Candy Crush Saga is one of the biggest games in the world. At the end of last year, the saccharine puzzle game had reached a staggering 500 million installs. It was also providing its creators King with approximately $850,000 per day from the game’s controversial in-app purchases. However, the studio behind the deceptively addictive game — which is available to play through Facebook, via smartphones like the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, and even on the Amazon e-reader Kindle — weren’t content with this success.
They decided to take down any form of competition that might potentially hinder their dominance. On January 15th 2014, they were approved trademark of the word “candy” by the U.S. Patent And Trademark Office. King subsequently attempted to trademark the word “saga” too. Then, they began taking aim at every single game which included either of these words.
But thanks to the passionate work of indie game designers and players alike, Candy Crush’s bull-headed quest for autonomy in the smartphone and tablet game market was halted this week. King announced that they would abandon their trademarks and filed the necessary legal documents to do so.
The Candy Crush Trademark Saga
King’s chief executive officer Riccardo Zacconi said that their decisions to trademark ‘candy’ and ‘saga’ were an attempt to protect the company’s intellectual property and the hard work that went into creating the game. However, one of their first targets was the small but popular The Banner Saga, a tactical role playing creation that shared absolutely nothing in common with the colourful puzzler except for the word “saga” — an appropriate noun to describe the fact that it’s set in the world of Vikings. It’s unlikely that anyone would have been confused between The Banner Saga and Candy Crush Saga.
Zacconi made a weak defense of their attempts to make the game’s creators (who gathered the money to make it through crowd-sourcing) change the name or delete the game. He said: “We had to oppose their application to preserve our own ability to protect our own games. Otherwise, it would be much easier for future copycats to argue that use of the word ‘Saga’ — when related to games — is fair play.”
King also went after the independently made Candy Swipe, a game that although very similar in design was released a year and a half before Candy Crush Saga. Its maker Albert Random penned a furious letter which he published online accusing King of taking food out of his family’s mouth. It provoked Mathew Cox of Stolen Goose to come to Candy Swipe’s defense. He accuse King of direct plagiarising of one of his games, Scamperghost, which is alarmingly similar to King’s Pac-Avoid. Cox also pointed out that it steals Namco’s Pac-Man imagery and name without permission.
King came under criticism as a result and were damned as being hypocrites. They were forced to apologise, saying: “We have taken the game down from our site, and we apologize for having published it in the first place.”
Indie Gamers Fight Back
King received some bad press from the technology and gaming communities, but it didn’t deter them from their warpath. However, the biggest blow to King’s plan to destroy even the most meager of competition came from both independent gamers and independent game developers alike. The very people who were being targeted by King — and the very people whose entertainment was being targeted by King — began fighting back.
They knew they wouldn’t have the finances to take King on in court and took the battle to them in the app stores. Players started giving the aforementioned Candy Swipe five star reviews to push it up the charts and therefore into the cultural dialogue alongside Candy Crush Saga. The game distributor Itch.io even organised a hacking event that encouraged fellow indie developers to create candy-themed games. They even demanded that designers “consider using word ‘candy’ several times.”
The protest forced King into a corner. They were now the subject of bad publicity across the globe with the world’s media taking the side of David in this fight with Goliath. Even the International Game Developers Association were forced to weigh in on the matter it became such widespread news, calling King’s actions “predatory” and “in opposition to the values of openness and cooperation we support”. If there was a PR battle to be fought by King, they were a lone soldier against the entire army of the video game industry.
Finally, this week, they relinquished and decided to drop the trademark of the word ‘candy’, a symbolic white flag. Instead, King bought the rights to the earlier game Candy Crusher means that means they can protect their IP without having the trademark the individual word anymore. No comment has yet been made about their plan to trademark the word “saga” though.