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Tetris Pressures Game Act-Alikes


 

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The falling blocks have letters, not shapes, that fit together. Otherwise Mace Software's game, Alphatris, is a lot like Tetris. At least The Tetris Company thinks so, and it's taken action to have Tetris-like games removed from gaming sites.

But Gary Mace, president of Mace Software, isn't backing down.

"If I were taking the exact Tetris game and selling it, I would understand," Mace said. "But they're trying to say the concept of falling blocks being maneuvered -- and any game that operates similar to that -- is copyrighted. They're simply wrong."

Tetris may appear to be squelching online fun, but copyright enforcer Henk Rogers says it is trying to bring the best software to market while protecting its own business interests.

"I don't want to come off as the jerk behind The Tetris Company. We love Tetris just as much as anybody," said Rogers, CEO of Blue Planet Software, charged with development, licensing, and marketing for all Tetris products. The company has licensed over 50 million copies of Tetris, making it the most popular computer game in history.

Blue Planet also controls licenses for the gaming software that runs on PCs, Nintendo Gameboys, and Playstations, and it is currently completing a deal that would add Tetris to America Online.

Although Tetris hasn't filed any lawsuits, it has sent threatening letters to dozens of small developers, demanding that their Tetris-like games be removed from sites. So far, most have capitulated. But developers are resentful, claiming the game should be freely available for everyone's amusement.

"It's really a cultural issue. Everybody wants a free and open information-sharing environment on the Web, but we're running into the cold hard facts of the law," said Blair Bouchier, president of Base2 Software. "We're not going to fight them on this."

Base2 removed its game, Descending Blocks, from its site two months ago.

In the age of the Internet, enforcing intellectual-property rights is tough. Dozens of Tetris knockoffs still exist out there, some with small twists, like Java Tetris and 3-D Tetris. But the differences aren't enough to qualify them as new games, said game creator Alexey Pajitnov.

"If somebody makes the game that has nothing to do with falling shapes, we don't care about that," said Pajitnov. "But if somebody just repeats the game, with some insignificant feature, and calls it Tetris or something close to Tetris, then they're violating our rights to the game."

In other words, go make your own damned game.

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