Game of Clones: Game-Makers Are Trying to Score Off Each Other

Two big players in a burgeoning market for time-sucking puzzle games will move their game pieces to San Francisco court instead of Beijing, a judge ruled last week.

S.F.-based, the maker of obnoxiously addictive Facebook app Candy Crush Saga, won't have to travel far to battle an alleged copycat from China.

In a complaint filed last August, King accused defendant 6waves of copying the theme, look, feel, and graphics of two of its other, non-sugary games, Pet Rescue Saga and Farm Heroes Saga. The defendant's versions were so blatantly derivative, King's lawyers wrote, that they even filched the plaintiff's cartoon character tutorials. For instance: The Panama-hatted squirel in Pet Rescue Saga dispenses nearly the same helpful instructions as the female spelunker in 6waves' replication, Treasure Epic.

King says that 6waves also pilfered its landscape design, its pop-up dialogue boxes, the configuration and sheen of its block stacks, and even its reward system. Screengrabs from each videogame, displayed side by side in the complaint, show similar-looking make-believe worlds, each a patchwork of mushroom-shaped trees and endlessly twisting roads.

Granted, Milton Bradley's 65-year-old Candy Land board game looks that way, too.

So far, 6waves has denied these allegations, arguing that such themes as farms and jewels are ubiquitous in smartphone games, which makes copyright claims irrelevant. The company also asked federal Judge Maxine Chesney to move the case to Beijing for efficiency purposes ­— because Chinese courts are less glutted with civil lawsuits. King's lawyers deemed the argument specious; Chesney didn't buy it, either.

That's a blow to 6waves, given how difficult it may be to persuade an American judge that copyright needn't exist in the videogame world. But there is a grain of truth to the ubiquity claim. Videogame makers certainly aren't obligated to draw the same chubby-featured landscapes, or recycle the same themes, but they tend to do it anyway. In a world cluttered with cheaply made Facebook apps, it's little surprise that some companies — most famously Zynga — have turned cloning into a business model.

King itself was accused of infringement by a developer named Matthew Cox, who says he was fleeced after trying to license a game called Scamperghost to the company in 2009. When the talks fell through, King published an uncannily similar version called Pac-Avoid.

Cox cried foul; King dutifully chucked the clone and apologized. It had a sweeter deal on the horizon anyway.

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