A new intellectual property law recently passed in the European Union might eliminate the possibility of video game cloning, ensuring that the designs of developers are looked at with more respect and keeping them from being copied by others. But can they also be a double-edged sword?
It’s no real news to gamers that there are a lot of games that take pages out of other developers’ books as they develop their own games. The Batman Arkham games popularized the idea of reactionary combat, with players being prompted to press a certain button to counter an enemy attack.
After Batman, other games like the Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor series, the 2015 Mad Max game, and even indie titles like Stories: The Path of Destiny, have all gotten into that sort of combat over the years.
That’s not the only example of video game cloning, either; ever played a game that had a little game on the loading screen that you could play? That was cloning too. Bandai Namco even copyrighted that in 1998, and the copyright expired two years ago. It served an interesting precedent for the current law, as it prevented other developers from doing the same in their own games.
However, like with many laws, there’s a chance for abuse with this sort of thing; Shadow of Mordor got criticized when it was close to release for supposedly “stealing” its parkour system from Assassin’s Creed, though that controversy was soon forgotten. Under this new video game cloning law, developers might actually be in danger from that.
One particular example of this happened with Silicon Knights in 2012, who developed Too Human alongside a number of other games. Silicon Knights claimed that Epic Games had sold them a faulty version of Unreal Engine 3, and sued them. Epic Games’s countersuit that Silicon had not only altered portions of the engine, but tried to pass it off as their own work, resulted in Silicon Knights shutting down in 2014, and pulling its games from stores.
While there is a measure against the possibility of patent trolling in the law (the mechanic must have some novelty and uniqueness), actual design copyright is rarely enforced, hence why Batman’s reactionary combat system, itself cribbed from the first few counter-based combat systems of Assassin’s Creed, are allowed.
At the very least, the ability for video game cloning to continue will likely result in developers having to ask permission from the copyright holder and possibly buy a license to use it, the same way a license is bought for Netflix to use a movie made by a studio.