Iteration, Progress and Logical Fallacies: Vlambeer Tackles the Cloning Debate

Posted by patrickklepek (4630 posts) -
Ridiculous Fishing would probably be out by now, but the cloning incident slowed everything down.

As Vlambeer was developing Ridiculous Fishing for iOS, a sequel to Radical Fishing, it got cloned.

Cloning has become a rising issue in video game development, especially problematic in social and mobile games.

(If you aren't familiar the original incident, here's a good primer.)

Head of business development Rami Ismail and designer Jan Willem Nijman were at the Game Developers Conference today to try and move the conversation on cloning forward. Their talk was less about what happened to Vlambeer, more about what the industry needs to do next in response. It was a talk with few solutions to cloning, but insightful commentary on the consequences of the practice.

"Game design is about problems and designing solutions to those problems," said Ismail.

The duo was unfortunately vague about what specifically constitutes cloning, but if you've seen Radical Fishing and the game that pulled from it, Ninja Fishing, it's clear we're talking about more than inspiration. The aesthetic is different, but the mechanics, including specifics like the upgrade path, are taken straight from Radical Fishing.

"We've been talking about clones in the industry for a really long time, but we haven't really made any progress because the entire discussion is filled with logical fallacies," said Ismail.

There are five main logical fallacies that Ismail and Nijman wanted to push back on.

One, clones are a necessity of progress.

"Clones are not a necessity," said Ismail. "We don't need clones to make new or original games."

Ismail pointed to the confusion of progress and iteration. The industry needs iteration, and iteration is not cloning. Ismail and Nijman were perhaps intentionally vague on specifics, however.

Two, simple games are bound to be cloned.

"Fuck that," said Ismail.

"If we ever get to that, just shoot me," said Nijman.

"I will," joked Ismail.

Just because this is might happen certainly doesn't make it okay, or something the industry should just accept.

Three, patents would ruin the industry.

"That implies that the alternative to having clones is a legal system that you take down clones through," said Ismail.

Ismail and Nijman said the idea of patents in the industry is a separate discussion, one that is tangentially related to the cloning debate but not at the heart of the matter.

Four, clones are free marketing.

"Um, yeah, no," said Ismail.

"Horrible, free marketing," said Nijman.

If you haven't heard of Ridiculous Fishing, you've heard of their other game: Super Crate Box.

While Vlambeer should have been focused on making better games, the two of them were forced to confront a problem that looked to undermine much of what they were working towards. It also put them in the awkward position of attacking a fellow developer while also defending themselves, and realizing that whenever Ridiculous Fishing did come out, a certain section of players would think they were the ones who ripped someone off.

"When we release our game, we're going to get a lot of shit from people saying 'you ripped off that game!'" said Nijman. "That is my biggest nightmare. When we release that game, how are we going to handle that? That's not free marketing. That's like murdering yourself."

Five, clones don't hurt the industry.

"They do," said Ismail.

There are several ways cloning hurts the industry as a whole, they argued. It stagnates creativity, emotionally drains developers focused on making original works, and institutionalizes a "good enough" mentality amongst the players.

"If all the games people play are shitty games, they will think games are really boring and bad," said Nijman.

How to improve the situation isn't impossible, but it has an unclear path.

Ismail and Nijman suggested more developers try and illuminate the process of making video games to their audience. Indie Game: The Movie and Double Fine's Kickstarter-funded documentary are steps in that direction, they pointed out, and said to the press (hey!) about the struggles of game development will go a long way towards building sympathy with the audience. If your audience cares about cloning, they'll fight the battle for you.

"People don't realize games are made by people," said Ismail.

"We can't keep pooping out original games for the companies to steal from us," said Nijman. "Creativity is [not in] infinite supply."

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (4630 posts) -
Ridiculous Fishing would probably be out by now, but the cloning incident slowed everything down.

As Vlambeer was developing Ridiculous Fishing for iOS, a sequel to Radical Fishing, it got cloned.

Cloning has become a rising issue in video game development, especially problematic in social and mobile games.

(If you aren't familiar the original incident, here's a good primer.)

Head of business development Rami Ismail and designer Jan Willem Nijman were at the Game Developers Conference today to try and move the conversation on cloning forward. Their talk was less about what happened to Vlambeer, more about what the industry needs to do next in response. It was a talk with few solutions to cloning, but insightful commentary on the consequences of the practice.

"Game design is about problems and designing solutions to those problems," said Ismail.

The duo was unfortunately vague about what specifically constitutes cloning, but if you've seen Radical Fishing and the game that pulled from it, Ninja Fishing, it's clear we're talking about more than inspiration. The aesthetic is different, but the mechanics, including specifics like the upgrade path, are taken straight from Radical Fishing.

"We've been talking about clones in the industry for a really long time, but we haven't really made any progress because the entire discussion is filled with logical fallacies," said Ismail.

There are five main logical fallacies that Ismail and Nijman wanted to push back on.

One, clones are a necessity of progress.

"Clones are not a necessity," said Ismail. "We don't need clones to make new or original games."

Ismail pointed to the confusion of progress and iteration. The industry needs iteration, and iteration is not cloning. Ismail and Nijman were perhaps intentionally vague on specifics, however.

Two, simple games are bound to be cloned.

"Fuck that," said Ismail.

"If we ever get to that, just shoot me," said Nijman.

"I will," joked Ismail.

Just because this is might happen certainly doesn't make it okay, or something the industry should just accept.

Three, patents would ruin the industry.

"That implies that the alternative to having clones is a legal system that you take down clones through," said Ismail.

Ismail and Nijman said the idea of patents in the industry is a separate discussion, one that is tangentially related to the cloning debate but not at the heart of the matter.

Four, clones are free marketing.

"Um, yeah, no," said Ismail.

"Horrible, free marketing," said Nijman.

If you haven't heard of Ridiculous Fishing, you've heard of their other game: Super Crate Box.

While Vlambeer should have been focused on making better games, the two of them were forced to confront a problem that looked to undermine much of what they were working towards. It also put them in the awkward position of attacking a fellow developer while also defending themselves, and realizing that whenever Ridiculous Fishing did come out, a certain section of players would think they were the ones who ripped someone off.

"When we release our game, we're going to get a lot of shit from people saying 'you ripped off that game!'" said Nijman. "That is my biggest nightmare. When we release that game, how are we going to handle that? That's not free marketing. That's like murdering yourself."

Five, clones don't hurt the industry.

"They do," said Ismail.

There are several ways cloning hurts the industry as a whole, they argued. It stagnates creativity, emotionally drains developers focused on making original works, and institutionalizes a "good enough" mentality amongst the players.

"If all the games people play are shitty games, they will think games are really boring and bad," said Nijman.

How to improve the situation isn't impossible, but it has an unclear path.

Ismail and Nijman suggested more developers try and illuminate the process of making video games to their audience. Indie Game: The Movie and Double Fine's Kickstarter-funded documentary are steps in that direction, they pointed out, and said to the press (hey!) about the struggles of game development will go a long way towards building sympathy with the audience. If your audience cares about cloning, they'll fight the battle for you.

"People don't realize games are made by people," said Ismail.

"We can't keep pooping out original games for the companies to steal from us," said Nijman. "Creativity is [not in] infinite supply."

Staff
#2 Edited by BakingPanda (21 posts) -

I am getting a little sick of the difference in mobile and social games. I don't play a ton of them but when I do they are all the same. Click a button, wait 30 seconds, click a button. If you're lazy you can pay that company to make the time pass more quickly so you feel better about yourself. Or you can match 3. Its just getting... stale.

I guess that's what these guys are getting at.

#3 Posted by DigTheDoug (178 posts) -

@BakingPanda said:

blah

Stop that.

#4 Posted by BeachThunder (11950 posts) -

I love Super Crate Box <3

Also, I disagree, creativity is in infinite supply...people just keep looking at the same avenues of inspiration for their ideas...

Online
#5 Posted by DrDarkStryfe (1118 posts) -

Cloning is a big danger in the social space, especially is a major player, like Zynga, is the one doing. They are the ones with the marketing power to make their ideas seems like the original.

I agree that creativity is never in short supply, but there is a fine line between something creative that will sell, and something creative that comes across as too "art house" for the market.

#6 Posted by MaxOpower (206 posts) -

Really appreciate the GDC coverage. Tanks Patrick!

#7 Posted by WJist (313 posts) -

I think the industry has to distinguish between cloning of IPs and mechanics. One could argue game mechanics could not be copyrighted outright - how do you have a patent over something like an upgrade path or a wave-based survival mode?

#8 Posted by randgris (9 posts) -

this guy is wrong. so what? just cause one company markets their game in a lackluster way and cause their game to not get any exposure, or if that game has some fundamental aesthetic problems means no one else gets to have another go at it and the core conceit of the game is somehow sacred? bullshit. iteration is the by product of the exposure you get by reaching through to a wide audience. if your game flops, the idea dies forever unless someone who isnt dumb at marketing gets another go at it.

if you make a game and don't market it smartly, its your own damn fault; don't cry just because there are companies with bigger marketing budgets. Passion without tact is still doomed to fail.

#9 Edited by FieldCommanderRick (55 posts) -

You guys looking to hire an editor lol?

As for cloning: Yea, it seems bad. Although, if you put out a better game, it shouldn't be a big problem right? Unless they have better marketing/ distribution than you...

I suppose the point these guys are making is that there should be a big public outcry against cloning so that developers don't have to resort to the legal system. But that's probably looking in the wrong direction... If developers make their original games better and easier to get, then these clones won't pose a threat anyways. I guess that requires cooperation from game outlets though.

#10 Posted by NoelVeiga (1100 posts) -

@WJist said:

I think the industry has to distinguish between cloning of IPs and mechanics. One could argue game mechanics could not be copyrighted outright - how do you have a patent over something like an upgrade path or a wave-based survival mode?

Yes!

Which is why patenting mechanics is a big no-no. Imagine if Valve had never been allowed to use a first person camera perspective for their games. And if you don't think that's where patenting leads, ask yourself why Nintendo is the only hardware company using d-pads shaped like a solid four way cross.

It's like film copyright. You can keep a specific combination of visuals, characters and story under control, but you can't copyright a plot device. That would be both idiotic and insanely restrictive.

Now, is cloning bad? Yeeeeah, probably. Is it a fuzzy concept with a ton of gray area? For sure.

What will probably happen is that these things will start getting argued in court more often and a more granular regulation will be set in place. Film, literature, music and all other art forms have gone through this at one point or another. Gaming won't be any different.

#11 Edited by Deathpooky (1402 posts) -

Interesting discussion, especially in light of the whole Tiny Tower / Dream Heights story earlier and the commentary associated with that.

I think to some degree cloning versus iteration has always been an issue. But the problem is, in the old days, a game that didn't iterate much and was just a clone was without question worse than the game it was ripping off. Plus, the game that it was ripping off probably had a higher budget, more marketing, and was more well-known among the fan base as the "original" game, and the clone was the rip-off. Finally, development time meant that the original would get at least a year to make money before the clones came along. When a Mario rip-off came around, you knew which came first, what was the better game, and fans generally didn't take kindly to games trying to clone their favorites without innovation.

Today, especially with flash or iPhone games, none of those could be true. The simple mechanics, graphics, and development costs could be low enough that an exact clone built from the ground up could still be the same quality as the original. Plus with big companies like Zynga getting in on the action, the clone will likely have a higher marketing budget and could become more well-known than the original. Finally the mess of the iPhone market, its low cost nature, and its casual fans mean that rip-offs could go undetected and the original and clone could be confused.

I don't know exactly what the solution is either, but I agree in that market we've gone from cloning being an irritation to it being a giant problem. There's always a grey area between clones and derivative games with some innovation, but it used not matter. Now clones can do actual damage. If actual creative developers know their efforts will get them a better marketed clone a month later, then that hurts the market and means that creativity (and the costs that go with it) will be discouraged. It's at least why we need to keep yelling at rip-off artists like Zynga when they come along and recognize originators.

#12 Posted by MisterMouse (3554 posts) -

I am still enjoying this GDC coverage.

#13 Posted by NoelVeiga (1100 posts) -

@Deathpooky said:

Today, especially with flash or iPhone games, none of those could be true. The simple mechanics, graphics, and development costs could be low enough that an exact clone built from the ground up could still be the same quality as the original. Plus with big companies like Zynga getting in on the action, the clone will likely have a higher marketing budget and could become more well-known than the original. Finally the mess of the iPhone market, its low cost nature, and its casual fans mean that rip-offs could go undetected and the original and clone could be confused.

I don't know exactly what the solution is either, but I agree in that market we've gone from cloning being an irritation to it being a giant problem. If actual creative developers know their efforts will get them a better marketed clone a month later, then that hurts the market and means that creativity (and the costs that go with it) will be discouraged. It's at least why we need to keep yelling at rip-off artists like Zynga when they come along and recognize originators.

Hm.

While I don't disagree with anything you said, I wonder how much of this problem is developers taking the wrong approach. If your game is so easily reproducible that the clone is as good as the original and better marketed... well, your development and publishing process wasn't too good, then, was it? How much value is there in all of those other tasks? Angry Birds was not the first execution of those mechanics in the marketplace, but it was the most visually polished and the better marketed.

I think the answer is in plain old copyright law. If they can handle plagiarism in music while still having a mechanism for samples to be used, then this has to be manageable. But what can't happen is for us to bulletproof first discovery so much that a better presented version of a less successful game is punished for success where others had failed.

#14 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

His name is Ismail and he made a fishing game.

Awesome.

#15 Posted by Entmoot (96 posts) -

I think there needs to be some editing on Them Thar Hills.

#16 Posted by Deathpooky (1402 posts) -

@NoelVeiga said:

@Deathpooky said:

Hm.

While I don't disagree with anything you said, I wonder how much of this problem is developers taking the wrong approach. If your game is so easily reproducible that the clone is as good as the original and better marketed... well, your development and publishing process wasn't too good, then, was it? How much value is there in all of those other tasks? Angry Birds was not the first execution of those mechanics in the marketplace, but it was the most visually polished and the better marketed.

I think the answer is in plain old copyright law. If they can handle plagiarism in music while still having a mechanism for samples to be used, then this has to be manageable. But what can't happen is for us to bulletproof first discovery so much that a better presented version of a less successful game is punished for success where others had failed.

I'd agree with you, but I think the problem with that is big companies will always have the upper hand in marketing and distribution, so cloning hits small developers especially hard at a time when small development is otherwise taking off. And just like most innovation, once you create the new game structure and put it out there, much of the hard work is done. For a .99 cent or free game, take out that innovation development time and you could whip out a clone of a game in no time, confuse the market, and hurt the original. It probably cost Zynga a fraction of the money, and very little creative effort, to make Dream Heights after playing Tiny Tower.

For copyright, people hit with clones generally aren't going to have the resources to use copyright law to protect them and copyright is pretty toothless in this area. It's very easy to make a clone that would have no copyright issues. Regardless, I generally think patents and copyrights are just bad news to get involved in this area. If you steal someone's code or art, sure. But otherwise copyright is just kind of a mess in the digital age.

My end thinking is just that we as consumers and the most interested in gaming need to be more vigilant about this crap and make sure original development gets recognized. If a particular gaming market becomes known as the space where you'll be faced with better-marketed clones soon after release, then it could easily kill innovation or development, just as as piracy concerns helped kill PSP development. It's a murky grey area with clones, innovators, and what determines a successful game, but it's something we'll have to wade into as cloning becomes more harmful.

#17 Posted by NoelVeiga (1100 posts) -

@Deathpooky said:

@NoelVeiga said:

I'd agree with you, but I think the problem with that is big companies will always have the upper hand in marketing and distribution, so cloning hits small developers especially hard at a time when small development is otherwise taking off. And just like most innovation, once you create the new game structure and put it out there, much of the hard work is done. For a .99 cent or free game, take out that innovation development time and you could whip out a clone of a game in no time, confuse the market, and hurt the original. It probably cost Zynga a fraction of the money, and very little creative effort, to make Dream Heights after playing Tiny Tower.

For copyright, people hit with clones generally aren't going to have the resources to use copyright law to protect them and copyright is pretty toothless in this area. It's very easy to make a clone that would have no copyright issues. Regardless, I generally think patents and copyrights are just bad news to get involved in this area. If you steal someone's code or art, sure. But otherwise copyright is just kind of a mess in the digital age.

My end thinking is just that we as consumers and the most interested in gaming need to be more vigilant about this crap and make sure original development gets recognized. If a particular gaming market becomes known as the space where you'll be faced with better-marketed clones soon after release, then it could easily kill innovation or development, just as as piracy concerns helped kill PSP development. It's a murky grey area with clones, innovators, and what determines a successful game, but it's something we'll have to wade into as cloning becomes more harmful.

If a market is left to be policed by the customers, then it's poorly regulated. If the copyright law can't cope with software, then it needs to get updated. It does just fine in film, tv, print and music, so it needs to be adapted to work in this space as well. There is nothing about games that doesn't support anti-plagiarism legislation. And if small devs can't afford the cost of defending their case in court, then that's the legal system's fault and it becomes a political issue at that point. It'd be regrettable if instead of lobbying for better gaming-based copyright we instead resorted to the fundamentally broken, draconian patent regulation instead.

I mean, it is possible for this market to adjust once people start becoming more aware of quality or creativity differences within it. It already happened once (remember "doom clones"?), but it would be a shame for us to make it through that process without coming up with some legal protection so that indie devs can defend their copyright without breaking the ability to build upon each other's ideas. Because the best way to ensure that nobody passes bad regulation is to pass good regulation first.

#18 Posted by lockwoodx (2479 posts) -

The moral of the story is nice guys always finish last.

#19 Posted by ch3burashka (5083 posts) -

I don't want to call Patrick out or anything, but Russ Frushtick did a similar three-parter on Vox Games about cloning. I don't imagine Patrick completely ripped off the idea, but surely he's been aware of the article. A link would have been nice. Why, here one is now!

http://www.theverge.com/gaming/2012/2/22/2810409/cloning-wars-vlambeer-vs-gamenauts

In case these were two separate events, I apologize for claiming Patrick ripped someone else off. Either way, the Vox Games article is just as good, and the more attention given to this issue, the better. The worst part is, I as a consumer have no easy way of knowing I am supporting a clone.

#20 Posted by mbkish (246 posts) -

@CH3BURASHKA: They had a panel at GDC today, Patrick is just reporting what they said there.

#21 Posted by SparroHawc (27 posts) -

@NoelVeiga: @NoelVeiga said:

If a market is left to be policed by the customers, then it's poorly regulated. If the copyright law can't cope with software, then it needs to get updated. It does just fine in film, tv, print and music, so it needs to be adapted to work in this space as well. There is nothing about games that doesn't support anti-plagiarism legislation. And if small devs can't afford the cost of defending their case in court, then that's the legal system's fault and it becomes a political issue at that point. It'd be regrettable if instead of lobbying for better gaming-based copyright we instead resorted to the fundamentally broken, draconian patent regulation instead.

I mean, it is possible for this market to adjust once people start becoming more aware of quality or creativity differences within it. It already happened once (remember "doom clones"?), but it would be a shame for us to make it through that process without coming up with some legal protection so that indie devs can defend their copyright without breaking the ability to build upon each other's ideas. Because the best way to ensure that nobody passes bad regulation is to pass good regulation first.

If copyright is extended to gameplay, it is going to spell the doom of innovation in games. Patents are already destroying the software and hardware industry thanks to submarine patent warehouses, and copyright is worse when it comes to lifespan (over 100 years and rising). You want to know why you almost never see minigames in loading screens? Namco has a patent for it, and no one wants to pay Namco to license that patent. Instead we get to sit through loading screens, twiddling our thumbs, despite including a little minigame to play during that time being an obvious invention in the mind of just about any gamer alive - and thus should be outside of patentability.

Plus, what will happen in situations like Desktop Dungeons when the clone is released before the original? Will we get cloners who catch wind of a new idea who then rush out to secure a patent/copyright on the gameplay concept before the independent, less-funded original developer has a chance to? (Answer: Of course we will, if there's even a slight chance it will be profitable.) Patents and copyrights overwhelmingly benefit large companies more than small ones, in no small part because of what it costs to hire a lawyer to deal with them. With enough money to throw around, everyone else just starts looking like a big, fat target. The game industry has been burned too many times to trust law-makers, and hey - the ESRB is a method of self-policing that works great. Why can't we find a way to solve our issues ourselves and leave the government out of it?

#22 Edited by MormonWarrior (2593 posts) -

The one interesting problem here is that the only games that really struggle with this are extremely simple indie games. When it comes to higher-quality, more complex games out there (not just blockbusters like Gears of War or Call of Duty but old, lower-budget games like Super Mario Bros. as well) nobody ever makes a clone that is as good as the original, and nobody is fooled. How many thousands of platformers have there been, and direct rip-offs of a simple 1985 platformer, and yet nobody can match that quality or sales of Mario?

I think part of the problem is that these indie developers are making games that frankly aren't that intricate or high-quality. It's more in concept that they're interesting, usually. And concepts are easily copied without infringing on copyright, even when it's blatantly ripping off another game. The real solution I see is both having better information about original concepts and games (so you don't accidentally buy a clone without knowing it) and the developers making better games.

#23 Edited by tourgen (4503 posts) -

They neglect to address the main assumption underlying this whole discussion: that clones are bad.

I don't think they are.

They have copyright protection preventing outright copy-and-paste of their source code and art assets. That is all the protection they should need, or should expect. From there it's on them to produce the best game they can, as quickly and efficiently as they can, and at the lowest cost to the consumer. Adding additional features or services can also give them a boost over their competition, or simply supporting the product well after release with speedy patches and expansions.

The idea that they deserve some sort of protection to allow them to avoid directly competing on merit is nothing but a whiny temper-tantrum. Your ideas are essentially worthless. Your execution of a collection of ideas is what is valuable. If you cannot execute at least as well as everyone else you do not "deserve" to get paid.

Furthermore, adding additional protection for "game designs ideas" will harm the industry. Fewer competing products will be released. The games that do get released will take longer to come out and will be of lower quality. Because competition is artificially restricted.

Guys, guess what. You have to execute better than the cut-rate knock-off game farms. If you can't what the hell does that say about the quality of your game and your abilities?

#24 Posted by TadThuggish (907 posts) -

"But iPhone games are the future!" -- Journalists scrambling to find something to say.

#25 Posted by NoelVeiga (1100 posts) -

@SparroHawc said:

If copyright is extended to gameplay, it is going to spell the doom of innovation in games. Patents are already destroying the software and hardware industry thanks to submarine patent warehouses, and copyright is worse when it comes to lifespan (over 100 years and rising). You want to know why you almost never see minigames in loading screens? Namco has a patent for it, and no one wants to pay Namco to license that patent. Instead we get to sit through loading screens, twiddling our thumbs, despite including a little minigame to play during that time being an obvious invention in the mind of just about any gamer alive - and thus should be outside of patentability.

Plus, what will happen in situations like Desktop Dungeons when the clone is released before the original? Will we get cloners who catch wind of a new idea who then rush out to secure a patent/copyright on the gameplay concept before the independent, less-funded original developer has a chance to? (Answer: Of course we will, if there's even a slight chance it will be profitable.) Patents and copyrights overwhelmingly benefit large companies more than small ones, in no small part because of what it costs to hire a lawyer to deal with them. With enough money to throw around, everyone else just starts looking like a big, fat target. The game industry has been burned too many times to trust law-makers, and hey - the ESRB is a method of self-policing that works great. Why can't we find a way to solve our issues ourselves and leave the government out of it?

No, see, patents and copyright are not the same thing.

Patents are for tech and can apply to individual concepts. If you let people patent gameplay they could "own" first person cameras, games in which you run left to right jumping on enemies' heads or games that simulate the driving of a vehicle. That's a very stupid thing that several people are trying to push and, of course, I don't support it.

That's not what copyright is.

First off, copyright already applies to games. The problem is that we don't seem to have a consistent regulation that covers plagiarism in game mechanics as well as in visuals or characters. If I just swap all the sprites and leave all the mechanics I'm mostly safe from any copyright claims. That's a problem. It'd be like saying that, as long as I change the lyrics I can keep the music on a song intact and be safe from a copyright claim. It's obviously ridiculous.

Copyright on music considers the use of identical series of notes and includes rules about how many consecutive bars of a song can be found in another song before that second one can get in trouble. That's because there is specific regulation for music there. For games... well, I'm no lawyer and I could be wrong, but I don't think we've set up regulation in which a common set of mechanics, interface choices, balance choices or other game-specific elements are used to determine infringement.

It's not that hard to do and it would absolutely help. You can't just replace the visuals of Tiny Tower and call it a day. We can all see that this is a violation of the fundamentals of copyright. If your mechanics are the same, your goal structure is the same, your interface is the same and the core concept is the same, you're out of line. This can be regulated without affecting innovation at all. All you need is guidelines for how many mechanical commonalities you can have before you're called out. Change balance and you have a different game. Add a mechanical element and you change how things are played. Completely revamp the interface and the game feels different. But keep all of that identical? Well, then you're ripping people off.

Now, what happens when the clone hits before the original? Well, that's not a problem, either. Films are copyrightable at several stages of development. You can copyright a screenplay, but also the music and the finished product. It wouldn't be particularly hard to come up with a set of rules about what needs to be presented for a copyright claim (say a design doc, a prototype and concept art). Plus copyright in movies already takes into account the dates when things started to be developed. We could do the same. All you need is to file a claim to have proof that you started work on something ahead of time. Again, copyright already applies to several aspects of gaming, so this is actually already true.

This lack of trust in government to defend one's interest is a very stupid thing. Its only effect is for indie devs to be completely left to their own devices in the face of plagiarism. While patents for individual game mechanics are a very bad idea, like I said before, let's not make the mistake of thinking that the possibility of bad regulation means that good regulation can't be passed. I get that US politics are currently full of this kind of stupid rethoric, but from the industrial perspective it would be dumb to let the ideologues turn us away from having useful legislation to protect innovation and entrepreneurship.

#26 Posted by NoelVeiga (1100 posts) -

@tourgen: Really? Doesn't it seem a bit ridiculous that if you grab a few lines of code from an FPS and put them in your side scrolling beat'em'up you get in trouble but if you reverse engineer the entire mechanics of another beat'em'up and redraw all the same graphics you're good to go? That's not a "concept versus execution" problem.

#27 Posted by guanophobic (307 posts) -

@MaxOpower said:

Really appreciate the GDC coverage. Tanks Patrick!

Yeah, really hope to hear more!

Lazy 8 studios just posted their GDC 2012 microtalk called "Innovation in the Game Industry" where he brings up cloning and mentions that the most effective weapon from cloning is to trump form (as in visuals and audio etc).

#28 Posted by fred2265 (21 posts) -

Interesting. However there are very few actually different games, most are the same approximate concept with different textures.

#29 Posted by spandexmonkey (8 posts) -

If someone is able to clone your game faster than you're able to develop it, then the problem seems to be with the developer or, in this case, the "original" idea.

#30 Posted by Katkillad (142 posts) -

If you are going to develop on a platform for ipad/iphone, you get what comes along with that.  I have no sympathy for clones in casual gaming where your focus isn't on creating a full length game, but a .99 cent throwaway in the first place in hopes to make the next angry birds.

#31 Posted by ZmillA (2271 posts) -

@spandexmonkey said:

If someone is able to clone your game faster than you're able to develop it, then the problem seems to be with the developer or, in this case, the "original" idea.

In this case the game that got cloned was already released.

I can't think of any cases where a game in development got cloned and the clone was released before the actual game was.

#32 Edited by dekard49 (14 posts) -

There is an interesting conversation to occur regarding where iteration stops and cloning starts; if we think about retail games, you could argue that things like mechanics and upgrades paths are often ripped off wholesale as in this case - however, the effect is not as pronounced due to larger games doling out their mechanics and upgrades over a much broader period of time - larger games are also able to differentiate themselves with things like story and art style. Mobile games often give you the majority of the game mechanics in a more shorter space of time, often straight of the bat, without as much traditional 'story'.

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