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Any successful formula will be copied. This isn’t a theory. It’s a fact. It’s not easy coming up with unique ideas, and it takes a lot less work to modify an existing one. “Improving” (a term which I use loosely) upon the latest craze can also be a lot more profitable than trying something new. Buyers want an experience they know they’ll like, and a clone can provide that.
But I’m going to tell you a little secret. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Yes, it’s unfortunate when a new IP fails because of clones. And yes, for every fantastic game that happens to resemble another certain title, five more blatant clones will try to cash in on the same idea. For every Ace of Spades or Terraria, you'll see a Fortress Craft. But we need to stop perpetually labeling games as rip-offs. Some of these releases deserve to be called out on their unoriginality, but plenty of other titles should be applauded for taking a great concept and making it their own.
Darksiders is one of them. Upon release, critics praised its blend of Zelda-esque dungeons and hack-and-slash gameplay, but it was overlooked by gamers for being too similar to the games it borrowed elements from. It’s a shame because the majority of people who actually played Darksiders enjoyed it. Thankfully, with Darksiders II coming out fairly soon, the series has a chance to redeem itself and finally gain the fan base it deserves.
This reminds me of another franchise you might have heard about, Saints Row. Now, even I won’t deny that the original Saints Row was a bit too similar to Grand Theft Auto, but look at the series now. It has its own unique style and following. Instead of being the red-headed stepchild of the open-world family, Saints Row is GTA’s demented twin.
You see, it’s not always about being the most unique when it comes to game design. It’s about choosing the direction you want and sticking with it. If developers weren’t allowed to borrow elements from other games, we’d have no Minecraft, Call of Duty, or even World of Warcraft.
I’m not saying that companies should avoid being as unique as possible. I love “games” like Dear Esther just as much as COD, but we need to learn how to distinguish between “influenced by” and “stolen from (insert name here)." If we don’t, we’ll continue to let great games slip by because we can’t get past our petty fanboyism.
Competition is GOOD for the industry. So what if some of the mechanics from your favorite title were stolen? To me, that just means that studios will try even harder to make their games the best. Because of its competition, Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 is shaping up to be 10 times the game GTA 4 was. And who knows? Maybe GTA 5 will drive Volition to up its ante with Saints Row 4 and once again blow our minds with craziness.
The cycle never ends. Gaming companies are constantly trying to outdo each other, and even though this leads to a lot of copying and pasting, it also encourages innovation. We need stop complaining about what we don’t have and appreciate what we do have.
And stop worrying about new experiences. The indie scene will take care of that. It always has.
Join the conversation! What do you think about video game clones, the state of the industry, or creativity in general?