According to Gamasutra, Blizzard Entertainment is suing developer Lilith Games over their game entitled “Soul Clash,” which is apparently known in Taiwan as DOTA Legend. Blizzard’s suit alleges both trademark and copyright infringement, stemming from some artwork in the Soul Clash game that is eerily similar to Blizzard’s Warcraft and World of Warcraft artwork.
Here are some examples of game artwork from the Google Play page for the Korean version – see for yourself:
The lawsuit has been filed in Taiwan, though Lilith Games is based in Shanghai. As such, I don’t have access to the complaint, nor would I be able to read it. I’m as anxious as anyone else to get some more info on the case.
Lilith’s lawsuit against uCool
At nearly the same time, Lilith Games filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against Menlo Park, CA-based developer uCool. You may remember uCool from those ridiculous ads for their RPG Evony (you’d know them if you saw them).
Well, apparently uCool makes a game called Heroes Charge. It has been quite successful for them – they ran an ad during the Superbowl last year costing $2.25 million. They boast about over 9,000,000 players on their website.
Lilith alleges that uCool cloned their Soul Clash game in making Heroes Charge. Lilith’s CEO says “Heroes Charge is so identical to Soul Clash in the rules, the character set, and even the user interface that we assume it could have been created by decompiling the source code of our original game.”
These screenshots were provided by Lilith to demonstrate the similarities. Again, you be the judge:
You really have to search to find a difference between the two.
One report also notes that clicking somewhere in Heroes Charge shows you a copyright notice for Soul Clash. It’s almost too ridiculous to believe.
Also, given this artwork on Heroes Charge’s Google Play page, I’m not sure why Blizzard isn’t going after uCool, as well.
The whole situation is crazy, but indicative of the attitude toward copyright and other intellectual property rights in the mobile space. Have a look at the game development section of online learning site Udemy. There are numerous courses that teach you how to clone a popular game.
A symptom of a greater problem
This is just a symptom of the greater problem that includes a lack of innovation and an eagerness to copy the work of others. Just look at the related games when you search for Heroes Charge or Soul Clash on Google Play. You can’t tell the difference between any number of generic, big-headed fantasy art games on there. It is pretty sad to me, as a gamer. But it also allows developers who have the desire to innovate, either in game design or in their game art, to stand out from the crowd.
The problem is that some of these clones are making big money. This is money that’s probably being taken out of the pockets of the developer that they’re stealing from. However, when they’re making lots of money, that means that there may be a lot of money available to pay legal damages against the companies that they’ve stolen from.
This is where aggressive protection of intellectual property rights comes in, from registering your copyright and trademarks (a prerequisite for any infringement legal action) to bringing the appropriate lawsuits in federal court.
The international component of the mobile games industry complicates things, both in choice of law and choice of forum. Bringing a lawsuit internationally is something that many smaller developers can’t even begin to think about, but they may be able to find an attorney who will work on contingency.
We’ve entered a brave new world here, and I can only hope that a combination of the law and the courage of developers who will dare to innovate and to stand up for their rights will see us all through. To grab my two free eBooks about game development legal issues, as well as my game dev checklists, just sign up for my mailing list. I’m also working on a new site to help you get the game development contracts you need at a price that you can afford.