfully and humbly suggest that you forget about this competitor entirely and simply forget it exists. Everyone else will!

    Stay positive: people LOVE DD, people will buy it. Make it great and put the so called clone to shame. Make it so much better, so much more souldful, so much more original, so much deeper and more fun that a lame little game that is vaguely similar to your masterpiece isn’t even a factor.

    Focus on your own efforts and you will be rewarded. There are so many games out there that it is nothing but self-destructive to worry about this one insignificant competitor.

    Desktop Dungeons is great. The name (which is very important) belongs to you! The logo, the art, the feel, the SOUL are yours and they can never be taken away from you.

    Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and be confident that this copycat will not be in the slightest bit important, it will not affect your sales at all, and will not even be noticed by the vast majority of your future customers. There is enough demand for fantasy RPG roguelike gaming that each of your competitor’s sales do NOT equate to a lost sale for yours.

    Don’t waste your life – don’t waste your energy, don’t waste your money, don’t waste your time fighting this minor annoyance, and instead put all that time, energy and money into making Desktop Dungeons that much better! This course of action will put the focus where you will reap greater rewards.

    You ROCK. Keep up the wonderful work. Nuff said.

  2. Breakdance McFunkypants Says:

    To answer your final question: the name of the game is *DESKTOP* dungeons. The iPhone is not a desktop device.

    My advice would be to make PC and Mac *desktop* versions bigger and better and forget about the vastly overpopulated app store.

  3. Justin Paver Says:

    That sucks guys. I’m sorry to hear about that, and I hope to play the new Desktop Dungeons as soon as you can shimmy it out :/

    If getting the freeware matching version out now would help to keep you afloat it would only work if you could literally slam it out quickly, otherwise you’d be at risk of losing the development funds for the full version.

    There is however another way to think about this. Nothing material about your game has changed in terms of financing/schedule, just the competitive landscape. This always happens in the industry, and one has to try double hard to make sure one’s product and the marketing of that game is stronger. I have a feeling the full version has some secret sauce that will make it strongly competitive.

    Good luck getting it done!

  4. guubear Says:

    I feel really bad for you guys. I hope everything works out at the end.

  5. allen Says:

    Very sorry to hear that guys :(

  6. pakoito Says:

    Heck, the guy even ripped off another game’s name. It’s gimmicky all along.

  7. dislekcia Says:

    @McFunkypants: (Hahaha, love the nick) Granted, roguelikes are roguelikes (and the debate about DD being one or not is always a fun read) and cloning is tricky to define for sure, living somewhere on the “You know it when you see it” spectrum. But there’s a difference between a roguelike and a game that looks, plays and behaves exactly the same.

    I think the real issue is the way that, as you said, DD has garnered lots of good will and interest for being what it is, and now someone’s just blatantly copying not just concepts, but every single value the game uses. Getting over that feeling of injustice is tricky and I’m glad I waited long enough to write this post that it wasn’t just a stream of righteous vitriol 😉

    We’ve always planned to put DD on everything that it would be fun on, including mobile devices – even if it *is* poorly named for that… We just didn’t want to release a game on as congested a place as the App Store and die because we had no publicity and invested in the wrong order. iPhone is our most requested platform, BTW :)

    We’re certainly trying to make a game that’s deserving of amazingly positive comments like yours. I don’t think that will change. Thanks!

    @Justin: That’s a really good point and you’re right, our game isn’t worse now. What I’m mainly trying to think about at the moment are ways to take this change in the competitive landscape and use it to our advantage.

    Yeah, putting out a version that matches the freeware right now wouldn’t be too difficult – we’re nearly system complete on the game. We might just be feeling a bit of a pinch because we haven’t started playtesting the “secret sauce” yet 😉

  8. dTb Says:

    “Gambatte !” as we said in Japan !
    “Haut les coeurs” as we said in french !

    Most important is that the clone don’t became more popular than yours. I think the “dungeon crawling” with a little “rogue attitude” scene is not so big… people that will buy this kind of game are not the same who are buying the last “Call of Duty Black Ops”… I think everybody know who is the original one…!

    Long time ago I got same kind of feeling with another indie roguelike “Lost Labyrinth”. The original one was good, nice coded and fun. Another guy asked the coder if he can make a fork version, the main programer was agree (better than your case) but finally I think the forked version is really badder than the original… but it finally got a better position in google..

    Original “good” one : http://laby.toybox.de/index.php?sprache=1
    “so so” fork / clone : http://www.lostlabyrinth.com/

    By the way, I will buy your iphone version ! I’m so hurry to have it in the hands ^^ !

  9. Valzi Says:

    I will never own an iphone, but I love Desktop Dungeons.

  10. Fadedc Says:

    This is my first time posting but I’m a huge fan of the current version of your game. I wanted to echo the people who say that the place the game will really shine is for the PC. I really have little interest in a hand held version of the game where all the tiny details are even tinier, but if you come out with a final PC version I promise I will buy it. I would have happily paid 20-30$ for the version you have out now if I had known how good it was. I eagerly await the final version.

  11. David desJardins Says:

    If you were counting on the idea to make your game successful, rather than the execution of the idea, then you were going to be disappointed, anyway. I don’t think very much of a game’s success lies in the “idea”, so I don’t think it really matters how many people make games that incorporate some of your ideas. If anything, it’s probably good for you, as it increases mindshare for this type of game.

  12. xyber Says:

    The “desktop dungeons” name is more important than anything the clone can do. Sure, maybe someone see the clone and description of it on appstore and thinks, hey, this is like that other game I enjoyed, and grabs it. But if he is a DD follower he will think, hey, its that clone, I’m not gonna support them.

    You are getting nice reviews and exposure via gaming sites and it is these sites which will drive your iphone sales. They will link the name with the desktop release and free version and who knows, when someone reveiws the clone they might even mention its a clone 😉 I did not see the clone so have no idea how far the developer went.

    Think for instance about MineCraft, there are loads of clones and even older games that are similar. But do you care for those clones? I know of one that looks so much better than minecraft (on screenshots), but I did not even bother to download the clone.

  13. dislekcia Says:

    Thank you for the comments everyone, even the ones that aren’t getting approved are getting read.

    @David: Yes, implementation is what matters, which is why we were rather peeved when it was the implementation of the ideas behind DD that were copied. I mean, it’s not like DD’s success was built on its graphics – it’s the gameplay that mattered. Incorporating only some of the ideas would have been awesome, because we’d love to play more games *like* Desktop Dungeons 😉

    @Xyber: Which is why we were appalled when the clone was actively using both “Desktop Dungeons” and “QCF Design” in order to drive recognition. It struck us as pretty dishonest.

  14. Kensei Says:

    It must be sickening to see a clone of your own game being fobbed off as new IP by someone else. With releasing a game on the iPhone, it requires a lot of publicity and can, often, take a while to gain traction – but the need is there.

    iPhone and Android gaming is big at the moment, especially in first world countries (number one iPhone app of all time is Angry Birds, a casual game), so it depends where you can release an iPhone version. The market is exceedingly saturated though.

    DD is a good candidate for the touch screen market, given the simplicity of the controls and ease of play. I would gladly pay to play this game on my phone but that is, perhaps, because I have played the freeware version.

    I am tempted to say that you should push an iPhone version through the door NOW, then focus on the PC/Mac version. It will allow you to start getting feedback from customers so you can implement them for the PC version. The question is what do you want to do? Be ready for IGF next year?

    Keep your chin up, your game is awesome :)

  15. salejemaster Says:

    heck Ill buy the full version two times now just because of this, the iphone is of no intrest to me. If you guys need cash maybe you should start thinking about the hole prepurchase for beta access thing that a lot of indies are doing these days?

  16. dTb Says:

    ps : if you release the iphone version now, I will buy immediately. No matter if I have to wait for new features and new versions.

  17. Priority7 Says:

    I personally don’t have an iphone, but can understand how DD would be excellent on that platform. I’m torn a bit about commenting here, as I was never going to buy the iphone version and will just wait until there’s a version for Windows.

    I think releasing a port of the freeware version would be a bad idea in the long run. DD has fans, something a clone cannot claim, and all people care about in the long run is the better game, overall.

    Don’t lose heart! Release the best game you can and forget the other guys. There’s a scenario I didn’t see you contemplate in your post: the one where people see your final release and think “It’s like only better.”

  18. Erakko Says:

    Pay them with their own coin. Wait until they release their game, and use it as advertisement.

    “It’s like that iphone game, but better :smug:”

    Also, don’t worry too much about your fans buying that iphone crap. Half the reason i’m going to buy DD:Full is to support you guys, because of the hours of entertainment you have -already- given me.

    Also, if the iphone store or whatever has a comment section, you can be damn sure people will flood it with comments and links to your game.

    “Omg this looks like that awesome game Desktop Dungeons!, the QFC guys are releasing their game soon, check it out!”

    Finally, if their game is just a copy of DD:Free, by all means release DD:Free on the iphone first. Use it as advertisement for the full version.

    Good luck guys, and by all means do whatever you can to stay alive. I’ll be buying the PC version no matter how long it takes :).

  19. Return To Desktop Dungeons | Rock, Paper, Shotgun Says:

    […] should also eye-imbibe this recent blog by Danny Day, one of the game’s devs at QFC Design, in which he reveals his understandable […]

  20. Bob Says:

    So is this like a straight-up ripoff of the game like those pirated Mario games you can find on the black market or a clone like every action rpg since Diablo?

  21. Matty Cakes Says:

    I personally bought the clone, and it’s a really fun game! I can understand how difficult it is to deal with people copying your hard work. I’m a musician and I would be a little discouraged if someone copied a song and started making money before I even released my “original” version.

    This is what I have to say to you guys. I bought the clone, but no one ever is 100% satisfied with clones. People want the real thing! It would be wise to take advantage of this situation and use the clone as guinea pig to see what people like and dislike about the game. Then, take all info and make the “Must- Have” version of the game. You guys can do it, and I will buy YOUR game as soon as it hits the appstore, but for now the clone will keep me occupied.

  22. dislekcia Says:

    @Matty Cakes: Of course it’s a fun game. It’s copied exactly off a game that’s been in testing and continuous development for nearly a year…

  23. David desJardins Says:

    @David: Yes, implementation is what matters, which is why we were rather peeved when it was the implementation of the ideas behind DD that were copied.

    It seems to me they took the ideas but implemented them somewhat differently. I guess it’s in your point of view.

  24. dTb Says:

    What is the best for you guys ?

    Should we buy the clone to be able to send bad comments and evaluations or should we not give them a penny ?

  25. Nathaniel Gibson Says:

    Just saw the “app which will go unnamed” come up on AppShopper and immediately thought, “Cool! DD for the iPhone! Must go buy …. wait a minute… ”

    Extremely disheartened to find out that it’s a direct rip of DD and not a renamed original. Have not purchased, and will not now. Waiting eagerly for the real deal.

    Additionally, I don’t know the legal ramifications of doing so, but have you guys considered Kickstarter for funding?

  26. Nathaniel Gibson Says:

    Something else my wife just thought of: Have you guys contacted Apple and told them that you are currently pursuing legal action against the company that may have stolen intellectual property? Here in the States, Apple could be found partially liable for damages if they knowingly allow such a thing to happen.

  27. BBD Says:

    There might be a silver lining in all this. I picked up the clone today without knowing it was a rip-off, mainly because of one of the key differences it had from ordinary roguelikes, as the concept of a traditional roguelike doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m enjoying it a lot so far. I will pick up DD whenever it is released after having played the clone, whereas before I probably would have just dismissed it as another roguelike.

  28. dislekcia Says:

    @David: It really wouldn’t be a problem if it were simply a game using the ideas behind DD, exploring as a resource, etc. What galls us is the exact mathematical copying: The clone is exactly the same as DD under the hood – damage, experience and health values are identical, the spells are 100% identical, even the classes are the same. It’s pretty blatant. We got an email from the cloner saying that his exact copying was OK because he was “leaving some things out” like gods and gold. How much plagiarism is unacceptable, 10%, 20%?

    @dTb: What would be best for us is if people enjoy DD and buy it when it comes out :)

    @Nathaniel: Kickstarter could be an option if we start running out of funds. Ideally we’d like to get something out to people that they can play instead. Also, our lawyers are building a copyright case, we’ll probably be sending a letter to Apple soon.

    @BBD: Wouldn’t the exact same key differences from ordinary roguelikes compel you have bought DD when it came out? Or are you saying that the press around DD has made it out to be a standard roguelike in your eyes?

  29. Jay Geldhof Says:

    Just to chime in on the Mac front… while I’m sorry you’re getting cloned, It’s GREAT to hear that you guys are planning to bring the game to the Mac and iOS devices! I’m a big fan of 100 Rogues, and the creators often cite your game as a must play. Just know that you’ve got yet another customer waiting to throw money at ya. Hang in there.

  30. BBD Says:

    To be honest, I hadn’t heard about DD until I saw this blog linked on another forum in a thread about the clone. What attracted me about the clone was a sense of persistence between games (don’t want to get too specific), which I’m not sure if DD has or not. If DD has that persistence between games, I probably would have picked it up on its own merits. I’ll pick it up now regardless, after knowing how closely the clone was based on your guys’ work and I don’t like to unknowingly support plagiarism.

  31. drelbs Says:

    Honestly, I’d buy the clone and leave a comment that the game was inspired by Desktop Dungeons, which will be coming out for iOS soon! Then everybody here can mark the review as good, and it will float up to the top of the review pile.

    Don’t include any URLs, or Apple will probably not publish the review. As for star rating – that’s your call – I’d hesitate to give it one star or people might think you’re just spamming the game with a bad review – play the clone and give it 3 or 4 stars.

    I’m sure you have already seen the thread on the clone on a popular iDevice gaming site, I’d highly recommend chiming in there – register as a game developer so you can have an avatar, put links to your game/blog in your signature block – and be friendly! The site has a decent amount of exposure, and by being nice you will get more sales. If you want an example of this, I had never played DD, but sure as hell went and downloaded the free version to check out, and may very well pick up the full version… There aren’t that many good roguelikes on iOS and I’m not too cheap to buy the “real thing” after having bought a clone.

    If you go back to the aforementioned iOS game site, you can find threads on similar situations with cloned games.

    Xeno Sola -> Carcassone
    Hanto -> Hive
    Super Mega Worm -> Death Worm

  32. David desJardins Says:

    I guess we just disagree about what is “plagiarism”. Intellectual property laws don’t protect things like mathematical formulas for damage, nor do I think they should.

    I would side with you on copying the spells and classes though. When you copy the names of things, you create unfair competition by confusing the products in the mind of the consumer. I don’t see why he couldn’t come up with his own names for things.

    BBD’s point is that it’s actually easier to sell a new and different product if there are several products of that type, because they all generate mindshare for the others. This wouldn’t happen in a universe of rational, omniscient consumers, but, in the real world, people often find out about things by chance or serendipity, and having more similar products on the market increases the chance that a consumer will be exposed to one of them. In other words, someone might buy the “product that shall not be named”, never having heard of your game, but find out about it because he did.

  33. A future customer Says:

    To follow up what @David desJardins stated, I didn’t have a clue about DD before purchasing this new title. But now I know about it, played it, and I like it so therefore you have a new fan. Yes I tend to buy things that are “like” something else I like so it would be natural for me to have more than one similar game going at the same time. There is room in the gaming world for many similar games! Be proud of your product and success will follow.

  34. dislekcia Says:

    I think it’s a little funny that people are saying they found Desktop Dungeons through the clone and that we should be grateful for the added publicity. I have two questions regarding that:
    1. You found out about the clone through its release, correct? What would have stopped you finding Desktop Dungeons the same way?
    2. Why should we market a game on a platform that it’s not available for yet? Once DD is available on iPhone, we’ll be pushing for just as much (if not more) coverage than the PC freeware version has gotten so far.

    @David: Is there a difference between “Works exactly like” down to the exact mathematics (fireball costs 6 mana and does 4 damage per player level, poison costs 5 mana and stops monster regeneration while you explore, the list goes on and on) and inspired by? I can predict exactly what’s going to happen in the clone because I know what the DD systems are. As a developer, I don’t feel that that’s right.

    Given that level of copying of our game systems, why should people pay for DD when they have already played it under a different name with different graphics? At what point is duplicating the interaction experience ok and when is it too far? I think that’s a question that the games industry as a whole has difficulty answering, in part because we don’t have great legal precedent to support developers.

    Anyway. This is now moving on to the point where something that strikes me as personally unfair is renting space in my head. I’ll gladly discuss IP and the ethics of game design vs inspiration, but I’m going to try and limit how much I discuss this particular clone from now on. Thanks for the comments though, they’ve helped us get more info on how not to look like douchebags :)

  35. David desJardins Says:

    I don’t think anyone said you should feel grateful. What people have said is there are positive as well as negative aspects to this sort of copying, even for you. I can well understand how, from your point of view, the negatives outweigh the positives. I do think that, from the point of view of society as a whole, the positive benefits of allowing this sort of derivative activity do outweigh the negatives.

  36. Jason Mosley Says:

    I can understand you being upset but there is nothing you can legally do. After playing both games, yes the ideas are similar it’s different enough to not be a clone.

    With that being said, I would have never known DD existed if it wasn’t for the clone. If anything this will help you when your game comes out.

    I have 5 (2 WWII) fps on my xbox, I will happily have two RPG/puzzle games on my iPhone.

    I feel your over reacting and you should just embrace your fellow indie dev. I started a bacon blog in 2004 now there a dime a dozen. I just welcome the copiers in to my growing community.

    My 2 cents.

  37. starwed Says:

    “Given that level of copying of our game systems, why should people pay for DD when they have already played it under a different name with different graphics?”

    I don’t quite follow this. You’re working on a new version of DD anyway, that presumably has more to the gameplay than the already released version, right? The clone won’t be competing with your already released freeware version, but with whatever awesome gameplay you guys have come up with since then!

    The original DD was absolutely exquisite in terms of how it balanced the stats, so I can understand it’s bloody annoying to see someone else just copy that work. But by that same token, you’re obviously talented at this, so it won’t be possible for the clone to leapfrog ahead of you once you actually have a presence in that space.

    Anyway, good luck with everything and I hope you don’t forget about Android! :)

  38. dislekcia Says:

    @Jason: You may have 5 WW2 FPS games, but you’d only have 4 if two of the available games shared the exact same level layout, weapon balance and storyline. No matter how different the graphics were, they would feel like the same game.

    How would you feel about bacon bloggers that copy-pasted your posts, word for word, only changing the title?

    @starwed: Yes, we’re working on the full version of the game, but that doesn’t mean that the gameplay is changing dramatically. We’ve been using the freeware to test out different strategies and ideas to maximise player decision making and enjoyment. It’s very hard to just up and add to a well balanced system like that simply in order to be different *from our own ideas*.

    No, we haven’t forgotten about Android. Again, that’s one of the major reasons we picked Unity.

  39. jb Says:

    Firstly, I’ve been playing DD on and off for a few weeks and I really love it. I don’t have an iphone but I can’t wait for the pc version.

    Cloning is a reality, the exactness of this particular clone seems a bit unfair but at the end of the day, if your product is superior that’s what really matters. You have somewhat of a following for DD but for the average player who knows nothing of the game or its development, they’re going to play which ever is better.

    I guess you’re just venting but I don’t think you should let this game impact your development in any way. Take your time and to it well I say.

  40. Jason Mosley Says:

    @dislekcia, you game feels different then the “clone”. Also I would hope your game on the iPhone will have some new gameplay.

    If the clone never came to the app store I would have never gotten your game anyway. Competition brings excellence!

    I have a people copy my post work for word almost. It sucks, I mad, then I remember that they can never be as good as me. They will always play catch up.

    Now I just get annoyed by it.

    Anyway I love indie devs and there is room in my heart for both of you.

  41. Kush Says:

    To answer your question about how to release the iPhone version of DD…

    I’d recommend releasing a version as soon as possible for, say, $1.99. In the description, you would state that this is a limited version and an introduction price; and that the full version will come in an update and price increase. When you’re ready to update it to its full-featured set; you raise the price to that of your choice, but have the update be free for those who supported the early, limited release. This is just a thought that may or may not work for what you want to do.

    Anyway, I look forward to whatever you choose to do with the iPhone version and wish you the best of luck.

  42. ryz Says:

    Well, as an indie-dev, you probably should take look at “Minecraft” and it’s blatant clones that spring up like mushrooms.

    There is this one clone that looks EXACTLY like Minecraft, even with the same textures and all! notch (creator of minecraft) knows about these clones, but seems to a) ignore it or b) doesn’t talk about it, AFAIK.

    Maybe you should get in touch with him and ask how he handles these copycats!

    Bear in mind that Minecraft is in fact a clone of “InfiniMiner”.
    Like Minecraft, Infiniminer is a block-based digging/building game, but it was discontinued shortly. notch simply picked up the idea and made Minecraft. He’s now a multi-millionaire.

    Not the same situation, but clones shouldn’t be underestimated, i guess.

    PS: I don’t think notch is a copycat at all, he incorporated his own unique ideas into his clone and formed it into a completely one-of-a-kind game, now called Minecraft.

    PPS: “Breakdance McFunkypants” just said everything else i would say. i totally agree with him, you should focus all your energy on DD. But on a side note, don’t underestimate clones.

    just my two cents.

  43. lucrezio87 Says:

    I know of your game thanks to the cloned version, but I will buy yours :) so hurry up guys, I want this awesome game on my iphone :)

    Great job!!

  44. increpare Says:

    Hey, would just like to chime in and say I totally feel sorry that you’re going through this shit. I love desktop dungeons, and hope you folks manage to suffer through it without too much harm.

  45. pzkrakz Says:

    Count me among legion DD fans, and it does anger me that someone would just change a few characters of your code, then re-compile it as their own app. That said, I agree with some of the other posters, that you should focus your $$$ on getting the game out with your brand. Then you can use your superior intellect to introduce periodic paid improvements to the game. I presume that once DD is implemented as an app, it’s a bit more difficult for it to be reverse engineered…?

  46. teapota Says:

    The worst part of this is that the guy who wrote the clone has a huge thread over on Toucharcade talking about the design decisions he made, it’s complete crap. Most of the reviews of the clone on the app store are complaints about it crashing constantly, which just proves this guy made a marginally functional copy. I really wish there was a way you could make a case to Apple about it, but I know that probably wouldn’t fly.

  47. Chris Says:

    I am a professional game developer working for a popular AAA studio. I’m extremely interested in indy games because I plan on being an indy developer in a few years myself (need to save some money).

    When I got linked to your game at some point (I think RPS) and tried it, I loved it. Now, I don’t own an iPhone, or even a cellphone. I immediately thought “Wow, this would be a great iPhone game.” It’s the right length, you can stop playing anytime because of the turn-based nature, it would easily work with a touch screen, and most of all, it’s FUN.

    I did a web search for the game, thinking that surely you must already have an iPhone version. This was many months ago, sometime in March:

    I was stunned that there was no iPhone version. Right then and there, I seriously considered cloning it. I saw no mention of iPhone connected with your product at all, so I thought it was possible you hadn’t even started on one.

    I had a iPhone game shell already done, and I had made an (extremely basic) roguelike before from scratch, so I was very confident in the coding. With a bit of help from an artist, I knew I could ship something in 6 months at most.

    I decided not to clone your game primarily because it’s a douchebag thing to do, and because I would have had to quit my job, which is risky if you did have an iPhone version right around the corner.

    What’s my point with this story?

    My point is, I’m not particularly special. Many people probably had the same thoughts as me. A clone of your game for iPhone was INEVITABLE. In fact, you are lucky that the person cloning it is some small dev like yourself, instead of, say, EA2D.

    My second point is that this is partially your fault. I could have built a clone in the 7-8 months since I heard about your game in March, starting from scratch. That means that you could have definitely done so, if you were worried about that market (and you should have been!).

    Now, I sound like a dick who is on the side of the cloner; I’m not. I love indy games, I try to financially support them as often as possible, and even more so I evangelize them all the time, especially to less hardcore gamers that would never hear of them otherwise. I got several of my personal friends playing Desktop Dungeons for some time, and if there was a iPhone version, I’m sure I could have got you some sales.

    What I want to advise you to do, is to ignore the lawsuit. Lawsuits are for losers. I don’t mean that in the sense of jerks, I mean that in the sense of literal losers in market competition.

    Any time, effort, and most importantly, emotional investment you spend on a lawsuit with this clone is a loss of initiative on your competition. Right now you have a superior (in gameplay) product, you know much more about the game than the cloner does, AND you have a loyal fanbase.

    You need to leverage those advantages as soon as possible to beat out your competition. Every day that you are not on the iPhone is a day that the cloner builds his own fanbase, a day that he has time to make a patch, a day that he learns about the gameplay more and has his own ideas for improvements.

    The brutal reality is that NO ONE CARES who had the idea first (except for already loyal fans). What people care about is the first version that really popularizes a genre. Who remembers Herzog Zwei? People remember Dune II, C&C, and Warcraft.

    I would cut anything from your game that is currently unnecessary (such as an overarching story or campaign), not worry about art, and just get the game out on the iPhone asap. Get your fans buying the game and spreading the word. Then, over time you can iterate on your system, add the features you want to put in, and release a steady stream of updates.

    With your advantages in fans, brand name, and experience with the game, you CAN do it. Focus all your effort and energy on that. Forget about the inevitable competition, and focus on making the best game you can.

    I sincerely hope you recover from this, and you can count on me to evangelize your game on the iPhone to my friends (even though I don’t have one).

  48. dislekcia Says:

    Interesting. We thought we were pretty clear that we were heading to iPhone… So are you saying that your plans to clone DD involved directly copying our balance model/numbers 100% or would you have written a game with different rules but similar ideas? I think that’s the key thing for us.

    We know any good game is going to get cloned, we knew that switching the codebase was going to be a time investment that might let people “catch up” with us in terms of implementation. We expected to be competing against (and enjoying playing) other DD-like games at some point, we just didn’t expect to be competing against our own game…

    As I’ve said before: There are lots of WWII shooters, but everyone would quickly cry foul if one of them reproduced the other’s maps.

  49. Gregory A. Swarthout Says:

    I vote for iPhone version right away

  50. Rob Says:

    For what it’s worth, I was also considering creating a Desktop Dungeons clone after seeing it, but didn’t have the time to really try. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to see one, to be honest. Would not surprise me if there are a few other clones or at least games built off similar concepts in the works.

    The game is incredibly fun, but also very easy to distill down into the concepts/formulas. It’s almost like a board game, in that sense. The fact that you guys have given away a free and comprehensive game design document (the wiki) made it even more tempting :)

    Given the commercial viability of the iPhone, it may have been best to lead off with that platform. I know as indies, you guys are about ideas more than profits, but as you’re also trying to sell a product, you shouldn’t always “show your hand”, so to speak, or you’ll end up with clones/competitors/etc…

    I did buy the clone and it’s a fun game, but that’s not a surprise considering the hours I’ve put into Desktop Dungeon. Can’t wait to support you guys when your version is released, hopefully soon!

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.


  54. bob Says:

    Your own fault for being windows only.

  55. 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…

  56. 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.

  57. Bretzel Says:


    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.

  58. 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).

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.


  62. 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.

  63. 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 […]

  64. 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.

  65. 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.

  66. 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? 😉

  67. 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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