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The fallacy of cloning games

Open Twitter. In the little capsular search box up the top, type 'game clone' and hit Enter. Read the tweets. Below is a small example for your viewing pleasure:

Is it me, or does "indie game" now mean "Metroid clone"

- Sean Howard (@sqorgar) August 6, 2013

So Zynga’s new "innovative" game is a Bejeweled clone, targeting an age group not allowed on facebook, which includes microtransactions!

- Aaron Le Conte (@AaronLeConte) August 7, 2013

Chinese Army’s Controversial ‘Call of Duty’ Clone Opens to Gamers Today by @sirsteven @techinasia

- Kristie Lu Stout CNN (@klustout) August 1, 2013

So, Taut is the best Silent Hill clone I've played (Free Old German Indie Game)

- NeoGAF New Threads (@NeoGAFNewThread) July 7, 2013

Everyone's doing it, or talking about it. Sometimes game clones are met with enthusiasm (the volume of which seems to be directly proportional to the original's age - clone something new and you're a douchebag, but clone something old and forgotten and you're a hero), other times with scorn and plenty of fist-shaking. It's certainly a practice that requires some delicacy of implementation to pull off without invoking nuclear fallout.


We're quick to accuse things of being clones, too. Before the term First-Person Shooter was common, people used to refer to games of that ilk as Doom clones. That's right - Half Life; Doom clone. We are also quick to misattribute. Whenever a game made out of cubes is announced, even if it's 2D, platformer, or something else terribly un-Minecraft-like, people cry Minecraft clone. And while there are very blatant Minecraft clones out there, for the most part this accusation is not only inaccurate, but if "game made from cubes" is the basis of your claim, then you're forgetting that Minecraft itself was inspired by Infiniminer. And WoW clones everywhere! Yet World of Warcraft borrowed quite heavily from Everquest, Everquest from Ultima Online, and we must not forget the founding father of the fantasy videogame genre - Dungeons and Dragons. If you're the kind of person who loves slinging around clone-accusations, at least get it right, and throw in another of your favourite cliched troll phrases while you're at it - it's not a WoW clone, it's a 'DnD clone with better graphics'!


Making 'games that get accused of being clones' isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. In fact, I feel that more people need to embrace the practice of building on existing ideas. Take Super Mario Bros and add a gun, then you have Megaman. This is how society has evolved, and this is also how games evolve. It's also not fair of companies to hold on to a lot of these ideas by tying them down with patents. An example is the dialogue wheel used in Mass Effect. It's patented by EA, and they could very easily sue any game that shows dialogue options in a wheel. The dialogue wheel was not perfect, and if someone wanted to use the idea, but extend or build on it, the patent would prevent them from going anywhere near it.


On the other hand, there are of course games that are blatantly made to cash in on the success of others, and games that are albeit innocently so close to some predecessors that to call them clones is perfectly fair. Why so many, though? This Gamasutra article argues that the reason we see so many 'clones' is because of failures in communication - that in working with huge teams, one of - if not the - most difficult tasks is for the game designer to convey their ideas to the development army at their disposal, and the most convenient way to convey those ideas are through referencing existing projects. It's an interesting concept, especially when you consider the people responsible for the games that come out on both sides of the playing field - the banal and the fresh - Triple-A studios with their swaths of codemonkey minions, and small, focused indie studios, respectively. I imagine it's far easier to maintain a vision when you're a handful of people as opposed to trying to explain that vision and carry it through to concept with a team of 50+ people.

So in closing, there are two things that grate my cheese - falsely painting 'clone' in gaudy, tacky colours over not-really-badly-cloned games, and games that ARE clones for poorly justifiable reasons. Well, okay, let's make it three things - sweepingly discarding 'inspired by' games as being at all relevant or productive in the gaming industry. Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but is potentially the long-lost-uncle of invention.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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