Plagiarism in Video Games


The Beginning of Video Game Plagiarism

This matter has been observed since the birth-time of video games in the 70s, when complete clones were launched with just different headlines, but has gotten more attention during the past few years. It all started with the Magnavox lawsuit against Atari for Pong, the legendary table-tennis video game. Unfortunately, even today this matter is still a gray area – there are no strict guidelines to be followed to avoid plagiarizing a video game or to seek justice if you feel one feels as a victim of the same. Video games today are mainly developed on top of the mechanical basis that past studios have been developing from scratch.

The most important question video game studios should be asking themselves is about the boundaries they must have when being on the developing team of a new video game and while using a different game as a benchmark for theirs. Certainly, numerous cases can be analyzed and discussed, but today we have selected one of the most controversial cases in MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) history – League of Legends (developed by Riot Games) VS Dota 2 (developed by Valve Corporation).

Plagiarism in MOBA Video Games

If you are already familiar with the MOBA video game genre you can move on to the next paragraph of this article. In MOBA, there are two teams of (usually) five players on each team, with each player controlling a character that has its own team role and unique abilities. They battle on three opposed lanes, with a “jungle” in-between, where neutral characters live that can be killed for extra gold. The main characters (heroes in Dota 2, or champions in LoL) move along the lanes together with fellow minions toward the opposing base which the team needs to eliminate. The first team to destroy the central base building of the opposing team wins.

What all players of the two MOBA leaders can agree is that both Dota 2 and LoL derive from Dota (Defense of the Ancients), which was just another scenario custom game within Warcraft 3 developed by Blizzard Entertainment around year 2003. About six years after that, in year 2009, LoL was officially launched, with a somewhat map and gameplay mechanics. Riot Games even had developers working on LoL that were previously creating the original Dota custom game. However, they gradually reinvented the abilities the characters had while introducing a more dynamic gameplay and models. In year 2013 Dota 2 was launched through the gaming platform “Steam” which instantaneously gathered popularity, especially among older players that missed the “good old Dota days”. Surprisingly, Valve kept the same characters with the same or slightly modified names, but instead adopted the game mechanics to the ones of League of Legends, leaving the original ones to remain in the past. This in turn raised the seemingly never ending “the chicken or the egg” debate on gaming forums.

Final Thoughts

It is only natural today that new video games grow on older ones from the same genre and thereby adopting many of the mechanics. The video game industry is very competitive, so the studios that try to be more innovative are the ones that usually get new players, but they still have to stick to what is familiar to the audience so they would easily adapt from one game to the other. In other words, what in education would be a direct plagiarism match, in the video game industry would be a key success component. If we make a parallel comparison, taking out this component out from the game, would mean reinventing the rules of academic writing but somehow still maintaining a comprehensive paper for the reader. Having that said, it is really difficult to patent a video game idea, no matter how similar of a feel it may have to the player. As it seems, slightly different plagiarism detection rules apply here, thus this paradigm should not be seen in a negative connotation when new innovative ideas are included in the mix, since that is simply the way the industry continuously grows.


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