Is China's culture of cloning popular games finally ending?
Tencent recently won US$6.4 million from the makers of a CrossFire clone, a breakthrough in a country known for clones of popular games like PUBG and Overwatch
It’s a familiar story: A company finds a game that's popular worldwide and meticulously clones it. The game’s look, feel and design are all quickly copied in an effort to capitalize on the original’s craze, usually by offering the clone on a platform the original isn’t on.
The game in the middle of this legal case is CrossFire, a first-person shooter made by South Korea’s Smilegate Entertainment, to which Tencent holds the rights for China. The game has over 650 million players and its clone, a game called Crisis Action, made little effort to hide where it got the inspiration.
It goes against the common image of China as a haven for game clones, but it shouldn’t be that surprising. As Allen Zhu, gaming lawyer from He & Partners Law Firm puts it, it comes hand in hand with the country’s rapid growth.
“The continuous development of the market is pushing forward the improvement of relevant laws,” he says.
The problem is that two games may look similar, but what people think constitutes a clone may not necessarily constitute plagiarism in law, according to Zhu. The law has to allow for the fact that games of a similar genre will naturally share elements. For example, first-person shooters will have similar guns, bulletproof vests, and telescopic scopes for sniper rifles.
“We all know that ideas cannot be monopolized, so it’s only when the author's description of an idea reaches a specific level of detail that can we say it forms a protected product,” said Zhu. For example, the idea of a gun used for shooting can’t be copyrighted, but if the game is using a very specific model of an AK-47, that could be.
In Tencent’s case too, the company decided to sue the makers of CrossFire’s clone not for copying the entire game but for copying the game’s maps. The court decided that six of Crisis Action maps looked similar enough to constitute plagiarism.
Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad says China has been strengthening IP laws. But foreign game developers need to remember to copyright and trademark their games in China in order to be protected by local laws.