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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bizarre Creations on their IP and protecting it from 'clones'

Multiple news sites recently reported on a request from Bizarre Creations sent to Mark Incitti, creator of the downloadable Geometry Wars clone for the PC, Grid Wars, to stop making his game available for download.

The letter from UK independent developer Bizarre Creations (Project Gotham Racing 3, Geometry Wars Evolved) states: "We’re beginning to feel the effects of the Geometry Wars clones on our sales via Microsoft now and are beginning a process to begin to more robustly protect our copyright and intellectual property. Therefore, I’d like to ask you in an amicable fashion to stop infringing our IP and pull the game ‘Grid Wars’ from the internet for download. I hope you understand and are able to do this without us having to take further steps.”

Following significant press interest over this issue, Bizarre Creations has followed up with a lengthy and interesting public statement on the matter, posted on its website, illuminating some of the issues behind game 'cloning' and intellectual property. Gamasutra is reprinting the statement, titled 'Send In The Clones', in full below:

"We'd like to clarify Bizarre Creations' position on our recent decision to request developers of certain Geometry Wars 'clones' to halt development.

As a relatively small company, with our roots in 'back bedroom' coding, we have always wholeheartedly supported the 'indie' games development community. But in order for this industry and community to continue to survive, we feel originality must be allowed to prevail.

The creation of our Geometry Wars series of games has been a labour of love, conceived by one of our respected members of staff - Stephen Cakebread. In the instance of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (GW:RE) we had an opportunity to try and expand the company portfolio onto a new platform. But just as importantly, we could also show fellow game creators that developing games for a company as large as Microsoft (in this case via XArcade) could be 'cool', accessible and feasible, and not solely the domain of larger development studios.

With GW:RE we deliberately set as low a price point as we could for the full game. Even the demo was designed to give as much 'value for money' as possible, by giving minimal 'buy me now' nags and a generous amount of playtime, showcasing as much of the game as possible to a potential purchaser. We only wanted people who would get value from a longer experience (ie. could last more than the 4 minute demo) to want to purchase the game.

As an indie developer we were desperate to not give the perception that we were 'ripping anybody off' - this is not our way, as all of our games are designed to give a great potential value for money to the end-user. The reasoning behind the comprehensive nature of the game demo was that there was little more 'new content' to see in the full game, other than the scoreboards. The concept was pure - a truly retro experience, only for those who really 'got it'.

As GW:RE is so freely available, it has had an extremely wide exposure. And as it is (on the surface) a simple concept, it is easy to imitate - at least superficially. The issue that we have with the proliferation of GW:RE 'clone' games is their own lack of originality - particularly on the visual front. Only hardcore gamers will be aware of any differences between a clone and the original game beyond the visual level. This potentially takes sales away from our product and weakens our brand - especially if-and-when we decide to launch a version of GW:RE on a platform where a clone is already available. All too often we have seen people confused, calling our game by the name of a clone, and a clone by our name.

In this day and age, coming up with an original brand is extremely difficult and rare, and retaining ownership of the IP to that title, especially as an independent developer, is rarer still. As a relatively small developer, we survive by the originality, quality and reputation of our titles, and the income that they generate. No income means no funds to support our staff and overheads - and this struggle for income is why there are so few independent companies surviving today. Obviously it would be great to provide games for free, but commercial reality does not allow this, and with GW:RE we felt we were working with a nice balanced approach to this, with the generous demo and low price point.

One often repeated comment is that Geometry Wars is merely itself a clone of Robotron. The only real similarity between the two games is the 'two stick' control method - and a control method alone makes neither a game nor a brand. A game is about visual and aural style, pace, structure, depth, emotion, player involvement and balance. And obviously on all of these levels the two games are radically different. Showing a screenshot of Robotron to a layman, they would certainly not think it was Geometry Wars. However, putting (for example) a screenshot of Grid Wars next to one from GW:RE, that same layman would find it extremely hard to tell the difference, regardless of how the two games played. And this is a big concern.

The fact is that GW:RE IS our Intellectual Property. The game was created as an entirely original product, and as a package, bears no relevant similarity to any pre-existing title. It is not trying to 'pass itself off as' any other game. And it is because it is an original IP that it has won awards. Just because it uses scoring, vector graphics, geometric shapes, a grid, or a particular control method does not make it any less of an original IP nor deem it to be 'open source'.

It's unfortunate also that, at the moment, if you don't have a 360, we're afraid that you can't play 'Geometry Wars'. Obviously we don't expect people to shell out for the console just to play the game - this would be crazy - but this still does not provide a legitimate argument to condone the game being blatantly copied and effectively passing itself off as our original.

If you want to play Gran Turismo, but don't have a PlayStation, you play different racing games, on different platforms. Imagine what Sony/Polyphony would do to protect their IP if a company or individual were trying to clone 'Gran Turismo' for another platform? The scale is different, but the issue is fundamentally the same. Just because Geometry Wars is 'easy' to copy, it doesn't mean that it should be copied.

The way forward...

What we are requesting is that if anyone is inspired by the simplicity and elegance of our game, can they please use their talents to originate their own ideas and not produce replicas that simply imitate and could be passed off as, and confused with, the original.

Originating new concepts is what keeps the games industry fresh, moving forward and successful. As a company we have managed to survive and thrive in this turbulent industry for the last 12 years - partly down to luck, but mainly due to a huge amount of hard-work and enthusiasm, and our passion for the creation of games - and the origination of new ideas and concepts.

We certainly don't want to have to stop now.


Bizarre Creations."

POSTED: 06.51AM PST, 08/17/06 - Simon Carless

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