If you're a small developer, the number of steps it takes just to get a title to any sort of market are downright daunting. For Twisted Pixel, makers of Splosion Man, the dozen-ish employees hard at work on the title no doubt felt so much relief when it launched in 2009, the idea of someone blatantly taking the concept, setting, and gameplay and releasing it under a different name was furthest from their minds. For consumers of both indie and retail titles, the fact that the ripoff came under the name of one of the most fan-oriented companies in the whole gaming sphere--Capcom--was even more of a shock.
Released last week under the name "MaXplosion," Capcom's iPhone clone features a spunky red mascot who speeds through levels and overcomes platforming puzzles by exploding, which catapults him up and also serves as an attack - and yes, you get three splodes before landing. Just stealing the jumping concept isn't so bad, but the devs behind "MaXplosion" saw fit to also copy the basic story and setting of Splosion Man - the titular mascot is in a constant race to escape an industrial laboratory full of coat-clad scientists trying to stop their creation.
The official reaction of Twisted Pixel has been quiet, but their CEO and cofounder Michael Wilford isn't afraid to say what he thinks of this development on his personal Twitterfeed, and--SPOILER ALERT! He's none too keen on it.
In a particularly sad twist, it turns out that they had actually proposed Splosion Man to Capcom for publishing, but were turned down. The outpouring of fan rage from this factoid must be tempered, however, by the fact that "MaXplosion" was created by Capcom's UK mobile games division, who don't actually work closely with the branch of Capcom USA that was considering Twisted Pixel's game.
So - plagiarism or no, it's still shocking to see a gaming giant like Capcom content to publish a game that's so clearly inspired by another title with better production values. As for the legal ramifications of copyright infringement, Wilford's response is both resigned and humorous:
"We're definitely not going to pursue legal action. While I think the similarities are pretty nauseating, we're too small to take on a company like Capcom. That, and we owe them one for inventing Mega Man, so we'll let them slide. I just hope they're not counting on the fact that indies can't fight back.In talking with Joystiq about the matter, he also expressed extreme gratitude at the support of all their fans over this matter. It must be frustrating to pour so much work into a small-studio title, bask as it wins multiple awards for downloadable excellence, and then watch a publishing giant with millions in its coffers take that exact idea and release it on the iPhone first without so much as a "thanks."
In general, anything that would take our focus off of making games would be a bad decision, I think. We just need to keep our heads down making the next thing so that Capcom has something to steal next year."
Regardless of whose negligence caused the mistake over at Capcom UK, fans and CEOs alike are hoping they'll make good by donating some of the proceeds from their "game" to charity. Even now, one can imagine Capcom's economists and PR folks hunkered down and putting prices on fan loyalty to weigh the benefits of such a move.