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.
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.
Google Play has taken Threes off the store because we used "2048" as a search keyword 😡
— Asher Vollmer (@AsherVo) May 5, 2015
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.