Hello, and welcome to Dev Talk, the weekly iFanzine feature in which I ask a panel of indie game developers their opinion on a topic or current hot-button issue related to the games industry.
This week I posed the following question: “Video game cloning is disappointingly rife on mobile. How do you think you would feel and react if someone plagiarized your game’s unique concept and beat you to market with a copycat, à la what happened to Vlambeer with Ridiculous Fishing, Sirvo with Threes!, or Ben Esposito with the upcoming Donut County?”
Yeah, I’ve heard of those cases. I’m not sure… it would be quite depressing to find out someone cloned and beat my game to market, but there’s probably not much I’d be able to do about it as long as it’s not an outright copy with graphics and music/sfx. I’d just have to prepare the best I can and release the game. It’d probably make me more determined to make my game a success.
It’s a pretty scummy thing to do. I’d probably feel frustrated but impressed that they finished the game before I did. I’d publicly shame the people who did it and go to the press. At the very least people might talk about my game which is tough these days! A situation like that potentially makes for a lot of publicity and could mean more people picking up your game out of sympathy. Fortunately, it’s something I’ve not had to deal with. I bet it’s bloody stressful and demoralizing. A question to consider though, would you have known about those games if they weren’t cloned? It might have been one of the best things to happen to them.
Well there’s a general view that cloning happens and is part of the landscape of games development, especially on mobile, and that’s true. We’ve had our clones too and they’re not half-bad but they came well after our own success. But I genuinely feel for devs who get ripped off before or just after they release their game and it hasn’t even had time to grow into a success. I have no respect for the devs who would do that to other devs. Not in a business sense — they may have earned a billion dollars — just creatively they’ve proven nothing as far as I’m concerned, and in terms of their character have proven quite a lot.
There is actually a game on the App Store that has been illegally using the original Tsuro gameplay since well before we launched our officially licensed digital edition. On one hand, it’s a flattering homage, but on the other hand it is pretty flagrant copyright infringement, as the tile set design is protected. This just strengthens our resolve to deliver the highest quality experience possible, so that there can be no question which game is the original article.
If someone copied our game after release, that would be somewhat flattering really. That shows we’re doing something right. Copying something before release is extremely disappointing of course, and incredibly frustrating I would think. The best you can do is if you have a cool concept, make sure there is a maximum of 6 months between your announcement and your release. That way you reduce the chances of other people copying your game.
Obviously I’d be upset. We make RPGs which are a bit more difficult to make quick clones of so we haven’t had this problem yet though. I guess the only thing you can do is not show anything until it hits the App Store but that’s difficult to do and then once it hits you can get clones right away anyway.
Situations like with Ridiculous Fishing, Threes! and Donut County are really frustrating. It’s a real shame that such simple and elegant mechanics (and thus so complicated to create) have the lowest cloning resistance. On the other hand, player experience and flow are always the hardest to replicate, which is why one can always distinguish a well executed game from the cheap clone.
Please come and steal our game! You can buy a pre-release version here. We post our concepts online, along with with traveling notes (we call them that) and production details here.
Seriously though, the reason you get a loveless ripoff topping the charts is that, to most phone users, games are mindless entertainment. There’s no realization that each game is a piece of work (occasionally: art) made by real people. Where it’s at is, we need massive retroprojectors for people to see what we’re doing. I mean, in real time.
If I had a project that relied on a uniquely distinctive game mechanic, I’d keep the lid on it. Still, Donut County has a story — evil French company back-stabbing a humble developer and all. Kotaku, Polygon and Variety are on it; they will get Apple’s front page as a result.
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