Booker Zhang is an IPilogue Writer and a 1L JD Candidate at the University of Manitoba.
Bloodborne, an action role-playing game made by FromSoftware, has achieved tremendous success since being published in 2015. On September 17, 2021, IGN released a gameplay trailer of a new game named Wuchang: Fallen Feathers. This trailer has resulted in a heated discussion online about the line between inspiration and plagiarism.
Leenzee Games, the developer of Wuchang, claimed that FromSoftware games served as an inspiration. However, some comments online point to similarities that go beyond mere inspiration. Those who have played FromSoftware’s games can immediately identify the similarities. The sound, the art style, and the combat system are reminiscent of Bloodborne, while the UI looks very similar to Sekiro (another FromSoftware’s game). Some comments have gone as far as to claim that Wuchang is a “blatant plagiarism” or a “shameless clone.”
A well-accepted principle is that copyright law protects the expression of ideas rather than ideas themselves. The same principle also applies to video games. For example, the idea to make a video game that mimics basketball is not extended copyright protection.
Rather, the way basketball is played in a game amounts to the expression of the idea and may be protected. Various elements constitute the expression of a game—such as the graphic design, voice acting, and character design. In Canada, these video game elements are given special copyright protection. The same principle also applied in a 2012 American case Tetris Holding, in which the court ruled that a game’s look and feel could be copyright protected.
The core issue here is whether Wuchang has infringed the copyright of Bloodborne on an “expression of ideas” level. One gamer has compared these two games and posted a comment to summarize the elements shown in the Wuchang trailer that are similar or nearly identical to Bloodborne, including gun sound, blood sound, and axe charge attack animation. Given that the idea is to make a role-playing action game, these elements constitute the expression of the idea. Under this consideration, it is reasonable to believe that Wuchang may have infringed the copyright of Bloodborne. However, there is still much uncertainty in this case.
Soon after releasing the trailer, Leenzee Games announced that Wuchang was still in the early stages of the development, and only 15% complete. The final product might be completely different from the trailer, which makes it risky for FromSoftware to advance the lawsuit at this point. The fact that these two companies are from different countries also adds to the complexity. So far, FromSoftware has not announced any official statement, and Wuchang is still under development.