Donut County is an upcoming game by developer Ben Esposito, known for Tattletail and Anamanaguchi’s Capsule Silence XXIV. The premise is simple: You play as a hole, you swallow things, and you get bigger.
After five years of development, Esposito is gearing up to release the game later this year on Mac, PC, iOS, and unannounced additional systems. In the meantime, the satisfying gameplay, quirky storyline and cute graphics have charmed fans — and, apparently, other studios.
On Monday, Esposito tweeted about a clone of the game released by a publisher known as Voodoo.io. The iOS and Android app is called Hole.io, and unlike Donut County, there’s no storyline or characters, but the gameplay mechanism of being a hole and eating things to get bigger is the same.
“There are differences,” says Esposito. “Donut County is a story-based puzzle game, and Hole.io combines the premise of Donut County [...] with the ‘.io’ king of the hill formula.”
Voodoo.io has been known to create free-to-play knock-offs of indie games, which sometime surpass the popularity of the original games. For example, Hole.io is currently in the number one spot for downloadable arcade games on the App Store and has mostly positive reviews. Few mention its clear inspiration, Donut County.
Esposito says that there is not much he can do about the situation and that he will focus his energy on finishing up Donut County. Initially, he wasn’t going to draw attention to Hole.io, but since Voodoo.io recently received a $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs, Esposito wanted to make a statement; “We’re probably gonna see a lot more situations like this,” he thinks.
“[Voodoo’s] algorithmic approach to game dev produces successful games for them [...] it also encourages their devs to make quick copies of games like mine,” says Esposito.
Ultimately, Esposito hopes that the “unique charm, sense of humor, and painstakingly handcrafted levels” will make Donut County stand out from its cloned knock-off.
We’ve reached out to Voodoo about Esposito’s statement regarding Hole.io and Donut County. We will update as necessary.
Update: Variety took a closer look into Voodoo’s business practices. A Voodoo spokesperson told Variety that “there can be an infinite amount of interpretations and executions [of gameplay mechanics].”
Because of how Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests work (game mechanics or ideas are not protected; only specific assets are), it’s hard for developers to take legal action.
“Bringing a rival developer to court over a clone isn’t an inexpensive process,” says Variety. “Sometimes, it’s simply not feasible.”
Apple and Google have guidelines to try and stop cloning, as well as those to prevent publishers from inflating their sales numbers.
Apple’s guidelines are as follows:
If we find that you have attempted to manipulate reviews, inflate your chart rankings with paid, incentivized, filtered, or fake feedback, or engage with third party services to do so on your behalf, we will take steps to preserve the integrity of the App Store, which may include expelling you from the Developer Program.
Google Play’s are below:
Developers must not attempt to manipulate the placement of any apps in Google Play. This includes, but is not limited to, inflating product ratings, reviews, or install counts by illegitimate means, such as fraudulent or incentivized installs, reviews and ratings.
Not only does Voodoo create lookalike games, but in order to obtain maximum traffic on their games, the company purchases bulk installs from “Facebook and many other ad networks,” it told Variety. This isn’t something that it brushes under the rug either. In fact, it’s prominently highlighted on Voodoo’s website.
We are experts at buying cheap installs in big numbers, thanks to our mobile growth team.
We’ve reached out to Voodoo for additional comment regarding their business practices and will update accordingly.