Defending your intellectual property is becoming increasingly difficult in the murky 'me too' world of mobile game development, but the creators of Candy Crush Saga turned the internet into a seething ball of white-hot fury over the last 24 hours by going a trademark too far.
Somehow, King have managed to trademark the word 'Candy' over both videogames, clothing and a wide variety of products. Not 'Candy Crush.' 'Candy.' Barely had the news broke before legal notices started arriving on developers' doorsteps, enforced by Apple and others, while the massive app publisher is now taking aim at the word 'Saga.' Even going as far as to serve a notice of opposition to the passionate indie studio behind The Banner Saga: a superb strategy game that has absolutely nothing in common with King's grindy Bejewelled clone. Companies now have 30 days to oppose the trademark... but who has pockets deep enough?
The situation has the development community and gamers up in arms, mainly because it sets a horrendous precedent for one-word trademarks that lets the biggest players run roughshod over small developers. It's a complex state of affairs, so for your convenience, here's the whole sorry saga thus far.
King filed for the 'Candy' US trademark back in February 2013, which has now - somehow - been approved for publication; leaving only thirty days to appeal against it. A similar filing exists here in the UK with the IPO. Citing the need to defend themselves against clones looking to make a quick buck with a lazy rip-off, the company explained their stance to Gamasutra.
"We have trademarked the word 'CANDY' in the EU, as our IP is constantly being infringed and we have to enforce our rights and to protect our players from confusion," the statement read. "We don't enforce against all uses of CANDY – some are legitimate and of course, we would not ask App developers who use the term legitimately to stop doing so. "
On the face of things, the logic is fairly reasonable. The App Store and Google Play are awash with rubbish copycat cash-ins, so it's hardly surprising that King want to protect their investment. However, there's a world of difference between targeting specific cases and trying to own an existing word. It's the principle of thing: if companies can abuse the system by trademarking a single word as common as "candy," where does that leave one-man outfits like Charlie Knight, who brought us Bullet Candy Perfect several years ago? Or the aforementioned casino game Candy Casino Slots – Jewels Craze Connect, which will have to change its name or withdraw from the app store if the trademark isn't opposed? Where will the rabbit hole lead?
Well, if King's latest actions are anything to go by, the word "saga" is next. Despite any number of games using the word for years, such as LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Square's ancient SaGa JRPG series, they've already served Stoic Studios with a notice of opposition for recently-released RPG gem The Banner Saga. Despite Stoic's game being a gorgeous Viking-themed strategic roleplaying experience, and therefore having absolutely nothing to do with waiting several hours to play another derivative match-three puzzle, King feels that they have to cast as wide a net as possible.
""The use and registration by Applicant of the mark The Banner Saga for Applicant's goods is likely to cause confusion or to cause mistake or deception in the trade, and among purchasers and potential purchasers, with Opposer's Saga Marks, again resulting in damage to Opposer," reads the outrageous notice in a staggering display of unbridled idiocy.
"Like any prudent company, we need to take all appropriate steps to protect our IP, both now and in the future," King informed Eurogamer. "In this case, that means preserving our ability to enforce our rights in cases where other developers may try to use the Saga mark in a way which infringes our IP rights and causes player confusion. If we had not opposed Banner Saga's trade mark application, it would be much easier for real copy cats to argue that their use of 'Saga' was legitimate."
It would also be easy to not threaten hardworking independent developers with legal action and put their livelihood at risk, but here we are. As a small studio, Stoic don't have the means to fight this if King pushes further, and this is only the beginning if the precedent ends up set in stone. If 'Candy' can be trademarked, what about "war"? Or "craft," for that matter?
— Ragnar Tørnquist (@RagnarTornquist) January 22, 2014
Many developers and gamers alike have suggested a boycott of Candy Crush Saga and King products, which I would fully endorse were it not sadly impossible. Candy Crush addiction is hard to shake - but let's try and keep the Facebook spam to a minimum, eh? Personally, though, I'm not sure why you'd want to play it seeing as Puzzle Quest is quite literally perfect and will let you play it without cynical wait times or microtransactions. And, erm, Bejewelled exists.
At least the indie scene is rallying together with a sense of humour, planning a confrontational Game Jam that encourages entrants to create "Candy" and "Saga" themed games before February 3rd. It's not-for-profit, so is unlikely to run into any legal trouble - but while we love the idea madly, the ongoing situation is likely to continue making headlines over the coming weeks.
If you want to know more, consider heading over to RPS and reading their take on the situation. If you want to get involved, tweet and email King as well as supporting the Game Jam. And if you don't really care... well, fair enough, but don't expect this to go away any time soon.