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My name is Maxim and I’m an independent game developer ( indie dev ). That means that I create a lot of games on my own, and so far self-publish them without the help of bigger firms. All of my income comes from the games I create - it’s my livelihood.submitted by Kendja to Worldbox [link] [comments]
This is my story on how a game I’ve been working on for over 8 years has been nearly stolen from me without my knowledge.
And how I’m not the only one.
When you spit out your coffeeThe story begins with me working on the latest WorldBox update - the community has been waiting for it for a few months already. Boats are all the rage, and everybody is going wild with anticipation. When a message hits me on the community discord.
"Somebody copied the game - it looks just like yours".
You don't think much of it. There are many copy-cats out there of successful titles. If a new indie is trying to have their shot at a different populous type of game - have a go at it! It's harder than you think - but no problems there.
"They called it worldbox in the app id".
Aham, why would somebody do that? You assume negligence over maliciousness at first. Believe in the good of the people.
"And they filed a trademark for WorldBox".
Ok. The boats update will have to wait now for a bit longer.
PreludeI've been working on WorldBox since 2012, with the first prototype released on newgrounds and kongregate. In between other games, I continued work on it, and finally released a mobile version in 2018. It grew a lovely and highly active community since then - and I've kept it updated as much as possible.
With millions of downloads it is definitely my most successful game so far, and that’s thanks to a very active fan base which I’m very grateful to have.
Growing a community for a single developer is not easy - it can be quite challenging. A lot of work behind the scenes is involved - and next to the reddit and discord I also attend game conferences from time to time for this purpose.
Worldbox at DevGamm conference in Minsk in 2019
One of which was DevGamm in November 2019. It was a big trip, which me and my brother took - and apart from an exploding laptop charger it was very positive. Or so we thought.
It's really cool to see people play the game in front of your eyes. You see them explore and discover new powers - you hear invaluable feedback. You connect with really cool people! At least most of them.
For other people attending dev conferences is about discovering new games, new developers - or just plain and simple hanging out with like-minded people.
And then there are others. Let's say, the wolves in sheep clothes. Or in this case "the only 🕴️ suit at an indie game conference". They approach you - see the buzz your game is making, and involve you in a friendly chat.
They speak highly of their own business skills. They present solutions to company formations, taxation, business models. They talk about "how to be successful in the game business". They are already very successful and proud of their own "product" - run and developed by a company of 30+ people. It sounds impressive of course.
The offerThen they say that they like your "product", and want to buy it right away. For some very big amount, right now.
Now let's take a step back - it's not the first time it happened. You politely listen, make internal notes and evaluate the offer later on. And that's what you're here for, right? Expand the community, expand the business horizons. Stay friendly, create new connections.
You evaluate behavior - are they passionate gamers? Or rather cold business people. Do they understand the joy that games can bring, or do they see them solely as products that make money? I’m sure you can guess what I was thinking.
You check out their game - it looks like a copy of a popular game you know. It seems to make a lot of money as well. It’s in the top #5-#9 on the Apple Appstore in the "Adventures" category - that's a lot of $! Enough to run a company of 30+ people and then some.
The main hook seems to be a free trial for 3 days, after which you pay $9.99 per week(!) to play the game. Something smelled sus.
The answerSo as with many other people who offered to buy the game - you politely decline. It's not the right time. Not only did I not feel like this was the right partner for me at that point - but I also felt like I haven't achieved the full vision of the game yet. Selling would focus too much on making money. Changing the code so other developers would understand it, etc. I want to focus on making it fun. Take my time to polish it. Bring updates to existing players.
They asked again 3-4 more times, over the messages and calls, over the following months. You stay polite, stay in touch.
But they... behind the scenes... are already preparing how to take advantage of what you created.
Connecting the dots"Maxim, somebody filed a trademark for WorldBox"
You check out the company, it doesn't ring a bell. It was just registered a few months ago. You look up the business owners - they also don't ring a bell. You cross-check other companies they are involved in... bingo. They are in other companies owned by the "🕴️suit". You even find his email address mentioned in the formation documents.
Main culprit: found.
Then you check their other products... a minecraft mod for which you pay $9.99 per week. Rings a bell? Mhm.
Business model: match.
Marketing materials: match.
So while they were still "negotiating" with you, they already created a new company in February with the purpose of launching a competing copy-cat game. And steal your trademark from under your nose.
Does that sound like trust-worthy business partners?
You could say I dodged a bullet there…
Their main money makerIf we look at their "product" which he was very proud about - let's analyze it. It's called "Raft Survival : Ocean Nomad". The surprising thing about it is that it uses the name "Raft" in the title. But it's not affiliated with the popular Steam game "Raft" that was launched in 2017.
How come? How come a copycat can use the name of the original game?
You guessed it... trademarks.
Around the time the first Raft steam trailer was released, somebody filed for a trademark for the name "Raft". Used exclusively for mobile games.
Most likely the main developers didn't notice it - I mean who checks these things constantly? They were focusing on the desktop version - it takes all your attention.
And who filed for the trademark? None other than our dear Mr. 🕴️Suit : https://uspto.report/TM/87605582
We found a pattern.
They look out for interesting and simple game ideas to copy, and then they blindside the ( often inexperienced ) indie developers by making a publishing a very simple copy-cat version, and then quietly filing a trademark for that name.
That way they can use the wording in advertisements, on the app stores, etc. They could even take down the original games based on this!
So they are taking advantage of a good name you build up with your sweat and tears, and they’ll just blatantly use it to destroy the joy of gamers who expected to play your game. Instead they get a really bad copy and are tricked out of their money.
What’s the copy game about?It’s a simple version of WorldBox. All sprites are either similar, or changed from the original game. Some sprites are even stolen from MineCraft ( owned by Microsoft ).
The game itself has the name “worldbox” in the id, which is a clear trademark infringement. ( Trademarks don’t have to be registered for them to be valid. )
It also links to facebook, vk ( russian facebook ), and other social media pages which have “worldbox” in the name, or “worldbox_god_simulator” in the url.
E.g. the VK.ru page is called “WorldBox God Simulator” :
All of them seem to have been deleted in the past few days. But the game remains up.
Some comparisons : ( Left is the original, right is the copy )
At the launch of the game it was filled with a lot of 5 star reviews. These were very simple, with messages like “Good application, very good for first download”.
Which many people thought to be fakes used to artificially increase ratings.
The Worldbox community also found out about the trademarks as well, and started discussing it on reddit, and a few youtubers even made videos with the hashtag #saveWorldbox to show their support.
They also left hundreds of reviews to the product from STAVRIO LTD, which received “interesting” replies considering the whole situation :
Too bad reviews only sting a little.
This is still happeningSince I was first informed about this they filed even more trademarks for WorldBox. In the EU, in Australia, Canada, S.Korea and other countries. There are many filed trademarks pending in many jurisdictions.
They are also filing for even more trademarks in other jurisdictions for the “Raft” trademark - at the same time.
Community responseIt was great to see how the community dug up all of this, and went decidedly against the copycat. While I couldn’t talk with people - since I’m talking with lawyers currently - people took things into their own hands. They did research, they even examined the copy’s game assets. They rated the game based on their feelings.
And it has been important. It still is. With over 5 trademarks being filed by the copycats the future is uncertain.
The community based #saveworldbox was the right reaction - I'm really proud of the community here for having found these things out and started a process against it! It seems so far these guys have been getting away with it because nobody really cared that they are behaving unethically.
For me the battle is far from over and I appreciate all of the support we can get. Be it videos or posts, or spreading awareness. It’s not ok to attempt to steal somebody’s hard work like this.
My goalsWhat is my goal in all of this?
Hopefully get the app stores to put a stop to these malicious actors, and stop their bad business practices. These apps are deceiving to app store customers and leave everybody with a bad experience.
Next stepsIn our case I’ve sat down with my lawyers, and we have started a process to protect WorldBox. It’s time intensive, and my biggest worry is that it affects future updates. But I trust in the talented lawyer teams to create a case against these firms and to protect WorldBox at all costs.
That involves a lot of things, even speaking to people who were previously involved with these firms, etc. It’s going to take some time.
This post is also a big warning to other aspiring indie devs, and what to watch out for.
This has been a very time consuming October, and already now the next patch has been delayed due to this - for this I have to apologize to the community. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to finishing boats, sigh.
Appendix: A web of companies
Who are all these people and companies? ( all this is information is public knowledge, that you can research yourself )The main firm ( JustMoby ) is owned by 🕴️ Alexander Novikov. That was the man I met at the games conference. His business card mentions that he’s an “investor”.
Another owner of JustMoby is 🇷🇺 Egor Agafonov - he is also in the company registry one of the owners of STAVRIO LTD. The company behind the worldbox copycat.
And finally 🇧🇾 Eugene Kluchinski is also an owner of most of the firms. He’s listed on LinkedIn as CEO of JustMoby LTD. Companies house attributes him a majority of shares in terms of voting rights.
Most of the firms have one of these 3 people directly involved. They have a lot of shell companies registered - most of the firms seem to have a holding firm in 🇪🇪 Estonia, and a LTD in the 🇬🇧 UK. Some are listed at the same address as STAVRIO LTD.
Most of the estonian companies share the same registration email, have been filed with the same lawyer firm, but only differ in who the registered director is.
It’s important to understand that a company registration doesn’t require people to be present in the office. So you can easily have a dev team in Russia under one company, and then you can just open up 10 different companies at some PO box in the UK or Estonia to publish them.
So if Apple’s AppStore team decides to take down your app or account because too many customers had a bad experience and complained ( e.g. if they unknowingly get charged $9.99 per week for some copycat game ), then now they can ( although it’s against apple TOS ) move their app to some other firm you registered, and republish there under a slightly different name. And the cycle of fake reviews and scammed customers begins again.
Let’s just say that a net of shell companies is normally not required if you look at the most successful game developers. And it reeks of very dubious business practices.
Hostile work environment?Many ex-employees mentioned publicly that the company seems to prefer copyright infringements, dubious pricing practices and is used to having their accounts taken down from app-stores due to many policy violations. The reviews in Russian, but you can use google translate to understand it. To one of reviews A.Novikov replied directly.
From the reviews we can see that the sad part seems to be that the development team seems to have talented and underpaid members; which seem to detest the owners/managers. But ultimately it’s the leadership - the owners - of these companies that count here.
Tip of the ice-bergAfter reading the reviews from past employees, it becomes more clear why there is a big net of company registrations which re-publish the same apps. It seems they simply create more and more firms to re-publish the apps again and again; or to mitigate the risk when one of them gets taken down.
Because for example Redbeet Interactive ( the makers of the original Raft game ) would sue them, then they just have to close a subsidiary. If we also would sue them successfully, they’d also just have to close a subsidiary. At least that’s most likely their thinking.
But the main hustle would still be on - they’d just pop up a few more companies and publish clones there again. And keep continuing with their trial and error approach until one of them gets enough downloads / subscriptions. Unless Apple and Google step in and identify that all of them are connected, and take them down at the same time.
Also it seems that they have established a practice where they automatically give their apps fake reviews over time. It’s interesting that neither Google Play nor the Appstore have detected this and flagged them for this.
Redbeat Interactive developers aware of Ocean Nomad and has been dealing with them for a while now. Even received rude emails from Ocean Nomad team.
A small selection of shell firms
Please check a table with better formatting here
# JustMobyJUSTMOBY LTD (UK) and JUSTMOBY OÜ (Estonia)
🕴️ Alexander Novikov, 🇷🇺 Egor Agafonov, 🇧🇾 Eugene Kluchinski
Main developer team, owned by 🕴️Aleksander Novikov
Lists games that are listed by other companies. E.g. “Ocean Nomad - Raft Survival” ( TREASTONE ),
https://vk.com/puzzleitru is the official page for https://puzzleit.ru which lists JUSTMOBY as the copyright holder.
https://vk.com/justmoby.games - official vk group of justmoby
The same VK admin as that group, has also created copycat “worldbox” pages on vk.ru which are linked from the copycat game.
# STAVRIOSTAVRIO LTD (UK) and STAVRIO OÜ
🇷🇺 Egor Agafonov, 🇪🇪 Zerar Goren, 🇧🇾 Eugene Kluchinski
Main WorldBox copycat firm ( Google Play account )
Estonian firm lists 🕴️A.Novikov’s email address in registration papers.
Play Store, AppStore
# TREASTONETREASTONE LTD (UK) and TREADSTONE OÜ
🇷🇺 Egor Agafonov, 🇱🇻 Anatolijs Belavskis, 🇧🇾 Eugene Kluchinski
Raft copycat firm for the mobile versions
Has 🕴️A.Novikov email in registered emails.
Play Store, AppStore
# MUSHTRIPMUSHTRIP LTD (UK) and MUSHTRIP s.r.o.
🇷🇺 Egor Agafonov, 🇪🇪 Zerar Goren, 🇷🇺 Sergei Grishin
Has a “SpeedTest” app where you pay $19.99 per month to check your internet speed… JustMoby tried to trademark “SpeedTest” in the EU unsuccessfully.
Play Store, AppStore
# SONAKAISONAKAI ( СОНАКАЙ ) and Adeco Systems
🇷🇺 Andrey Zenchuk
“CEO of Adeco Systems” ( LinkedIn ) works in “UniSoftGames”. They list on their website the name as JustMoby. Ex-employee reviews make it look like this was also the dev house. Possibly before JustMoby was formed.
# UniSoftGamesUniSoftGames s.r.o
🇷🇺 Aleksandr Matveev
Raft copycat firm Steam release. Same games listed on the website as Treastone games.Also lists "Day 13 - Zombie Survival" which seems to have been taken down everywhere. Previously published by “PlayHotGames” for which the website doesn’t work any more.
Official email for the justmoby estonian firm points here. Also Feoni is listed as creator of Ocean Nomad facebook page
Registered for “real estate activities
# FurtabasFurtabas Ltd and Furtabas OÜ
🇷🇺 Egor Agafonov , 🇧🇾 Eugene Kluchinski, 🇱🇻 Andris Zeimuls-Prizevoits
Games are now published under “PuzzlAdventura” name.
# DZHIGSO PAZLS OOO🇷🇺 DZHIGSO PAZLS, OOO
( phonetic version of “Jigsaw Puzzles” / Джигсо Паззлс )
🕴️ A.Novikov 90%, 🇷🇺 A.Novikova 10%
Russian legal company for puzzleit.ru and other puzzle games. One of the real companies with office in Russia and internet known as JustMoby
10% owned by A.Novikova ( HR manager at JustMoby )
Also has 100 Doors Horror game on app store - same as MakSton Play
Play Store, AppStore
# Sweet Games BoxDenis Sonin, 🇱🇻 Sweet Games Box
Linked to 🇱🇻 “Feoni SIA”
Publishes the Jigsaw Puzzles game on apple app store.Previously the games were published under “Sweet Games Box”. But that account doesn’t exist anymore. Now they are published by an individual account.
# VategueVategue OÜ
🇧🇾 Eugene Kluchinski
Registered around the same time as the other 3. Registered email points to 🕴️ A.Novikov
Trademarks trolls be trolling
Against WorldBox : ( search on https://www3.wipo.int/branddb/en/ and order by “App. Date” )
Against RAFT : ( search on https://www3.wipo.int/branddb/en/ and order by “App. Date” )
Appendix: Comment from LawyerOur usual advice in such situations is to register trademarks once your app starts getting popular and register it in all main jurisdictions where most users or money come from. With a trademark it's easier to ban "clone games" and bring cases to courts, but if you register only the name of the game, this may not guarantee characters and gameplay won’t be copied and used, but under a different name.
But it is possible and necessary to act by a combination of legal and non-legal methods. Track all activity of the clone app, find it in all app markets, all social networks and all marketing materials. Begin actively filing complaints asking you to remove controversial content with a link to your copyright. This can work, especially given the stringency of US copyright laws (specifically the DMCA). In the case of the Worldbox game, the similarity of the gameplay is obvious, I think, to everyone. Therefore, marketplaces are likely to side with the original game.
In this case, a competitor registers trademarks to use the Worldbox name in the main jurisdictions. But in almost all countries there is an opposition and objection procedure, and by attaching proof of the originality of the application and the date of its creation, much ahead of the appearance of a new game, there is every chance to cancel these applications and register your own.
By the way, the very fact that a competitor registers exactly the word Worldbox is already suspicious: why register the name of someone else's game when yours is called "God Simulator"?
Alina Davletshina, senior associate at Versus.legal
#saveworldboxThis post is exclusively to inform people about JUSTMOBY LTD, "ООО Джигсо Паззлс", puzzleit.ru, Treastone LTD, STAVRIO LTD, Adeco Systems, Gamesunisoft / Unisoft Games, FEONI LTD, MUSHTRIP LTD, FURTABAS LTD, JUSTMOBY OÜ, STAVRIO OÜ, TREASTONE OÜ, FURTABAS OÜ, VATEGUE OÜ, Feoni Holding OÜ companies and main people that behind them (Alexander Novikov, Egor Agafonov and Eugene Kluchinski).
Please always stay polite, don’t use offensive language in comments, social media or any other correspondence. Thank you for being part of a great community of world builders!
I do appreciate all the help I can get - all your posts and videos really make a difference. Thank you for your on-going support!
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