King Candy Crushes Developers, The Saga
There’s a lot of buzz going around the internet concerning King’s trademarking of the words “Candy” and “Saga”, and that buzz just got louder. Yesterday, I was called out of the blue by writers for VentureBeat and GameInformer concerning an event that I had long forgotten about. The story that resulted from these calls is spreading across the internet like wildfire, appearing on sites such as Forbes, VentureBeat, Game Informer, and more, so I thought it would be best to give my complete side of the story.
Travel Back To 2009
Back in 2009, I was still a member of Epic Shadow and was in a pretty sticky situation. I had nearly exhausted my funds saved up from selling a primary sponsorship of Tower of Greed to King, and had a very shitty living situation – I needed to move and fast. During this time, I was an extremely active member of FlashGameLicense (now known as FGL) and had regular contact with Lars Jörnow who was games acquisition manager for King at the time.
One day, Lars messaged us and asked us if we wanted a small job. He then told us that he was working with another developer to secure a sponsorship for the game Scamper Ghost and that the developer had backed out of the deal. King wasn’t too pleased with that, and so Lars requested that we clone the game for them. I had a good working relationship with King then and was quite upset that someone would break the FGL terms and conditions. I initially thought the job was a little immoral, and a bit sketchy, but we had worked with King before, talked regularly, and Lars made these other developers seem like some really unprofessional jerks. Lars requested that we build the game quickly and explained that it would be optimal if we could beat the original game to market. Between needing the money, and Lars painting the developer’s of Scamper Ghost as the bad guys, we took the job.
We built the game from scratch (many have wondered if we stole art assets or code, we did not) using Flash and the Box2d physics library. It was my first time ever using it and I had quite a bit of fun developing the game. We got so into development, that we decided to add a fourth enemy to the game (not seen in Scamper Ghost) and then told King that he had to increase his price because the amount of work/polish we had put in was worth more than his initial offer. He agreed and requested that we name the game “Pac Avoid”, as King felt that would be best for marketing the game. We thought the name was stupid (both because it didn’t sound good, and because it ripped off Pac Man, which the game has little to do with), but we went with it anyway. Our only additional term to the deal, was that the Epic Shadow branding not be placed in the game, as we found the entire project to be sketchy and we wanted nothing to do with it post-release. This essentially changed the deal from a primary sponsorship to an exclusive (an increased value for King), which they gladly accepted.
Once the game was released, there was obviously a lot of outrage from the Scamper Ghost team, as their game had obviously been ripped off. They did a bit of detective work, and quickly found out that I was one of the developers of Pac Avoid. I didn’t deny my involvement in the project, and we exchanged a number of emails concerning the matter. In the end, the Scamper Ghost team had ample evidence that we were indeed contracted to clone the game, and that we were mislead to believe they had made some very unethical business decisions to pull away from King and go with Max games. They were still pissed at the entire situation, but the overall conclusion was that we were forgiven, and King was to blame.
Fast Forward To 2014
Now that we know the back-story, let’s take a look at why I was called yesterday. It turns out, Matthew Cox (developer of Scamper Ghost, the game we cloned), publicly called out King as a hypocrite on his personal site. King has been working on trademarking the word“Candy” and “Saga” and has allegedly hassled a number of smaller indie developers who have those words in their games (The Banner Saga and All Candy Casino Slots). King claims it’s an attempt to protect Candy Crush Saga and its assets, while others feel that using the word “Candy” or “Saga”, especially not together, is is no way threatening. The accusation by Mathew Cox has spread like wildfire across the internet and King is currently facing what most companies would consider a PR nightmare.
Turning The Blame
Fast forward another 24 hours and a new story has emerged as King has now removed Pac Avoid from its site (and many others from what my searches turned up). I currently don’t have the original source to the game from 2009 (though I’m attempting to retrieve it), though I did manage to snag a copy of the SWF from MiniJuegos. Not only has King removed Pac Avoid from their site, but it has also shifted blame of the cloning of Scamper Ghost to me by claiming they do a “thorough search of other games in the marketplace”, which in this case, is an obvious lie. Take a look at the following:
“King does not clone other peoples’ games,” a spokesperson for the company told GamesBeat. “King believes that [intellectual property] — both our own IP and that of others — is important and should be properly protected. Like any prudent company, we take all appropriate steps to protect our IP in a sensible and fair way. At the same time, we are respectful of the rights and IP of other developers.
“Before we launch any game, we do a thorough search of other games in the marketplace, as well as a review of trademark filings, to ensure that we are not infringing anyone else’s IP. However, for the avoidance of doubt, in this case, this game — which was coded by a third-party developer five years ago — has been taken down.” - Read the full second article on VentureBeat.
Hopefully you can see the extreme contradictions between what was supposedly said at this staff conference at King, and the press release they offered yesterday. The claim that “King had all this new ideas for the game, which they knew were good, but no game to implement it in” is a complete lie, and no further input or instructions were given beyond “clone the game”. I was originally going to take a decently neutral stance on this entire matter (with more of a focus on the core issue of trademark laws / cloning), but now I’m quite irked that King has the nerve to blatantly lie and shift the blame to me. Mathew Cox has personally let me know he doesn’t blame me for the incident, both in 2009 and yesterday, and I plan to make that known.
The Real Issue
What keeps getting left out, is why Matthew Cox came forward with the Scamper Ghost / Pac Avoid story in the first place. The point of all of this was to prove how hypocritical and ridiculous King is being by attempting to trademark common words. Words such as “Warrior”, “Quest”, “Saga”, “Deluxe”, and many more, have been used for years in games of various (and sometimes similar!) genres. Should Square have tried to duke it out with Capcom because Final Fight was too close to Final Fantasy? Or perhaps Enix should have attacked Capcom due to Micky’s Magical Quest using “Quest”, clearly stepping too close to the Dragon Quest series? The obvious answer is no, because it would have been as ridiculous of an act then as it is now, except now, money bags / powerhouse King is doing just that. King claims that “Saga” is an important word that they’ve used to differentiate their games, and I get that claim, but perhaps they should be a little more original the next time they come up with a unique word / phrase to stand out.
My Closing Thoughts
I find it pathetic that a company such as King would throw the blame around in this situation while hypocritically attacking others. Trademarking common words such as “Candy” is just ridiculous. Bullying indie developers is even worse. The company is sitting on billions of dollars and everyone already knows about Candy Crush; I don’t think they need to worry about getting ripped off, especially not by the people they’re targeting. Based on their response to the recent allegations, I now know that the company is both deceitful and hypocritical. I was contracted to make Pac Avoid, a direct clone of Scamper Ghost, and I did just that – why King would try to lie about the obvious proven truth is beyond me. I understand that they have a lot to lose by admitting to something from so long ago, but the truth is clear, and they’re just digging a deeper hole by lying about it.
The entire incident in 2009 isn’t the most shining moment of my game development career, but it is what it is. King was a business contact, I accepted a contract job, and I was apparently lied to in order to feel morally justified enough to clone and blatantly rip off another developer. Even then, I left my branding out, as the entire situation felt shady. What’s worse, is that I was only 20 years old when this happened, King is a mature company, presumably run by mature adults. I’ve apologized to Matthew Cox and his partner in the past and I do so again now – I’m sorry I took on such an immoral contract job and I’ve learned from my past, it’s a shame King can’t fess up and do the same.