Standing up for ourselves

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Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself, or you’re just begging to be taken advantage of.

We (Spry Fox) have filed a copyright infringement suit in federal court against 6Waves LOLAPPS in response to their release of Yeti Town, their blatant copy of Triple Town. This was a difficult decision for David and I. We are not enthusiastic about the prospect of spending our time in court as opposed to making games. And in general, we believe that only in the most extreme circumstances should a video game developer resort to legal action in order to defend their creative works — the last thing our industry needs is frivolous lawsuits. Unfortunately, it is our opinion that 6waves has behaved in a reprehensible and illegal manner, and we can not, in good conscience, ignore it.

The full legal complaint can be downloaded here. In particular, I will call attention to these issues:

First: Yeti Town, as launched by 6waves, was a nearly perfect copy of Triple Town. We’re not just talking about the game’s basic mechanics here. We’re talking about tons of little details, from the language in the tutorial, to many of our UI elements, to the quantities and prices of every single item in the store (how exactly did 6waves “independently” decide to price 200 turns for 950 coins, or 4 wildcards for 1500 coins each? That’s quite a coincidence!) But don’t take our word for it. Here are just a few quotes taken from the numerous press articles that were published shortly after the release of Yeti Town:

  • Gamezebo: “Unfortunately for Yeti Town, the only substantial difference between it and Facebook’s Triple Town is the platform it’s on. Otherwise it’s the exact same game, only this time with snow.”
  • InsideSocialGames: “Yeti Town is a matching game nearly identical to Spry Fox’s Triple Town”
  • Games.com: “Replace “saplings” with “bushes”, “tents” with “houses” and “yetis” with “bears”. What do you get? Something that would look a lot like independent developer Spry Fox’s Triple Town”

Second: what most people don’t know is that 6waves was in confidential (under NDA) negotiations with us to publish Triple Town at the exact same time that they were actively copying Triple Town. We gave 6waves private access to Triple Town when it was still in closed beta, months before the public was exposed to the game. We believed those negotiations were ongoing, and we continued to give private information to 6waves, until 6waves’ Executive Director of Business Development sent us a message via Facebook on the day Yeti Town was published in which he suddenly broke off negotiations and apologized for the nasty situation. His message can be found in its entirety in the body of our legal complaint.

It’s bad enough to rip off another company. To do so while you are pumping them for private information (first, our game design ideas, and later, after the game was launched on Facebook, our private revenue and retention numbers) is profoundly unethical by any measure.

Despite all this, David and I still struggled with the idea of initiating a lawsuit. However, 6waves brought the issue to a head when, rather than openly and honestly discuss their actions, they had the chutzpah to tell Gamasutra that they had developed Yeti Town completely independently, and characterized the legitimate public criticism of their company as simply “part of the natural process” of game development.

We believe that there is nothing “natural” or ethical or legal about 6waves behavior. What they did was wrong. And if they get away with it, it will simply encourage more publishers to prey on independent game developers like us. We refuse to sit back and let that happen.

-Dave & Danc

61 Comments

  1. As an indie developer and a gamer, I'm both happy and sad that this is happening. On the one hand, I'm sad that you (and the rest of the industry) have to put up with this kind of behavior. It's exceedingly unethical, not to mention unlawful.However, I'm glad that you're fighting back. Too many developers are rolling over and letting these things happen. The more it happens without opposition, the more power it gives to future thieves.Thank you for standing up for what's right. I wish you the best of luck.-TSamson

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  2. I wanted to leave a more creative comment on your blog; I want you to know that Triple Town is one of the freshest, most mind-spiraling games I've played in the last year. I'm still at it after 4 months. My biggest complaint about the game is that it is too addicting. I also feel like it gives me insight into better planning and decision-making skills I can utilize in life, though that my be a rationalization. I've coined a term for when you have way too many ninja bears leaving you with too few option, so you just drop a grass or bush on that last tile and all the ninja bears die off. I call it Ursadammerung. Often, the state of the board is quite recoverable after Ursadammerung, and it will be in your case as well!

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  3. Good choice. Also, i'm a little interested since you seem to test otu your game so thorougly, how do you make money with the ingame shop? When i play the game, i never buy anything (sorry, but I really don't see the point. I support the other games however, but this is one of your best games) because if i do, I feel that the town isn't legit. Do people really buy stuff just to see the score go higher, even though t the score isn't a measure of their skill of the game but instead a measure of how much they spent?

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  4. What are you suing under? I can see Breach of Contract, or maybe trade secrets as potential solutions – other then persuing Copyright and Passing Off (Not sure what that is in Non-Australian Jurisdictions)As a law student interested in games and IP, I take a really special interest in cases like this

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  5. Well done Dave and Danc! As a guy who has purchased unlimited Triple Town turns I find it disgusting that others will make any money off the back of your delightful game. I wish you much success in court.

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  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for drawing a line in the sand. We need this. Let me know if I can help in any way.Bill Granerbill at craterhouse dot comGame Designer and Co-Founder, Crater House

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  7. From a designer's perspective, I completely understand your feelings and support your actions here. It'll only get worse when you have \”Marketeers\” like Trey Smith who, in the process of selling his iPhone App System course, tell his students to basically clone their first 2 or 3 games in order to generate the revenue and subscriber base to make their 4th (presumably original) game a success.

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  8. Good for you!I'm an indie game developer and I was inspired by triple town to make a new game similar to yours what should I do?Arowx

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  9. Given that Apple doesn't mind shutting off clones when Atari complains, I'd be curious how they would react to Spry complaining.

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  10. I am not that well versed on all of copyright law, but are you trying to apply a case of copyright via trade dress? It doesn't look like they stole any artwork and I am guessing the code is not the same as that would be front and center, but I didn't see this in the case. Any hints for the less legal minded?

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  11. After reading this I looked up Yeti Town to see how close it was to Triple Town. It's just your game with a coat of snow. It's really blatant.

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  12. Thanks for standing up for yourselves. Too many people (companies) get away with too much BS when it comes to IP because the people in the right decide to fold rather than go through a court battle.Good Luck!

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  13. It is one thing to copy an *idea*. Everyone does to some extent. You can't really copyright an *idea*. They're too abstract.It is something ENTIRELY different to copy a *work* as exactly as possible while you were in \”negotiations\” including signed NDAs with the original authors to publish the *work*. That is called COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.This would be equivalent to a publisher having a novel that they were editing and had signed a non-disclosure agreement on copied and reworded by ghost writers behind the original author's back.In other words, what is being copied here is not an idea, but an actual work.No author would stand for it, no reader would buy something made by such a reprehensible publisher, and no writer should consider using such a scumbag publishing house to distribute their work.

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  14. I noticed you didn't sue for breach of the NDA or trade secret misappropriation.Why would you sign an NDA with a jurisdiction and venue clause setting Hong Kong as the forum for disputes?Also, look at clause 4 of the NDA. That's not a good residuals clause to sign if the relationship or disclosure is going to be fairly one-way as in a proposed sale or publishing agreement (as was the case here). The other side is not only allowed to freely use and disclose Confidential Information that's later in the public eye (like say, after you publish your game)under clause 3, but is allowed to use stuff that is still confidential information provided they remember it in their head under clause 4. And you signed a document saying they had the right to. Good luck proving they didn't.Furthermore, under clause 1 what's actually confidential is very strictly regulated. Either it's marked or you've notified the other side in writing. That's rough on you guys, because if they can show something was not called out as confidential in writing, they can use it. Why would you ever sign this thing? Did you have a lawyer look at the doc before you signed it? The way the NDA was drafted, it's less of a non-disclosure agreement and more of a license.Game developers: Stop worrying about whether you should lawyer up after the fact, and start talking with lawyers about how you can lawyer up before the fact. The law doesn't work based on \”fairness\” and \”morals,\” so adjust accordingly to protect yourself.

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  15. Do you know what the legal budget is for most small independent developers?Yeah that's right, buy one cheeseburger and now your cheeseburger budget is higher than your legal budget.

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  16. As a struggling indie game designer, I've long been inspired by your blog and games. It was really sad to see Yeti Town and hearing the whole story is even more infuriating. I am glad you are doing something about it and hopefully it sends a message that it is not ok to wholesale rip off a game. You really did something innovative and special with your game design and I was glad to monetize in facebook to support you guys. I will continue to spread the word about Triple Town and look forward to your next game.Tipatatwww.gameface.me

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  17. Definitely yes, as idea != implementation. Idea == pretty easy to come up withImplementation == pretty frickin' difficult to doIf you can copy an implementation and add yer own assets (*cough*company rhyming with Minga*cough*), you've stolen all the work that went into balancing, creating, yadda yadda. That has almost nothing to do with the 'idea'

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  18. I'm glad you're fighting. What is almost more sad for me is that even now you feel like you have to apologize for suing, just because other people abuse it*. That's what lawsuits are (supposed to be) for – \”redress of grievances\”, to help right a wrong. Don't ever apologize for that.*People abuse/misuse vehicles, money, alcohol, firearms, people, food, water…that doesn't mean I will stop (properly) using them.

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  19. As a software developer myself who has very recently started a company with a colleague as we prepare to leave university. As a guy who's been pushed around from time to time and who is always upset at hearing stories like this I find it pretty inspiring that you are fighting back in an attempt to uphold your rights and to address the abhorrent behavior displayed by 6waves.I wish you all the best and hope it ends very well for you.

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  20. wow, what blatant thievery. good luck guys, i hope you have good lawyers and the legal system not only gets you a nice fat payment, but bankrupts these criminals and bans their directors from ever running another company.

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  21. Oh also, if you need help from gamers and developers around the world to fund the legal bill, by all means let us know. This is something I would donate to in a heartbeat if it meant that it put these thieving arseholes out on the street.

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  22. Re: budgets. Trust me I sympathize.That's why I said \”start talking with lawyers about how you can lawyer up before the fact.\” Reach out through connections and see if you can find one that will take a back-end deal or can provide the company with some sort of flat fee arrangement. Reviewing an NDA and providing counsel shouldn't take more than an hour or two. There are enough lawyers out there looking for work that you can probably get what you need. Early stage growth companies can always give up equity, but you probably don't want to do that. It's something to consider if you think it might be right to have a full service attorney. If you've been down the entrepreneurial road before, can demonstrate a likelihood of generating revenue or can demonstrate interest in securing outside funding, lawyers will perk up. All I am saying is that the last thing you want to do ignore the fact that securing your valuable IP should be a primary business objective.Reaching out to the community might not be effective. Lawyers can't just provide legal advice without going through a process that makes sure any potential clients are protected. Randomly providing counsel over the internet doesn't really meet this threshold. My advice to game developers: If you've got a company, you need a lawyer. Start asking around. If you don't have a company yet, but you're working on your idea, you really do need a lawyer, but you can get by with some good lawyer-sense. Check out https://www.amazon.com/Entrepreneurs-Guide-Business-Law/dp/0324204930 I can't recommend this book enough. It's well written, and will cover the major issues you need to understand. It won't make you a lawyer, but it will let you understand when you need one, help reduce the costs associated with hiring one, and will get you thinking about what future issues you might face and how to avoid bumping into them. Seriously, READ THIS BOOK.If you're a college CS student or meet the income thresholds, try doing something like applying for the University of Washington's Entrepreneurial Law Clinic. https://www.law.washington.edu/Clinics/Entrepreneurial/Clients/techEnt.aspx Other locales probably have similar programs.Regardless, please please please don't sign anything related to intellectual property without a firm understanding of what it is you're signing. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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  23. I get really tired of lawsuits all the time. Mainly because so many needless ones. However, this one is obviously necessary and I'm happy y'all are doing it. Which brings me to the other reason I hate lawsuits: They are proof of ugly dishonesty and it depresses the hell out of me.Go Spry Fox! Get 'em!

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  24. Under the ABA Model Rules and WA Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer can't accept financial payments in connection with a matter from third parties unless the client consents and the lawyer can show it's not going to interfere with his or her professional independence of judgment. It's tough to show this. If you wanna help out I would recommend buying Spry Fox's products.

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  25. Reach out to Ken at Popehat.com. Seriously. If he's intrigued (and he is a fan of computer games), he may just throw up the Popehat signal and see if someone is willing to do a little pro bono work for you. It never hurts to ask.

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  26. I'm currently writing a paper on this very topic. There are very, very few cases where a complaint has actually been filed. It appears to be far more common to write a DMCA takedown and send it to Apple. I will be interested to see how it plays out because as far as I know, there is no precedent directly on point. This issue is new to the courts, and even when a complaint is filed, courts have not had the chance to rule on it before a settlement is reached.

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  27. To my knowledge copyright does not extend to game rules. I think they are even specifically excempted from it.What remains is artwork and text/naming.The breach of the NDA is probably the one they can get them on.Cloning a game is not illegal if you make deviations on the above mentioned things – afaik.

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  28. Start an IndieGoGo campaign if you need money for lawyers etc or other support. I will gladly contribute to help fight this bull****!

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  29. Hey, I want to help you guys get support and funding if necessary. I've posted up a link on Reddit at http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/p7vry/another_case_of_a_blatant_ripoff_in_the_casual/A few early upvotes should help it quickly get to the front page.I'd really want you guys to set up a war chest donation account. Reading about this episode just makes me so angry, and I really hope that 6waves Lolapps does not come out ahead in the end.It makes no sense that they are able to completely steal a game because even if they lose in court they still come out ahead.

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  30. This is a lot like insider trading in the stock market, except the guys at 6waves used their private negotiations for mass-releasing Tiny Town (in a way that would let Spry Fox profit), while using the sensitive information to make their own spin-off (Yeti Town, with slightly different code, textures, and names) on their own (thus using Spry Fox's amazing work to fuel their product, and then cutting their ties to keep all the profits and perceived \”inevitable positive reviews\” for themselves).This is illegal (like having someone work for you with a large promised pay-off and then firing them before any funds have changed hands, as was the case with the Infinity Ward lawsuit currently making its way to a court near you), and thus warrants a lawsuit.

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  31. There's kinda a whole industry now built on exactly what you described. I admit I'm perplexed by it as well. Take Tiny Tower for example. I was playing that with some friends for a month or so, and obviously we were all competing for the highest floor count. We talked about it, and the consensus was that A) we'd feel really stupid and B), if somebody were to suddenly pull way ahead we'd all know and give the person shit, rendering any \”victory\” hollow. I also got the feeling that as soon as I cheated to build a few floors, I'd immediately be stuck in the grind of the game again. No fun.

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