The operator of the mobile game “Candy Crush Saga,” King.com, filed suit in March 2017 against Chinese game company, JoyFox Company. King.com claims that JoyFox copied a number of its mobile apps in a violation of copyright law. King.com is a social games development company which operates as an independent unit of Activision Blizzard. King.com is the maker of more than 200 game titles, and claims that they have over 340 million active users per month across social, mobile and web platforms.
King.com alleged in particular that two games produced by JoyFox, “Cookie Crush” and “Bubble Mania,” are derived from King.com’s “Candy Crush Saga,” “Candy Crush Soda Saga” and “Bubble Witch 2 Saga.” King.com argues the JoyFox games were essentially copied from King.com’s apps. It claims the alleged infringement has cost King.com revenue and has unjustly enriched JoyFox.
The complaint stated that “JoyFox wholly appropriated much of the original expression and creative decision-making embodied in King’s games, including King’s artwork, design aesthetics, layouts, and its selection and coordination of game elements, colors, and shapes.” King.com argues that “Cookie Crush” in particular is patterned after King.com’s games “Candy Crush Saga” and “Candy Crush Soda Saga,” and that “Bubble Mania” was based on King.com’s “Bubble Witch 2 Saga.” Some of the similarities concern major game elements, including the use of lollipops as tools in “Candy Crush” and “Cookie Crush,” and similarities between characters in “Bubble Mania” and “Bubble Witch 2 Saga.” For example, the main characters in both “Bubble” games have a cat sidekick, a wand, and purple clothes. The menus and UI also have similarities, including the pink-and-white border around windows in “Candy Crush Saga” and “Cookie Crush” as well as the pop-up and feature menus in the games. Further similarities include the maps and game interfaces in “Bubble Mania” and “Bubble Witch 2 Saga.”
Both of the JoyFox games in question were released two years after Candy Crush was released. The complaint alleges that some design elements of JoyFox’s games were modified after their launch to hide the “shameless theft of its intellectual property.” The complaint sought an injunction against JoyFox, as well as damages, profits, and attorney fees. On March 31, 2017, King.com voluntarily dismissed the action against JoxFox without prejudice.
While this case appears to be short-lived, it has drawn attention to companies who wish to emulate popular games’ fortunes. China’s mobile game industry is infamous for a proliferation of copycats. While the legal field in America places a greater emphasis on individual ownership over things like characters, art and gameplay, in China these ownership rights are not as well established. There are a number of reasons why there are so many copycats in the Chinese gaming market. Launching a mobile game in China involves complex business transactions and regulations. As a result, gamers in China are forced to wait for games, or are not even aware of the original. This allows other developers to fill in the gap. Many Chinese gamers strongly prefer original games, but without access they often don’t have a choice between the original and the copycat. In many parts of the world, only Apple and Google provide app stores. In China, however, there are over 60 to 70 app stores. Even though the most popular games of 2016 in China are based on established IP, game developers have to be vigilant if they want to successfully defeat copycat competitors.