Clone Home: Seedy Biz #3

(Part three a series looking at the seedier side of game business. Part one and two are here.)

[In my best Seinfeld voice:] What’s the deal with What’s the Word?

What’s the Word is a simple, single-player game. You are shown four pictures and must guess the word that all four have in common. The game by Russian developer Red Spell has been riding high on the iOS “all apps” charts this month, and even grossing in the top ten. The art and overall UI looks like it was designed by the same dude that programmed it over a Stoli and Red Bull-fueled weekend, but try it for a while and this game definitely compels — a near-mindless, perfectly bathroom-break-sized stock photo snack:

But then, today, what ho! A new game coming up as #3 on the charts also called What the Word!

Update: Name was changed to "4 Pics 1 Word - What the Word" on Feb 12

Yes — everything from the title on down is identical to the Red Spell version. The photo puzzles are different, but it would be nearly impossible for a casual player to tell the difference between these two products. The German company behind this masterwork is LOTUM GmbH. (Perhaps that stands for Lord of The Unembarrassed Misappropriation?)

But wait! What’s this?! A new What’s the Word title on Android by a group with the punk-rock meets STD name of Itch Mania. The icon looks the exact same as Red Spell’s, but the interface is a bit different:


Companies like Zynga have long been criticized for cloning or “fast-following”, but this… this is something else…

Digging in a bit, seems that the Red Spell’s What’s the Word came out on iOS January 25, 2013 and Android a few days later. LOTUM’s game hit iOS on February 4 and launched on Android a few days earlier on January 22. And Itch Mania’s came out the 27th of January.

What in tarnation is going on? Who is cloning who?

It’s pretty difficult to tell, but it seems as if LOTUM actually created the initial game, and then was cloned within a week. Perhaps LOTUM contracted a group in Russia to build their game, without stipulating that the code couldn’t be reused? Or perhaps such stipulations don’t matter much in the Land of Putin? There are already three or four more different What’s the Word games shooting up the charts as well.

The same thing happened with the game Logo Quiz a few months ago.

So there you have it, ladies and gents. We have entered a brave new world whereby if a game is simple and addictive enough it can be cloned and out-gunned via aggressive distribution within a matter of days.

All the more reason to make a game that requires some actual technical and creative chops to build. Oh… wait:

1. Wordblitz by Games for Friends GmbH (subsidiary of LOTUM) 
2. Ruzzle by MAG Interactive
3. Scramble with Friends by Zynga

Of course, all of the above games ripped off Boggle (which I’m sure itself was lifted from an ancient Sumerian game involving cuneiform letters on stone cubes).


2 thoughts on “Clone Home: Seedy Biz #3

  1. Pingback: A Walk on the Wild Side | Shakespearean Cybermonkey

  2. Pingback: The Zombie Tunnel O’ Money: Seedy Biz #2 | Shakespearean Cybermonkey

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