15 Jan 11
dislekcia

So wait, are we douchebags now?

This email arrived yesterday:

Hi Danny,

Just wanted to let you know that as of today, I’ve removed LoEH for sale in all countries, following the copyright infringement notice I received from your lawyer.

I apologize for all the issues this has caused, and wish you best of luck on your IGF nomination.  Looking forward to the full version of Desktop Dungeons on iPhone.

Best REgards,
Eric

Um. Yay? I guess we won? Well, no. Not really. Maybe we didn’t lose quite as much, but when cloning’s involved it’s never really something anyone can “win”. There’s a lot of stuff that we’ve been wanting to talk about, having spent a lot of time thinking about cloning recently, so here goes:

Sorry we couldn’t make LoEH better

We tried. We really did… Being in the unique position of y’know, being able to talk to the guy cloning our game, we had a lot of feedback and ideas that we tried to give. Not only to stop him, well, cloning us. But also because we’d much rather have played a game that truly innovated on the ideas behind DD. Seeing someone else dig into the same creative space we’ve been sculling around in and ending up with something different to play? That’d be awesome.

We gave Mr Farraro ideas on how to change LoEH so that it wasn’t a DD rip off. We tried to motivate him to create something cool and offered to work with him to help deal with the resulting longer dev time. Obviously he didn’t go for it. We’re sorry about that.

No, the item system wasn’t something we suggested, that’s his big claim toward differentiation. We had nothing to do with it, which should be obvious through its complete lack of balance: Making the game easier as you get better at it, through rewarding players with items as they complete dungeons, is not how you create an engaging difficulty curve.

It sucks that people paid for a game that’s no longer going to be updated, whose bugs and crashes won’t be fixed. It sucks that some people were exposed to a poor facsimile of a game we’re really quite proud of. We very nearly halted development on the full game to put something very like V0.15 on the iPhone for free. In the end we realised that the best game we could give you all is the one we’ve been working on non-stop since March last year and anything that takes our focus away from that is a bad idea.

We hate that we’ll be judged against LoEH now

“But for the way that the dust has been kicked up, and the fingernails have come out over this, DD had better blow League out of the water on every conceivable level. The system should be flawless, the UI needs to be innovative and earth-shatteringly beautiful…”

This is what we were most afraid of when we first heard about LoEH. Leaving out the sheer crazyness of being compared to our own game logic, we now have to deal with the fact that there are people out there who have seen LoEH before they were even aware of DD. Yes, this is partly our fault (uh, for not marketing to a user-base we didn’t have a product for yet, I guess) but now we have to conquer that odd first-adopter loyalty just because someone else stole our work. Awesome.

The worst part is that DD v0.15 blows LoEH out of the water! It’s not even in the realms of comprehensibility to compare the final full version to something that’s not as good as our own alpha. But, when the full comes out, we’re going to be told that we “stole” features from LoEH. And not just things like the classes or spells taken from the alpha, no…

One of the first new systems I wrote for DD in Unity is the upgraded inventory. I even mentioned it here a few times. We designed it on paper in June or July last year, with all sorts of neat ramifications for the game as a whole. Then, months before we’d even heard of LoEH, while Marc was building the new level generation code in Unity and Rodain was adding Lothlorien to the alpha in GM, I was hammering away at the inventory system that some wonderful human being is going to say we filched from Eric Farraro.

We think that false basis for comparison sucks.

We’re baffled by the attitudes toward cloning

Some people seem to have the strangest perception of game cloning. “But the App store is full of clones!” they say, somehow expecting the “But everybody else was doing it!” excuse to hold water despite it never working when they were 8 either.

This argument seems to hinge on the fact that some games are inspired by others. When fully trotted out, the logic goes something along the lines of: Every game ever is inspired in some way by another game; This means that if we were to start allowing legal protection for games in any form, all new games would never be made due to lawsuits; Thus, you’re Tim Langdell.

Older media like film and music have rather complex attribution and copying systems in place that work most of the time. Concepts like plagiarism and referencing are extremely important to authors and scientists alike. To say that the medium of games can’t have any form of starvation-prevention for the stupid buggers that keep making them doesn’t seem to make much sense. It’s hard to imagine how games can be protected as IP for the same reasons that it would be hard for someone to imagine the idea of copyright before the advent of the printing press: It’s only a relevant problem now, we have no language to correctly quantify how much of a game was copied and at what fidelity. (We’re partial to the idea of measuring the newness of a game concept/implementation in Kilo-indies)

That said, laws are there to help societies function, not to make us be less dickish to each other… There’s a huge difference between something that’s legal and something that’s ethically sound. Ethics has been and always will be, reactive and highly context-based. Legal systems are sluggish and, out of neccessity, rigidly codified. That means that the law is always behind in terms of what people find acceptable in new or rapidly changing fields. For the sake of the games industry though, we hope that a classification for cloning that’s better than “We’ll know it when we see it” emerges sooner rather than later.

We’re not saying that copyrights, patents and licensing systems are the way to go, in fact in many cases they’re far from perfect. But arguing that precedence removes ethical responsibility is never something that any morally sound human being should tolerate.

We think cloning is a dumb strategy

Why would you want to clone a game as an indie developer? Or even a publisher-held studio? This is the age of everyone and everything being worried about copyright. You can’t heave a brick these days without hitting something that’s involved either in copyright infringement or enforcement in some way. Laws are going to change, games will enjoy more protection eventually. More and more cloned games are being shut down by platform owners that realise they’re hurting the platform’s perception. Game buyers understand what a clone is and – even if they don’t – are less likely to spend money on something that others have complained about.

Anyone involved in creating digital content in any way, shape or form has to spend time thinking about the implications of trying to earn a living as information just gets easier and easier to copy. Eventually, say the worst-case scenarios, the main things people will be trading on are their reputations and the goodwill of their customers. If that’s the case, then reputation becomes an incredibly important resource. Sabotaging how you’re perceived by being an immense dick on a medium that’s as history-aware as the internet is possibly not the best thing to do if you want a solid career.

But say you’re only making games for the money. Stop laughing… Given a purely financial motivation, cloning still doesn’t work out: You’re basically saying that you don’t believe in your own skills and have to rely on a confidence trick – getting to a particular market first – in order to skim some of the income that another game would have gotten. From an investment perspective, this sort of thinking can make sense in the physical world, where markets are created through location and distance. But digitally, you’re only guaranteed any long-term income in a fragmented, niche market that’s likely to be overlooked by the original developers.

Because you never want to be going up against the original developers. You have to get your clone out before their game hits the same buyers. Your clone has to be built faster, for less and with less understanding of the core game design. Without that “first on the scene” perception (or some other attention grabbing trick – holiday skinning is always popular), your clone game won’t be bought at all.

And why clone an indie game? Larger companies ignore markets that might sustain smaller companies, but trying to find the cracks that a tiny, adaptable, able company leaves un-monetised is a recipe for bankruptcy. Especially as more cross-platform tools and engines gain popularity – that SCO-Xenix implementation you were counting on selling? Yeah, Unity runs on mainframes now too.

Cloning is financially riskier than building an original game: You are increasingly likely to have your clone’s earning window cut short through either technological, legal or consumer-awareness avenues. In the end, cloning isn’t about trying to go for the “quick win” and earning a bunch of money you wouldn’t have gotten before. It’s actually about trying to lose slower than the other guy. You don’t have to be a rocket-surgeon to realise that’s a stupid way to try and earn a living.

At least, that’s how we feel about it.


43 Responses to “So wait, are we douchebags now?”

  1. ht Says:

    I am glad you acted, and got positive results. Too many get away with the cloning strategy, as the many clones in the App Store show… Good luck with the last mile.

  2. Laroquod Says:

    Cloning has a long history in games. Many of the most fertile gaming movements of the past were built by a bunch of dudes cloning each other and making small improvements (and sometimes unimprovements), until the small improvements eventually added up to something quite different. A clone of a clone of a clone often no longer resembles the original that much, but if you ban cloning, then you would never get there. People tend to remember all the pearls from gaming past but they don’t remember all the other games that linked these pearls; they don’t remember how nothing appeared out of the blue but everything was built so closely on what had gone before. Copyright today is out of control and people apply it thinking ‘morality’ and completely ignore that copying each other is actually the basis of culture, and copyright is a very artificial restraint on that, and should be handled very carefully. It has nothing to do with morality or anyone’s right to an idea. You have no right to an idea. Using copyright to chill the efforts of little dudes just trying to riff off stuff they like is one of the poorest, most questionable uses of copyright, and if people took copyright as seriously back then as they do today, a lot of famous games would never have ended up being made, either because they were clones or because they were inspired by a small tweaked idea they saw in a clone that they then extrapolated on. No clones = no links = no pearls. That’s evolution for you. Copyright isn’t Evil but it’s a huge legal compromise that is directly opposed to cultural evolution. The people who originally wrote the copyright laws recognised that — but we don’t seem to anymore and it’s going to continue to hurt us and to chill development. P.S. You are not douchebags — a lot of people have been misled to think of copyright as some sort of ethical issue, when it has zero to do with ethics — it’s just an invented and somewhat questionable privilege that perhaps never should have been invented, from a human cultural standpoint.

  3. konop Says:

    I’m pretty sure you are douchebags now. How is this game different from legend of fargoal or 100 rogues or a thousand other rogue-like games? If I was LoEH I would have told you to take a hike.

  4. lee Says:

    You know what? You’re right. Everyone was just warning you that throwing legal weight around wouldn’t show you in a good light was just doing it to spite you, does that make you happy? We all truly buy the first thing shoved under our noses and have no ability to judge quality so we needed you to force any competition out of the market.

    As I said in previous posts, people buy games based on quality, you have to deal with 1 clone and you throw your dummy out of the pram, mojang are competing with an army of clones and it hasn’t harmed them one bit. People know a good game when they see it and even a game that functions like yours isn’t going to be as good if it is just quickly cobbled together. You said yourself that the changes he made to the game made it inferior, I can’t undertsand why you don’t see that clone for what it is…

    Writing an article with the purpouse of arguing with the comments from your last posts is an effort to serve yourself only, it certainly doesn’t make us feel wanted

  5. dislekcia Says:

    @Laroquod: Yes, copyright is a special set of rules designed with a specific purpose in mind. That purpose has been co-opted in a whole host of ways since its inception. That doesn’t mean that creative people are evil or wrong when they turn to copyright in order to ensure that they can afford to keep creating.

    Furthermore, there’s a huge difference between creative communities and the process of cloning. Take a look at the way the indie community works: There are hordes of people who riff off each others’ ideas without directly copying each other. I fail to see how we could have been MORE accommodating to LoEH in terms of trying to work with the dev to make an ultimately better game – he wanted to systemically copy our work instead.

    @konop: Have you played DD at all? Why don’t you give it a go and let me know if you still think it’s exactly the same thing? ;)

    @lee: I’m curious as to why we can’t talk about cloning just because other developers don’t. The random quote came from a forum thread for LoEH, not here. Perhaps you missed the major message of this post, which is that cloning doesn’t make sense to us as a thing that happens in the games industry. Why do people do it?

  6. TotalBiscuit Says:

    “people buy games based on quality”

    No they don’t. People are dumb and can be consistently relied upon to ignore good titles, often leading to the downfall of entire studios. The last thing I’d EVER want to do as a developer is leave a rip-off of my work alone and trust the consumers to tell the difference, because they wouldn’t.

    The customer is always wrong and when it comes to debating copyright, the vast majority of people can’t understand it and also can’t take themselves out of their own subjective perspective and try and put themselves into the shoes of the developer in question, because they have never created anything worth copying in their lives.

    Without question the right course of action.

  7. [Updated] Clone Of IGF Nominated Desktop Dungeons Taken Down From iTunes App Store | PC Gaming | Lazygamer .:: Console and PC Gaming News ::. Says:

    [...] [Update] Here is the official QCF blog post [...]

  8. carbonfyre Says:

    Outright copying a developer’s game for the sake of making a quick bit of cash and monopolize on another person(s) hard work is very unethical and lazy.

    The other argument is that if it weren’t for Doom and Wolfenstein we wouldn’t have games like Bioshock, Halo, and Gears of War. Borrowing ideas isn’t a bad thing. Avoiding having to rebuild the wheel is the root of evolution.

    What this article is trying to convey is that IF you are going to blatantly plagarize someone’s game(or any other media), at least try to take the idea to a new level and put an original twist on it.

    They didn’t just force them to quit profiting from the work they had already done, they offered ideas on ways to help differentiate their game from DD. They gave them a window of opportunity to make something just different enough to not be a direct ripoff. They failed to take the chance and threw a fit about it.

    I don’t feel there should be any sort of backlash just because they stood their ground and protected their work. If I filmed a movie called Trog that had a bunch of people in clothing that was adorned with neon lights and rode around on light cycles, I would be waiting for Disney’s lawyers to be contacting me.

    On the other hand, if I had a similar concept or was influenced by Tron in some way, I would make every effort to make it feel original in some way.

    Look at Quake and Half Life: both first-person shooters built using the same engine. However, Valve altered the engine and made the game more focused on telling a story rather than just shoving missiles up everyone’s ass.

  9. carbonfyre Says:

    Also, look at Mojang, the makers of Minecraft. Notch has openly stated that his direct inspiration came from a game called Infiniminer. Infiniminer has almost the exact same style of play amd presentation. He also cited games like Dungeon Keeper and a I believe a few roguelikes. Did he directly ripp them off? Not really. He spun a new take on it. I’m sure there will be tons of Minecraft clones in the future, but as long as they try to innovate in some way there is nothing wrong with that. But if someone makes a game called Farmcraft that is a direct ripoff of Minecraft then that is wrong.

  10. Aaron Says:

    TotalBiscuit’s comment is outrageous. It’s highly doubtful that QFC’s claim of infringement would have held up in court.

    And TB, have you ever heard of this thing called marketing? Do you think maybe a game developer maybe needs to be good at marketing if they want to increase their market share? I guess it’s morally reprehensible if a good game goes under because the publisher is bad at marketing, right?

    News flash — that’s reality. It’s nice to hear that you think reality sucks, but like most people, I don’t care what you think. Your comment is totally out of touch with the reality of the business.

    Nobody should be telling QCF that what he did was a smart idea because it wasn’t. They should be telling him to get better at running his business if he wants to survive and remain relevant.

  11. Colin Northway Says:

    Look, ideas aren’t wortheless. They are just easy to copy.

    QCF has put just as much work into the design of DD as an artist puts into a painting. I don’t see why it’s ok to steal their game design and resell it but not ok to steal a painting and resell it.

    Creators should be able to profit from their creations without having to worry about other people ripping them off.

    If you, as gamers, want new and interesting games then you have to let us, the creators, make a buck off our game design. It takes a lot of time to make something new and good and if we’re just going to be out-implemented and out-marketed when we release our new idea then why bother? We can’t be the best at everything and we can’t release on all platforms at once.

    I’m not arguing that borrowing isn’t an implortant part of creation. Yes there is a grey area but it behoves us as a culture to stay on the light-side of that grey area.

    To simply shrug off all theft as the orignal creator needing to “get better at running his business” is using a mash of Capitalist language as an ugly justification of immoral behaviour.

  12. Rich Says:

    I agree with Aaron — the legal arguments that QCF must have presented are pretty shaky. I’ve played both games and while I agree that the clone may have acted in bad taste by copying DD’s mechanics, they haven’t committed any LEGAL wrong here. Had the case gone to court, the judge would have ruled in favor of LoEH.

    Though I love DD to death and hope it does well, the whole situation to me shows a lack of understanding on the part of QCF about how to run a business. The rules of the indie world do not apply to business. The business world is cutthroat: time to market, marketing, public relations, all these things are important. Forcing small competitors out of the market who don’t enjoy the same media coverage or advertising pull that QCF has is a waste of time. Ask yourself – was the legal action against the clone a business decision or a personal one?

    Desktop Dungeons’ commercial success will really depend on how well QCF markets the product, not whether someone creates clones or steals their ideas. You need to assume that this will happen, and just make sure that your product is not only the best, but that people know about it.

    The biggest mistake here is that it’s taken 12-18 months to bring a commercial product to market, after releasing an essentially complete and playable version for free. Newsflash, if you release a version of your product to the market, you’d better believe that people are going to use it, analyze it, and if possible, figure out how to profit for it. Welcome to Business 101.

  13. Kenneth Says:

    How is this any different than when the makers of Scrabble went after Scrabulous (now Lexulous)? They didn’t have a version online and Scrabulous filled that void. QCF still doesn’t have a version on iPhone and LoEH filled that void. Seriously, I bet most of you on QCF’s side of this probably weren’t rooting for hasbro.

    It’s hypocritical to say its ok for an indie dev to clone as long as you’re cloning from a big company, but turn around and say it’s bloody freaking murder if you clone from another indie.

  14. Jax Says:

    It’s a pyrrhic victory. And the lengthy explanation/apology makes it worse, I think.

  15. Colin Northway Says:

    I don’t see why we have to give up and accept cloning. I think it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say “that’s the way it is you might as well just take your lumps”.

    You might be writing different comments if you had spent a year on something just to have someone plagerise your work and sell it for a profit.

    Those of us who aren’t on the sidelines are looking for ways to change the culture. Eric did a brave and good thing by taking down his game. I don’t think he did it for legal reasons and I’m sure his next game will have his own design work in it. I’m sure that game will make the world a richer place.

    Just because you can’t imagine a world where people don’t plagerise design work doesn’t mean it can’t exist. And it doesn’t mean we can’t try to bring it about.

  16. Fadedc Says:

    It seems like the creators of LoEH crossed the line from cloning to blatant rip off when they copied many of the mechanics of the original game item for item. That goes beyond simple cloning. It would have been fine if they had just taken the basic concept and made their own version of it that was still very similar. But they just had too many identical key concepts. So because of that I have no problem with them being shut down and I feel that the creators of DD were more then reasonable.

    People do have a point though that QCF does need to better consider this all in their business plan however. While LoEH may have been a blatant rip off and been justified in being shut down, there’s nothing stopping someone else from producing a less blatant rip off that could steal their thunder.

  17. Akabander Says:

    It’s one thing to make a game that was “inspired” by another game. You will bring your own artistic vision, mechanics, balancing, and style to the project — those are the elements that make it unique. There are degrees of copying. Exactly where the line between inspiration and cloning lies probably varies from individual to individual. However, I don’t see how there’s any argument that LoEH was on the wrong side of that line.

    LoEH wasn’t just inspired by DD — it took the exact same mechanics, with the same numerical balancing. That is cloning, and if it’s not legally wrong, it’s certainly creatively and morally bankrupt. Why morally and not just creatively? Because the publisher of LoEH actually had the crass gall to charge money for a copy of something the actual creator was giving away for free.

    I hope DD “full” comes out soonish, and I’m really looking forward to an iOS release. I thought about buying LoEH just so I could scratch the itch on my daily commute, but I couldn’t bring myself to give the guy money, when he invested none of the time in design or balancing (balancing being one of the hardest and most time-consuming portions of building a complex game).

  18. Peevish Says:

    Dear QCF,

    If you ever wanted proof that the internet and the game-buying world can be full of ignorant people who just enjoy having an opinion, any opinion, you can read half the above comments.

    You did the right thing. “Marketing” an indie game trades less on visibility and more on honesty, transparency, and openness. It’s a shame that others will sometimes exploit that openness, but LoEH can never copy DD completely because there’s no passion in a clone. Not all buyers are idiots, but the idiots are more likely to post to complain at you. DD will have more effect on more people than LeOH ever did because it was made for the right reasons.

    Remember that for every troll calling you a douchebag there are probably 10 people who love Desktop Dungeons but don’t bother to say anything, because that seems to be how the internet works.

    Best of luck.

  19. Nayomah Says:

    QFC,

    Right or wrong, I think you’ve probably learned a valuable lesson. Do not release a game to the public until you’re ready to “release” it to the public. If you’re afraid of others infringing on your profits then please do not release a game until it’s ready to sell. You may very well charge people to play the alpha and beta versions of the game at a discounted price, it’s what other successful indies have done. However, to save yourself the hassle, unless you plan on releasing a game as “Freeware” don’t release it to the public. Just work on it quietly, share it with your close friends, people you can trust to play it, hopefully enjoy it, tell you what bugs they’re finding, and then work on it some more. Then, when you’re finally ready to release the game to the public and sell it, you’ll have no problem. People will then only be cloning your ideas after the fact.

    Great game by the way. You’ve learned a valuable lesson. You’ll benefit from it in the future.

    Best of luck.

  20. Yakatori Says:

    I love desktop dungeons and can’t wait for the official release. I did check out the clone and found it lacking, so there you go.

    The only thing I’m disappointed about is this continuous whining. Anyone with half a brain knows that if you release anything on the web, it will be cloned. You guys are not special, castle defense, tower defense, jump games, crayon physics, hell even the mighty Angry Birds is a cloned idea. Now, just make sure you blow them out of the water. You started this and now it’s time to man up.

    Next time, if you don’t want this to happen do what the above poster said.

    “Do not release a game until it’s ready to sell.”

  21. gentlegiant03 Says:

    At some point every successful company will forget about altruism and focus on business acumen. What you’ve done here is the later… after all, you’re not running a charity where your ideas are given out for free (especially not for someone else to capitalization on them). You did what you had to do to secure a future for your product, think nothing more of it.

  22. Holdup Says:

    @gentlegiant03,

    Since the current version of the game that is available is released as freeware, anyone may borrow as many ideas from it as they want. I think Aaron and Nayomah’s comments were pretty spot on. You can’t release something (including ideas) for free, and then try to take them back when you’ve already given those ideas away.

    I love Desktop Dungeon just as much as anyone. I want to see the final product as well, but let’s be realists.

  23. Nathan Madsen Says:

    Nayomah hit the nail on the head!

    All of this could have been avoided if Desktop Dungeons was released when it was finished (updates and slight patches aside).

  24. dislekcia Says:

    Just wanted to poke at a rather worrying idea that a couple of commenters here have been getting at:

    Keeping your game secret and not releasing it until 100% complete doesn’t work. It’s possibly the worst idea ever… I’ve seen that misguided desire for secrecy kill hundreds of promising projects in the tiny (and incredibly isolated) South African game dev community.

    Without the feedback and interest from all the people that have played the different versions of DD that have been released (starting with the very first prototype), our game simply would not exist. There’s no way you’re going to make a better game in isolation – you can’t find all those bugs, can’t get all those ideas and can’t motivate yourself as well as rabid players can. I believe there’s a real reason that a lot of IGF nominees this year have playable versions of their game available to the public.

    Frankly, the idea that in order to be properly protected you need to develop in utter secrecy should make it obvious that there’s something wrong with the way games are currently handled as creative property.

  25. HSColeman Says:

    @dislekcia and others,

    I don’t think anyone stated that Desktop Dungeons should have been worked on in “utter secrecy”.

    Nayomah hit the nail on the head just as Nathan Madsen stated. They should have just shared the game with close friends, family, people that they trust within the online community… Not that they shouldn’t have released Desktop Dungeons as freeware, but that’s what they did. People really liked the ideas in the game and enjoyed it so much that they wanted to make a game like it borrowing from some of its very cool ideas. That’s how these things work.

    I’m glad Desktop Dungeons has been freeware thus far, but if that wasn’t the initial intent then what was it? To make money? If so then great, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the game was released to the public and the public has gone on to enjoy it even encouraging some of the public to go out and create their own games like it. Borrowing from games, even heavily borrowing from games, is what gamers and especially game developers and wannabe game developers do.

    If Desktop Dungeon is worth being paid for then what’s there to worry about if another game is released that is similar?

    People didn’t take these ideas and use them in another game because they hate them, they did it because they loved the ideas and thought of how to do something different with them.

    If that isn’t a form of flattery then I don’t know what is. Again, the major problem was releasing this game to the public when clearly that’s not what the developers meant to do as a whole. They should have just released it to a select few people until it was ready for the mass market.

    If LoEH is ripping off DD so badly that it infringes upon the “Creative Rights” of the authors of DD, then every single developer out there who has created a Roguelike or modified and or enhanced facsimile owes both credit, and in some cases profit, to the original creator of the very first Roguelike! That would be a lot of money and credit he’d be owed…

    Food for thought.

  26. GW Says:

    You guys are NOT D-bags in my book. Someone stole your game and rushed out a copy in an attempt to make a profit. You did the right things by talking to him first, trying to assist in helping him make a better game (imagine a big publisher doing this with another? Nope!) and when he persisted in ignoring your requests, you had to take a legal means to protect your creation.

    I don’t think your game will be judged poorly because of it, as anyone who actually remembers all this fuss and bother (sadly, we DO live in a short attention span theater world these days) will simply be seeing and playing a surprisingly addictive game that makes the rogue-like a hell of a lot more accessible to more players with the faster-paced gameplay and unique movement mechanic.

    I had some artwork stolen a long time ago when I was thinking about getting into comics and sending work around. I didn’t know this until about a year or so later when I saw one of the paintings I’d done replicated on the back cover of a comic with only the background changed and a much nicer use of colors. I was royally pissed off, but I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

    As for folks garping about DD not being “original” either, yup, I’d say those folks haven’t played it yet. Best of luck at IGF this year.

  27. Fadedc Says:

    Well it can be a fine line between inspired by and copying. But if you look at all the roguelikes out there, they only copy each other so much. They may involve random dungeons and going as deep as you can before you die, but they each have their own mechanics and their own way that things work. None of them achieve the same degree of copying that you see with DD and LoEH. And if anyone ever did create an almost exact copy of an existing roguelike without crediting it, then you can be fairly sure there would be an outcry.

  28. Brandon Says:

    @Holdup – You may be confusing “freeware” with “open source”. Freeware does not mean a game can be dissected and taken from, merely that it is offered for free. Whether the ideas can be taken from or not is based on how the copyright is established.

    At the heart of all of this discussion is whether or not the copyright notice should have been issued. I stand by the fact that you must protect your property whether it’s offered freeware or not.

  29. Holdup Says:

    @Brandon

    Actually, you’re right, if someone stole the code to DD and then remade a game with it that would be a crime. However, I could take as many ideas as I want from Desktop Dungeons and create my own game using ideas from it.

    How many times has Tetris, Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest (a clone of Bejeweled) been copied? I could name another hundred games that are all connected to each other by way of stealing ideas from one another, and all are popular and perfectly legal.

    The whole point was this, if the ideas and gameplay design in Desktop Dungeon wasn’t meant to be duplicated in one form or another, why release it freely to the public? I haven’t yet heard of anyone taking the source material and remaking it in their own way, or reverse engineering the code… So what I’ve gathered from this is that it’s mostly based on the fact that another developer (and perhaps future developers) are stealing the ideas taken directly from Desktop Dungeon… which has taken ideas from other games.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the developers of Desktop Dungeons side. I just don’t think you can corner a market on ideas, especially once you’ve released them to the general public.

    Clearly, the developer of League of Epic Heroes stole some ideas, the worst that they did was steal the basic layout of Desktop Dungeons though. They could have made a different title with elements from Desktop Dungeon without creating and overall layout to the game that is so close to the source material. That is their biggest mistake. Do I think they could have made the exact same game that they did (in regards to LoEH) without using a layout that is so similar to the one in Desktop Dungeon, sure and they could have easily done so. That they didn’t change quite enough of it was their big problem.

    I definitely think that the design was ripped off, but I do stick to my original statement. The ideas are great ideas and Desktop Dungeon is a great game. To take those ideas and run with them, enhance them, change them up, or evolve them is also flattering.

    I really want to see the finished product of Desktop Dungeons, but if someone releases a game with similar gameplay mechanics and / or enhancements and I happen to come across it I’ll probably play it as well. I definitely know where the references are from.

    I think this fiasco is based on timing, over-exposure or perhaps it being under-exposed before LoEH, lengthy development time, and luck.

    While the intentions of the developers of Desktop Dungeons were most likely positive and good, they unwittingly released the game allowing others to freely play and distribute the game unknowingly releasing their ideas to others as well, before the game was even finished.

    I think DD is great. I also didn’t know that when I originally downloaded this game a few months ago that the developers were planning to make money off of it… I mean, if it’s so close to the final product, why release it to the general public for free when you actually meant to charge money for it?

    I understand all of your points of view, Brandon, and Dislekcia, but are you seeing it from mine and others? We learn from our mistakes and we become better because of them… or we don’t.

    Talking to the developer of LoEH was a good idea, that’s the way to get the ball rolling, but you have an unreleased game that you’ve already released, meanwhile the Developer of LoEH has released a game that actually has been released. It all leads back to the same thing, don’t release the game to the public until you’re really ready to release it to the public, whether it’s free or paid for, because someone will copy your ideas and do it better if they can make money at it. I’m not saying that LoEH is better than Desktop Dungeon, but it was certainly developed faster and in fact looks a bit better, but if I cared about looks I probably wouldn’t be playing Desktop Dungeon still. :-)

    Anyway, best of luck and success at the IGF! Who knows, maybe all of this controversy will make your game stand out drawing extra attention to it and even win it an award or two. ;-)

  30. Fog W Raith Says:

    So DD is not a clone of Nethack?

  31. MysticX Says:

    Honestly, mistakes were made by both Parties in this argument, QCF is saying “DD for iPhone will completely pwn LoEH!” and then gets all defensive when the clone rolls around, while “lazy peon games” (ironic name given the circumstances, but who’s keeping track?) 1:1 copies DD, then declines the help they’re offered to patch things up and goes into radio silence, leaving the people who bought LoEH in the cold.

    So there is still plenty room for DD to get its niche, between iTunes ratings and review-sites, the best games will rise to the top.

  32. Fanboy Says:

    Ethically, it may have been slightly wrong to make LoEH so similar to DD, in the exact same way that it was ethically wrong to shut down a small-time indie developer just like yourself by bringing in the lawyers.

    I think there was room for everybody to enjoy a slice of the pie, but instead of focusing your efforts on upping the quality bar you dove into a legal fight for a monopoly on a tried and true idea that’s been around since Nethack. This was a huge waste of your time that could have been better spent on constructive things rather than destructive things.

    Sadly, though I LOVE DD, I think the answer to your question in the article headline is yes. By your logic, the Quake guys should have sued the Halo guys. DD is far less original than you believe. It kicks ass, it is fantastic, it deserves to make bajillions of dollars… I sincerely hope you find massive success, but it is incredibly similar to several games I have played before. I think you have confused “good” with “original”. Your game is good, don’t get me wrong.

    A pyrrhic victory has been won: you may have just killed both projects!

  33. dislekcia Says:

    @Fanboy: What are these similar games you mention? I’d love to play them :)

    I’m amazed at the number of people bringing up an equivalence between basic FPS mechanics shared between games and cloning: If an FPS had exactly the same level layout, weapons and very similar models to another FPS (even if the story differed) people would go batshit. Comparing Quake to Halo on the similarities of their genre is a no-brainer, that doesn’t make Halo exactly like Quake. We weren’t upset that LoEH also had a point and click interface…

  34. Rich Says:

    If another game had exactly the same weapon damage/mechanics as Halo, no one would bat an eyelash. I think you’re missing the point of what makes games like Halo successful. Hint: it’s not the unique damage algorithms or score calculations.

    It’s the marketing of these games that ultimately brings success or failure. There are many games that are far superior to Halo, that go unnoticed because they lack the marketing budget of Microsoft.

  35. dislekcia Says:

    Why the derision of Gameloft over N.O.V.A then? There’s a lot of space in the FPS gamespace for differences in execution, just like there’s a lot of space around DD to do cool stuff without reproducing it exactly. This is exactly why we stressed that there simply isn’t a good enough way to measure game cloning.

  36. Fadedc Says:

    I think also that when it comes to a turn based roleplaying game that exactly duplicating the game mechanics is much more blatant then it is for a game like Halo which is more about the graphics and action.

    If you want a better example you should imagine someone that releases a new version of dungeons and dragons with the exact same mechanics, weapon damage rules and spells but with a different name. Do you not feel that they would be succesfully sued by Wizards of the Coast?

  37. Nikolai Says:

    “QCF has put just as much work into the design of DD as an artist puts into a painting. I don’t see why it’s ok to steal their game design and resell it but not ok to steal a painting and resell it.”

    QFT Colin Northway.

    I’m going to speak as a consumer, not a developer or somebody qualified to talk about the business side or legal aspects of the case.

    Playing with the analogy made before between game development and traditional media like paintings or literature, let’s spend a second on what goes into painting. There are the materials that make it possible, like the canvas, the oils, the brushes; there are the techniques used by artists and shared–that’s where we get our Cubists and our Impressionists; there are common subjects and themes–as if nudes would ever go out of style. I would argue that these components have analogues in game design and most of the arguments here against copyright laws are seeking to protect the free exchange of these techniques and rules that become game mechanics–don’t copyright tile-based movement, don’t copyright Rougelikes, don’t copyright spells and swords. I agree.

    I think what we should be considering is the justification of protecting artists from uncredited, unwanted recreations of their works complete for profit. I do think it’s a worthwhile endeavour, but I’ll grant that not everybody has to accept that.

    I also think that’s what happened when Lazy Peon copied QCF’s program. That might also be debatable–but I’ve yet to see a that case made much less successfully argued. I worry when I see people comparing games like Quake and Halo, Doom and Bioshock. They’re the same game only in the sense that every bildungsroman is the same book or every Impressionist painting is the same painting. That’s an important distinction for me and, I hope, anybody who bothers buying more than one FPS or RPG or platformer.

    Anyway, the last claim I’m making is that the same standard should be applied to this medium as to painting or writing. There are differences between media, sure, but if the goal, for me as a consumer, is supporting the real innovators because I respect them and I want to promote more innovation.

    Anyway, I hope this helps move the debate towards what I see as the major issues and away from the “it’s been done a million times, so why bitch?” kind of remarks.

    Last word: I’m still looking forward to putting my money where my mouth is. Maybe, as Rich suggests, I’m just part of a marketing victory or maybe I’m standing up for my principles and the quality of the game. Either way, QCF is doing something right over here.

  38. glitched Says:

    The game was certainly a clone, but it wasn’t DD. DD has a great deal more depth to it in a very surprising way and what you guys did doesn’t feel like protecting your copyright or you IP but plain old fear. I don’t know why you should be so afraid considering how much confidence you have in your own work.

    The first thing I said to myself when I played this game was: “I totally want to clone this for iPhone.” Low and beyond I found one. I then looked to this site to find out if there was going to be an official port and find this “scandal” and was pretty shocked by the reaction by the DD developers.

    I’m certainly glad that the makers of Super Mega Worm didn’t buckle to Play Creek and Death Worm. There was no Death Worm on iPhone and a clone of the game Super Mega Worm appeared in its place. It’s fantastic and it offers a lot of very unique things that Death Worm never did nor does now. So here the makers of the original game failed to make a better game then the “imitators”. Is that what you guys are afraid of? Given you very self righteous and prideful attitude it doesn’t seem like it. You’ve obviously poured a lot of yourselves into this game and yet you see clone not only as a threat but you take time to insult the guy in a post that asks if you are douche bags.

    You are. Get over yourself. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more clones of this game popping up before the “real” version hits the app store. In fact I’m sure there will be at least one more ;)

    Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal.

  39. dislekcia Says:

    @glitched: Sorry? Where did we insult Mr Farraro? We very carefully refrained from doing exactly that, so if that’s come across, be sure that’s not what we meant.

  40. Mikloy Says:

    We all take to the temptation to stand on a soap box and tell the world how we want everything to be, myself included. And we should see it as that, and nothing more.

    Is it okay that QCF legally challenged a clone? Yes, because they have every right to protect their interests. Is it right that the author of a blatant rip-off tried to make money from someone’s products/ideas? Yes, because he has every right to run a business until he or the law shuts him down.

    Maybe you disagree with those things, but you neither created Desktop Dungeons nor a profit-oriented clone, and therefore it’s none of your business. Unless you want to sue one or the other entity for not conforming to your idea of a perfect universe, it doesn’t make sense to act the part of a moral dictator. The only part of a dictator you end up playing is the dick.

    @glitched, you especially seem to think that as a consumer your desires are holy, and everyone/thing should fulfill them. I’d hazard a guess that you’ve never created anything worth stealing in your life, nor have you ever stolen anything that led to your commercial success. You just want people to listen to you whine about what you want, and how people should focus on that. Customers are important, but the customer is not always right. That principle is forced upon customer service people who are paid to defuse conflicts and give warm fuzzy feelings.

    Let’s all be careful to make sure that we express our opinions as no more than they are. Unless you are a lawyer, directly related to this or a strikingly similar case, or one of the two parties involved.

    ~~*~**~*~*~In my personal opinion~~~**~*~*~*~
    I would not be surprised to discover that the author actually hired a contract programmer and said “copy this, and slap these words/graphics on it.” Would you have less pity for him if that were the case? Probably. The idea of an “indie developer” is a nifty concept, but most of them are either autistic basement dwellers or greedy entrepreneurs. I’d peg this guy as the latter, and the fact that he backed off from legal threat shows that he doesn’t care if people think he has balls or about the thousands of dollars he could make — he can rip-off something or someone else for the next gig.

    They say that history is written by the winners, but that’s not always true. In this case, history will be written by whiners, mostly, but the fact that QCF won is the only point that matters.

    Now get back to work and make something really worth stealing.

    Oh, and to those who suggest that the author should have kept working in secrecy… are you blind? Desktop Dungeon is hugely famous, and a very commercially valuable prospect. That is due to the fact that they have let it out on the open, and it would be commercially worthless if it were still unknown. Whether or not it could make up for that on the official release would be a gamble, as you never really know how the critics/public will take to it.

    As it is, I see it’s still in development and hope it soon sucks less. Right now it’s very forgettable.

  41. WitherVoice Says:

    @Colin Northway: “I don’t see why it’s ok to steal their game design and resell it but not ok to steal a painting and resell it.”

    Well, it’s entirely legal to see that painting, paint the same motive better or worse than the original painter, and sell that… provided you don’t claim it’s the work of that other guy in order to increase the value of it (or for any other reason, really).

    My opinions: cloning is lazy and to be discouraged. Using the inherently rigid and unsuited-to-the-purpose legal system to resolve a creative dispute is not laudable, nor is it to be condemned. Whether it is ethically sound or not is not really relevant compared to the shining truth (remember, I said MY OPINION) that law and those who practice it are probably vicious, petty, and/or stupid, no matter how noble their intention, and law should only be applied where the central issue is not a matter of subjective judgement (to my mind, it’s a “clone” rather than a derivative work only if that was the author’s intention, which means punishing cloning is punishing a thought crime). If he used the original’s code or artwork, then it’s different.

    However, more important than anything else: don’t use analogies, because they are always wrong.

  42. RekzkarZ Says:

    preface: people have stronger opinions on this than they do on politics!! Surprising! And more willingness to whine about this than about nuclear power plants melting down, USA warmongering, USA discouraging countries to become free democracies, corporations abuse of law to protect their ‘freedom of speech’ over living humans rights, or ‘net neutrality. (The power of niche focus is crystal clear on forums!!!) ok, that said … onto the topic:

    QCF,
    quote: Outright copying a developer’s game for the sake of making a quick bit of cash and monopolize on another person(s) hard work is very unethical and lazy.
    I agree with this.
    I also have no issue w/copying / “so-called” pirating of games & software from big companies w/over-inflated prices.
    Anyone that thinks you are douchey for using law to protect your product has never made or worked on a product. If you don’t protect your ownership rights, you lose them.
    I think the flaw is the system, not your protection of your rights of ownership.
    If companies could use marketing less and lower their prices more, if products were priced reasonably, if software co’s weren’t manically creating new versions & selling them to existing software owners instead of providing upgrades, etc etc (and specifically re:Apple, the fact that you buy the app for iPhone w/o any rights to return of you don’t like it).
    I like that you also inspired this dialogue about it. Thanks for that!
    rekzkarz.com

  43. xTempest Says:

    What most people here don’t seem to get is that LoEH didn’t steal ideas. LoEH stole the game.


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