As much as Apple might like to steer clear of the topic, “theft” has become something of a buzzword surrounding the App Store lately. On more than one occasion hard working developers have seen their work plagiarized – or worse yet out-and-out stolen – only for it to be approved by Apple as a sellable product.
The developers at Halfbot fell victim to this very predicament earlier this year when a stolen version of their game The Blocks Cometh was not only approved by Apple, but featured in their New & Noteworthy section. We talked with Halfbot’s Derek Laufman about the challenge of dealing with theft on the App Store, the launch of their own iOS version, and changes Apple has made to their policies seemingly in response to this highly publicized situation.
Apple has recently changed its App Review Guidelines, making it clear that developers who “copy another developer’s work … will be expelled from the developer program.” How does it feel to know future developers may have a layer of protection from Apple that you didn’t?
We were extremely happy when we heard this. We aren’t sure if we directly had any influence in apple making this change but we would like to think that the voices on this issue were heard. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and although it may not solve the issue entirely it will certainly make developers think twice before stealing someone’s game.
The offending version of The Blocks Cometh was removed from the App Store sometime before the release of your version. What did it take to make that happen?
It’s hard to pinpoint what the catalyst was in the end. We contacted Apple directly with proof of the copyright infringement. However, our story received a lot of attention from various media outlets which I’m sure eventually made its way to the people at Apple. I’d advise anyone dealing with a situation like ours to not just sit back and hope things work themselves out. It’s better to be vocal and honest about what is happening because it could ultimately affect the outcome.
Consumers never like to buy the same thing twice. How much do you think having an imitator on the market prior to your release hurt your sales?
We had a very strong launch on Thursday Feb 17th and The Blocks Cometh made it all the way to the #80 spot in US games. We were very excited about that and we appreciated all of the fan and media support that helped get us there. It seemed the stars had all aligned and about 4PM the day of launch we sat in the 80th spot. Then much to our joy, Apple featured our game in the New & Noteworthy section of the App Store. We were extremely optimistic at that moment. Then something happened that we certainly didn’t expect. The game began to fall in the charts. By mid day on Saturday the game had fallen off the Top #200 games. I guess you could say that it fell off because the App Store customers had already purchased the copycat game and if this was the case then it’s just a shame really. All we can do is speculate at this point. The game has received strong critical praise and we couldn’t be happier that the people who purchased are game are really enjoying it. At the end of the day that’s why we make games so we are still staying positive after all of this.
Despite the change in the rules and the removal of their stolen version of The Blocks Cometh from the App Store, EdisonGame doesn’t appear to have been kicked out of the developer program – in fact they still have titles published on the App Store that blatantly steal from other games. How angry does this make you? Do you think there’s still a chance that Apple may kick them to the curb?
We definitely aren’t happy about that. EdisonGame should rightfully be removed and banned from the App Store. This makes anyone question the validity of Apples new claim to crack down on the offending developers. If in a week or a month from now you still see Edison in the App Store earning money, then I’m sure it’ll make you question whether someone at Apple is doing their job.
While Halfbot was the victim of out-and-out theft, other developers often see their work interpreted by other developers in what could best be described as a grey area of plagiarism. ‘Splosion Man vs MaXplosion comes to mind, and most of Gameloft’s recent line-up seems to be little more than an homage to popular titles that the iPhone would otherwise never see (Star Collision = StarCraft, Shadow Guardian = Uncharted, Sacred Odyssey = The Legend of Zelda). What would you say is the difference between theft and inspiration? Is there a difference?
We feel there is certainly a difference. If you clone a game out right and steal everything from it…that’s plain theft. It’s one thing to borrow a mechanic or get inspired by a theme but in some of the cases you mentioned, there seems to be an intent to capitalize on an existing brand someone else had created. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.
What’s next for Halfbot?
Although The Blocks Cometh isn’t performing as well as we had hoped, we’ve received an outpouring of fan and media support for the game. We plan to honor our word of supporting the game with at least one more feature heavy update. This new update will add Casual, Extreme and Retro modes, as well as new Achievements and Unlockable characters. After that we have a few ideas up our sleeves so stay tuned. Your best bet is to follow us on Twitter to make sure you are in the loop for all the things happening at Halfbot.