Whether game cloning is acceptable on legal and moral grounds? by Joyce Jacob

In the present-day game industry, game cloning has become a major bone of contention and while it is not technically illegal, it is creatively infringing the rights of the game developers. Like a coin, it has two paradoxical sides. The question is whether this is so-called “innovation” or whether it should be blatantly called theft?

The history of game cloning takes us back to 1972 when the first successful commercial game an electronic table tennis setup named Pong, was launched. Today, video games are played on various technological devices including mobile phones, computers, laptops and more. It is a matter of concern for the game sector, when cloners are not found guilty of copying the works of others, not even sparing the original titles, leaving the game mechanics or game play aside. For instance, when in 2009, Angry birds was released, it became in high demand. Later, several knock offs were discovered, the Apple’s app store itself showed similar games with names such as Angry Aliens, Angry Aliens UFO, Angry Aliens!, Angry Alien, AngryCat!. 95 percent of the UK is covered by small game companies and enterprises, even when it has established successful enterprises such as Grand Theft Franchise and Scotland’s Rockstar North. These small companies and enterprises are known as “independent or indie” developers. Such indie works of developers are to be protected such that no profits of their works are shared by the game cloners by wrong means. There are two significant reasons for doing so, first, it leads to financial incapacity, if all gamers started copying the same games, then for any business whatsoever there is no scope left to earn from its success. Second, cloning the same game by all companies would lead to no new games and that would mean the end of growth in the game sector. It shall further lead to instability. The gaming world needs a boundary with regard to inspiration and plagiarism. Such boundary exists in different sectors of IPR; however, games have been an exception due to its mechanics and abstract rule systems. Considering plagiarism in video games as the grey area in the industry, the terms “innovation” and “imitation” have been left unidentified which over the years, have become a drawback in the study of intellectual property rights. Therefore, in the game industry, the term “imitation” is an elephant in the room.

Ultimately, video games are dynamic inventions. They deserve autonomous scope of security. Most of the blurriness between innovation and imitation is analysed in this blog, which clearly demonstrates that there is a conflict between the two in the gaming industry. It is also difficult, to find lucidity in the intricacies of its nature as a whole. The court however, stands clear on the idea-expression dichotomy and thus, not much can be expected from the courts knowing its position in respect of video games. Since, there is no such specific code for gamers or developers, an international treaty of video games whether binding or not for the game designers and developers could fill the void. There is potential for its statutory development with the advancement of technology as well. The answer therefore, is somewhat ambiguous from a layperson’s perspective; however, the courts have made it clear that creative wrongs are not legal wrongs, as per the statute. The legalities of it might be right but the moral compass definitely says it is wrong.