Eric Johnson

Recent Posts by Eric Johnson

On Chrome Web Store, Real Games Mix With Mario Knockoffs

mario knockoffWe’ve heard it over and over again (and arguably for good reason): Nintendo does not make games for platforms it does not control. So, imagine my surprise yesterday when I stumbled across a dozen or so Mario games on Google’s Chrome Web Store.

These games are no more real than that Rolex you bought for $15 in Times Square — they’re unlicensed, generally low-quality knockoffs, taking advantage of the openness of Google’s browser, which just turned five. Many of the store’s new native desktop apps look like snazzy cousins of the apps you might find in the Google Play Store on Android; however, in Chrome’s Web app store (I know, these product names are all confusing), it’s still the Wild West.

In addition to the fake Marios, a cursory search of the Web app store yesterday turned up knockoffs of many other popular franchises: one for Fruit Ninja, two for Crash Bandicoot, four for Doodle Jump, nine for Candy Crush Saga and 10 for Sonic the Hedgehog. A source with knowledge of the store said Google investigates unauthorized apps if the content owners report the offending apps to the company.

These fakes mix with real apps, like Rovio’s official Angry Birds Chrome Web app, and to separate the good from the bad, users have to check the developer’s website name. For example, one of the Candy Crush Saga knockoffs lists as its website candycrushsaga.blogspot.com, which is not one of King’s sites. The official site for that game is candycrushsaga.com.

I asked a Nintendo spokesperson if the company was aware of the Mario knockoffs, and she returned the following generic statement from Nintendo of America:

Nintendo video games are offered only on Nintendo systems such as the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. Applications on the Apple or Google marketplaces that purport to be Nintendo video games are not legitimate and users who download these applications may expose themselves to spyware or other malicious software [...]

Wait, malicious software? Yes, it’s possible, as 80,000 users learned last year by way of a fake Bad Piggies Chrome app. According to security company Barracuda Networks, that’s the number of users who installed a bogus Bad Piggies and got some “aggressive adware” to boot. Bonus!

The Nintendo statement continued, “Nintendo actively monitors the unauthorized use of its intellectual property, and will continue to seek removal of any unauthorized content in these marketplaces.”

Taking these specific games out of the Chrome store won’t completely neutralize potential security threats posed by current or future games, of course. But the very thing that makes the store work — a search, discovery and recommendation-focused design that makes these games and services more accessible to Chrome users — may mislead gamers who don’t think to look too closely.

“We remove apps from the Chrome Web Store that do not comply with our terms of service,” a Google spokesperson said. Some of the Mario games I mentioned in my emails to the company have now disappeared from the Chrome store, but here is a screenshot of how they were showing up for me in the store’s main trending section yesterday.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald