Update 11/18/2013: TinkerHouse has decided to change the name of Dwarven Delve in the interim since this article was published. The new name will be announced at a later date.

A few days ago, we published an interview with Mark Jessup of TinkerHouse Games about Dwarven Delve. In it, we touched on the subject of Lunar Giant's public response to confusion about if and what connection there was between Dwarven Delve and their own Delve Deeper. Jessup says that with Delve Deeper having been released three years ago, any brand confusion issues arising from similar names, themes, and screenshots will easily be overcome by the fact that the two games' mechanics are completely different. Jay Margalus of Lunar Giant has reached out to us, however, with a different opinion.

"My name is Jay Margalus and I'm the co-owner of Lunar Giant, an indie game company based out of Chicago. Earlier today you posted a Q&A with Tinkerhouse Games talking to them about their upcoming game Dwarven Delve, and you asked them a little bit about the brand confusion with our 2010 game, Delve Deeper. I was first made aware of Dwarven Delve in July, when one of our fans emailed us about it, confused. We reached out to Tinkerhouse that month to see if they'd be willing to change their game's name to avoid further confusion, but they felt it wasn't an issue.

Whether they perceive this to be 'a big controversy' or not is immaterial since fans are being legitimately confused, and TinkerHouse seems to be encouraging that confusion by removing and/or ignoring questions posted on their game's Steam page."

The following didn't make it into the previous interview article, but one of the things Jessup said to me via email was:

"We've seen some comments comparing us to Delve Deeper pop up every once in awhile on our Steam Greenlight page but really nowhere else. Since we've gone public promoting Dwarven Delve, and even during our time at PAX in the Indie Megabooth, the only place we've ever had anyone mention Delve Deeper to us has been on Steam.".

It turns out, however, that they have seen comments about it in other places. When promoting their games in forums for sites like Eurogamer and RPG.net a few months ago, comparisons to Delve Deeper came up immediately and TinkerHouse just brushed them aside. And Margalus is right about TinkerHouse deleting comments from their Greenlight page - the comments in the screenshot below were already gone when our previous interview article was being written.


Jessup had the following to say in response to the deleted comments:

"I'm sorry about the oversight on the forums comments; there really wasn't any intentional deception there. Back in early August, when we were first Kickstarting, my partner Lane posted in lots of game forums letting people know about the game. Apparently, in some of those forums there were other comments about Delve Deeper and Lane replied to them in the same way we have before. But as you can see, those were one-shot posts among many made three months ago. We also went to places like IGN, Slide to Play, Touch Arcade, etc.

Since then we've gone through a Kickstarter campaign, PAX Prime, and back to a Kickstarter campaign. I simply didn't know there were other posts. Either I forgot or never knew. But either way, I've learned a valuable lesson about speaking in absolutes....

With regards to the deleted comments, we've deleted a few from our Steam Greenlight page because they were personal attacks more than comparisons. One person told us we had no soul and wished we'd step on a Lego. Another person told us it was a PR nightmare or something along those lines. I don't think it's unreasonable to delete those comments, they're fairly incendiary and don't contribute anything beyond vitriol."

There are indeed still some comments related to Delve Deeper on their Greenlight page. I can't blame them for deleting comments wishing horrible things on them, but if the one at the top is the same "PR nightmare" comment Jessup was referring to, words like "incendiary" and "vitriol" are inaccurate. It seems far more like a concerned comment than an inflammatory one. And how is "Soooo ... basically it's Delve Deeper?" any worse than a comment which still exists at time of this writing saying, "Doesn't this exist already as Delve Deeper?"

This is to say there still appears to be brand confusion among consumers. Yes, once you see both games in action, it's clear that they are completely different. But the first thing consumers see is static screenshots and text descriptions, and since the makers of Dwarven Delve have AAA game development and 3D modelling experience under their belt, the game initially is coming off a very shiny sequel to Delve Deeper.

Jessup had previously reasoned that changing the game's name at this stage could be disastrous for their momentum. However, this also puts Lunar Giant in a pinch. If TinkerHouse doesn't change the name of their game, can Lunar Giant ever make a sequel to Delve Deeper and reasonably expect it to be successful? Even now, why would some undiscerning customer who stumbles across Delve Deeper on Steam, having never heard of either game before, get Delve Deeper, when it really looks like the developers upgraded to Unity and are about to bring the experience to 3D under the new name Dwarven Delve?

Discoverability is a huge problem for indie developers. Even if you don't care about the damage you could do to another company's brand, why would you want to make it harder for people to find your own game by being too similar to another one? That's the sort of reasoning that prompted Vlambeer to rename Wasteland Kings to Nuclear Throne when inXile pointed out that people might get it confused with Wasteland 2.

TinkerHouse is a two-person studio with more AAA game development experience than indie game development experience. When working with a publisher that has a multi-million dollar marketing budget, you can afford to set up a brand with less regard for what else is out there, to squash or ignore a certain amount of customer feedback and let reviews and buzz take care of the rest. It's a lot harder to just spam people's eyes with your game's name so that they'll never forget it without a great deal of cash, however, and so indies must rely on more organic ways of generating excitement about their games. This difference has led to the indie community being more tight-knit and considerate of stepping on each others' brands. It's a matter of long-term survival for everyone in a tough market.

I asked Margalus if he thought Lunar Giant could expect a true sequel to Delve Deeper to be successful if TinkerHouse doesn't change Dwarven Delve's name.

"I honestly don't know what the impact of Dwarven Delve will be on the continuing development and sales of our Delve Deeper games, and that's part of the problem. What I do know is that our fans are legitimately confused, and there's no reason for us to believe that future fans or potential fans will be any less confused. We can talk about a lot of "what ifs" in regards to the impact of Dwarven Delve will have on Delve Deeper, but the point is that we shouldn't even be in a position where we have to worry about that.

Truthfully, I just feel this is a bigger matter than sales for one company versus another -- it's about doing right by the people who buy the games anyone makes. Regardless of Tinkerhouse's intent, folks are conflating their incubating product with ours that was released a few years back, and the market doesn't exist in a vacuum. The most responsible thing is just making fans aware of the differences here one way or another."