CandySwipe, a mobile game which invites players to match colourful candy pieces, was released by Runsome Apps in late 2010. It wasn’t revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, but it had an art style of its own and a good chance of competing in a market which has historically rewarded its brand of play-in-bursts gameplay. In early 2011, though, King’s Candy Crush came out, offering a similarly candy-themed matching experience. It wasn’t exactly the same, but there were strong similarities, plenty enough to make CandySwipe’s creator rightfully concerned, though he had no way of knowing what would eventually transpire.
Matching Games, Different Paths
If this isn’t your first time on the internet, you should be able to guess what happened next. Candy Crush Saga went on to sweep its competition aside to reach a position of mainstream awareness rivalling Angry Birds. Over the past year, particularly, we’ve seen article after article commenting on Candy Crush Saga, some espousing its addictive qualities, some bemoaning them, but all serving to further cement its place in popular culture.
CandySwipe, meanwhile, had an uphill battle to fight. Its creator Albert Runsome was granted the trademark for his title in mid-2011—having filed the paperwork in 2010—but suffered greatly regardless from confusion between the two games. After all, there’s a stubborn assumption among smartphone users conditioned to rely upon the collective wisdom of their peers that the more frequently downloaded of two apps is the better one, and that the better reviewed of two similar apps is in possession not only of primacy but also the stronger claim to existence. When Candy Crush games hit it big, CandySwipe began to be viewed as the imitator, the copycat, an exploiter of its more illustrious rival’s success.
Taking the Low Road
When King set out to trademark Candy Crush, Runsome Apps opposed it, noting, quite reasonably, the overlap between the two games. Proceedings continued, with no victory achieved but King prevented from acquiring its trademark, and things seemed set to remain in limbo for a long while. Recently, though, King got tired of the opposition, and decided to start playing dirty.
Having purchased a game called Candy Crusher along with its trademark last month, King is endeavoring to attack CandySwipe’s trademark with an even earlier one, Candy Crusher having been around since 2004. The problem is that Candy Crusher has absolutely nothing to do with CandySwipe or Candy Crush, resembling them neither in gameplay nor in aesthetic. It’s a transparently cynical move, and it carries with it the vile stench of high-priced legal teams.
Albert Runsome, outraged by a move attempting not only to protect King’s affairs but also to damage his, wrote an open letter on his website telling of the simple hopes he had for CandySwipe when he created it and of his desire to simply support his family. It leaves King looking pretty bad indeed, especially in light of a letter posted on the King website only a couple of weeks ago in which they spoke out against cloning games (while admitting to having released one such game five years ago) and set out their wish to protect the intellectual property of other companies a mere 17 days after they purchased Candy Crusher.
CandySwipe’s backstory succeeds in putting a human face on an issue concerning applications downloaded and used with no personal interaction, and in that sense it is absolutely justified. When companies with relatively limited resources find themselves under attack from wealthy corporations, they can be left with no choice but to use whatever tactics they can muster—in this case, appealing to emotion—to attract mainstream attention. That said, it bears noting that this situation owes its significance not to the touching fact that Mr. Ransom designed CandySwipe in memory of his mother, but to the obvious and overbearing strength of his case. It is to the shameful detriment of the convoluted legal system that it is not enough to do something first and trademark it, that someone must wearily reach out to the public having reached the point of exhaustion fighting to keep what is rightfully theirs.
A Cautionary Tale
So what can we take from the troubled story of CandySwipe? In the mobile game industry, where a minor success can snowball extremely quickly and reach the point of virtual monopoly in the blink of an eye, a company can become a financial juggernaut in a matter of months. Consider this in tandem with a rights system which sometimes seems tailor-made for abuse, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the only thing holding back deplorable behavior is the optional discretion of company officials, something that oddly enough never seems present when there are huge amounts of money to be made.
I have no earthly idea if Albert Runsome will get any kind of justice, such is the nonsensical state of trademark law, but the very least we can do on his behalf is be more conscious of where the apps we use come from. Too often have people spoken out in defense of their favorite apps with no real knowledge of who made them or the degree to which they were reasonable or ethical in the process of getting to that position of success. Too often have they reacted with anger first and an acceptance of their ignorance second, or third, or not at all. We all want a fair marketplace with deserved rewards, and it’s up to us to be more vigilant, as the legal system unfortunately shows absolutely no sign of changing.