‘CandySwipe’ Crushed: When Game Development Gets Nasty

A portion of Albert Ransom’s open letter suggesting similarities between his “CandySwipe” and King’s “Candy Crush Saga.”

For a handful of developers who build candy-themed games for mobile devices, things aren’t so nice and sweet at the moment.

King, the gaming developer behind the monster hit “Candy Crush Saga,” has attracted a fair amount of criticism over the past few weeks over its attempt to trademark the word “candy,” which isn’t exactly an uncommon term. The company followed up that trademarking attempt by firing off takedown notices at other developers who use “candy” in the titles of their apps.

But things only got emotional in the past few days, when indie developer Albert Ransom published an open letter on his Website that excoriates King for what basically amounts to bullying. Ransom claims that he published “CandySwipe” in 2010, a full two years before “Candy Crush Saga” hit the market, and that the two games bear a number of similarities; after opposing King’s attempts to register a trademark, Ransom found that his rival had taken things to a whole new level:

“I have learned that you now want to cancel my CandySwipe trademark so that I don’t have the right to use my own game’s name. You are able to do this because only within the last month you purchased the rights to a game named Candy Crusher (which is nothing like CandySwipe or even Candy Crush Saga). Good for you, you win. I hope you’re happy taking the food out of my family’s mouth when CandySwipe clearly existed well before Candy Crush Saga.”

Ouch. But Ransom doesn’t end there; he really wants to nail home to emotional aspect of what outsiders might perceive as just another dry, pedantic legal conflict:

“I have spent over three years working on this game as an independent app developer. I learned how to code on my own after my mother passed and CandySwipe was my first and most successful game; it’s my livelihood, and you are now attempting to take that away from me. You have taken away the possibility of CandySwipe blossoming into what it has the potential of becoming.”

King was not effusive in its response. “I would direct you to our stance on intellectual property,” a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email to Slashdot, which included a link to a letter posted online by King CEO Riccardo Zacconi. “At this time, we do not have any comment to add beyond what is outlined in this letter.”

In that letter, originally published Jan. 27, Zacconi suggested that his company’s IP strategy is designed “to ensure that our employees’ hard work is not simply copied elsewhere, that we avoid player confusion and that the integrity of our brands remains.” He also claimed that, before launching a new game, King conducts a “thorough search” of the marketplace for any exiting games that might present an IP conflict.

In order to protect the blockbuster “Candy Crush Saga” from copycats, Zacconi continued, King locked down the trademark for the term “Candy” in the EU, and has filed the paperwork for similar legal protection in the United States. “We’ve been the subject of no little scorn for our actions on this front, but the truth is that there is nothing very unusual about trademarking a common word for specific uses,” he wrote. “We are not trying to control the world’s use of the word ‘Candy;’ having a trade mark doesn’t allow us to do that anyway.”

The letter also defended King’s choice to go to war with the developer of the game “Banner Saga” over the word “Saga,” which appears in a number of King game titles. Yet in another section, Zacconi also admitted that King’s now-defunct “Pac-Avoid” game bears a heavy resemblance to an earlier title, “ScamperGhost,” and apologized for releasing it. “We have taken the game down from our site, and we apologise for having published it in the first place,” he wrote. “Let me be clear: This unfortunate situation is an exception to the rule.”

Zacconi’s various defenses seem a moot point in the context of “CandySwipe,” considering how Ransom has already abandoned the prospect of fighting to protect his intellectual property. But the two developers’ letters help illustrate how downright nasty the casual-gaming industry has become over the past several quarters, as profits skyrocket and people attempt to capitalize on others’ success.


Image: CandySwipe