I’m not normally one to suggest companies take legal action over IP infringement, if only because I think our system encourages overreaction.
For instance, I think the entire saga of Candy Crush Saga creator King trademarking words like “candy” and “saga” and then preventing games like The Banner Saga from trademarking their own game’s title is absurd.
But inexplicable mobile sensation Flappy Bird—read Paul Tassi’s Forbes review here—may have gone too far, even for me, when it comes to ripping off other games, joining the ranks of mobile developers like Zynga in their disregard for the ethics of copycatting.
Even without playing the game it’s easy to see how far the likeness goes.
That’s a lot of cash for a game that most people have described as pretty terrible. Terrible but still, somehow, addictive.
Both the pipes and the titular bird are nearly identical to assets found in past Mario games. Same for some of the sound-effects and backgrounds.
Indeed, it’s all so perfectly obvious one might chalk the whole thing up as an homage to classic Nintendo games. Or if not homage, perhaps critique.
As Kotaku notes, “The backgrounds also appear to be heavily inspired by Mario, perhaps as a subtle protest against Nintendo for not bringing their biggest games to iOS, or perhaps because Nguyen made the game in three days.”
There’s something galling about a game widely acknowledged as bad, that only took three days to make, pulling down this sort of cash.
I’m all for the under-dog, the little guy making something brilliant, but Flappy Bird isn’t some innovative, beautiful indie gem. It’s more like the embodiment of everything wrong with mobile—unoriginal, dull, and largely a ripoff of other peoples’ work.
Nintendo has resisted mobile for its own reasons, and certainly the last thing they want to see is artwork from their games on iOS and Android in a title like this. I can’t imagine Nintendo being pleased at the thought of people confusing this for an actual Nintendo property.
Indeed, should the company avoid some sort of legal action against Flappy Bird, it likely won’t be long before we see Flappy Bird knockoffs knocking off even more Nintendo IP. Flappy Plumber anybody?
Nintendo’s absence in the mobile market makes them an easy target in this regard. Flappy Bird’s success will only inspire more of the same—even if that success is largely a happy and inexplicable accident.
It’s one thing to prevent other game designers from using common English words in their games’ titles. It’s quite another to knock off published works and then make bundles of money on them. Flappy Bird isn’t a parody. It’s a cash-generating monstrosity.
Maybe it’s even an argument for Nintendo entering the mobile space—after all, while quality is important in other game mediums, in mobile all you need is the right feedback loop and that magical viral something.
Tassi sums up everything that’s wrong with Flappy Bird, this weird new avatar for mobile games:
Mindless fun is a perfectly acceptable form for a game to take. Mindless rage brought on by addiction is the dark side of game design, whether it’s killing player’s crops, making them pay to skip a countdown timer after death, or causing their little bird to crash into walls. It’s a disease I hope stays locked in the realm of mobile, and never makes the leap to traditional console and PC gaming. Flappy Bird is the enemy, and we must stay vigilant. Is it harmless? Is it really? I’m not so sure.
As bad as it may be as a game, as much as it may represent “the enemy” at the end of the day it’s also a game that’s borrowed just a little too heavily from other peoples’ work.
Whatever may be wrong with our IP laws—and there are plenty of things wrong—Nintendo going after Flappy Bird strikes me as a no-brainer, and quite possibly the only option Nintendo has.