Why the Days of Copycat Video Games Might Soon be Over

There are few things more heart-breaking in this world than a cloned video game. A game that takes something someone else has done and, with little effort, shamelessly copies it in the hopes of riding some coattails to a cash register.

This industry is full of them, across all genres, from first-person shooters to strategy games to, ahem, almost the entire catalogue of certain mobile phone game publishers.

The days of cloned video games may be drawing to an end, though, as a recent court ruling in New Jersey has laid down a precedent for courts to decide that, no, a game that's a lot like another game could actually be doing something wrong. Like, legally wrong.

Previously, developers and publishers of "clone" games have been able to argue that, so long as they were copying "non-expressive" or "functional" aspects of the original title, that they weren't infringing on anyone's copyright.

But in deciding the fate of a court case between the owners of Tetris and a Tetris clone, Mino, an important distinction was made. The court ruled that the "underlying idea" of Tetris could be "distinguished from the game's protectable expression".

While it's impossible to copyright the very basic premise of Tetris - falling pieces collide, and the player must clear them by combining lines - it was ruled that many other aspects of the game could be protected, such as the display of the pieces, the dimensions of the "game" on the screen, the colours of the blocks, etc.

All of which leads us to this glorious kicker, provided by Jack C. Schecter: "the court found that it was only necessary for Mino to mimic Tetris's expression because Xio sought to avoid the difficult task of developing its own take on a known idea."

Because a big part of law is precedent, now that this court has ruled Mino came too close to copying Tetris, it means the door is open for any other publisher and/or developer to take action against similar "clones".

Grand Theft Video: Judge Gives Gamemakers Hope for Combating Clones [Sunstein]