Are there too many similar games out there? Yes, but this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” You’ve most certainly heard that line before. The first time I heard it was studying art in college, supposedly said by Pablo Picasso, but most likely said by just about every artist. The problem is that’s a true statement. Everything is seemingly a derivative of something else. It’s easy to say “nothing is original” but I don’t know if I believe that. Even if you take someone’s idea and change it around to create a new game, you had to think of that, right? That’s original, isn’t it? Nonetheless, we’re stuck in an era where it feels like we’ve seen it all before. Music, movies, games…nothing seems to surprise us, which is why I find the recent hubbub about video game cloning a little hard to swallow.
What’s the big deal?
Recently there have been many articles posted about the situation where Zynga, the game dev behind Farmville and others, is releasing a game called Dream Heights that is essentially a clone of Tiny Tower, a mobile game that asks you to manage little Sim-like people in an apartment building. Zynga’s game appears to be exactly the same as Tiny Tower just with different graphics and label changes. Some people are calling foul because Zynga is a big name developer copying a little indie operation. Look, I understand where they’re coming from but the fact remains that even indie games like Tiny Tower have borrowed concepts from games of the past. Did you every play The Sims? Guess what you have to do in that game?
Indie game developers have been ripping off big budget titles for decades. Heck, even the big devs rip each other off. We’re all inspired by different things so it’s only natural that those influences make their way into the games we create. I don’t hear a lot of bitching from the big boys complaining about indie copycats (unless there is outright theft going on). The indie guys can go and whine all they want but they’re not going to get much sympathy from me. If you have a good game, people will buy it…and they’ll continue to buy it and become fans…Angry Birds, anyone? I know that indie shops can’t compete in budget and resources with the likes of EA and Activision but that’s fine because they can compete where those guys suffer: creativity. There might not be an original idea left in the world but the games being made by the small shops are some of the best games available on any platform. Zynga will release their game and millions of people will play it because they have marketing reach. Those people have probably never heard of Tiny Tower and weren’t giving their money to the small guy in the first place. People say that life isn’t fair and neither is game development (or business).
Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE supporter of indie games. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on indie titles. The games being made by one- and two-person teams are incredible. They’re fun, they’re exciting, they’re challenging…and they’re cheap! Even if some of the games are clones of other, bigger titles, I still buy them and have fun with them. Why spend $60 on a game when I can get a similar game for $3 in the marketplace? Since there aren’t any original ideas left, you might as well get the same old crap at a cheaper price.
The real problem
The real problem when it comes to derivative versions of games isn’t who’s losing money or getting screwed out of their idea...the real losers are us, the gamers. I’ve been on a gaming downswing for many months now because of this very problem. Every game I see feels like one I’ve played before. Sure, you come across a gem every now and then but that’s not the norm. Of course, this sameness doesn’t stop me from dropping a dollar to play a game for an hour and then forget about it. Games have become disposable and that’s why we’re seeing so many clones and rip-offs, and that’s why lifelong gamers like myself are starting to take a break or just otherwise giving up.
Don’t let The Man get you down
I still pay attention to the gaming scene and see a lot of “Mass Effect” this and “Call of Duty” that…same old, same old…but the real glimmers of hope lie in the indie sector. These games are made by passionate people that are in it not just to make money but because they want a game they can be proud of. These games might remind you of some other game from your past but even then there’s something different about them, whether it be in the characters, the story, the mechanics or something else. But as some indie shops are discovering, when your tiny game gets a lot of press and starts winning loyal fans, that’s when you face some stiff competition.
Personally, if I made a small game and then saw someone like Zynga copying it, I would be shocked and ecstatic. Then I’d be pissed. I know why these indie devs are mad. Nobody likes a mooch but that’s the way it goes. If I was in that position I would like to think it would motivate me to keep improving my game and keep innovating…the one thing I can do well. If you don’t want competition then you don’t want your product to succeed. I know there is a fine line between inspiration and theft but that will always be the case. Pablo Picasso knew it and he did pretty well for himself.