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The China Angle: 'Attack of the Clones'

The latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo analyzing the problem of game concept cloning in China, as developer Nexon sues T
The latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo analyzing the problem of game concept cloning in China, as developer Nexon sues Tencent over Bomberman-style title QQ Tang. Imitation... Flattery? Chinese online game company Shanda pioneered China's advanced casual game industry in 2003 with the introduction of Nexon's BnB. The Bomberman-like game recorded over 700,000 peak concurrent users in China in August 2004, and is still one of the most popular games in China. Success breeds imitation. But with many competing titles aping BnB, Nexon was not flattered, and decided to take its most recognized imitator to court. According to the Beijing Star Daily, Nexon recently sued Chinese Internet portal and instant messaging service provider Tencent for 500,000 Yuan (8 Yuan = US$1) over Tencent's Bomberman clone QQ Tang (pictured). Imitation is part of the business environment every company must deal with in developing countries. In China, imitation is a bit more blatant, and the legal relationships more confusing. The intellectual property owner can sue its imitator, but how can the owner sue the imitator of its imitator? For example, Shanda currently operates a new casual game called Richman, based on the popular board and PC game of the same name. Richman is Greater China's version of Hasbro's classic board game Monopoly, but with different street names. Legend Of Lawsuit The most high profile case of game content imitation also involved Shanda. The company licensed 2D MMORPG Legend of Mir II from Korean companies Actoz and Wemade in 2001. The game was the most popular game in China for the next three years, and was lovingly referred to as "Chuan Qi", or Legend, by its players. To capitalize on its success, Shanda released its in-house developed MMORPG World of Legend in 2003. A bitter legal battle ensued, but Shanda gained the upper hand after acquiring a 38 percent controlling stake in Actoz in late 2004. Wemade and Shanda continued to battle in court after the Actoz stake acquisition, but the ICC court of arbitration ruled in favor of Shanda in October 2005. Tencent launched QQ Tang at the end of 2004. The game's name is a combination of Tencent's ubiquitous instant messaging platform QQ and "Pao Pao Tang", the Chinese name for BnB. As with most Tencent services, QQ Tang uses the same platform as the instant messaging service QQ, which has over 220 million active accounts. With the decline of Shanda's BnB due to competition from newer advanced casual games, QQ Tang's current user base is about the same as BnB - around 150,000 peak concurrent users. Conclusion By suing Tencent, Nexon is sending a warning (or firing the opening shot) to a half dozen other game companies in China. While BnB is nearing the end of its commercial life in China, Nexon's popular go-kart racing game Kart Rider uses the same lovable characters as in BnB, and has become the newest advanced casual game hit in China. Chinese advanced casual game powerhouse 9you has their version named Crazy Rider. Surprisingly, Shanda is not the operator of Kart Rider, but has its own kart racing game Crazy Kart. Shanda also has to worry about a new competitor for World of Legend. Shanghai Ruan Games is launching a new 3D MMORPG called Legend World: 3D World of Legend. No word on "Legend of Warcraft" in China yet, but some enterprising entrepreneur surely has one under development. [Shang Koo is an editor at Shanghai-based Pacific Epoch, and oversees research and daily news content on China's new media industries, with a concentration in online games. Pacific Epoch itself provides investment and trade news and publishes a number of subscription products regarding the Chinese technology market.]

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