Standing up for ourselves

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 Danc 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, Danc 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

31 Responses to Standing up for ourselves

  1. From what I’ve read I agree with your decision wholeheartedly. Unfortunately ripping off other peoples games (independent or otherwise) seems to be the standard practice in the social games space and many are following in the hollow footsteps of the masters of flattery that is Zynga (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/115475-Indy-Dev-Calls-Zynga-Out-Over-Plagiarism).

    Good wishes with the case, although judging by the evidence it should be a hopefully quick and painless one :)

  2. You go guys! It takes guts and thick skin and I think you have both.

  3. Wow. Though a blantant ripoff, the stance of copyright law on games being what it is, I’d have given you so-so chances. However, the facts about the discussions under NDA change everything. You are right to go after these guys. Good for you for standing up for yourselves.

  4. Patrick Dugan

    From my layman point of view on the law, the backdoor clause they put into the NDA – about acknowledging the could have similar information in the works or be in similar discussions with other parties, and this won’t limit work assigned – means you have a somewhat difficult case in regards to claiming breach of contract. There may be an angle in that there was a 3rd party developer outside the umbrella of 6Waves themselves who made the clone, and thus if you can get the judge to rule that the contract was breached, getting the reparations you want is probably a slam dunk. However, the developer (“Escalation Studios” – will the judge give you points for the irony in that name?) was an acquisition… but only as of this month, well after the NDA was signed and after the release of YetiTown. So I think that’s your angle, breach on contract.

    The Lanham act violation is pretty easy too but the injunction you can get for that will at most require they spend a few hours moving things around or redesigning their logo. As much as I’d like to see some legal precedent regarding copyright in game design (and I also simultaneously feel some caution about the idea), I don’t know if you’ll be able to win on that basis.

    This makes me think a) I should file with the copyright office for my new game as soon as it’s available online, even in Alpha form, and b) and NDAs I sign with potential publishing partners so they can see the guts of what we’re doing with mirco-economics and with server-side code needs to have a clause that both parties recognize there are no outside or internal information sources that are similar to the property in question. Think about it, there’s leverage to stand on there, if the publisher actually was in discussions with other parties about something similar, it wouldn’t be worth THAT much to them to sign an NDA with you and engage negotiations, right? That just makes sense. That backdoor almost totally nullifies any protection an NDA would ostensibly give to the discloser.

  5. Obviously I have no idea what your NDA (or any other contracts) stipulated, but I doubt it contained a clause that allowed 6waves to use the supplied data for their own title. That makes Yeti Town much more than a simple clone, and I hope the matter is settled quickly and to your satisfaction without dragging out in a lengthy court battle.

  6. I now see the short NDA was attached to the official complaint, and a more thorough response was already posted. Regardless, it still seems like a legal issue rather than a moral dispute, so I wish you good luck with your case.

  7. Good luck guys. Hopefully your dispute will be picked up by Reddit.

  8. Great move, guys! I hope justice is served in this case!

  9. As a fellow independent developer, I definitely feel for your case. It’s sickening how bad doing business is with these SF companies, hence my advice to anyone is to avoid them all together. At best, I hope you get a settlement out of this case before it goes into an expensive trial. However, good for you for standing up to them after the fact. It makes a difference more than you know.

    But in the future, consider what you have as an independent shop vs the big lumbering SF companies. You have maneuverability, they do not. You have innovation, they clearly do not. In other words, you can run circles around them in the creative process and if you continue to improve/innovate, this clone you’re competing with will eventually start feeding your game. In the long run, people always gravitate to improved and better games of the same idea and if you focus, your game can eventually benefit greatly from this.

    Remember this because its an important lesson that you don’t slow down and play by the rules that these SF companies have sucked you and many others into. These companies are only out there to use your ideas for profit and will take the path to the least resistance to do so and won’t think twice about screwing you.

    On a side note, personally, I probably would have made the same mistake with 6waves/LOLApps, I thought they were an honest company.. and probably were before they merged and started borrowing money from large stake-holders.

    Either way; good luck, stay strong and stay independent.

  10. Dave

    I wish you the best with this action. It would be *wonderful* if this could be a catalyst and create some precedence for our medium. As you know only too well, however, copyright law in our industry is currently as useful a chocolate teapot. Your throwing of the NDA into the mix makes an interesting angle though (but these also, sadly, are written by lawyers for lawyers). Ethically and morally, they have no defense for their actions; it would be impossible for them to even try to respond, or justify, without adding even more embarrassment. Their only possible defense is to hide behind the legal technicalities.

    Remember though, it’s not just the traditional legal system you are fighting in; there is also the court of public opinion. In this arena, you already have a unanimous victory. Without contest, everyone who reads your story will side with your position. Watching my friends on FaceBook virally broadcast your narrative, it’s transparently clear that in just a few hours, millions of people will empathize with your situation. Just a few days ago, we’ve seen what effect millions of concerned and socially connected people can do with respect to issues like SOPA, let’s hope this does the same. Get a haircut; I look forward to watching you tell your story to the world on TV!

    Best wishes

    /\/ick

  11. That second point regarding the negotiations makes all the difference. I used to recommend Six Waves to devs looking for a publisher and had really liked them on a personal level but this activity is unforgivable. Hopefully your lawsuit will turn out well but at least the publicity behind it should help other developers avoid having their IP stolen.

  12. If you guys need experts to testify about the uniqueness of TripleTown’s design (ref Lolapps chief product officer Arjun Sethi’s comments in Gamasutra that “There are a lot of other match-three games out there that are similar, and I think that being criticized like that is just part of a natural process”) I don’t think you’ll have any problem. Every game designer I know has played TT voraciously, recognizes its originality, and most of us wish we had designed it. But the vast majority are more of a mind to salute you, play your game (yes, I’ve paid in a few bucks :) ), and get back to our own work — rather than stealing yours. I mean, who steals others’ ideas? Oh, right.

  13. Go get ‘em, guys! And echoing above, let us know how we can help…

  14. Good for you.

    There are so many companies ripping off other people’s ideas nowadays, it’s nice to see someone standing up for theirs.

    Scummy doesn’t even begin to describe 6Waves though, does it? Doing some James Bond-style spying racket pretending they were interested in publishing Triple Town just to get their grubby hands on the data. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

    Staying independent is definitely the way to go though. At least you get to handle your own morals, and don’t have to deal with the nastiness of others’.

    Good luck with your lawsuit. Really hoping you win :)

  15. Copyright infringement on a game idea? Really? That would be very scary if that will go through.

  16. Wow

    That is just ridiculous!

    Good luck! :D Take them down!

  17. Normally (and unfortunately) I protest bringing legal action for creative robbery – primarily on practical grounds. Our legal system doesn’t have protections in it for that, and it’s not clear that it should.

    But.

    In this case, win or lose, you’re doing the right thing by hitting back. If what you describe is an accurate representation of what happened, then 6Waves are*vile*, and deserve far worse than they will get at the end of this lawsuit.

    You go.

  18. “part of the natural process” bullshit… It’s outrageous to think that they can bully developers in that way…
    Wish you the best outcome on this.

  19. I’ve always been under the impression that NDA’s weren’t worth the paper they were written on. I sincerely hope to be proved wrong. I wish you the very best of luck with your case.

  20. You can’t copyright game ideas, this court motion has no chance. You can patent them, but I doubt theres a patent.

    I hope you guys can find another angle, as this is unfortunate.

    Having played both games, I really don’t mind Yeti Town, I’m sorry to say. It’s double tap to place objects is less infuriating! (maybe you should copy this!)

  21. Any developer even considering 6waves LolApps as a publisher needs to seriously reconsider after seeing this. Best of luck!

  22. Well said David! Wishing you the best in this unfortunate wrangling. Digging Tripple Town btw!
    keep making great games!
    Best,
    Gino

  23. @hawken You’re right. Ideas aren’t protected, you can merely register them and hope for the best. However, games are not the same as ‘game ideas’. Games are the execution of game ideas, which is definitely copyrightable and even protected under IP laws.
    The TT idea here would be, very simplistically, ’3-match with bears in little towns’. If that was all that LOLapps took, shame on them, but whatever. However, they completely copied a game and even the game mechanics, to the point where arbitrary prices have been handled the same. That’s infringement right there.

    Good luck with the case, Spry Fox!

  24. Go get ‘em, Dan and Dave! There’s a very fine line between copying basic mechanics or copying and improving a game, and blatant copyright infringement, and it looks like they crossed it. Frankly, I think it qualifies as a iOS port with a (barely) different skin! In any case, I hope this is over soon and you can get back to making great games!

  25. Is there an Indie Legal Defense Fund? If not, this sounds like the time to start one.

  26. Someone I know works at Lolapps and I questioned him/her about the matter. (Sorry, can’t disclose said person’s identity), he/she is forbidden from discussing the matter outside the office and can’t comment. But I can tell that said person isn’t happy about the situation either because it hurts every single one of their employee’s reputation in the long run, even when they weren’t directly involved in Yeti Town.

    It’s also frustrating because if they can do this to you guys, what else to their own employee? And given the economy situation, a good job is hard to find these days and surface to say, Lolapps do treat their workers well with benefits and decent pay.

    They have proven themselves to be extremely untrustworthy in the way they have handled this case. Legally, they might be able to get away with this due to the loophole they discovered, but morally, this is just despicable and simply disgusting and everyone of us knows it. In a way, anyone who comes up with a name LOL apps can’t be taken seriously and can’t be trusted. “LOL seriously?”

    I wish you guys all the best. Those who are knowledgeable about the social gaming industry will know this and support you guys all the way, I’m sure.

  27. Lolapps must be an incredibly horrible company. They should be renamed to Loserapps. Best of luck to you Spry Fox. We hope you continue making great games.

  28. IANAL but frankly this crosses the line between inspiration and stealing. In fact IMHO it’s nowhere near the line. I tried out Yeti Town as it looked interesting then a few minutes later I was scratching my head saying “Wait a minute…” and began looking for the SpryFox logo, thinking this was licensed from them or something.

    There are a lot of comments on the various Gamasutra articles about people saying “Well, you can’t fight innovation” and that “everyone with a match 3 game should be suing Bejeweled”. C’mon people, just look at the two products. This is not “Oh hey, TT is a pretty cool twist on match 3, I think I’ll build something like it”. This was “Triple Town: Screen One, Yeti Town + DevTools: Screen Two”. When it gets down to matching the exact monetary details and game mechanics it’s pure and blatant plagurism.

    I agree you guys should be making games but this kind of thing cannot go without reprise (and the fact that they blatantly paraded their product on Gamasutra and try to defend it as “natural process” is a slap in the face). 6waves Sethi went on to say “a lot of other match-three games out there that are similar” but frankly there isn’t. I think TT has turned the match-three principle on it’s head and been very successful with it. Similar games? I haven’t seen any that work on the concept of “building” rather than “collecting” or “destroying” (but then I haven’t seen *every* game out there).

    Good for you guys and hope everything works out in the end however knowing the legal system I imagine this will be in courts for a long time with potentially little result.

    Please keep us updated. Your transparency is your asset.

  29. best of luck for future

  30. I’m an indie developer who has created some potentially revolutionary “hardware” technology at SUNY Fredonia’s tech incubator. I had been in the process of feeling 6Waves out as a potential investor when they asked me to sign their NDA on the 23rd of January and reveal to them the particulars of the new tech.

    I’m so glad that I put it off and that I’m now aware of their thieving ways!

  31. I saw Yettie Town by 6L and immediately knew you had disclosed your information with them while negotiating a publishing deal. This is ugly. Justice needs to be done!

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