Blizzard Entertainment’s Chinese branch, as well as their Chinese Overwatch operator NetEase, are going after a mobile game developer called Lin Qionghua for “allegedly” ripping off Overwatch and reusing assets. You’ll see every publication writing the word “alleged” before “ripoff” because that’s the correct nomenclature until there is a court ruling. But it’s pretty obviously a blatant knockoff.
The mobile game, available in Asia on the iOS and Android platforms, is identical to Overwatch in almost every way. It’s a team-based competitive shooter where players select from a wide array of heroes and compete to achieve objectives in a futuristic urban environment. However, if mere similarities in concept would be where they end, all would be well. After all, what game isn’t similar to another game in some basic ways?
However, Heroes of Warfare doesn’t stop there.
Sound files were directly lifted from Overwatch, as were the complete skillsets of the heroes and the Ilios map’s entire layout along with most of its assets. Some minor surface changes were made to the UI and HUD, but both still carry some elements identical to that in Overwatch, and that which isn’t a 1:1 copy is still an obvious ripoff. The only area in which some amount of original content can be found is in the character designs, the element of Overwatch for which the game is best known – however here there are still clear infringements. There is a discount Widowmaker, a young blonde Reinhardt, the lovechild of McCree and Hanzo, a cross between Soldier: 76 and Zarya and a genderbent Lúcio.
Oh, the list goes on, with a large tank character with a hook in one hand and their face obscured (by a mask which, for a change, was stolen from Mad Max), a scientist support character with Mercy’s hairdo, and instead of an anthropomorphic gorilla HoW goes for an anthropomorphic panda, because you know, China. Additionally, the player icon is a silhouette of Iron Man’s mask from Marvel, and the map has straight up JVC product placement.
Many games see knockoffs arising on Chinese markets due to a number of factors.
The nation’s unique and extremely lax copyright laws usually mean that foreign-produced IP isn’t protected. Combine this with their strict censorship which often prevents the original product from even being released on the Chinese market and the copiers not only get away scot free, but don’t have to deal with the competition posed by the original product.
As such, it would be easy to assume that in spite of their size and influence, a company like Blizzard wouldn’t be able to touch something like Heroes of Warfare. However, since Blizzard China is suing, together with NetEase which isn’t only entirely Chinese in every sense, but a huge force within the entertainment industry, their case is likely solid enough to send Lin Qionghua under. Blizzard in general carries major clout in China, so they’re starting from a better position than many foreign companies when trying to go after copycats.
Another advantage is that while most knock-offs take heavy inspiration from popular games, they never do 1:1 copies and let alone lift assets directly. Since some of the assets in Heroes of Warfare are literally from Overwatch, Blizzard’s case is much stronger as even China’s loose copyright laws criminalize straight up theft. The two companies cited laws specific to China, such as the unfair competition law, in their suit, and are seeking an official apology, reparations and the game being pulled from distribution.
We’re confident Blizzard will win due to all the factors strengthening their case. However it just goes to show how differently copyright is handled in China compared to Western markets, where the creation of an app which directly reuses assets from a major entertainment product would seem unthinkable.