They say that no publicity is bad publicity, but King – the publisher of Candy Crush Saga - is putting to the test. First, the company raised eyebrows and drew chuckles when they stated their intention to trademark the word “candy,” but courted internet critics when they blocked the makers of The Banner Saga from trademarking their own franchise name (since it included the word “saga”).
Now as King’s most notable case of cloning an existing mobile game themselves has been brought to the forefront, the publisher has issued an “open letter” to the public, which isn’t likely to settle the disputes.
It makes perfect sense that the publisher would choose to somehow address the attacks of ‘Trademark trolling,’ being hypocrites or ‘stomping on the little guy’ (indie developers). However, there is a good chance that the company’s choice of words will do little to quell the debate, as it largely avoids addressing the actual issues both gamers and developers alike are raising.
Starting with the most pertinent charge – that King blatantly cloned an existing mobile game, ScamperGhost (supported by a developer email claiming they were explicitly ordered to clone the game after a deal with its developer fell through) – the CEO of the company, Riccardo Zacconi, admits that in the case of the cloned Pac-Avoid, the publisher was in the wrong… somewhat:
“The details of the situation are complex, but the bottom line is that we should never have published Pac-Avoid. We have taken the game down from our site, and we apologise for having published it in the first place.
“Let me be clear: This unfortunate situation is an exception to the rule. King does not clone games, and we do not want anyone cloning our games.”
Savvy readers will notice that Zacconi apologized for publishing a game that was clearly a clone of an existing title (without explicitly saying as much), before going on to claim that while thorough research is conducted prior to releasing any King title, “occasionally, we get things wrong. When we do, we take appropriate action.”
That appropriate action was to pull Pac-Avoid from its site, but King’s attempt to simultaneously apologize for a game that should not have been published (that was never in dispute, given the evidence) and defend themselves as if that weren’t the case isn’t going to win them any fans. And it doesn’t stop there.
The letter goes on to offer some context for the admittedly laugh-grabbing headline of King trademarking the word “candy” in Europe, and an intention to do the same in the United States. As Zacconi rightly points out, it is not uncommon for words in common usage – “think of “Time,” “Money,” “Fortune,” “Apple”" – to be trademarked by companies. And in that regard, we can agree:
“We are not trying to control the world’s use of the word “Candy;” having a trade mark doesn’t allow us to do that anyway. We’re just trying to prevent others from creating games that unfairly capitalise on our success.”
Any search carried out weeks ago through iOS or Android marketplaces, or online games portals will yield numerous games attempting to mislead consumers into believing they are associated with Candy Crush, whether through use of similar artwork or the name “candy” itself. And if those were the only games King decided to target, it’s safe to assume that consumers would understand the move as much as they would if it were carried out by a small, independent studio looking to fend off copycats.
Yet several developers who happened to use “candy” in the title of their mobile games – understandable, since candy is a word in common usage – were threatened with legal action, whether their game was in anyway similar to King’s most successful match-three. But when King went after Stoic for attempting to trademark their new, Kickstarter-funded adventure game, The Banner Saga, the publisher crossed the line into absurdity.
Obviously, the first reaction to Candy Crush‘s publisher was accusing a viking-themed turn-based-combat title of infringing on their intellectual property is disbelief – clearly, Stoic was not the “copycats” King is setting out to protect themselves from. And unsurprisingly, King admitted as much, while somehow claiming that they were not trying to stop The Banner Saga from using its name, merely… blocking their ability to trademark it?
Perhaps the company’s second attempt to explain why forcing an innocent indie studio to hire a Trademark lawyer will go a bit better:
“Separately, we have opposed the game developer, Stoic’s application to trademark “Banner Saga.” We don’t believe that Banner Saga resembles any of our games but we already have a series of games where “Saga” is key to the brand which our players associate with King.
“We’re not trying to stop Stoic from using the word Saga but we had to oppose their application to preserve our own ability to protect our own games. Otherwise, it would be much easier for future copycats to argue that use of the word “Saga” when related to games, was fair play.”
That explanation will likely come as little comfort to Stoic, but perhaps the more pertinent question is whether the word “saga” – defined as “a long and complicated story with many details” – should be fair play when used in naming a game that is long, complicated, or featuring many details.
Another argument to consider: should any publisher claim exclusivity over a word used to describe most of their competitors’ products? Could “Adventure” be next, or even “Story”? What happens if the video game, as in this case, is actually a more suitable example of a “saga” than a Bejeweled clone? Whatever the case, King seems to be more focused on explaining why they are technically within their rights than grasping why those in the industry feel they are out of line.
What do you make of King’s most recent defense? Do you feel like this case is particularly unfair, or is this simply the reality of the business? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The Banner Saga is available now for $24.99 on Steam.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.