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When Blatant Clones Attack: Developer Clones Canabalt, Likely With Its Own Source Code [UPDATED]

Free Running is not only similar to Canabalt--it's a carbon-copy.

UPDATE: Free Running is no longer on the App Store, due to a request by Semi Secret. If it's still showing up for you, that won't last for very long. Adding insult to injury, not even the icon for Free Running was produced by PLD Soft; the art was stolen from "cliq" at Deviant Art.

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No doubt, the team at Apple filtering the thousands of submissions to its App Store have their work cut out for them, but that doesn't make the instances where crap slips through the cracks any less infuriating. For example, Free Running showed up on the App Store today, looking suspiciously like Semi Secret Software's Canabalt, a game that basically kicked off the whole genre of touch-based running games.

Free Running doesn't just appear suspiciously like Canabalt, either--it looks and plays the same, too. Can you tell the difference between these two games? I captured both on my iPhone this afternoon.

One of these is Canabalt. The other is Free Running. Take your pick! 
One of these is Canabalt. The other is Free Running. Take your pick! 
What's different? The name, the intro graphic (the original recommended headphones, while Free Running simply has a stylized painting of a city), the connections to social networks to share high scores--and the proper attribution of anyone who worked on the original project and its iOS porting. Oh, that.

This is theft, and I won't dignify the act by linking to it, but who's behind it?

== TEASER == The publisher of Free Running is listed as PLD Soft, and it's not hard to imagine how the company pulled this off; back in December, Semi Secret Software made Canabalt open source. The success of Canabalt on iOS devices, plus a cool $25,000 the studio raised for charity, encouraged the decision.

 The official app icon for Free Running.
 The official app icon for Free Running.
"Canabalt has been a crazy ride for us," said co-founder Adam Saltsman late last year. "It's helped keep the lights on and pay for our health insurance, and allowed us to take the kind of risks that indie devs love to take. But, in the spirit of the Humble Indie Bundle, the holidays, and a (likely) bout of temporary insanity, it's time to open our trenchcoat and show everybody what we've got going on under there!"

Going open source meant other developers could use their technology to care their own games, but there was just one catch: don't use anything specific to Canabalt, code, art, music--whatever.

It appears PLD Soft simply took what Semi Secret Software made available, changed a few pieces to avoid name confusion with the still-available Canabalt, compiled it and submitted to Apple. And then Apple gave the software approval to appear in its App Store. Right now, it's still available for $0.99.

"We're doing what we can to take care of it," said Semi Secret Software in a statement to me today.

Free Running's listing on the App Store goes above and beyond simply trying to profit off ignorance; the listing text is mostly copy-and-paste job from Canabalt's existing listing, press quotes and all.

"Free Running is pure genius." -necessarygames.com -- Free Running's listing
"Canabalt is pure genius." -necessarygames.com -- Canabalt's listing


This isn't the first time PLD Soft has encountered criticism for its submissions to the App Store, either. App Advice recently highlighted another PLD Soft creation, Flash Video Guide, as a scam. The description for Flash Video Guide was reportedly vague but appeared to promise support for Flash Video on iOS devices. No iOS devices natively support Flash in any capacity, a public stance by CEO Steve Jobs.

"Overall, we’re recommending that readers not buy Flash Video Guide," wrote App Advice back in March. "It appears as if this application is a scam – a blatant attempt to rip App Store users off. For this reason, we’re not listing it in our 'Mentioned Apps' section at the bottom of this article."

There's no way to contact PLD Soft, either. Nothing's listed on the App Store page for Free Running and the company has no other software currently available in the App Store. A Google search for PLD Soft, however, does turn up a Twitter account that has no description and has never been updated.

I purchased Free Running before running this article to directly compare the experience with Canabalt. I could delete either one and unless I was really checking, not notice the difference.

Fortunately, it appears most App Store customers are aware of Free Running's origins, as the reviews are incredibly vocal about the actual nature of the source material. Clones are not new to the App Store, which means stories like this will likely (hopefully) result in Apple quickly pulling the game down.
Patrick Klepek on Google+