I wanted to post today a few thoughts on the Spry Fox versus 6Waves/LOLApps litigation regarding the alleged copyright infringement of Triple Town (Dave Edery’s blog post explaining the situation). First, I want to say that I have no inside information on the situation, I have just read the various articles on industry sites and Dave’s blog. Thus, I have primarily seen Spry Fox’s position as there seems to be little comment from 6Waves/Lolapps. That said, I have known Dave Edery (the co-founder of Spry Fox) for almost ten years, from the days he was working on the XBLA team and he helped my company develop some concepts for XBLA titles. I have always found him one of the brightest and most honest people in the industry so I do believe his position on the situation.
Given the information I have read, I am disgusted at the alleged behavior by 6Waves/Lolapps, primarily their alleged viewing confidential material while creating a competitive/copycat game. If the case was simply 6Waves publishing a game, Yeti Town, that was largely similar to TripleTown I would not think it worthy of comment. The entertainment industry (television, film and even music) is largely built on companies taking a successful concept or story, making minor changes (hopefully improvements) and putting out a competitive product. You can even argue that every television show or movie is based on one of six plots created by Shakespeare and is thus a copycat clone. There are legal rules that define what is and is not copyright infringement and I have no idea if Yeti Town crossed the line here; I would not be posting if that was the only issue.
What I find unbelievable, though I totally believe it, is that a publisher can enter into negotiations with a developer while creating a competitive product. I don’t care if there was or was not an NDA, and the specific wording, but the alleged actions of 6Waves/LOLApps clearly crossed all ethical lines and probably legal ones.
It is the epitome of dishonesty but also an incredibly stupid business decision. Even if they can avoid legal repercussions, no developer will share a build of an upcoming game or market data with them ever again. I have been in the game industry almost twenty years (sympathy cards can be sent to my home address ), and I am always amused when developers would be worried about submitting a game project to an EA or THQ for fear it would be copied. I would always argue that it would be suicidal for a publisher to take such an approach (and I cannot think of one case previously where it actually happened), with or without an NDA, because the price of one game (and virtually no publisher outside Rockstar built a business around one game) would be its entire third party business.
If 6Waves/LOLApps is moving in the direction of only focusing on first party games and no longer cares what developers think of it, copying TripleTown still will not create any long-term value, just potentially some short-term cash (which now will be consumed by legal fees).
What is puzzling to me is that I have known many of the 6Waves management team for several years and always thought very highly of them (to the point that I would recommend them to developers who came to Playdom for a publishing partner after Playdom suspended its third party publishing program). I can only hypothesize that the acquisition of LOLApps changed the executive management culture or that they have currently hit some very difficult times and chose a very poor path to deal with it. It does seem to fit, however, with the attitude I have seen of some Valley companies, that they can do anything and are untouchable. I refer to it as Bonfire of the Vanities Pt. 2.
The purpose of this blog is largely to help the social game industry evolve into a real, lasting industry. I felt compelled to comment on this situation because it is actions like Six Waves/LOLApps that are slowing this evolution. At the end of the day, companies that rely on dishonesty and tricks to grow fail. There will always be disreputable players in any industry. At the end of the day they cannot stop our industry from maturing and strengthening, I just hope as many of you as possible take the right (and best) route to growth to not only benefit yourselves but speed the development of our sector.