Will the Clone Wars soon be over?

Copycat is Judging You!

Yesterday saw a small but significant victory in the ongoing fight against game cloning – and this victory was by none other than Tetris Holdings. Yes, a game that I thought was the poster child for game cloning successfully won a case against Mino. Is this a significant challenge to the practice of cloning games?

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It’s very common knowledge that video games often take the best ideas and rebrand them into other games.

This has been going on for years, and it seemed impossible to stop. The rise of Zynga and Gameloft ended up with games that not only copied, but did so blatantly without any real shame. A while back, I made a case on this and stated the only viable means to end games cloning was for someone to stand up, regardless of the expense, and challenge the tradition in a court of law.

And someone did. Although the people who did wouldn’t have been the ones I’d expect to succeed.

Tetris Holdings have a lot to answer for when it comes to cloning – because if we’re being honest, there have been hundreds of variations on Tetris over the years, knock-offs and copycats. Most of these are usually free however, and becoming more increasingly browser-based. But Xio went further, creating a game called Mino – which was, effectively, Tetris in all but name. And they expected to sell this to us on smartphones.

That’s the key point. By selling it, they apparently opened the door for Tetris Holdings to come in and challenge them.

Now, let’s be clear here – the mechanics of Tetris are not defensible. That much has been made clear, as you can’t copyright or patent falling blocks and shapes. However, a judge sensationally yesterday upheld a complaint by Tetris Holdings on Mino, stating; “the court found that it was only necessary for Mino to mimic Tetris’s expression because Xio sought to avoid the difficult task of developing its own take on a known idea.”

In effect, because the design and mechanics were so similar, and not an advancement or variation on a tried and tested method, it infringed Tetris Holdings’ rights.

Whilst this seems a little victory, it sets a precedent for others to follow – whereby they can challenge more easily copies and clones. Zynga and Gameloft are two of the most guilty parties for copying and cloning out there, and they have so far managed to do so under a legally grey area. Now, that grey area is having some light shone onto it, and things don’t look quite as shiny or stable as was expected.

Of course, cloning and copying will always in some part remain. But this gives hope to smaller developers and studios that their rights might now be more protected than they had originally thought. Now their ideas might be defensible in a court against bigger, brasher companies. By setting a precedent, an important step has been taken in the long running fight against cloning – giving people hope where there once was nothing but the defeatist expectation that everyone could simply copy your new idea without asking. Taking cases to court will still be expensive, of course they will, but there is the basis of a defense there now rather than feeling hard done by the legal system.

And it took Tetris Holdings to do it. No-one, least of all me, expected Tetris to be the catalyst for change here. Come on, it’s Tetris!

But never look a gift horse in the mouth. Someone has stood up, and succeeded in laying the foundations for change. And for that, Tetris Holdings has probably done more for the current indie scene than any one company has the right or ability to. That could and will leave a legacy for others that will be more profound than getting these games out onto the market – by giving them the chance to defend them as well.

Bravo indeed.

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