App Store Ripoffs Still Available Despite Complaints
Erman Haskan didn’t even know it when his game became available in the iTunes App Store.
The creator of the free web-based Flash game Ultimate Assassin 2 (pictured above) was clued in to its presence on Apple’s iDevice powerhouse platform by a friend at Armor Games, another source for online Flash games. The game in the App Store is just like Haskan’s game — right down to the art style, in addition to the name — and it isn’t Haskan’s, nor was it used with his permission.
In a word, it seems Haskan’s game was stolen.
“I found an e-mail for the Apple iOS Developer Center and sent them an e-mail. Two days later I got a reply for that,” Haskan said in an email to Game Front. “They gave me a couple of e-mail adresses. I sent an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 10 days ago, but still didn’t get any answers.”
That was Jan. 27, and almost a week has passed since then. Two versions of Ultimate Assassin are still available in the App Store: a free version and one that goes for $0.99.
Theft of intellectual property seems to be an expanding and nebulous problem in the App Store among game developers, but much of it is impossible to curb. There’s a lot of “borrowing” that goes on between games, and often games riff on one another, make improvements on successful models, and generally innovate in small steps forward. Usually, while those games might be similar in concept and spirit, the developers create a new look or tone for the game to make it unique — and often that’s enough to distinguish one game from another.
But then there are full-out plagiarized copies of games, which can leave little doubt that they weren’t just inspired by another game, they were stolen in attempts to take a popular game owned by someone else and monetize the concept. A recent row between Capcom and Twisted Pixel alleged that kind of conduct. It seems to be what’s happening with Haskan — and he isn’t the only one.
The iPhone copy of Ultimate Assassin is made by EdisonGame. As of today, Feb. 3, there are only eight games by the company still available in the App Store, but last week there were at least 11. During just the last eight to 10 days, three of the games have been removed — and it’s likely because of copyright issues.
Back on Jan. 25, EdisonGame had 11 games for sale or available for download, and a little research on the Internet suggested that at least nine were borrowed concepts, and probably seven or eight of those were out-and-out thefts. EdisonGame was behind the clear theft of Halfbot’s Flash game The Blocks Cometh, which, again, used the same name and assets of the original to make money on the App Store.
That game was also pulled from the App Store after Halfbot’s founders, Derek Laufman and Melvin Samuel, contacted Apple on Jan. 13 — but it took a full eight days, plus an article written by Jim Sterling on Destructoid.com and a lot of outrage from the gaming community on Reddit, for that to happen. (Below is the image Laufman and Samuel created comparing the two games for the Halfbot blog.)
During that time, Laufman said, the stolen version of The Blocks Cometh was twice featured by Apple in the App Store — once in New & Noteworthy, and once in What’s Hot.
Laufman said in an email to Game Front that although The Blocks Cometh has been removed, Halfbot hasn’t heard much of anything about the situation from Apple.
“We received one brief email from Apple a week after we sent the first complaint, that basically stated that the developer had been contacted,” he said. “Since then we haven’t been contacted by Apple.”
Apple responded to requests for comment from Game Front with a short statement, but didn’t return any information about EdisonGame or who might be behind the company (the only name associated with the company on iTunes is Yan Zhenhua, but information about him or the company doesn’t seem to exist online). The company also didn’t respond to requests for information about how much money the developer has made relating to its potentially stolen games — though Ultimate Assassin has been available since October, so it’s fair to assume that it has made something for EdisonGame.
“With over 350,000 apps available the App Store has been more successful than anyone could have imagined,” Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller wrote in an email to Game Front. “As an IP holder ourselves, we understand the importance of protecting intellectual property and when we receive complaints we respond promptly and appropriately.”
It does seem that Apple is cleaning up the contested games associated with EdisonGame, if slowly, now that the company has been prodded a little. Another game from the developer, Traffic Rush – Car Chaos, borrows the name of Donut Games’ Traffic Rush, as well as its concept (although not its assets). Donut Games didn’t respond to requests for comment last week, but this week, the offending game has been removed from EdisonGame’s page. Laufman also said that Rob Scherer, the creator of Flash game Monster Mowdown, had discovered a game in EdisonGame’s catalogue that he thought was stolen from him. That game, Monster Madness, has been removed as well.
And with the doppelganger version of The Blocks Cometh out of the App Store, Halfbot is preparing to release its own original version of the game. Despite the moments of anguish and fury the theft brought the game’s developers, Laufman said the App Store is still a good fit for the developer and for Blocks.
But Halfbot will probably have to change the way it does things in the future, he said.
“The best thing we can do to protect our IP’s in the future would be to avoid making them available on the Flash Market until we are ready to launch the game on other platforms,” he said. “Flash is still a great marketing tool, you just have to be aware as a developer that once it’s out there, it’s vulnerable to being copied.”
But while other developers are making inroads in stopping EdisonGame’s alleged theft of their games in the App Store, Haskan’s game is still making the iPhone developer money. And theft is still rampant in the App Store, with apparently no filter against copyright infringement in the app review process on either the iTunes App Store or the newly launched Mac App Store.
Destructoid had a story today showing the open source game Lugaru available for sale on the Mac App Store. And while the game is available for fans to alter and create with for non-commercial purposes, the licensing agreement expressly forbids selling it — but the app has been approved by Apple, and is available for sale by an app developer called iCoder, who is reportedly using it without permission.
It seems if you’re a developer on the receiving end of blatant IP theft, there’s little recourse except waiting for something to happen. For the time being, Haskan’s options are limited, and he’s left waiting for Apple to take action for him.
“I won’t start a legal action but Apple should do what it’s suppose to do,” he said.