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Video Game Designers Fight Clone Wars

Publication Date: 
April 17, 2011
Los Angeles Times
Jamin Brophy-Warren

Lecturer and Executive Director of the Fair Use Project Anthony Falzone is quoted in the Los Angeles Times describing how certain aspects of video game design are not protected from idea theft under current intellectual property laws.

It was March and British Columbia-based game designer Andy Moore was sitting at his computer checking his email. Moore's studio, Spry Fox, had recently launched a browser-based title called Steambirds, a turn-based game that allowed players to pilot World War II aircraft and engage in dogfights with enemy pilots. Thus far the game had been well-received, with more than 2 million plays of the game weeks after launch, and now that the initial spike in traffic had died down, Moore and his colleagues were planning for future releases of the game on mobile devices such as the iPhone.

Then the bad news came in.

A friend had passed along a link to a game called Fly or Die that appeared two months later and bore an uncanny similarity to Steambirds. Even worse, the game had multiplayer elements that Moore had planned to implement later. "This was my first big game and I'm very possessive about it," he says. Steambirds "came from my heart. Now, someone's taken that spirit and passion and tore it from me. I felt a little bit empty."


Unfortunately for game designers, they have few protections under the law from those who borrow elements of their games. Anthony Falzone, a lecturer in law at Stanford and the executive director of Fair Use Project, says that though the expression of an idea, such as the art style or color scheme, is protected, the actual rules or algorithms that govern the game play in video games is not.


Video games, of course, are not alone in sharing nebulous gray areas. Fashion has had to contend with its own version of knockoffs for years. Retailers such as Forever 21 have been sued for allegedly copying runway styles from more upscale design houses. But Falzone says there's a clear difference: "In fashion, there's prestige, desire and the mystique of brands. Forever 21 can knock off Prada, but people who buy Prada will know the difference."