London studio ustwo is in the unaccustomed position of receiving a wheelbarrow-full of Twitter vitriol (Twitriol?) today, after it released a new iOS game called Papa Quash.
Why? The real-world game – which involves balancing iPhones and trying to push other players off-balance – is very similar to a console game called Johann Sebastian Joust, developed for motion controllers like the Wiimote and PlayStation Move, but not yet released.
The online reaction from a number of indie developers has been furious, with several linking to a previous PocketGamer.biz article where ustwo co-founder Mills said “Fakes and copycats quite simply have to absolutely f**k off to another paradigm”.
That said, Sam Pepper – the former Big Brother contestant who came up with Papa Quash – has said on Facebook that he emailed the developers of JS Joust after realising the similarities, and was given the go-ahead. ustwo has yet to comment publicly. It would be sensible to reserve judgement until they do.
Update: ustwo has put its side of the story, with marketing director Steve Bittan telling Edge that “We don’t believe in cloning apps,” while stressing that the game concept was Pepper’s, with ustwo developing it for him, and publishing to the App Store.
In a follow-up conversation with The Appside, Bittan elaborated. “It’s not an ustwo app. Everyone in the studio said ‘It’s like a Johan Sebastian Joust, maybe have a chat with those guys before you go ahead. That’s what he did, they okayed it – we did some service work on it, and rolled it out that way.”
Bittan also says that ustwo has an email trail showing this process – something that may be needed judging by JS Joust developer Die Gute Fabrik’s public comments on Twitter.
“Hi everyone. We’ve been getting a lot of inquires lately. We’re working on an official response – hopefully by tonight. Stay tuned.” tweeted the company, before following up with this: “Just to be clear, we have never and would never approve, give permission, or encourage anyone to clone of any of our games.”
The debate around cloned games – particularly on iOS – is an emotive one. Die Gute Fabrik’s statement tonight will be important to read, and Sam Pepper may have questions to answer – as will ustwo if his assurances turn out to have been incorrect.
What’s dispiriting about this whole affair is the tone of the discussion on Twitter, long before the public statements from ustwo or Die Gute Fabrik. It seems there are plenty of people who’ve been itching to give ustwo (and Mills in particular) a kicking.
The company’s previous investment in apps like Whale Trail, MouthOff, Papercut, Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime and particularly PositionApp – a useful tool for many an independent developer – should count for something in establishing the company’s character.