What Constitutes Plagiarism in MMOs?

December 11, 2008 at 8:40 pm 5 comments

There are lots of MMOs available on the internet nowadays, from big name games like World of Warcraft and Ragnarok Online to lesser known browser-based games. With so many companies and games abound, obviously there would be similarities. For example, almost all MMORPGs would have the player choose a class that’s probably a warrior, mage or archer, then head out to the dangerous fields to fight some slimy blob, tentacle monster or green orc. What makes each game different and appeal to different people are their systems and looks. Basically, if the way the game is presented and played appeals to the gamer, then they will play it.

aurora_screenie

However, sometimes there are instances where one game is blatantly copying an idea, or even the sprites themselves, from another game. This is the case with Aurora Blade, a new browser-based MMO. In the above picture, it sure looks like a female priest fighting a swordfish in Byalan dungeon.

Aurora Blade is produced by Miu! World, a Chinese-based gaming company, and the English version is distributed by IGG. The original sprites that were posted on their website were blatant modifications of sprites from Ragnarok Online, World of Warcraft, Maple Story, and possibly much more. The character creation is similar to that of LaTale. How similar is it? See for yourself. The sprite on the left is Aurora Blade’s ‘original’ sprites, and the sprite on the right is their corresponding monster from Ragnarok Online. Thanks to iRO official forums for the images.

aurora_ro_comparison3

aurora_ro_comparison4

This isn’t limited to monsters only. This act of stealing spreads to item sprites, class sprites and others. The most aggravating part was that their moderators and GMs claimed it could not be proven that they were stolen, turning a blind eye to the situation and deleting any threads about it on the forums. Then, they somewhat changed their stance and said they would do an investigation about it. Finally, they recently changed the class sprites and removed some of the monster sprites from the game, due to possible fear of future lawsuits from Gravity, Blizzard and other game makers. It is interesting to note, however, the Chinese version is still the original copycat version.

The feedback? IGG believes it is Miu! World’ fault for plagiarising content from other games, while Miu! World replied that it was IGG’s own bad decision to release the game using their ‘trial’ sprites. The AB players are up in arms about the sprites being the quality produced by 12 year olds and demand the old sprites back since they don’t care about them being ‘stolen’ and just want to have fun playing the game.

So what is the issue here? While it would be far-fetched to reckon that AB would even come close to the popularity of WoW or RO, the copying of material from other games is a serious problem. This is not much different from copying essays for your thesis or selling something else’s art as your own. With so many upstart companies (especially in the Chinese market) creating games, shortcuts are sometimes taken in order to get the product out ASAP. In AB’s case, it was caught since they did it from well-known games extremely blatantly. However, what about those that cover it up a little better and don’t get caught? Where do you draw the line and say that a sprite is original and not just the modification of another sprite? What about the concepts: are they intellectual property that must not be copied?

Another issue is that most of the culprits seem to be of Chinese origin. The mentality seems to be to make that quick buck in whatever way possible, even if it means stealing from others. I am not saying that this is true for all Chinese gaming companies, but they are not held in the highest regard in terms of ethics. Finally, there is the issue of accountability. IGG and Miu! World both failed to accept blame for the situation. They should both be at fault, but most likely they would’ve gotten off lightly since it would be too much of a hassle to sue them.

For the casual player, I’d recommend them to steer clear of games like these. I sure wouldn’t want to play a game where there’s always a chance that it would be closed down due to a lawsuit.

What are your views on plagarism in the MMO setting? How different must something be before it is considered original material?

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Zen  |  December 11, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Most games in general take successful elements from their predecessors. This is a generally understood part of the industry, almost a form of natural selection at work. What works is continued in the next generation and the games evolve this way.

    However AB has definatelly crossed a line from being inspired by the design of other games. Most obviously RO in this case. To very blatantly copying the essence of other games. The very thin line has not only been crossed in this instance, but trampled upon as though it did not even exist in the first place.

    I think that any direct copying of another game is unethical to say the least, and even to the point of being criminal. Such an act is undeniably theft of another persons hard work. Both Miu! and IGG should be held responsible though even if it does happen the worst case will probably just be shutting the game down.

    Players of AB are also responsible for not only continuing to play the game but supporting a complete disregard of acceptable conduct of a game company.

    Personally I feel that the borrowing of ideas is fine, even a benefit to the industry as a whole, but direct plagarism harms it just as much.

    Reply
  • 2. Micchan  |  December 11, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Well… as an artist, I have to say that it’s never plagarism as long as you have modified the original work so much that it can no longer be recognized as the original. that is, it has to be edited so much that it loses it’s original essence, before that, it’s still plagarism.
    And in this case it’s clearly not enough, it’s one thing with objects that exist in reality, for example the ladybug since everyone essentially has a real ladybug as a reference. It’s another thing to do that with something that doesn’t have a real counterpart IRL, something someone have created from scratch.
    I personally, would never allow anyone to make a game in that way, even if it’s placeholder sprites, they should be created from scratch and not edited, If you aren’t ready to release a game, then don’t!
    Saying it is “trial” is clearly lying, since it’s a half-assed job, they didn’t really edit it so much that you couldn’t see where it come from, and they didn’t really edit it so little that it can be considered as “trial sprites”

    Reply
  • 3. Zen  |  December 12, 2008 at 12:17 am

    I feel that even if allowed a certain degree of artistic license plagarism is still plagarism. Aside from fan art and so on professional works for whatever media should have zero relevance to any other existing professional art. Distorting existing concepts enough to perhaps get by legally or just hoping people will not notice still does not change the fact it was copied.

    One could for example copy solely the animation, as in the body positions or form of the overall structure. This may not be so easily detectable without actively looking for and comparing the two pieces. It is also feasible to change the positioning while maintaining other aspects such as color scheme or manner of dress or any combination thereof.

    I feel that alteration of any priror work should be punishable when it is used for profit. Things such as fan works while not art in my eyes are at least acceptable as they can teach other people much about how to create such works. However in the professional realm there should be zero tolerance for any theft of intellectual property for profit.

    Reply
  • 4. Kahnakura  |  December 17, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Does this also apply to fan based fiction stories? While I understand that free stories like those that are posted as fan-fics online do not count. What if someone were to write a book and use that storyline from the POV of their characters in the game and then market it?

    Would that count still as plagiarism?

    If you need an example send me an email.

    Reply
  • 5. Micchi  |  December 17, 2008 at 2:06 am

    I guess it really depends on how closely the storylines resemble each other. If one can read the book and feel that it’s told exactly the same way, but just written in a slightly different style and with different characters, then it could be grounds for plagiarism.

    However, if you’re writing it from the POV of a character, it’s definitely going to be different since most likely you’ll be including thoughts from the main character or maybe other stuff. To be safe about it, it would be recommended to make a note saying ‘based off so-and-so’. It’s a thin line to walk though, since with so many stories and books being written every day, there’s bound to be similarities.

    Reply

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