map's blog writing into the void

Actually it’s about ethics in video game development

If you follow my work a bit you know that my company TheCodingMonkeys published its first original game this year. It’s called RULES! and is a fun action-puzzler. Marcel, Aga and everyone else who worked on it poured their hearts and souls into this little thing for over nine months. We love that thing and we are proud of it.

Last week however we got a mail that pointed us to a browser game that looked more or less exactly like our iOS game. We had been cloned.

The Rules! compared to RULES!

From the looks of it, the company responsible for publishing the game is based in Germany, like us. Here are a few of their games you might recognize by a different name:

Other games by the company

In the case of RULES! they did not stop at the graphics design, however. Everything, down to tutorial, game play, level design and even music and sound effects is a cheap copy of what we did in RULES!. To illustrate here’s a side by side comparison video. (I sped up the ads between levels for the clone, they last 30 seconds each.)

Adding insult to injury, this company is being government-sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and supplies its browser games to two of the biggest german web mail providers.

So where does that leave us?1 Well, first of all I will talk to my lawyers, I guess. Secondly, I certainly will check back with the government why they are sponsoring a company like that.

And thirdly. Well thirdly I’m hurt. I am disappointed. We aren’t the first to be disgustingly cloned, but that does not make it feel better. The people that created RULES worked for months on every little detail to make sure its a great experience. Having these torn to bits, badly reimplemented and cobbled together to create something to earn a few quick ad bucks feels vile. And criminally unfair.

  • Update: The company has taken down the clone after multiple requests to do so.

  • A rubber boat circled by sharks

    After two weeks of Internet abstinence during my holiday I decided to reflect about going back to the always buzzing notifications of Twitter. It’s not really specifically about Twitter, but that’s where I spend most of my time online. Most of my thought might be applicable to any “place” on the internet.

    Don’t worry, I did not turn neo-luddite and won’t write one of those articles. However this might be the first time I feel ambivalent about coming back.

    Twitter and the Internet is where nearly everything good in my life came from, in one way or another. It’s full of people I know and love. Even of people I don’t know and love. And vice versa. Most of my friends are there. It’s where I want to stay.

    Taking time off made me realize how emotionally taxing it has become however. There are a lot of people on there that want to hurt my friends. It’s a constant barrage of harassment, threats and bullying, sometimes emanating from just beyond the edge of my circle of friends. Women get silenced by physical threats, men are silenced by (unfounded, but hassling) legal threats.

    I myself have stopped speaking about various things in the last months just to avoid the risk of getting hung up in additional stress that might break my back in the face of a very taxing time of my life. I even switched my feed to English to minimize the impact of toxic discussions in the German Twitter community.

    In short: It’s anything but a safe or friendly place.

    I wish we’d find a way to make places online safer. I wish there was a market for that. I wish there was VC funding for that. I wish anybody with enough resources to do that would be enticed to work on that. But until then I’m back on Twitter – maybe less often – trying to find a constructive way to navigate the hate.

    Billy Elliot

    Last weekend I went to see Billy Elliot the Musical. It was a magical and very emotional experience for me. True, everything with dead mothers has it easy to get me crying and musicals doubly so, but the story has something else that hits home for me.

    To me it’s a story about what it means to be a man. Billy is something new, counterpointed by the miners representing a very traditional masculinity.

    The miners were needed once, but not anymore. When Billy says good-bye at the end of the musical and the miners go down into the pit, we know that he has a future, while the miners will slowly die out. He will rise, while they go down. He will shine, while they get dirty. I like that message – that I made up for myself – even if I don’t know if society will ever change in that way. But it’s a happy end that makes me cry.

    What we know

    Recently I talked about local networked multiplayer at JOIN, a fun and excellently organized conference about local multiplayer games. In an example what kind of games would be possible with working and easily integrate-able mesh-networking I mentioned PKPKT or a digital version of “Human vs. Zombies”.

    PKPKT is an iOS game about stealing virtual money. If you meet someone that has the game installed, both of you get alerted. The first to react steals an amount of money from her opponent.

    Human vs. Zombies is a game of tag played with, among other things, nerf guns. Humans have to defend themselves against Zombies, Zombies have to infect Humans. Games typically take place on college campuses and can last days or weeks, interrupted by real life like e.g. classes.

    I picked these examples because they were the first I thought of. After the talk a member of the audience approached me. He told me that being from a country where theft and violence is part of daily life in a matter that is beyond my experience as a game developer living in Germany, these kinds of games did not sound appealing to him. I did not even think about that until that moment. He – of course – was and is utterly right.

    Today I read an article about a game that tries to actually capture the horrors of war. A story of civilians trapped in a war zone. That made me wonder how many of the endless barrage of first person shooters are made by programmers, artists and designers that are completely divorced from the realities of war. I guess quite a few of them.

    Gaming at its core is an exploration of the unknown. But should game designers pick themes they have no experience with? Choosing theft, violence or outright war is an easy way to something “exciting”, at least to those that don’t have personal stories involving these things. But aren’t these games by nature shallow and intellectually boring? Why say something about a topic you have no or little knowledge about, without making the effort to empathize?

    There is debate about these issues in other media and most likely there just aren’t easy answers to them. But I feel that there is a comparative lack of games about things that had a personal impact on its author, and maybe changing that would make games – as a whole – better.