Indie developer accuses King of double standard, alleges game was cloned

Game developer Matthew Cox today accused social game studio King of having double standards in its attempts to trademark the word "candy," because he believes the studio tried to capitalize on the success of Pac-Man in 2009 through the game title Pac-Avoid, and he also alleges the studio copied his game.

Writing to his website, Cox said King was in talks with him and fellow developer Nick Bray in 2009 about licensing their Flash game Scamperghost. The deal fell through because Cox and Bray decided to go with a different publisher, MaxGames.com. Shortly after, King launched Pac-Avoid, a game that Cox said bears a striking resemblance to Scamperghost.

On his site, Cox has side-by-side screenshots of the two games to illustrate their similarities. He also made email correspondences between himself and King representative Lars Jörnow available to Polygon. An email from Jörnow to Cox dated Feb. 12, 2010 explains that after the Scamperghost deal fell through, King sponsored a similar one. "We're sorry our deal didn't turn out with you guys," the email reads. "You made out with more money and we were left without an avoider game that we had already planned on. We needed an avoider game and sponsored a similar game."

Cox also shared an email from developer Matt Porter of the now-defunct EpicShadow, who was commissioned by King to make Pac-Avoid. In this correspondence, Porter apologizes for cloning Cox's game and says that Jörnow approached his indie team to "clone the game very quickly, and even wanted to beat the release of the original game."

"When I saw Pac-Avoid, I was shocked that such a big company would retaliate against a couple of small indie developers like us," Cox told Polygon. "I suspect Lars Jörnow, our contact with King, took personal offense to our backing out of negotiations to go with MaxGames.com, who outbid King on the contract."

Cox had posted about the issue on the IndieGamer forum back in 2010. He told Polygon he is bringing the issue up again because he feels it is relevant to King's recent application to trademark "candy."

"It has become relevant again because King.com is trademarking the word 'candy' and is using their trademark to go after smaller competing developers," Cox said. "Remember, not only did they blatantly copy Scamperghost with their game Pac-Avoid, but they actually used 'Pac,' which by their trademark definition would violate Namco's trademark for Pac-Man. Their double-standard is why this is relevant now."

Pac-Man publisher Namco Bandai currently owns the trademark for "Pac-Man" and its various spinoffs, but it does not hold the trademark for "Pac."

"Copying our game isn't the issue," Cox said. "King.com using their massive financial/legal power to limit the innovations of smaller developers by 'Trademark Trolling' is the problem here."

Polygon has reached out to King for comment.

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