Here’s what we know about Candy Crush Saga.
In January 2014, King, the development team behind the popular online and mobile game, moved to trademark the word “candy.” To quote an article in PC Mag: “The claim does not specify font style, size, or color; it simply asks for control over the word “candy” for use in software products, educational services, and clothing—including bath robes, ear muffs, shower caps, underwear, and paper hats.”
Yes, King wants to make sure that nobody else can use the word “candy.” Not in software products, not in educational services, and not in any manufactured item of clothing up to and including paper hats.
And then, in an unthinkable move, the trademark filing was approved in the EU. Now Apple has to notify King every time another developer attempts to sell a game that has the word “candy” in the title.
Was the team behind Candy Crush Saga satisfied? Not at all. Instead, King moved to trademark the word “saga,” telling indie game studio Stoic that it could not title its new game “The Banner Saga.”
A generation ago, Romancing SaGa played happily alongside The 7th Saga and Uforia: The Saga and nobody seemed to mind. Super Mario Bros could exist in the same world as Super Baseball and Super Bomberman and Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and nobody moved to trademark the word “super.”
But now we live in a world where hundreds of online games, many of them relative clones of each other and operating off the same basic game mechanics, are all competing for clicks. Where any successful game immediately spawns a dozen imitators. We’re in a world where game developers turn to sites like Mechanical Turk to ask thousands of people which thumbnail image makes them want to click the fastest. We’re living in a space where the question isn’t “can I play bingo online,” it’s “there are hundreds of ways to play online games free; which one do I pick?” Often, this decision is made in mere seconds.
The team at King, who originally filed the trademark claim to prevent people from creating copycat games that looked like Candy Crush Saga, even down to the name, and then tricking people into thinking they were downloading the popular King original. (There’s a whole other story about whether Candy Crush Saga is in itself a copycat game, but we’re going to leave the “Candy Crush Saga vs. Candy Swipe” story alone until we learn more information. I’m old enough to stand in my grumpy corner and mumble that they’re all just copycatting Snood.)
You don’t need me to explain to you what could happen if King manages to trademark “candy” and “saga,” and then, I assume, goes for the hat trick and trademarks “crush.” It sets a precedent for any successful game to trademark anything it wants. It means that the next game about lining up similarly-colored edible treats — which is, surprisingly, a rather large online game market — might be called “Tasty Touch,” and the one after that “Food Fling,” and then maybe “Flarble Garble” when we finally run out of untrademarked words. It might mean that only one online bingo game would actually be able to call itself “bingo,” and the rest would have to use ideograms or something.
There’s one other solution to the Candy Crush Saga saga, and it would probably be a great idea that would generate jobs and help more people get involved in the highly profitable game and app industry. How about instead of trying to prevent copycatters by trademarking “candy,” Apple took the time to evaluate every app submitted to the App Store and ensure it wasn’t a copycat? It would take a lot of effort, but it means I would get to write the word “candy” on my paper hats without breaking trademark laws.
And that is what I call a win-win.