Coastal Wizards Indict Cryptic Hex

In a move that should not have been so surprising in retrospect, Wizards of the Coast – makers of Magic: the Gathering – are suing Cryptozoic‘s Hex for copyright and patent infringement. Browsing through the actual complaint is actually fairly eye-opening. For example, if you turn to page 14, paragraph 30, lines 18-21:

Other users in the gaming community were confused because of the near identicality of the two games. On Cryptozoic’s own forum a registered user, on December 1, 2013, stated, “I have played a lot of CCGs [Collectible Card Games], and for the most part, CCGs are very similar to each other. However, I’ve never seen a CCG that is as similar to another as Hex is to Magic.”

Think about that for a second. Some random comment of yours on a forum from a year ago could be cited in a copyright/patent lawsuit used to bankrupt a multimillion dollar company.

Going back over my Hex posts, I just realized that I practically wrote the complaint myself a year ago (bolded for prophesy):

I have some concerns with Hex. First, while I am frankly excited about the unique opportunities involved with an all-digital TCG – cards that buff your creatures do so for the rest of the match, you can put tokens on cards that get shuffled into your library, and all sorts of crazy nonsense that physical card games couldn’t pull off – this game skews so heavily towards Magic Online that I’m surprised Wizards of the Coast hasn’t issued a takedown notice.

Seriously, look at this video.

I’m not talking about Apple’s “rounded corners” copyright bullshit, I’m talking about Grand Theft Mechanics. Creatures have summoning sickness, there is First Strike, Haste, seven cards in the opening hand, 20 life per player, four copy limit on individual cards, 60 cards per deck, land cards, instants, discrete turn phases (Draw phase, main phase, declaring attackers/blockers/combat damage, end step), and even the goddamn Stack.

Indeed, Wizards has a table outlining all those same similarities and more starting on page 16, paragraph 34. What ultimately got me the most though, were the excessively blatant clonings. “Flying” vs “Flight” is like, you know, whatever. Coming across the following card comparisons though?

Err... totally an homage, guys.

Err… totally an homage, guys.

Okay, maybe you can overlook the 7-mana casting cost, the fact that you become a dragon, can only be attacked by flying creatures, and so on. Maybe the Hex version doesn’t put you at 5 HP. Also, one is an Enchantment that can be removed, whereas the other is a spell that’s otherwise permanent. I can see giving this a pass. But then…

Uh oh.

Uh oh.

It’s like they weren’t even trying. There are literally dozens of these sorts of cards floating around.

If you’re interested, I came across a Magic-playing lawyer’s blog post examining the lawsuit in plain language. In short, Wizards is bullshitting in some respects, reaching in others, but likely has a pretty solid case overall. Also, Richard Garfield’s patent on tapping cards, e.g. turning them sideways, expires in June 2014. That seems almost like someone patenting gaining XP and leveling up, but hey, someone had to invent intermittent windshield wipers; sometimes there is no more elegant a solution to a problem than the first one.

In any case, I might spend some time this weekend reinstalling the Hex beta and playing around a bit while I still can. Given how I wasted $85 paid $85 for an expensive lesson on the wisdom of Kickstarting pre-alpha projects, it’s the least I can do. Or I could watch other people play Hearthstone on Twitch, which I am sadly starting to find more entertaining than Hearthstone itself, at least in this metagame.

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Posted on May 16, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’ve been feeling pretty blasé on hex. I want to like it as much as I like HS but it’s not happening. i was holding off to see what they do with the campaign mode, but HS may beat them to it. Especially is Hex gets shutdown. Fortunately I only spent $20 on the Hex Kickstarter.

  2. The first card comparison is totally fine, since the only real similarity is the “turning into a dragon” thing, which is not a novel concept as of Magic. But even the second is fine, since “Murder” is a generic enough concept that you would expect such an ability to be included in any CCG. Hearthstone Rogues have “Assassinate” which is exactly the same thing.

    Citing the forum post is odd…why would they even include that? It makes it look like they don’t have confidence in their case.

    Overall these kinds of copyright infringement cases strike me as “creative use of legal mechanics” to stifle the competition.

    • Assassinate =! Murder. For one, as you said, its a Rogue class card, not a three-mana black (“purple”) instant. I think it’s hard to argue that Hex’s version is not a derivative work, or that it is not similar enough to be confusing to the average consumer as to which game one applies to.

      As for the quote, it also struck me as odd, but I think it’s to establish that the “average” person could confuse the two games. Although they technically did source the comment… but I couldn’t find it on the page linked in the complaint.

      • I guess I think of it this way. It is hard to tell the cards apart, especially for me who plays neither game, but it would be like trying to tell apart the myriad of fireball spells that are in nearly every game with magic spells. I imagine the average consumer would be stumped by that one. But fireball is so generic that no one could seriously claim a copyright on it.

  3. I thought the same thing about the Forum post. How can they quote an anonymous source? For all the courts know that could have been the CEO of WotC.

  4. My first reaction when I heard this was that it couldn’t be plausible unless WOTC owns the entire concept of TCG’s. Apparently that’s legit, dunno if that means that every paper and digital TCG ever has been paying a cut (and, if so, why Cryptozootic thought they could get away with not doing so).

    That said, it is a bit frustrating that the way the system works, it really doesn’t matter who is right. Maybe I’m wrong, but why would Cryptozootic have kickstarted for $300K if they had $5 million lying around to cover their legal fees?

    Is it too soon to wonder where Kickstarter backers will stand in bankruptcy court relative to WOTC’s damages and the lawyers’ fees?

  5. With regards to the Murder card, I’ll never be able to find it, but I saw a forum post where someone rattled off a couple of dozen alternative single-word names Hex could have used for such a card – and then pointed out that ALL of them have already been used in Magic’s 10,000+ card history..