tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Send in the clones

There’s a bit of a stink being raised by some mobile/social developers about other developers cloning their games. Some are even going so far as to launch lawsuits against the accused. The first one I was aware of was NimbleBit accusing Zynga of ripping off their tower building game Tiny Tower, but other studios have since come out and made similar accusations against other developers.

I’ve been thinking a bit about this issue. The underlying assumption seems to be that cloning of games is bad…but this is something I can’t bring myself to agree with. For without cloning, we would never have gotten  all the quality fighting games that came out in the wake of Street Fighter II. Hell, Capcom fought and lost a lawsuit that established the legal basis for its original concept to be cloned by developers like Data East, SNK and others.

On top of that, cloning is pretty much how a concept is improved upon and refined. Capcom made Street Fighter II, and every fighting game that has come out since then (well, every good fighting game, anyway) has been a refinement and an improvement over the mechanics established in that first game. Not to mention that a lot of these games started out as pure clones, but as time passed the developers began to add mechanics and tweaks that added depth and differentiated them from the original (for instance Ryuuko no Ken’s power meter for doing special and super moves…heck, the entire concept of a super move, KOF’94’s 3-on-3 battles and so on).

If I do have a problem with this particular issue, it’s that the games being cloned…well, aren’t that good. I played Tiny Tower for a bit on my iPhone, and between the need to pay real money for things to get done in any reasonable time frame and the fact that the game itself had no real interesting goals, and felt like a poor ripoff of SimTower (a game I enjoyed a good deal when I was a kid), I didn’t really feel too bad about wiping it off my phone after a couple of days.

I guess you could argue that it’s about the principle of the matter, that big studios like Zynga shouldn’t be stealing concepts from smaller studios. The fact is, though, that this sort of thing has been going on for ages in the games industry and it’s not about to stop happening, so I suspect these studios would be better served by iterating on their own concept and making it better rather than crying foul at other people’s attempts to cash in.

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