By Fobwashed 5 Comments
Stop copying me!
Of late, there seems to be a heightened awareness in regards to copycat games. This is nothing new as copying and plagiarizing has been going on since the beginning of time. I recently read an interesting article on the subject by Dan Cook at GamaSutra on the subject. The basic jist of it is (at least as I understood it) that an individual or small team makes a game and they spend resources and time developing something new and then due to other copycat games, the creators cannot reap the full rewards from their creation. This situation where the creative portion of the game doesn't get his/her/their just rewards results in either them no longer attempting to create or not having the resources to create even bigger better things in the future.
A bad example, MineCraft
For example, take Minecraft. While they're doing fine since, you know, they've sold millions and made oodles of money, just bear with me in using them as an example. They make Minecraft, it gets big, and before they go about making a version for the IOS (which they now have and I'm sure made a killing on), the platform was swamped with minecraft clones. Even now, do a search on the AppStore for MineCraft and while the top hit is Minecraft itself, there are dozens of games that look just like it. Go hit up Xbox live Indie Games, and there are I think at least 3 games that seem to borrow heavily from the source and one of them I know has sold over 500k copies. Again, Minecraft isn't the best example since it's made so much money and is such a huge success, but you can see how a smaller game that hasn't yet gotten it's time in the warm cashy sun may be affected by not being first to other platforms. I think an even worse situation is one that seems to be happening with more frequency in that a game that is made and released for free (usually as a flash title) has it's mechanics ripped off wholesale, the aesthetics changed (though admittedly usually made to look much better) and then sold without any credit being given where credit is due. The reason why this seems like a greater crime to me is that the creator of the core mechanics gets the shit end of the stick in every way. No money, no credit. At least when a bigger title gets this treatment, the gaming community at large can point at it and say "Hey, that's just an Uncharted clone", or in the case of the terrible example I've been using here, "It's just a fake MineCraft".
So what? Sue?
While at this point I don't think that NimbleBit is suing Zynga for copy/pasting Tiny Tower but there are others who are taking action. For instance, Tripple Town's creators Spry Fox is suing Yeti Town, developed by 6Waves LolApps. They have a more legitimate case than most since LolApps was actually working with Spry Fox to bring their game to Facebook, and then canceled just prior to releasing their own version of the game. . . Suuuuper sheisty. While looking around, I thought one of the most ironically funny things (I hope this is what irony means) I read was that Zynga actually sued another developer Votsu for copying them. There was a settlement. . . I do feel that in extreme cases such as the Yeti Town one, suing is necessary and even in the case of Dream Heights and Tiny Tower, the two games are so damn similar that it should at least be brought to attention but what to do about it is still a huge question and as someone who's trying to make a game myself, something that may directly affect me in the future.
Soooooo. . . . then. . . .
I'm not really sure what the answer is. On one hand, if game mechanics could be protected legally, it hurts us consumers since nowadays, bigger games are made up of a ton of smaller games put together well. Hell, even something as simple as being able to play a game during loading screens is something I'd love in more games if only Namco hadn't patented it. . . Now imagine if every new gameplay mechanic were limited to being used by the creator. Regenerating health, ink ribbons to save, active reload, various types of cover systems, random loot, whatever. It'd be madness. Though on the other hand, in its own way, it really sucks that it's usually the little guy that gets screwed out of credit/money when it comes to coming up with something new and cool that the big boys can take and run with. It's a sad state of affairs. The best case scenario is pretty much to be first to market with your idea, and do it well enough that those copying you are only able to do just that, copy, and not improve.
These games get a free pass from me
While there will always be the possibility of new mechanics and innovations, it's near impossible for any game that releases nowadays to not have been inspired by another. Sometimes heavily. After all, "Good artists copy, great artists steal" and this is just as true today as it was back then. I do feel that once material improvements are made to a mechanic or style of game, it is its own game and no longer contemptible (Bayonetta). I also feel that to some extent, if a game is artistically unique, it's much more forgivable as the aesthetics or music of a game make it an experience different from the source material (Limbo). Another get out of jail free card is that I'm totally cool with a game being released on a platform when the original creator had no intention of ever attempting to release or sell the game on said platform (Tiny Wings). Oh, and obviously, if you're a part of the team that created the original, go ahead and make it elsewhere if you feel like it (Rock Band). That's all I can think of. I'm sure there's more but I'm spent.