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Nintendo shoots down Duck Hunt iPhone app, but alternatives still fly

February 3, 2009 |  3:56 pm
Duckhunt
Duck Hunt for the Nintendo Entertainment System. (Photo credit: keeping_it_real via Flickr)

Lawl Mart, an independent iPhone application developer, recently learned a valuable lesson in trademark infringement: Turns out you can't replicate a company's game and sell it as your own. Who knew?

The developer released Duck Hunt early last month on the iPhone App Store. The game was a carbon copy of Nintendo's 1980s classic of the same name, in which players shoot at small ducks flying around the screen. The graphics, the sound, the signature taunting dog and even the name were all identical. Ah, nostalgia.

The sole difference was that players used their fingers, instead of the old-school plastic gun, to snipe digital ducks. (Apple just needs to manufacture a white, postmodern-looking plastic pistol, and we're golden.)

Not surprisingly, the game was removed from the App Store last week at Nintendo's request -- after having initially passed Apple's software vetting process, as reported by Macworld.

"Nintendo takes any infringement of its intellectual property very seriously and takes action as appropriate," Denise Kaigler, the company's vice president of corporate affairs, said in an e-mail.

But that's not deterring other developers from putting their own spin on the Nintendo hit. Duck Hunting and Deek's Duck Hunt each take Nintendo's core formula and ...

... tweak certain aspects, such as the visuals and sound effects, in order to skirt the legal spotlight. They both sell on the App Store for 99 cents.

After10Studios, the developer of Deek's Duck Hunt, was commissioned by Deeks Duck Decoys, a manufacturer of inflatable rubber ducks for real-world hunting, to build a cellphone game based on its brand.

Mohamed Alkady, the game's lead developer, says he's a big fan of Nintendo's shooter, and he modeled Deek's Duck Hunt after it. But he gave the game an updated look. The graphics are rendered in 3-D and borrowed the plasticky visual style of Pixar movies to take advantage of the iPhone's superior processing power (at least, vastly superior to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, where the original game debuted).

"We set out to not necessarily re-create the exact same game play," Alkady said. "We wanted to enhance that game play."

The game has sold 2,000 to 3,000 copies a week for the five weeks since it debuted with virtually no promotion, Alkady said. He added that its relative success seemed to be an indication of the demand for classic video games on the platform.

It's unlikely that we'll see Nintendo port its game catalog to Apple's touch-screen devices any time soon. Nintendo has its own gaming hand-held, the DS, and the leading game console, the Wii, which has its own digital download service for classic games.

But Sega, which has been out of the hardware market for some time, has begun to port classics, with its Columns Deluxe puzzle game for the iPhone. Namco has Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. And Electronic Arts sells versions of Tetris, Scrabble and Monopoly.

Judging by the overwhelming number of duplicated arcade classics on the App Store, like Pong and Breakout, the elders of the gaming industry appear to have two options: Prepare the port machine, or prepare the legal machine.

-- Mark Milian

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