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Topic: Where is the line between "inspired by" and "copy/clone"? And when, if ever, are clones okay?

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Heavyarms55

We have seen a lot of games over the years that are very similar to other games. Sometimes just similar mechanics, sometimes they look and feel almost like the same game. Back in the Atari 2600 years, blatant clones were frequent. Mobile games today are awash with clones and games that feel like glaring copies of each other. How many Angry Birds and Clash of Clans knock offs are there on Android and iOS? Sometimes we have things like the upcoming Wargroove, openly stating that they are directly inspired by, and want to capture the feel of, Advance Wars. Stardew Valley made no secret of it's inspiration from old Harvest Moon games.

So where is the line? How close to someone else's content can a game get, before it crosses from inspiration to clone or copy?

Legally, from what I have read, companies cannot do much unless literal chunks of programming or visual assets are stolen from their games. If I rip the sprite of Charmander from Pokemon Emerald, name it Paul the Fire Dragon in my game about capturing and raising dragons, Game Freak could easily shut me down.

What do you think? How close can a game get before they are just ripping off someone else's work? And is that ever okay?

At first, when I saw the trailer for Wargroove I thought "That's literally Advance Wars made by someone else" But since AW is seemingly a dead series - with Intelligent Systems not releasing a game in many years and showing no signs of doing so, I cannot help but really want Wargroove, and I respect their open honesty about wanting to revive that genre and series.

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NaviAndMii

So long as they comply with copyright law, I don't really have an issue with 'copycat' games.

I've read some stories in recent times about PlayerUnknown (PUBG) apparently considering filing a lawsuit against Epic Games (Fortnite) for 'copying' their battle royale idea (despite it not even being their idea to begin with) and suing the makers of another game, NetEase, because they 'copied' the idea of being able to use a frying pan as a melee weapon...and it all just comes across as quite petty and ridiculous as far as I'm concerned!

Goodness knows, there have been countless Zelda-clones released over the years - most bad, some decent and a few that have perhaps even threatened to de-throne the franchise - the bad/decent ones aren't really a threat, but I'm sure that the ones that emerged as challengers to the throne have, over the years, inspired Nintendo not to rest on their laurels and instead push themselves to stay ahead of the curve - go above and beyond - and ensure that their game is still the 'go to' series in the genre.

So, to me, that's the crux of it - IP, assets, script etc can be copyrighted - but being able to lock down an entire genre of game and run a monopoly over a particular niche would be a step too far...the best way to maintain market share is to always ensure that you're ahead of the competition - and the onus is on the maker of the original game to ensure that they don't get usurped by something better.

Despite an over-saturation of platformers down the years, Mario remained 'King' of the genre - not because they'd managed to legally cordon of a particular corner of the market and ensure that nobody else had a sniff - but because the series has built and maintained a very strong reputation spanning several decades. If another company came along and made a similar title called 'Gianluca the Italian Plumber', it'd really have to be some game to knock the original plumber off his perch...and even if they did - and the world fell in love with Gianluca - it should only serve as inspiration to Nintendo to deliver something even better with their next instalment! ..and we, as gamers, would be blessed with both Mario and Gianluca!

...and then, as you say, there are games like Wargroove and Stardew Valley which kind of neatly fill a gap that another franchise has let slide - which (the good ones at least) serve as nice options for fans of the original looking to full the void!

Overall, I like the balance of copyright law in gaming - and think it allows for a healthy, competitive environment for developers to work in (whilst still offering a good amount of protection) ..some shops/stores/services are better than others at filtering the wheat from the chaff - but, in this day and age, you're never more than a couple of clicks away from finding the information you need to make an informed judgement on a particular game - and it's better to have some variety/choice than none at all (even if the variety isn't all that varied sometimes!)

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MarcelRguez

I'd argue that clones are not only "not bad" from a user's perspective, but benefitial for gaming as a whole down the line.

Take what's happened with Dark Souls. We've seen different studios make their own take on what makes Dark Souls be Dark Souls, from reskins like The Surge to reinterpretations like Salt and Sanctuary. As more games inspired by Dark Souls appear, the mechanics of the game are further integrated into the design palette of a wide variety of games and genres (soul-like elements, so to speak), and as a result different creators add their own spin to the formula. Happened to Roguelikes, happened to Metroidvanias.

Of course, clones can be harmful if cheap knock-offs end up eclipsing the original and oversaturating the market, but I'd say it's worth the risk. It's the way in which something like the original Doom can pave the way for something as different as Portal in little more than a decade. You need the small ideas brought to the table through iteration by games like Duke Nukem 3D or Perfect Dark to eventually arrive at something like that.

Edited on by MarcelRguez

MarcelRguez

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NaviAndMii

MarcelRguez wrote:

I'd say it's worth the risk. It's the way in which something like the original Doom can pave the way for something as different as Portal in little more than a decade. You need the small ideas brought to the table through iteration by games like Duke Nukem 3D or Perfect Dark to eventually arrive at something like that.

Yeah - Wow! When you put it like that - DOOM to Portal in a little over a decade (and so many fabulous 'iterations' in between) ..just amazing!

..and it's possible for various similar franchises to successfully co-exist with one another - to the Lehmann, there's little difference between the CoD's, Battlefield's and Tom Clancy's of the world - but they each take a healthy slice of the same pie when it comes to sales and are all still going strong

I can definitely see @Heavyarms55's point when it comes to some of the shameless rip-off's you see on the App Store from time to time - Draconius GO, for example, certainly made me raise my eyebrows...

Untitled

...but apparently, despite appearances, it is actually an original game (ie. not a carbon copy of Pokemon GO) - and has a 'USP' of holding up better in rural areas - so, in a sense, even that is an 'iteration' of sorts! (..a minuscule one, sure - but it has a certain niche!)

If a game is a literal rip-off, it deserves to be taken down - and games that just aren't as good as others (and don't compete on price) should largely just be ignored...but if a game is doing something different - even slightly - I think there's a place for it in the industry

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link3710

@NaviAndMii I can't help but feel like that was a Giana Sisters reference

Anyways, the OP hit the nail on the head. So long as graphics, writing and coding isn't being reused, it's fair game... more or less. If someone were to, say, reprogram A Link to the Past from scratch with new assets and dialogue well... that's probably pushing the line way too far.

link3710

Heavyarms55

@link3710 That's kind of my point though, where is the line? How similar can a game be before we are just ripping off someone else? I wasn't implying that Mario should be the only platformer, or Pokemon the only monter training RPG. But somewhere there is a line divideing "same genre/inspired by" and "rip off" and it can be hard to tell where that line is.

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NaviAndMii

@link3710 Oh man! Gianluca is almost certainly the 'Luigi' to the Giana Sisters' 'Mario' - haha!

@Heavyarms55 It's a tough question! To the letter of the law, I guess the answer lies somewhere in the code - but if I hear someone describe Draconius GO as a 'Pokemon GO rip-off', I'm not going to pull them up on it...even if the code is sufficiently different and the IP hasn't been infringed!

I think it's almost an intangible thing really - Draconius GO heavily resembles Pokemon GO, uses the word 'GO' in its title, plays like Pokemon GO, was released shortly after Pokemon GO...their whole strategy, clearly, is to directly piggy-back on the back of Pokemon GO's success - so I'd say it's more than fair to label it a 'rip off' - the dev's would probably even describe it that way themselves! (..in private - when they're certain the Ninja's aren't listening!)

With games like Wargroove and Stardew Valley - in the same way as Draconius GO - they remind you of other games that you've seen, or played, or enjoyed...but too much time has passed since the original releases for those games to be 'piggy backing' on the back of their successes - and they're sufficiently different for them to stand alone as their own things.

Fortnite clearly shoe-horned a battle royale mode in to their game so that they could piggy-back on the back of the success of PUBG - but the art-style and and mechanics are sufficiently different for it also to stand alone as its own thing.

...but, at the same time, those are just my opinions - PlayerUnknown apparently feels that Fortnite is a PUBG 'rip off', so his 'threshold' for what constitutes a 'rip off' is obviously somewhat lower than my own!

Legally, there's a line - but the difference between what people perceive as a 'rip off' or a 'game that takes inspiration from' probably differs from person to person.

Interesting topic!

Edited on by NaviAndMii

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Heavyarms55

@NaviAndMii I suppose you are right, it probably varies from person to person. I tend to dismiss things like the PUBG and Fortnight lawsuit because they are clearly rival companies going after each other whose games are clearly rivals within the same genre. Also I am less concerned with official legal rules because those tend to be years or even decades out of date and only serve legality's sake. To me, something like Draconius GO is, without any question, clearly a rip off. It is far far too similar. Wargroove from everything I have read on their blog is both open about it's inspiration, and also clearly going well beyond what it's inspiration did. Stardew Valley in the same way.

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Dezzy

I think the lack of patenting ideas within games software has pretty much worked out fine for the industry.

Very rarely have the people who've made a cheap clone of something ever done well because of it. People usually just see it as a reminder of the original game instead.

If the idea is really good, the person who does it first usually gets most of the credit naturally.

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kkslider5552000

Yeah, I don't care too much as long as they aren't doing anything illegal and a good product comes from it. And even for that first point, I still argue AM2R is one of the best games I've played in recent years.

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link3710

@Dezzy Well... then you do have situations like Pokemon and Shin Megami Tensei lol. Technically Pokemon started off as basically a SMT ripoff aimed at kids... but by making the series more accessible, it expanded the audience significantly. And I doubt it's the only genre defining game to not have been the first of it's kind.

link3710

Edgeofsoul

Lots of games end up being very similar with just a different take to it or mapping the buttons differently. It doesn't bother me much long has it brings in new ideas than just Dark Souls with fluffy kittens.

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Heavyarms55

@link3710 That's a bit of a stretch, aside from the history of Pokemon being well documented, those games aren't nearly similar enough that I would consider them clones or rip offs.

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Heavyarms55

@Edgeofsoul I would play Fluffy Kitten Souls. XD

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MarcelRguez

@NaviAndMii I know, right? It surprised me as well when I thought about it, honestly.

And speaking of Pokémon GO, it's worth pointing out that, even when a game explodes in popularity and copycats try to capitalize on that, it doesn't mean that first game was doing something entirely original either. Pokémon GO is Ingress with a Pokémon skin over it, for example. It's the same company iterating on the idea, only with a shinier, more attractive coat of paint this time.

And yeah, the thing about the PUBG guys considering to sue Fortnite is ironic as hell, considering PUBG began as an Arma 3 mod and all. If anything, Fortnite is the more "original" game of the two. Perception is a finicky thing.

@Heavyarms55 That's part of the thing: similarity is in the eye of the beholder, to some degree. I wouldn't place SMT and Pokémon on the same branch of the family tree of games either, but an argument can be made about SMT being the first game to introduce the mechanic of catching monsters into the mainstream, which was later adopted by other games like Pokémon. Due to Pokémon's success, other devs tried to replicate that formula and not SMT's, but the mechanic of monster-catching itself originates from that game. It's a much more diluted Wolfenstein-to-Doom situation: people recreate the one that's more popular, not necessarily the one that came first.

As an aside, I think this discussion is a bit nebulous because of the word "clone" and how it's used. For many people (myself included), it doesn't have a negative connotation the way something like rip-off or knock-off does.

I would consider something like this a rip-off, because from the way it's designed and advertised you can tell it's trying to deceive people into thinking it's Pokémon:
Untitled

But something like this?
Untitled

That's just a Pokémon clone, or a contender in a new sub-genre, and I don't see anything particularly wrong with that.

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NaviAndMii

Heavyarms55 wrote:

To me, something like Draconius GO is, without any question, clearly a rip off. It is far far too similar.

Oh, absolutely - I'd probably categorise it as such as well ..but, as someone who lives in a rural village - in an area where, unfortunately, Pokemon GO barely seems to work - if Draconius GO is delivering a superior gameplay experience in my neck-of-the-woods, perhaps it is bringing something sufficiently 'different' to the table for it to be 'okay'?

I mean, it's a pretty shameless way of going about it - for sure...but my girlfriend and I were hoping to use Pokemon GO as an excuse to go on regular little treks through our local countryside, but it didn't really deliver - and subsequent patches and updates haven't addressed the issues that we've experienced in our area - so perhaps, as much as it pains me to say it, this shameless copycat does have a place because it's identified and addressed issues with Niantic's hit and delivered something that, in some ways/to some people, could be considered an extension/improvement on the formula? ..making Draconius GO perhaps 'borderline' - but not quite - a 'rip off'?

(I'm just playing 'Devils Advocate' really - as I say, I'd consider it a 'rip off' too! ..but, on the flip side, if Niantic aren't catering for people who live in the back'o'beyond like myself - they've left a niche open for other games, like this one, to take advantage of - and, rather than complain about it or file a lawsuit, perhaps Niantic should just consider improving their own formula?)

MarcelRguez wrote:

Perception is a finicky thing.

Haha! Yeah, I think that's it really...

With the first image you posted, for a split-second - before your eyes properly adjust - you 'see' Pokemon...when you look a little closer, you quickly realise that the characters aren't Ash and Pikachu - and you 'feel' as though you've kind of seen through the 'deception'.

On the other hand, when I first saw Stardew Valley, for example - it was reminiscent of Harvest Moon - and I instantly felt like I knew roughly what to expect from the game...but, at the same time - as much as I was getting 'Harvest Moon vibes' from it - it also felt like its 'own thing'.

I mean, if I ever describe Stardew to someone, the first thing I say is 'did you ever play Harvest Moon back in the day?' ..but it feels more like a loving tribute - with its own ideas and a fresh new spin - than a straight up knock-off! ..it's pretty close though - so perhaps some people would consider it to be a rip-off?

I think you're right - it's all a matter of perception

Edited on by NaviAndMii

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ThomasOfTheTiels

There's also Yo-Kai Watch which is just Pokemon, but with minor differences and stupid concepts. I get that the not pokemon are based off of real creatures in Japanese lore, but it's just too similar for me to just call it "inspired." Don't even get me started on modern Digimon…

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