What Constitutes Plagiarism in MMOs?
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.
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.
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?
amagad i’m on fire!