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Friday, April 23, 2010

'Happy Aquarium' Facebook Game Spurs Not-So-Happy Lawsuit

Posted By on Fri, Apr 23, 2010 at 9:15 AM

click to enlarge Happy_Aquarium.jpg
A Facebook game in which users must remember to feed virtual fish will now feed some very real, flesh-and-blood lawyers.

Menlo Park social gaming company CrowdStar International yesterday filed suit against San Francisco competitor WonderHill, Inc., claiming the latter swiped CrowdStar's "Happy Aquarium" game.

The game, by the way, is exactly what its title advertises; Facebook users maintain an aquarium full of happy fish, earning and spending virtual money to buy fish, coral, food, etc. Sounds like a high-tech tamagotchi -- but 26 million Facebook users can't be wrong, right? The lawsuit -- in a likely legal first -- also notes the "signature feature" of CrowdStar's aquarium game: Virtiual fish can mate, and do so by undertaking "a distinctive mating dance to a backdrop of hearts and romantic music..."

In any event, CrowdStar does not feel it to be a coincidence that WonderHill in January launched a little Facebook game called "Aquarium Life." The plaintiffs charge that "Aquarium Life" isn't just similar to "Happy Aquarium," but "a clone" -- and this did not involve a distinctive "cloning dance" with hearts and music.

From the suit, filed in San Francisco district court:

The game design and user interface layout of the two games is virtually identical. ...Happy Aquarium and Aquarium Life share numerous features Arranged and sequenced in a substantially similar manner. Aquarium life is a clone of Happy Aquarium.

...Defendant copied not only the idea of caring for an aquarium, but also the arrangement, and look and feel of the acclaimed Happy Aquarium user interface, as well as the particular technique and sequence by which users execute tasks and the expression that represents the various actions.
click to enlarge rsz_aq_life.jpg
But what the plaintiffs are most upset about is their charge WonderHill has "unabashedly cloned Happy Aquarium's signature fish mating sequence, mimicking every aspect of the expression contained therein." You didn't think they had all that expository detail about a virtual fish mating sequence up high in the suit just for show, did you?

In another likely legal first, the suit spends a notable amount of time discussing the percentage of successful procreative trysts of virtual fish in competing and allegedly purloined virtual fish-mating games.

Happy Aquarium's makers are charging unfair competition and copyright infringement; they are angling for both damages and a permanent injunction.

H/T   |   Courthouse News

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


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