Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Attack of the Clones

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 19, 2011

I don’t have issues with certain things that are called “cloning” games. Everybody copies / borrows game mechanics, UI layouts, control schemes, and whatnot from successful games. If we had to reinvent the wheel every time we made a game,  we’d lose the advantage of standing on the shoulders of giants. Great ideas are meant to be inspire others, be adopted by others — and then improved upon, or remixed with better ideas. That’s how we progress. That’s how we got from Doom to Duke Nukem 3D, and from Wizardry to Bard’s Tale. Or from Dungeon Keeper to the upcoming release Dungeons (I hope!).

But wholesale copying / reskinning of a game? Blatant replication of innovative game mechanics without adding anything of substance to the mix? And especially stealing assets (or code) from a game to make a clone? Not cool.

In other media, it doesn’t matter if you’ve added your own sentence here and there, swapped some words around, and changed the font. It’s still called plagiarism.

It can be a fine line. In the casual game arena, I remember (but apparently not too well) when a game came out called Fairies that was an out-and-out rip-off of Bejeweled Chuzzle. Not cool. Reflexive’s Big Kahuna Reef, on the other hand, took the basic gameplay from Bejeweled and innovated, throwing a lot more twists on the core match-three concept. Cool. A more marginal case was the gazillion-selling Diner Dash, which was a clone of the much more modest Betty’s Beer Bar. I didn’t play much of either game, but from what I could see, the former at least added a great deal more polish to every aspect of the game, including the gameplay. From my uninformed perspective and distant memory, I’d call it “Iffy at best” if I’m feeling charitable, but most likely belongs in the “uncool” category.

But then we have these sad cases:

#1 – An indie makes a game, shows it to a MAJOR PUBLISHER, gets turned down. But shortly after their game becomes a moderate hit, said MAJOR PUBLISHER suddenly releases a clone.  This one might charitably be seen in the  “iffy” category, but the core idea was so original and different that the genesis is pretty obvious. Plus there’s the fact that it’s a big game company ripping off a tiny indie, especially for a game they’d looked at and then “rejected” — that smells bad. Really bad.  The offending company in this case is Capcom, ripping off the indie X-Box hit ‘Slosion Man with their mobile device game MaXplosion.

‘Splosion Man Maker Calls Capcom’s MaXplosion “Complete Theft”

At least Capcom has come relatively close to apologizing for their behavior. About as much as they can without leaving themselves open to a lawsuit the indies can’t afford to engage in.

Capcom ‘Saddened’ Over Its ‘Splosion Man’ iPhone Rip-Off

#2 – This is more of an indie-versus-indie thing, but the offending party is not worthy of the modest title of “indie.” Here they ripped off a Flash game completely, merely substituting the main character art with art stolen from another Flash game, and threw it up onto the App Store for iPhone.

Did EdisonGame steal The Blocks Cometh from developer Halfbot?

Sheesh. There are lines that should not be crossed.  I know that these are not the first nor will they be the last time crap like this happens. But innocent, hard-working indies are the ones getting screwed here.  Bad news all around, topped with bad sauce.

Filed Under: Biz, Casual Games - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    This is one of those things that really pisses me off.

    Those responsible often have no shame or remorse for what they’re doing, and the consequences for honest indie developers can be high.

    I do wonder if indie games are more likely to be ripped off in this way (although I do remember Limbo of the Lost), because it may be less likely that a poor indie dev would be able to take legal action.

    I read about a similar situation with Desktop Dungeons too. (more about that on RPS: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/17/justice-for-desktop-dungeons/ )

    Glad you made the distinction at the top as well between games influenced by others and blatant copying. We’ve all called games “Diablo-clones” or “Doom-clones” but they are rarely ripping the predecessor game off.

  • Whiner said,

    IIRC the fight over Fairies was because of it appearing to be a clone of Chuzzle, not Bejeweled. It was the slidy-mechanic, not the swappy one.

    There was a lot of arguing about it at the time, because Fairies clearly was adding a few elements of its own (some advanced features worked differently, obviously very different theme and reward structure, and some brand-new minigames) but the core gameplay mechanic was the same, and they were the first big game other than the original to use said mechanic.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Andy – Yeah, I forgot to mention the Desktop Dungeons thing, thanks. I haven’t played the clone for that one, either, so I don’t know how much of a knock-off it really is. I wanted to be careful about this topic because it CAN be a pretty blurry distinction. Eventually the clones becomes a category (like “roguelikes”, or “Diablo clones”), but I don’t have a problem with it if they are merely taking their source of inspiration as a foundation and building upon it.

    But then you’ve got the folks who are simply trying to cash in. I remember hearing how the head of marketing at GT Interactive tried to convince my boss that this was exactly the strategy we should be pursuing. At that point, I became convinced that all marketing folks were soulless, spineless idiots. Now I know that I shouldn’t confuse “most” for “all.” 🙂

    @Whiner – Gah, thanks, that’s an embarrassing correction. It’s been a very long time since I last played it — I just remember being astonished at what a shameless imitation it was. Ah, back when I paid marginal attention to casual games…

  • Bad Sector said,

    Regarding Fairies, these ultra simplistic games mostly compete on their theme not mechanics. And honestly, i would play Fairies any time over Chuzzle (also it is one of the very few such “simplistic” games i enjoyed… or even remember :-P).

    Btw, Fairies was made by Funpause (which is/was two or three people at the time if i remember correctly the announcement thread at indiegamer), not BFG.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I remember it being released through BFG, but I didn’t remember who developed it. I’m batting 1.000 today with my l33t research skills, aren’t I?

  • Zeus said,

    I wonder what the Explodemon developer thinks of ‘Splosion Man’s “complete theft.”

    By my count, MaXplosion is the third platformer in a high-tech setting featuring a red, self-imploding protagonist.

    The Explodemon saga is a fascinating read, for anyone who’s interested:


  • Psychochild's Blog » Send in the clones said,

    […] recent examples have been League of Epic Heroes ripping off Desktop Dungeons on a new platform and MaXsplosion duplicating the gameplay of an indie game 'Splosion Man. (The Rampant Coyote mentions a few other examples and uses a bad pun for his blog title, […]

  • Is Imitation* The Best Form Of Flattery? said,

    […] with the same wavelength I am ‘tuned to’.  In this case, Jar wrote an article “Attack of the Clones” where he talked about the prevalence of game developers copying the works of other game […]