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Friday, February 7, 2014

When does imitation and borrowing cross the line?

2/7/2014: I’ve had this post saved as a draft for a few days now. I have been debating whether to publish it or not.

I tested the waters by posting an anonymous opinion on another blog that will remain unmentioned unless the owner wants to say something, and I guess I’m not the only one who has the same appreciation.

I also made a comment on a stackexchange question today.

Here is the original post:

There’s a saying that goes like “Ideas are in the air”, and another one that goes like “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. In this hobby, it is obvious that many ideas are borrowed and re-used because they are just so cool. However, is there a certain line that should not be crossed? Like, say, failing to give credit to those whose ideas you explicitly borrowed, and sometimes even slamming the creative work that you, in essence, copied? Or, going beyond mere inspiration or borrowing to what amounts to appropriating their work, again without due credit, and passing it off as something different and original.

Cases in question:

I don’t know why one would feel the need to slag a product whose main idea one is copying.  

How about this:

Inspiration or imitation? No credit given either to a very original idea (and having given proper credit to other ideas does not make this failures right). 

He basically shows no love for the original work that he, in MY view, ripped off:

This stuff by itself is bad enough but then you start seeing things in the forum that just don't seem right. For example, why does an actual play report need to be limited to actual plays created by the site’s tool? Why move actual plays using other tools to the general forum? These are original tools that ‘inspired’ the so-called “Mark’s Adventure Glyphs”, and “Mark’s Adventure Questions” in the first place, so why the treatment?

I find that suspicious, and in light of that, the youtube advertising, with its very fake-testimonial vibe just adds even more sleaze to the whole situation. 

I honestly don’t know what to make of it; is the site intended as a future way of making money? Hard to say, as this is a niche community within a niche hobby. Personally, I do feel as if there is, or was, an intention to try and monetize the site (at the expense of other people's creative work no less). The owner denies it, though he does mention he hopes to take enough income so he can buy "an ebook or video game every now and then." The fact that it's not likely the effort would succeed doesn't mean the intention never existed. I have no proof, but all of the above does make me wonder.

It's entirely possible I'm wrong, and maybe  the advertising  really is mostly an  an effort to grow the community...but then, it only advertises, a place where you’ll find disparagement of some tools (Rory Story Cubes) and no credit given on others (9Q's), even though they were "inspiration" for what the owner is peddling. In fact, you see testimonials for the site before you even see anyone being credited.

This is pretty much all I have to say, and it needed to be said. The owner of a blog already deleted his endorsement of the site after finding out, so I'm not alone in feeling sketched out by all of this. Feel free to come to your own conclusions about what the owner of RPGSolo is up to given how he's gone about all this business. Maybe you'll decide you don't care as long as you get your gaming fix, or maybe you'll find yourself sketched out by the tone of the discussion there as regards other people's work.

All I know now is that I will not be supporting this site while this way of doing things persists. I might change my opinion if I see more prominent credit given to all people whose ideas are copied, and zero slamming of their work.

Update on 2/9/2014:

As of yesterday, Mark, of RPGSolo, has grudgingly edited the thread in which he disparaged Rory Story Cubes to at least give some credit to one tool he is copying. Why won't he credit it on the home page, and why he had to wait for others to pull back their endorsements, and criticize him, I don't know. Why aren't the 9Q's and UNE credited yet, I don't know either. I guess it's a start, though, even if it seems insincere in light of his comments here:

It's obvious from reading that thread, with its overwrought title, that Mark and some of the forum members don't get why the owner's, and participants' attitude towards others' creative work can be upsetting to people-- especially that work is being used to boost RPGSolo. They characterize pointing this out and rightly criticizing it as "whining", and that in itself speaks volumes.

This confirms, in my view, that I was correct in describing the owner's copying of others' work without giving proper acknowledgement as a habit. In his own words, he thinks that expressing disapproval of  this way of operating is just nothing more than "whining", so he and his supporters must believe that taking other's creative output without giving due credit is just fine as a practice. 

A place with an attitude of this sort will never earn my support or endorsement. Any person who believes people deserve credit for their work will probably agree..

Update on 2/10/2014: This is a response to Mark's post at


The vibe in this niche has so far been very collaborative and supportive. However, it's clear that you see things as some sort of competition, and RPGSolo as competing product-- even though many of the tools you copy are already free. You claim that you have no plans to make money off of this-- at least no more money than is needed to buy an e-book or game-- so this attitude of competition, and its analogy of competing companies, is incongruent.

Also, your analogy with Notepad is asinine. Those are software implementations of common physical items like an actual notepad. The same could be said of implementing dice rollers. However, RPGSolo is copying full fledged works in form and sometimes even content. I'm sure you already know the difference.

For example, the 9Q's and your "MAQ" are the same basic concept. There is a very high probability that "MAQ" wouldn't exist without the 9Q's, and the fact that there is nothing original about RPGSolo gives pretty strong evidence of that. Not only that, "MAQ" were only implemented after someone asked for the 9Q's. For the Rory Story Cubes clone, the same is true. You even copied the number of results which is nine.

You should have given credit where credit was due without being prompted to. You had almost a full year to do so, but didn't even bother until the criticisms started. If upon receiving criticism, you'd just said something like, "Hey you guys are right. I'm sorry. I do owe these products credit" and then done it, criticism would have just gone away quietly. Instead you got defensive, tried to justify the unjustifiable, and only did the right thing after figuratively kicking and screaming for a few days.

Maybe I should have pm'd you or posted here first. Given the reaction here in this very forum and on Solonexus, would that have been fruitful? It's been pretty clear that you think carrying on as you've been doing is fine. You're entitled to believe that and act accordingly, but other people are also entitled to express their opinions about that, and to decide they want no part of RPGSolo.

At this point,  I won't be accepting any more comments that rehash the same arguments. A summary of the arguments in this comment thread has been made on this page: