The Case Of The Identical Rabbit Games

There are two ways to buy a game about a violent rabbit on Apple's Mac store. You could pay the game's creators $10 or you could buy the version that is making them angry. That one costs two bucks.

That choice between Lugaru and Lugaru HD is one that the creators of the game never expected Mac users to be able to make. They made Lugaru in 2005, started selling it on Apple's new Mac store just a couple of weeks ago and have no idea how this person who is selling their game for $8 less than they are can do such a thing.

"It is not uncommon for people to sell pirated copies of our game," Rosen said, "but we were completely caught off guard that Apple would approve this."

Both versions of the game are currently listed on the Apple Mac Store. "Lugaru HD" is the original article, sold by the game's creators. Plain old "Lugaru" is what Lugaru's developers claim is an outright rip-off — their game, their source code, being sold by someone else.

"We are not happy about this situation," Jeffrey Rosen, one of Lugaru's creators at Wolfire Games told Kotaku. "It is not uncommon for people to sell pirated copies of our game, but we were completely caught off guard that Apple would approve this for sale on the App Store without any due-diligence."

It's not clear whether Apple thoroughly checks whether games being sold on its store are clones of others. In this case, Rosen believes that Apple could or should have seen that the cheap Lugaru was the same game as the one being sold for weeks prior by Wolfire. The Wolfire team has appealed to Apple twice about this situation, though the company hasn't responded to them.

An Apple spokesperson told Kotaku that they're looking into what happened with these two games but was not able to provide specifics about the company's policies regarding this situation by deadline. We'll update the story if we hear back.

The people who are making the $2 version of Lugaru don't believe they've done anything wrong. "While we do understand [Wolfire's] regrets, this does not change the fact that we have every legal right to market and sell the software, and we feel that $1.99 is a fair price," Alex Matlin of development team iCoder told Kotaku.

While his version came out second, just a few days ago, Matlin said that his team's $2 version of Lugaru was submitted to Apple a few weeks ago,before iCoder had any idea anyone else was planning to sell the game on the Mac store.

Matlin says his team got the rights to sell Lugaru before the Mac App store ever launched. "The license we were granted allows for non-exclusive redistribution of the source code or the compiled product, modified or unmodified, for a fee or free of charge."

Matlin: "We have every legal right to market and sell the software, and we feel that $1.99 is a fair price."

Matlin cites Wolfire's May 2010 blog post declaring that Lugaru's source code was now available to anyone as proof that iCoder could sell the game. (That post doesn't outline the options as Matlin defined them to Kotaku, but it does encourage developers to mod and port the game.) Rosen told Kotaku that opening the game's source code was a license for mods, not for people to sell a game that uses Lugaru's name, character and graphics.

[UPDATE: Many readers have been interested in delving more deeply into the rights issues here. As stated in the Wolfire May 2010 post, the open source code was issued under a General Public License. Wolfire maintained their rights to the game's assets (its art, for example) in that post and as delineated here.]

It's common to see games on Apple's stores that can confuse shoppers. Maybe change a letter in the game's name or go with a title that looks awfully similar. The Lugaru/Lugaru thing, however has an added sting for Rosen because his team at Wolfire are big on trust and light on copy protection. Wolfire are the people who created the successful Humble Indie Bundles, popular groupings of indie games that sold for whatever price gamers volunteered to pay. Much of the proceeds for those games went to charity. Wolfire even released the source code to Lugaru and claims sales improved because of it. That source code, Rosen told Kotaku, is identical to the code of the $2 version of their game being sold by iCoder. Matlin confirmed as much, saying his team squashed bugs and plugged memory leaks in it before putting it on the store.

Wolfire has appealed twice to Apple about this case of two Lugarus but hasn't heard back. They reached out to iCoder but say the people there "have not been helpful."

Maybe Wolfire should have expected this, and maybe Apple can't be expected to stop people from selling clones (anyone want to try selling their own copy of Angry Birds?). Maybe releasing that source code changes the rules. Wolfire's busy making a Lugaru sequel called Overgrowth. And you, gamer, now have a reason to do a double-take — or at least a second search of the App store — next time you see a game that's too cheap to be true.