Game Theft and Phishing Sites

Aki

Administrator
Administrator
#1
Today I want to talk about other websites; the kind of sites that are taking our fan games and making money off of them. Before getting into this, I'd like to say that there won't be any links to the bad examples, only screenshots because I don't want to send them any traffic. This is not a new problem, but we recently noticed an influx including a site masquerading as an official source for Pokemon Essentials, so this seems like a good time to talk about it.

If you're a concerned dev and want to know who's using your game, they can probably be found by looking up "[Name of your game] Download". We've seen these sites even repost games that don't have playable demos, they'll put up a listing regardless and maybe even a download link to...some kind of placeholder game or something.


What are these sites doing?
They're taking games from not just Relic Castle, but other sites as well; cataloging fangames and hacks in a way that makes them easy to search through and find. While the basic format/idea doesn't sound that bad, the big problem with these sites is they're creating alternate downloads and making money off of every link clicked, and every download made. They are taking games and resources from several sites like Relic Castle, and re-uploading against the permission of the devs. They also run YouTube channels and Twitter accounts just to advertise the games on their site, and for the most part are not posssible to contact, or will ignore any requests from devs to have games removed from the site.

How is that different from a site like Relic Castle?
Relic Castle and other forums are usually a safe bet to get games from their source, because a forum is a discussion based community website. All the content posts is by users of that forum website. A forum format also makes it easy to get in contact and engage with the people who are posting the games.

The kind of sites that are stealing content are typically in a catalogue or storefront type of format. They're actually very organized and each game's page has a standard format that makes it easy to look through and find games. We can't deny the appeal of this type of layout, but the issue is stealing games and resources to rehost, and make money off of them.

Besides stealing, these sites are also dangerous to both developers and players. If it looks like a dev is making money off of their game, then that's a great reason for Nintendo to shut down the project and stop the dev from making any other fan games. As for players, anyone downloading from these sites are at risk because the files are not coming from the devs. The sites are hosting their own versions and only care that the link gets clicked so that they get paid. There is no telling what is in those files. The danger might sound like hyperbole, but I personally am very alarmed when I see what is supposed to be the files of my game, but it's been renamed, hosted on another site, and in a different file format; they have definetly been tampered with and not just copied.

In this spoiler here I'll show some screenshots from two sites as an example of what their game listings look like.
Here is a front page list of links, which amoung playable games also includes:
  • Games that had threads posted on Relic Castle but do not have playable demos​
  • Games posted on the old Relic Castle forums and were never reposted on the new site​
  • Games that aren't on Relic Castle (we aren't their only source)​
  • Games posted on Relic Castle that are not Pokemon games​



In this example, the site put their own watermarks on the game's screenshots. You might notice this isn't a Pokemon game, but was taken and added to their site indiscriminately because they'll add anything they find on Relic. (Here's a link to the game's thread)


This site is pretending to be the home of Pokemon Essentials, so they have a nice section for resources. Interesting that they have a section for Game Jam Packs isn't it?


This one is an example of a site's twitter page, where they've got identical tweets daily


What is Relic Castle doing to combat this?
We block any money making URL shorteners we know of from linking to Relic Castle. This means that someone trying to make ad money by directing to your legitimate thread will not be able to direct many people. The person might get a little ad revenue from a few clicks, but for the most part they'll only get complaints that their link is broken.

Too keep up with URL shorteners and other similar problems like this that affect the entire community, Relic Castle Staff keeps contact with our friends at Safari Zone, PokéLiberty, and Reborn Forums. We openly share information that can affect the Pokemon fan game community, so we'd like to think we're fairly informed about the bigger community, even outside of our website.

We know the standard format and easy-to-search features are the main draws of these websites, and that forums might be difficult to navigate for anyone unfamilliar to them. That's one reason we have The Showcase, as a one stop place for players to find high quality and completed games. No one is forced to make an account just to view threads and get those download links. If you follow Relic Castle on Twitter, you'll see us not only sharing our own members and games posted here, but we'll gladly retweet game dev content from other sites and other devs. We just want to promote all the good game stuff coming from any corner of the community.

Okay, but what about directly fighting these sites? Unfortunately, we do not know a way to shut them down. This has been a problem in the community for many years, and honestly we think the best solution is to let them fizzle out in obscurity. No traffic means no money for them, but if we all go on their sites and make accounts to leave comments about removing games, that attention only empowers them. Let them keep my game posted with a download link that's outdated, and a summary page that looks like it was not just copied from what I wrote, but run through Google Translate a few times.

We just want people to know that this is something to keep an eye out for so they can actively avoid it.​




For the remainder of this post I'm going to write about personal experience, so if you feel informed enough and want to stop reading that's fine. If you're looking for more examples and proof of lazy theivery, read on.


I made some tweets about this already, but here's my personal experience of dealing with a couple of these sites.
MewYou is a game I first released in 2015, and eventually picked up again to release better versions, with the latest release (version 2.6) out in 2017. For context, I was the only dev who actually worked on creating this game, but it exists thanks to free public resources made by the pokemon fan game community. Most of those resources are only free with the stipulation that the game doesn't make money. So even though I'm the one who did all the work on MewYou, if I made money off of it I'd be spitting in the faces of everyone who made the game possible. The fact that someone else is making money off of it disguists me.

Now, if you check out the thread that I made for MewYou, you'll see I wrote the following:
I feel that this should go without saying, but here it is to make it official:
  1. No one has permission to post this game an another site.
  2. No one has permission to offer alternative download links.
I started writing this in each of my game threads after seeing my work posted on other sites. When I realized that wasn't enough to stop people from stealing my games, I decided to include warning messages in the games themselves, to at least warn the players what they were getting into. I wrote on the first screen of the game, even before the title screen, that there is only 1 official source. Just in case that was too obvious and easy for a theif to hide or remove...I added the same message to the credits so that only someone who played through the whole game would see it. With these embedded into the game I can only hope players get the message, and even if my game stays up on some shady site, at least the player will know not to go back there for their next game.


Finding My Games
I found out my game was stolen by watching Let's Plays on YouTube. Here in the spoiler is a screenshot I took the same day I'm writing this thread; it's from a video that shows a couple minutes of gameplay from each of the featured games, while a song plays over the whole thing. Two of my games are in this video, and in the description below you can see links to download them.

What makes this video so different fom all the other people making videos while they play? Well for me it's a few things.
  1. It's blatantly an ad. There's no commentary on any of the games, just showing them off a bit for views and clicks.
  2. The channel uploading this video is literally only posting videos exactly like this one. Teasing bits of gameplay footage with music on top, download links in the description.
  3. The links now are just regular shorteners (Because a bunch of people complained, more on that later) but they were adfly links directing to Relic before we cut them off.
For an example of doing the same thing the right way, here's a video from HeroVoltsy of Top 10 fangames, where once again I had two games on display and linked in the description. Voltsy also did several videos playing through my games in their entirety, and I love those. The difference is that the work is derivative; Voltsy added commentary throughout the entire video, so that it's no longer generic footage of a game I made, it became a unique experience. The games linked in the description also go straight to the source; they're not links that make you sit through an ad or lead to a private website.

And if you think that hot take is just me sucking up to a YouTuber with more subs, then get lost. I also love the video by two little boys with a camera pointed at the computer screen! I love the the ones where the player has no microphone and so stops playing every few seconds to type their reactions on screen! I love the videos made by people speaking languages I can't speak!





I'm not that picky about what goes in the video or the description. I don't need to be linked and credited in the description of a video, people who watch and want to play will be able to find my thread. I just want people to not make money off of spreading their own copies of my games.


Now I Know
So what's it look like to have your game on one of these sites? Well here in the spoiler below is a listing that has a decription directly copied from me, but apparently run through a translator for some reason. I'm just showing a snippet, but they included their own screenshots and download links further down the page. The poor people who got version 2.5 though this shady site are the real victims here though, because by my download numbers, the latest version is much better.


Speaking of download numbers, I'd love to you know, have those for myself. I'm using MewYou mostly here, but my other game Bonfire Stories is a much newer one that compareatively few people liked. But here on this site, it's rated higher than MewYou! Where do I find all these players who apparently turned out to support my growth as a game developer???

Seriously, I make games because I enjoy the hobby, but knowing how much and how many people like my work is a great motivator. I never would have re-released and updated MewYou if people hadn't told me how much they enjoyed playing.


Anyway, here's an example from different site (I promise it's different even though they look the same) that includes trailers on each of the game listings, but couldn't be bothered to make their own videos. For my game's listing they embedded RuffledRowlit's video. Heck, here's some proof that the sites are run by the same person, or maybe the most lazy shameless copiers? The second screenshot is a different site that has the exact same layout on their page, with a distinctive yellow window around one screenshot, and the same RuffledRowlit video posing as a game trailer:







Acceptance
Alright, at first I was mad. I reported every offending YouTube account I could find, and reported the specific videos again daily, and the accounts weekly, and finally not at all when I realized it wasn't helping anything.

Okay I'm still a little mad, but not actively mad because why should I waste my energy on these guys.
Occassionally I try contacting sites and people who steal my stuff and I politely ask them to take it down. Here's a case where a few other people in the community saw me doing this, and we had a laugh about the response. What that screenshot in the tweet won't show you is a few other people jumped into the comment section as well, and the uploader did back down and do what I asked. On that specific video at least. They then deleted all of the comments.



As you can see from the timestamp, 6 minutes after my last comment there were comments from other people. In this next screenshot, an hour later, those comments are gone. I'm sure my comments were hidden from public view as well.

That's pretty much the only instance that I got a response anywhere.


Here's another instance where I responded to a tweet advertising my game on one of these sites. After not getting a response I tweeted again when I saw the account was active.


Again though, tweeting at an account like that isn't worth my time. That one doesn't even have half the followers I do, so realistically they can't even hurt me. That's why, although it might seem flippant for me to say "just ignore the people stealing your games and resources" that's truely what I believe is the best solution. Inform people of the problem so they can do the same, and let's all treat these scum sites themselves as insignificant.



One More Thing
This might be a little off topic but here's an interesting case where I found a beautiful game logo that I fell in love with on one of these sites. I wanna commission this person someday.

Look at that! It's lovely but wasn't made by Atomic Reactor or included in Rose Gold's thread. Did Pokemoner make this?? Well you'll notice the post date is May 7, 2017. When I looked for the logo my search lead me to a tweet from November 2016, where if you now compare the tweeted version to the screenshot...right where that YouTuber's logo is, you can see the watermarked Pokemoner version is a little fuzzy there.


If you comment in this thread please do not include any links to these sites; posts will be edited or deleted.
I've avoided even naming any except where some names are obviously included in the screenshots, but we really do want these sites to not get any traffic.​
 
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Nuri Yuri

Novice
Member
Posts
13
#2
What can RC do :
- Make a list that is pleasant to read.
=> Half of my screen is used to display the site heading
=> There's no description about the games (+ hover preview is slow to load and not really relevant)
=> Each Game needs a little space to help the guy searching for a game focus a little on a specific game (even more if there's a description)

What a developper can do :
- Make his game harder to reupload (that means dropping MediaFire and stuff like that).
=> Having a php (or whatever that works serverside) script that only send the file contents to a specific application when some conditions has been met.
==> The Downloader should have been downloaded from the website (the website can generate a random sequence added to the downloader name used after to detect if it's legitimate)
==> The website store the downloader sequence (he'll sent) and the IP address of the guy who downloaded the downloader for one or two day (to legitimate the download)
==> The website do the same as RC do with shortened links (but it's probably not always sufficient because hiding the short link behind a long link or a legitime link is possible)
- Make his game locked to the computer where it has been downloaded. Local encryption using computer properties can do the job, thus if someone upload the game he got through the downloader... It'll only work on his computer.
 

Deo

the north star
Administrator
#3
What can RC do :
- Make a list that is pleasant to read.
=> Half of my screen is used to display the site heading
=> There's no description about the games (+ hover preview is slow to load and not really relevant)
=> Each Game needs a little space to help the guy searching for a game focus a little on a specific game (even more if there's a description)
There is something planned to make games easier to find on the site. Forums do their job fine (I don't think having to click on a thread to get the full details on a project is a hassle really), but having a central place that lists completed projects and projects with a demo would be pretty handy.

This definitely won't be implemented tomorrow, but it's on my radar for sure.
 

Nuri Yuri

Novice
Member
Posts
13
#4
The forum format is only convenient for forum user and when a game is completed the player aren't usually forum users (we are in the Social Media/Network era) so I hope the thing will be done quickly ^^

Btw the whole thing make me think that fangames are victim of the same thing that Nain tant d'eau is victim : piracy. It's an eternal loop and it's really hard to fight.
 

Dragonite

The cake is a lie, so give it to me
Member
Posts
177
#5
What a developper can do :
- Make his game harder to reupload (that means dropping MediaFire and stuff like that).
=> Having a php (or whatever that works serverside) script that only send the file contents to a specific application when some conditions has been met.
==> The Downloader should have been downloaded from the website (the website can generate a random sequence added to the downloader name used after to detect if it's legitimate)
==> The website store the downloader sequence (he'll sent) and the IP address of the guy who downloaded the downloader for one or two day (to legitimate the download)
==> The website do the same as RC do with shortened links (but it's probably not always sufficient because hiding the short link behind a long link or a legitime link is possible)
- Make his game locked to the computer where it has been downloaded. Local encryption using computer properties can do the job, thus if someone upload the game he got through the downloader... It'll only work on his computer.
This would be nice, but I fear it's way too much work for the average fan game creator. Unless you mean, like, hosting the games on Relic itself and creating an "official" central hub for such things, I don't see this ever happening.

Better organization and outplaying the impostors on Google are the keys, imo.
 

Aki

Administrator
Administrator
#8
Unless you mean, like, hosting the games on Relic itself and creating an "official" central hub for such things.
This is a common thing in the hacking side of the community, but we want to keep ourselves a bit separate from being the host to games. It just gives everyone a little more protective cushioning if something is taken down. For example with the GameJolt takedown awhile back, I'm not sure all those fan games were specifically being sold or making money, but it was easier for Nintendo to hit the site as a whole and take down a buttload of games.



Better organization and outplaying the impostors on Google are the keys, imo.
I agree with this, that's what the sites really have over Relic that draws people in. Having our own kind of feature just for sorting through games easilly is something we've talked about a lot internally but haven't found a perfect solution to. :sweat:
If we included pages in a strict format for easy reading, then it'd probably be heavilly curated by staff to keep everything uniform and that kinda sucks; everyone prefers editing their own stuff direcly rather than having to message a staff member to edit something.

Personally I want to add something like tags for easy searching for games that have things like #FakemonOnly, #8Gyms, #PlayAsPokemon, #2hours, #10+hours
 

Involuntary Twitch

Pixel Artist & Writer
Member
#10
Does Relic have its own Wiki? That might be a nice, happy medium between site-curated content and user-made games. Makers of fangames could create pages describing their projects, add in as much information as they like, plus tags describing the specifics of the project (#Fakemon or #NoFakemon, #Dark or #Challenging or #Parody or #GameJam or what have you).

As far as I know, no such Wiki exists at the moment. There is a List of Fangames on the Essentials wiki, but that's a bit lackluster and doesn't have screenshots or separate pages for every game. The Wiki could have moderators, too, which screen new game pages to determine which ones have playable demos and which ones do not.

By the way, providing a platform for people to share content is not illegal, even if the content itself might be legally objectionable (e.g. infringing on Nintendo's copyright.) In fact, it's protected free speech (in America, anyway). See: CDA Section 230.
 

Dragonite

The cake is a lie, so give it to me
Member
Posts
177
#11
@Dragonite : The quoted solution works for both RC and an isolated game. A hub would be great but I don't see that comming ^^'
It would work, sure, but like I said I don't see many people actually doing that unless they're really big or know that they're doing something else that would make them a prime target for Nintendo.

Also if someone knows enough computer science to actually implement it, they're . . . probably not making fan games.
 

Nuri Yuri

Novice
Member
Posts
13
#12
Nobody actually tried to do something like that for their fangame. It's easier to takedown pages that illegaly share your game than trying to prevent them to do this. The only thing I did in the past was preventing other website from sharing direct link to one of the game I work for. It worked well but they only needed to reupload the game to bypass the thing :v

I know enough computer science to actually implement something like that but I have a lot of thing to do (I'm writing a Starter Kit that will make Games like Pokémon Renaissance, Pokémon Forêt Eternelle and Pokémon Gemme work) so my main focus is not the release but to make something that actually works.
 

TakakoJin

Eevee Breeder
Member
Posts
47
#13
I just feel bad for the people being tricked.
I found an older version of my game hosted on one of those sites, which still has a game breaking glitch where Surf is unattainable. :/
 
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