Tales from the Dev Side: The Game Industry Needs More Clones by DJ Arcas

Games similar to Minecraft dominate the sales charts of Xbox Live Indie Games.  Four of the top-10 selling games in platform’s history fall into that category.  The first games on XBLIG to gross $1,000,000 USD are both what are refereed to as “Minecraft Clones.”  I’ve not yet played any of those top-selling games, but I understand why they exist.  The gaming industry has always followed-the-leader.

When Pong first hit the world in 1972, it was immediately imitated, copied, cloned, or outright pirated world-wide.  Even Atari cloned its own baby, releasing such titles as  Super Pong, Doubles Pong, Doctor Pong, Puppy Pong, Hong Pong Phooey, and Pong Arm of the Law.  This continued with Breakout (itself referred to during development as “one-player Pong”), Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Defender, Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, Street Fighter II, Doom, Bejeweled, Resident Evil, World of Warcraft, and Angry Birds.  Think about it.  There are major studios out there right now who saw the first trailers for Watch Dogs or The Last of Us at E3 and said “guys, we need our own version of that and we need it by Holiday of 2013.  Get to work.”

In an industry where there are few trend setters, it has kind of surprised me how much animosity there is for those that are simply doing what the major studios are doing.  But the bitterness is there.  DJ Arcas, creator of FortressCraft, has dealt with it.  Last year, FortressCraft was the first Xbox Live Indie Game to gross $1,000,000.  I really ought to get around to reviewing it.  But while the first XBLIG-made millionaire continues to tweak his creation, he also has had to deal with the criticism that his game is merely a knock-off of a game that happens to be absurdly trendy right now.  I did once joke that Xbox Live Indie Games needs some form of a 6th Day Law, but DJ has another thought.  Maybe clones aren’t so bad after all.


The Game Industry Needs More Clones

By DJ Arcas, Creator of FortressCraft

The game industry needs more clones.  Controversial words, I know. But let’s start at the very beginning, with defining a few words.

  • Clone(n). A game with a very heavy and obvious influence from an existing game. If Mega Fighters game is clone of Awesome Fighter 3, and you like Awesome Fighters 3, you’re likely to want to play Mega Fighters!

Example: Final Fight is a Clone of Double Dragon

Final Dragon? Double Fight?

These two games are almost identical; if anything, Final Fight is a little bit of a step backwards in fight complexity, tho it does add the ‘Press both buttons to do a spinny attack and lose some health’ – hell, they even have the same basic story!

  • Carbon Copy. This almost never exists. This is a literal and identical copy of a game. These usually run into major copyright issues a few seconds after anyone finds out it exists. Even the most famous of these, Hangly-Man, had different levels!

That’s Hangly Man on the left.

  • Reskin(n). An identical copy of a game, changing only the graphics. I’ve not run into many of these, but one notable one was this game, which was a reskin of the quite awesome Army of Darkness game:

Now THAT is a ripoff (see below). “But it looks nothing like it!”, I hear you shout. No, indeed it doesn’t. Looking like another game usually has very little to do with anything. The internet is full of forumites, shouting “gameplay is king”, but at the end of the day, people compare things based on how they look. Oh! Monster is… mind-boggling. The game is the same. I don’t mean this with any sense of hyperbole; the game is the same. In Army of Darkness, you have a gun that clears a small amount of area in front of you. In Oh! Monster, you have a mallet that does the same. In Army of Darkness, you get a book, that you throw on the ground, that sucks in monsters. In Oh! Monster, you get a magic item, that you throw on the ground that sucks in monsters. Army of Darkness’ ultimate weapon is the car Ash used in the film, which ploughs through enemies. In Oh! Monster, you get a school bus that acts identically. The balancing is the same. The levels are the same. The cost of items are the same. The order you unlock things in is the same. My mind was blown that someone would copy a game and not evolve it at all. Looks different tho. Is that important?

  • Ripoff(n). A derogatory term used by angry fanboys, often with very little basis in reality. By any yardstick, Avatar is a ripoff of Pocahontas.

Dances with Cat-Alien Things

Only, it’s not, is it? It’s completely nonsensical to say that James Cameron *really* wanted to do Pocahontas in space. There’s only a finite number of ideas out there, and have been for a very long time. Any completely original book, game, story or film is likely to be so detached from mainstream audience as to be unenjoyable.

Quite an interesting recent ‘rip off’ was the hooha between Ninja Fishing and Radical Fishing. Ninja Fishing is the same game as Radical Fishing, only it adds in the fruit ninja-style slashing for the killing of the fish. That’s not a rip-off – that’s an evolution (Not MUCH of an evolution, mind you, but the ‘original’ Radical Fishing was so simple as to barely be a game in the first place)

Now, let’s be honest; the only real difference between many of these term is intent; people seem to relish ‘originality’ in games, but without any real innovation or originality in the games industry, this term has come to mean next to nothing. Almost every game has some originality, some speck of new and different – this much is self-evident. Why pay for a carbon-copy of a game you already love? You already HAVE that game! Gameloft have often been accused of ‘ripping off’ popular games, but even here, they aren’t stealing anything more than a vague overall feel (plus anyone who claims that anyone stole anything from StarCraft needs to be beaten with a copy of the Warhammer 40k rulebook).

Which brings me neatly onto my point; we need more clones.

I wandered into Game at lunchtime; sequel after sequel after sequel (the most basic form of a clone!). But that’s not the worst of it. Racing game, racing game, first person shooter, 3rd person shooter…

Where are my Gauntlet clones? Where are the RTS games? Why is the industry obsessed with cloning the massively popular games, right until the point where people get utterly sick of them?

The 80’s was a golden time of gaming for many; if you look back a little more objectively, it was full of platformers and Gauntlet clones. I miss those days. I love Gauntlet.

These days, we just saw the release of Diablo III, which managed 5 million players on a PC game, on day 1! That’s awesome, right? So, I’ve completed Diablo III. I’d like my clone now, please. The industry seems to be remarkably silent on this. Here’s my 50 quid. Give me a great Diablo 3 clone, and you can have it. (Yes, there’s Grim Dawn, Path of Exile and Torchlight 2. 3 games, and none of them on consoles, and none of them released. Apparently they couldn’t ‘fit’ Torchlight 2 into 512 megs….pathetic). And the last 10 years has been surprisingly silent in the way of dungeon crawlers (Torchlight, Titan Quest and Dungeon Siege being notable exceptions. I think they might be the ONLY exceptions, tho!)

I love Trials HD. Where’s the clones there? There should be 10 of them on XBLA by now; the Monster truck one, the one with missiles, the one in space, the post-apocalyptic one…

DarkSiders was popular enough to warrant a sequel, shameless God Of War clone that it was. What else is there in that particular sub genre? I’ve got the choice of Devil May Cry or…. nothing.

Where’s my Borderlands clones? Cooperative FPS games with procedural loot? Yummy, yes please.

I love Pikmin enough to run out and buy a Wii-U just to play Pikmin 3 on. Why aren’t there any other Pikmin-style games? I don’t play the game for the exciting adventure of Olimar-in-a-garden, I play it for the awesome swarm-based gameplay.

DJ should consider Swarm for PlayStation Network. It’s Pikmin-like, and not bad.

Space Pirates and Zombies was brilliant, tons and tons of fun. Yet I can’t find another game like it.

Terraria was a smash hit, hugely played and great (right until the developers decided they’d made enough money and started on a new game instead of working on it); why does a search for “Terraria-style game” not bring back a plethora of delights for me to spend my money on?

I’ve got £50 right here. Why does my only choice seem to be between Boring Racer 3 and Generic First Person Shooter 6? There’s always the Indie Game scene, but there’s few places to help me easily wade through the masses of crappy My First Games and get at the ones worth the money.

All I want to do is buy my Borderlands-meets-Terraria game. Sadly, it appears I’m stuck with writing that myself.

I hate the games industry sometimes.

BlazeJam is a benefit taking part July 6-8 to benefit victims of the recent wildfires in Colorado.  A gaming event to show that we’re not just about T-Bagging hobos in Saints Row.  Visit BlazeJam.com for more info.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

23 Responses to Tales from the Dev Side: The Game Industry Needs More Clones by DJ Arcas

  1. I was kind of hoping you would relate your ideas in this post to your game FortressCraft. Maybe your sick of defending when it falls on senseless fan boys half the time, I would be sick and tired of explaining myself too. I definitely agree with everything you said, the golden age of gaming was a time for finding new ways to innovate, for us today the secret to good games is innovating with what we already have.

  2. Tom Happ says:

    I often have people say to me, “your game looks like Metroid mixed with Contra and Castlevania. What a ripoff! I’d rather just go play Metroid and Contra and Castlevania!”. It’s hard to bite my tongue and not make some snarky response.

  3. Interesting article. You took the same tack as I would have (which is a compliment, arrogant though that sounds!). You make an insightful point that there are very few carbon copies, and the occasional reskin goes unnoticed. There might be a whole second article in the question of how much aesthetics define the consumer’s perception of a game’s originality or similarity. If I was a dev, I’d write it myself. :p

    Interesting point too about the ‘golden age’ not necessarily being more inventive but just being full of clones in genres that you enjoy. Much though I have fond memories of the NES/SNES/Mega Drive era, it was full to bursting with very similar platformers and lazy film licences.

    • Also, Borderlands-meets-Terraria sounds right up my street.

    • That would be an interesting article, I had many people write off my game as a carbon copy because I used the same art as RPG Maker 2003 but even they didn’t make the art! Some even went as far as claiming that I made the game in RPG Maker as well, so therefore all I did was publish it onto Xbox. People are more inclined to remember and compare what they see, not what they experienced.

    • People, even people from that era, seem to really romanticize the Golden Age. As I pointed out in my opening spiel, the gaming industry GREW out of cloning. Atari did Pong, but a lawsuit from Magnavox proved that Nolan Bushnell attended a tradeshow where the Odyssey’s video tennis game was shown. This was before development of Pong began. So Pong itself was a clone of sorts (even though the Odyssey didn’t have Pong’s unique segmented-paddle and relied on a secondary control that put English on the ball).

      But Atari wasn’t alone in cloning Pong. Williams did one. Bally did one. This is fucking Pong we’re talking about here. And then once Home Pong came out? Holy shit. EVERYONE made one. Coleco, RCA, Radio Shack, Magnavox, Nintendo, and literally hundreds of nameless offbrands that started and died in the time it took for me to write this reply. This is during the founding of the entire industry. Cloning is legacy of the industry. But that’s true of the entertainment industry as a whole. You make money off what is trendy.

      • In the 80s people didn’t have as many games too clone, compared to today where people have millions of options on the cloning menu. People can even make games that they think are original but then turn out to be an unintentional clone of another. I’m not saying cloning is bad, cloning means taking something that’s already done and making it even better. Cloning is the legacy of the industry and as the industry gets bigger, so does the wide range of clones it has to offer.

        • I think there’s definitely room for clones in the sense of small variations on a formula. I’m always looking at the XBLIG channel in search of ‘something that’s like _____________’. It’s a tried and tested game-buying principle.

          I liked Secret of Mana so I played Terranigma. I liked Zelda 2 so I played Battle of Olympus. I liked Doom so I played Turok. Quite distinct games, but all could be accused of being clones by certain criteria, and in each case it was a case of ‘That game seems like that other game I enjoyed’. Hell, for most of the 1990s, first person shooters were universally known as ‘Doom clones’.

          If I enjoyed something, I’ll be interested in something else that’s similar. Even if it’s so similar that it’s barely more than extra levels for the original.

        • In my town we have a game developers group that meets once a month to talk about new game technologies and whatnot. Occasionally we pitch game ideas we’ve had to one another, and a couple of months back I pitched an idea that I thought was totally original and brilliant, and they went “Oh, you mean like “. I had never heard of it, but checked it out on Steam that night and sure enough there was pretty much the exact game I had in mind.

          If you have an “original” idea that mashes up several previously used gameplay mechanics it’s almost certainly at least been thought of before, and possibly even made.

  4. Pingback: The Games Industry Needs More Clones | DjArcas's Blog

  5. Edgar Alan says:

    Very interesting article, thanks for posting that.
    If you’re after a similar game to Pikmin, I’d recommend giving Little King’s Story (on the Wii, though I think it may have been ported to the PS3 or something as well) a look. It has comparable gameplay mechanics and is chock full of character.

  6. Some very good points made here. I remember how much I loved playing Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. This was essentially a Diablo clone on consoles.

  7. The definition of ripoffs, reskins, and clones is being used way too liberally here. To the point where an argument can be made about how game X is just like game Z regardless of how different they are. You also need to take into account that games can have value because of their accessibility, so speaking of those pong clones, I fully expect to see every console offering a variant of this because otherwise you would need to purchase a competitors console to play it.

    As an example, let’s look at the massage games on XBOX. Do we need more massage games? To me, you either need a massage game that offers something superior / different compared to the competition or you shouldn’t even bother putting one out. If someone puts out a game that’s the exact same or worse as one existing, there is no point to making it other than the developer wanting to try and make some money.

    Conversely, let’s look at the mining games. Do we need more mining games on XBOX? Same argument as above, if it offers nothing new or is a watered down version of a pre-existing game, I see no reason for it to exist. There’s a difference here though, because when these games first came out there were no mining games on XBOX. So I see value in the fact they were the first mining games on XBOX, regardless of their originality. Now the mining games have fallen to the same fate as the massage games and every other trend thus far.

    If you were to say we need better clones, I’d somewhat agree. Except I don’t agree with the word clone, because I think it marginalizes the extra effort put into well made games that had a lot of inspiration. You can copy a large chunk of a game (or various games) and make something worthwhile that feels different too.

  8. Maybe I’m missing it, but you started off strong but your summation was simply that clones are good because the games you want to play aren’t being cloned? Seems a bit weak, I was hoping for a stronger finish, more punch.

    Honestly, I’ve always felt the real root cause of the angst with clones, particular ones like FortressCraft come from more of a personal level. What bothers me most about FortressCraft comes more from that fact that it’s good.

    If you had made a crappy unsuccessful Minecraft clone, I wouldn’t have felt anything about it. Might have even patted you on the back. I encourage new developers to clone games. I clone games, great for learning and getting your feet wet.

    Instead, with FortressCraft you didn’t just make a clone, you made a good one. You have some incredible programming chops. You’ve got talent for finishing projects. You’ve got a wildly successful game out there….and I don’t.

    So it kind of becomes a weird father/son situation where I want to live vicariously through you, but you’ve chosen to not play sports when I really wanted you to be the football star I never was but wish I was. When I see a fantastic clone, I get this intense frustration that builds up inside, thinking to myself “but they could have made something so different, they have the skills, they could have made anything!”

    It makes the skills feel wasted since I’m projecting my own thoughts and desires onto the clone maker. Feeling frustrated because I’m not there, I don’t have those skills and I’m not making the games I want to make.

    It’s why I’ve never really complained about the clones (or FortressCraft) since I’ve recognized my issues are more my own lack of success than any kind of actual dislike of clones. It’s why I feel most Indie developers tend to take issues with clones. I could be wrong, but there’s got to be more developers out there like me who feel that way. I’d wager it’s why most developers get so angry and passionate about it even if they don’t realize it.

    Now disappointment about poor PR management, that was justified 🙂

    • Dave Voyles says:

      George, you raise a good point here, and I think a lot of us feel that way too.

      Perhaps we build what we know best. And what is practical, really.

  9. UnSubject says:

    The issue with cloning often comes more from the perception of the clone than the actual act itself.

    Very few people had heard of Infiniminer, so therefore Minecraft was “new” to them. However, they see something similar to Minecraft now and then it becomes, “That’s a clone! How dare they!”.

    Gaming designs builds on iterations, with sometimes the “good” features carried through, sometimes not. But without that iteration a number of genres wouldn’t have improved and we’d all still be laying concrete slabs in our RTS’ ala Dune 2000.

    Another view on clones and how the industry / other indie designers sometimes over-reacts to them: http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2012/05/23/mcclone/

  10. Not buying it says:

    Yeah… no.

    You\’re spot on when you say that many games (and films and books and…) inherit the basic structure from another game, but give it their own particular flavour by adding tonnes of creative input and generally making it unrecognisable from the original.

    Avatar is an example of this (even if it\’s a terrible film): while the basic plot is the same, noone in their right mind would ever confuse it with pocahontas, or think it hadn\’t brought anything new to the table. Minecraft is another example of this: it took the ideas introduced by infiniminer and built an entire world around them. Really all they have in common is destructable blocks.

    And all of that would be very insightful and interesting if it weren\’t coming from a dev who falls squarely into the \”ripoff\” category. The qualifications for a ripoff are simple, and have little or nothing to do with being a fanboy or not. Fortresscraft adds nothing that wasn\’t already present in minecraft, there are superficial differences, but ultimately it\’s the same game in the same world with a different shader and one or two added features.

    There\’s plenty of other games which have taken what minecraft developed and expanded on them, creating their own, unique, experience. But fortresscraft isn\’t one of them, and, by the looks of things, never will be.

    • That veers towards ad hominem territory. The value or otherwise of FortressCraft doesn’t invalidate DJ Arcas’ points. You said yourself that they’re valid points; trying to discredit them because you don’t like his game is a little silly. At no point did the author place his own game in any of these categories, or bring it into the argument at all. It’s not necessary. I think “I’d agree with you if I liked your game, but I don’t” is a fragile position to take.

    • “Fortresscraft adds nothing that wasn\’t already present in minecraft”

      “one or two added features.”

      Not sure if haven’t played it, or just can’t count.

  11. Not buying it says:

    “trying to discredit them because you don’t like his game is a little silly. At no point did the author place his own game in any of these categories, or bring it into the argument at all.”

    Firstly I never said I didn’t like his game, I just said that it was more or less a direct copy of minecraft (aka “rip off” or “clone”). He added one or two nice features but it’s nowhere near an original work like the examples he gave.

    Secondly, I didn’t say it invalidated his argument, I said that his argument has an ulterior motive and that this makes it insincere. He hasn’t mentioned fortesscraft here, but this is about the only place where he hasn’t waxed lyrical about how new and groundbreaking his game is and how terrible minecraft is in comparison.

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  13. This article is more about why cloning happens than why we need it. .comthis is an issue we need to address, not a trend to let run us over. The most remarkable games out there have been so not because they were clones of similar games or genres, but because they took the problems present in those games, and addressed them, or polished the idea to hell and back. Call of Duty is a perfect example of a game that brings nothing new to the table and is polished so well it sells millions, while it’s many little clones made by less capable teams fall into the dust because the gmae inheretly isn’t interesting without all that effort, and those teams can’t recreate that. Also, stating that cloning ir any particular form of it is right in all circumstances is an immature and not very well thought out idea, especially in games where there are so many variables, that there are very few truths and magic answers. Just a sign of the industry’s immaturity as a newer medium that we find any trend a positive one.

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