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Game cloning is one of the only things the gaming world should be able to universally agree on. It’s an awful practice and it needs to go away.

Game cloning is exactly what it sounds like: taking an existing game and altering the graphics a bit and renaming it, which in the mobile market is often as simple as adding HD, Pro, Ad-Free, 2 or Plus.

My issue with game cloning is that it flies in the face of what gaming should be. Video games are about so many things: fun, challenge, emotion, beauty, compelling stories, unique experiences exclusive to interactive media… I could go on forever but that’s boring and self-congratulatory and my editor won’t let me. The best video games are made by developers and artists who want to give gamers something great to play; yes there’s money to be made, but many game developers sacrifice more lucrative careers to work in the industry they love.

Game cloning, however, is only about money. It is about cashing in on someone else’s work, hoping that gamers will be fooled into buying their game, lazily taking the work of others for a quick cash-in. It is essentially tolerated plagiarism, legal only because patenting video game mechanics would be impossible.

...That someone stole.

…That someone stole.

It might seem like a petty problem, but game cloning happens all the time and because you can’t exactly clone Call of Duty in a week, its happening to smaller companies and truly independent developers. I’ll give you some examples:

  • FarmVille is famous for its role in beginning “bug your friends on Facebook” game craze and helped establish Zynga dominance of the social game market. It released in June of 2009, but several very similar games had been released months before it, including FarmTown
  • Candy Crush Saga, released by King in 2012 appears to be an unabashed clone of a 2010 game Candy Swipe from developer Albert Ransom. This came to light when King bafflingly attempted to enforce copyright on the words “Saga” and “Candy”. Because Candy Crush Saga is so massively popular, Ransom’s Candy Swipe is frequently seen as a clone itself.
  • Flappy Bird, developed by Dong Nguyen was a massively viral game that was cloned almost instantly. Its popularity became too much for Nguyen however and he took it down, effectively creating a Wild West for Flappy clones.
  • 2048 was a recent hit that began as an open source game but later had paid versions and was a clone of Threes by Asher Vollmer, Greg Wohlwend and Jimmy Hinson. While it is common knowledge that 2048 is the ripoff, it remains more popular
  • A recent Medium article from an independent developer accused the company that released 2048 of stealing his game Circle Pong when he submitted it to them. However it seems an earlier game, Pongo Pongo had the exact same concept, making it difficult to trace who cloned who.
  • Finally, Bloodbath Kavkaz is an awful and unapologetic clone of Hotline Miami, to the point that before the Hotline devs intervened, it was titled Hotline Kavkaz.

This isn’t even close to all the examples; name a popular mobile game and the odds are good there are 50 clones of it desperately trying to cash in on some other developer’s hard work. Cloning is ethically wrong pure and simple.

The annoying thing is that nobody reading this disagrees with me. No one is out there fighting for the right of people to rip off the work of others; the issue is that people just don’t care enough. They might be mildly annoyed because of how much shovelware they have to comb through to find the game they were looking for and when an egregious case like Bloodbath Kavkaz pops up they might mention how its messed up but thats about it.

It doesn’t really affect the average gamer, but the culture of cloning can destroy the hard work of an independent dev overnight because King needs a new mobile hit. However, the systems in place not only allow cloning, but sometimes reward the clones over the original.

Until Steam, Google Play and the App Store fix their systems to be harder on this insidious practice, we’re going to keep seeing stories like this, and until the public starts to care about game cloning, we’re not going to see any change at all.

Wyatt Hnatiw

Staff Writer

Wyatt Hnatiw is a lifelong gamer with a borderline inappropriate love of BioWare RPGs and Bioshock. Maybe he just loves the prefix Bio...

  • Iconoclast

    It is a delicate field. You could tighten the copyright and plagiarism laws to combat the rabbid c/p gameplay that is going on the app stores, but that could have unintended consequences. I bet there are law firms out there who are just waiting to the sue everyone with remotely similar games or even apply those laws in different fields like generica or sueing the producers othere derivatives like the gazillion coke-like sodas that are sold around the world.

  • I’m kind of torn about this. It depends on what we mean by “cloning”: there was a famous case back in the ’80s of a guy who took ZX Spectrum games and literally just changed the sprites, selling the result as his own work (sometimes, almost unbelievably, to major publishers). That’s obviously wrong. If you’re using other people’s code without permission it’s little more than commercialized piracy.

    But on the other hand, the computer gaming industry would barely have got started if it wasn’t for people, er, “unofficially” porting arcade games. Some of the biggest developers in the world got their start by “cloning” games for other platforms, often improving them in the process (Archer McLean’s Dropzone is arguably a better game than Defender, for example). Art has always had a place for inspiration and homage.

    So where do we draw the line? Yes, it could be one of those “I know it when I see it” things, but the trouble with them is that other people see it differently. It’s a tricky one.

  • Turt

    I don’t think it’s such a big deal.
    Games have always had a great share of taking ideas from something and reutilizing them in a different way, it’s how some games have gotten so many clones they just become a genre.
    Look at doom clones aka shooters today.
    Gaming would be overall worse if there was something preventing games from existing if they were somehow too similar to others.

    The cheap skin swaps of games are only a thing in mobile where it is indeed cheap to produce them and easy to get away with it and the bar is set so low they don’t really need to do much polish to make a clone be on par with an original.
    But even then, worst case scenario, people just have 10 versions of the same game with different themes, not such a terrible thing.

  • Robert Grosso

    Being inspired by mechanics or a game engine to make something is one thing, since you are putting time and effort into creating that said game.

    Directly copying a whole game entirely, to the point where legal action is involved, is another issue entirely.

    I think it needs a bit more research to really dive into this, but this is a problem, especially since mobile gaming is just as much of a part of the gaming industry as anything else.

  • Psichaos

    There’s definitely a problem when game clones are sold on the same market as the original game it’s made from, and it’s saddening when a clone that is simply a reskin is more successful than the original. That said, clones of games released on a different platform than the original, either because the dev is unable or refuses to do so, is more justified. Failing to provide a product when there is plenty demand is just a missed opportunity, and there shouldn’t be any ill will towards those who saw an opportunity at an untapped market and took it.

  • chizwoz

    The solution is to just make more complicated games. That way by the time someone’s copied you, you’ll have at least had a long head start in gaining attention and reputation. That’s the key part of it and is why no matter how good they are, no minecraft clone will ever overtake it.

  • Kain Yusanagi

    That’s definitely not what Wyatt’s talking about regarding cloning, though. He’s talking about those carbon-copy, just-change-the-name-a-little, complete ripoffs of games on the same platform trying to cash in on the success of the original; in short, it’s the basic concept behind the Call of Duty cycle, but sped up to ludicrous speed (or is it plaid?) and by third party developers rather than trying to replicate success in house.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    I agree, this practice is really mud in the face of fans and early adopters who buy these games originally, only to have better versions released later that they are expected to purchase again.

  • I appreciate that, but again, it’s I-know-it-when-I-see-it. Where do we draw the line?

  • There’s no problem with clones. Copy lead to evolution. New game can developed new features, new concept and so on, that attract more players than original. It’s good practice.
    Also Flappy Bird is clone of Line Birds from Windows Phone 7.

  • Kain Yusanagi

    You made a very obvious, notable line there. “Is it being released on that platform? No? Then releasing a similar game on that platform isn’t the bad kind of cloning”.

  • Fair enough, up to a point. But what about something like this? Granted, that’s open source and not-for-profit, but it’s not hard to imagine a commercial Minecraft clone, with maybe slightly different gameplay or graphics, that would be perfectly acceptable. (Yes, easy enough to imagine one that wouldn’t, too, but that’s the point: it’s a tough thing to define.)

  • Kain Yusanagi

    It is an unabashed clone. You can just go back to 1.7.3 in the launcher itself, so it’s also completely unnecessary, and just provides a free clone for paid content on the same medium. That falls into the bad clone territory, period.

    As for commercial Minecraft clones: There are plenty already. 😛

  • Well, it’s open source. If Microsoft decide to push Mojang into dropping support for other platforms, or removing the older clients from the launcher, it’s still there. It could be ported to platforms that Mojang has never supported.

    And there we have the problem I’m talking about: I see that as a good port, you don’t. It really isn’t easy to draw a line.

  • Kain Yusanagi

    Those older versions are also supported by the playerbase and until the launcher was made to do so, shared around the various versions to play through legit clients, including details about how to mod your game to do so. So even if Microsoft tries to do something like that, it ain’t gonna change.

    Ported versions are ported versions, as stated above. If Minecraft isn’t brought over to other platforms, then it can find a space there. That’s not what it’s doing. As for you seeing this as a good port- You’re actually going back on the very rules you put forth on what makes something a clone or not, so you’re just being a hypocrite.

  • You’re putting words into my mouth. The only hard rule I put forward was:

    If you’re using other people’s code without permission it’s little more than commercialized piracy.

    But Truecraft is explicitly a clean room recreation, so that doesn’t apply.

    Anything else you inferred (wrongly) from what I said. Again, my entire point is that beyond the unauthorised use of code, it’s extremely hard to rule on something like this.