Attack Of The Clones: Copyright And Mobile Games


Alex Thompson looks at a recent case of intellectual property theft and what it could mean for the gaming industry

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Image by Rainbow Six: Siege Promotional Material (Ubisoft Montreal)

By Alex Thompson

If you’ve been on the app store recently, you’ll be aware of just how many knock off mobile games are floating around. Like a ticking Rolex at a dodgy market, these apps often serve as blatantly fake yet cheap imitations of beloved franchises and, because they are hosted on third-party app stores, can be very difficult to take down. One Fortnite clone is removed and two more pop up in its place, it’s a legal whack-a-mole for tech developers trying to regulate this content.

Area F2 is a recent release from Chinese developers Ejoy. The game, a tactical first person shooter, sees teams of five online players select unique operators from global anti-terrorist units to either attack or defend an objective. Using drones, traps and barricades to assist them, players have to either secure an objective or eliminate enemy players. Sound familiar? If you’re into video games, this might be ringing some bells.

If you’re unclear, Area F2 is a near carbon copy of Rainbow Six Siege. Yes, you guessed it - my second gaming article and I’m writing about Rainbow Six again. Deal with it.

“Virtually every aspect of AF2 is copied from R6S, from the operator selection screen, to the final scoring screen and everything in between,” explained Ubisoft’s legal team. The game is “designed to closely replicate” Rainbow Six, they argue, and attached a wad of screenshots prove the eerie similarities between the two games. With almost identical destruction and combat mechanics, as well as cloned maps and weapons, it’s clear that Area F2 has tried to imitate the features which made Rainbow Six so popular on release. Even the operators are laughably similar. The sledgehammer wielding special forces agent Sledge becomes ‘Hammer’, the shield equipped frenchman Montagne becomes ‘Boulder’. Even the marketing material looks like a ‘can I copy your homework?’ meme.

This truly is the ‘Ray Ben’ sunglasses of video games.

These allegations came as part of a hefty 43 page lawsuit the French developers have slapped on Ejoy and parent company Alibaba, as well as both Apple and Google for hosting the game on their stores. Although the suit has since been dropped, it was one of the largest of its kind, and one of the first to try and tackle the problem of mobile game clones head on.

With 55 million players, it’s clear to see why Ejoy was looking to imitate Rainbow Six. The game’s audience is currently seeing a spike, despite it being almost five years old and Ubisoft’s lawyers arguing that it is “one of [their] most valuable intellectual properties’. Hoping to piggyback on this current love for Rainbow Six, the Chinese developers decided to make a free-to-play mobile version, exploiting the fact that Ubisoft haven’t yet expanded to the mobile market.

Interestingly, Ubisoft’s suit also went after Apple and Google, with both tech giants initially refusing to remove the game from their respective app stores. Ubisoft lawyers alleged that approximately 30 per cent of purchases made in the game went directly to both Apple and Google, and suggested that their refusal to remove AF2 from their sites was allegedly due to the amount of profit this was making the companies. With over 1 million downloads in the first week, Apple and Google were set to make big money on this game. While AF2 has finally been delisted after online backlash, this still raises an interesting question - what portion of responsibility do Apple and Google share for their ‘unlawful distribution’ of this type of content?

Well, like a bloke on a street corner trying to flog you a pirated copy of Pirates Of the Caribbean (this actually happened to me once and I still can’t get over the irony), profiting off of copyrighted content still puts the distributor in breach of intellectual property. While Apple and Google may argue they were unaware of the breach and therefore exempt from blame, it’s worth remembering that after being informed of the copyright infringement by Ubisoft, Google didn’t just keep it on their store but stuck it on their featured page. A bit of a dick move.

Since I started writing this article, the suit has been dropped by Ubisoft after AF2 was removed from both app stores and Ejoy forced to suspend the game. While it is frustrating that nothing came of this lawsuit, it’s interesting to see that game developers now have the power to tackle copycats head on, even if it requires an extensive legal battle and some deep pockets. Ubisoft has opened the doors for companies to come out and defend their intellectual property on app stores and, while they may not have received financial reparations, they still succeeded in protecting their intellectual property - for now at least.

But, like the hundreds of possible Russian bots commenting on the Nouse website, this problem is unfortunately far from being solved.