How does the indie community fight game clones?

How does the indie community fight game clones?

Dr Tom Phillips of the University of East Anglia has written an interesting article about games clones and the relationship between independent developers and IP.

This week he shares the following post about his research, and next week Ms Arty Rajendra, Partner in IP law firm Rouse Legal and one of MCV's Top 100 Women in Games 2015, will share her expert advice on the steps you can take as a games studio to protect your IP. On to Dr Phillips:

Although an underlying problem in the industry since the 1970s, the issue of game clones has been particularly prevalent in the last few years, as mobile app stores have enabled a plethora of clones to be released quickly with few barriers in order to benefit from an association with the original game brand. Such practices don’t appear to be going away anytime soon; seemingly endorsing and normalising the process, a 2014 Wired article profiled the services of companies StartAppYard and ChupaMobile, which sell game templates so one can publish clones of Flappy Bird, Candy Crush Saga, or Pac-Man with ‘no coding experience’ needed.   

The impact of clones on the contemporary sector, coupled with the level of legal protection currently available to developers, has led to an environment where the most effective action against cloners tends to be reactive rather than proactive. Rather than taking legal action, developers instead look to publicly shame cloners, directly impacting infringers' reputation and sales. My recent article in the Cultural Trends journal, “Don't clone my indie game, bro”, explores these informal cultures of regulation, particularly within the independent sector.

Building on workshop discussions with a thought-provoking group of developers and others in December 2013, my article constructs a sense of how developers tend to respond to cloning: how they react when a game of theirs or (someone else’s) is cloned, how this compares to the legal recourse available, and the implications the distinction between these two approaches has for policy.

There was a general sense amongst the indie developers I spoke to that taking a legal stand against cloners was an unnecessarily protracted and costly process, and that there was little trust in allowing an external regulator to pass judgement on the specificities of game mechanics. Rather, it was suggested that developers themselves are best placed to identify clones, and as a result an environment of informal regulation had been fostered, whereby social media is used to bring attention to those who are cloning.    

Thinking back to the furore around Flappy Bird, for example: whether or not Flappy Bird itself was actually a clone, the debate occurred online, and not through lawyers. Blogs, tweets, and articles all debated the legitimacy of the game, and judgement was brought down by influential voices within the indie dev community, rather than in the courts.

Yet although public shaming in this way may stamp out a particular fire, it doesn’t deter new ones from starting – cloning continues to occur. Despite this, indie devs still dismiss the idea of legal or policy intervention. There’s a rejection of the notion that copyright should be used to protect game design – it is thought to be restrictive to creativity – and a fear that the loss of power to self-regulate could see a homogenisation of the sector. The insistence on a lack of formal regulation maintains cloning as a high profile issue within the industry, but for the indie dev community it seems to be an issue that is tolerated. However, one workshop participant warned that if the industry doesn’t formalise its regulatory processes then regulating authorities will intervene.

What is needed then, is a more proactive – rather than reactive – relationship between the indie development community, regulators, and policy-makers. Although there may be limiting factors such as lack of funds for legal recourse, or a belief that the public shaming of cloners is an adequate deterrent, those within indie dev communities should perhaps look to lending their expertise to legal authorities and policy-makers to prevent cloning, so they can preserve the aspects of creativity they laud, before regulation may be imposed.

To read Dr Phillips’ full research, please click HERE

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