If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Chinese game studio Unico Interactive Ltd. must be head-over-heels in love with Blizzard.
The Sleeping Dragon: Heroes of the Three Kingdoms card game, already out of beta and available on mobile devices, shares more than a few features with Blizzard’s own Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, including a nearly identical user interface and music taken straight from World of Warcraft.
Adding to the veritable mountain of evidence is the involvement of publisher The9; before licensing Sleeping Dragon, The9 was responsible for World of Warcraft’s release in China, although their rights to the license were revoked four years later when questions regarding their ability to successfully handle server operations arose. The9 is no stranger to lawsuits, either, having been sued for copyright violations over their use of famous athletes’ likenesses without permission in one of their previous sports titles. An apparent history of losing other licenses due to grievous mishandling and other less-than-savory business practices has also been attributed to the Shanghai-based publisher.
Not content to just let sleeping dragons lie, Blizzard and NetEase, the current publisher for World of Warcraft, filed a 10-million yuan (roughly $1.65 million USD) lawsuit against Unico, the developer, for copyright infringement — at the moment, it appears that The9 has been left out, although this could be amended later on or handled as a completely different suit. Though it seems like an open and shut case for the plaintiffs, China’s enforcement of copyright law is notoriously weak and their popular search engine Baidu freely directs users to websites offering counterfeited or plagiarized goods, the revenue from which makes up at least 70% of overall search engine profits in the country.
Regardless of the outcome, Unico appears to be taking the lawsuit to heart, as the official website for Sleeping Dragon has already changed their design from a copy of the Hearthstone site to something a little more generic, though the game’s logo still appears suspiciously similar to Blizzard’s release.