They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that was the case, it would seem like the gaming industry is full of developers trying to flatter each other. Jokes aside, imitation or knocking off or ripping off (whatever you want to call it) is rampant in the video game industry. It would be unfair to say that it happens only in this industry, *cough* Smartphones *cough* but we don’t much care about what goes on there. But when it comes to what really matters to us – video games – we give a crap. The thing about rip-offs is that they’re not always bad. There’s a lot of ways in which ripping off happens in the gaming industry, and we’re going to take a look at a few of them.
Now, this kind of rip-off is just copycatting. Perfect plagiarism, theft even. In these cases what you have is nearly the same game with a different name slapped on and boom! You’re done.
You remember pong? Sometimes credited as the first video game ever and what not? Blatant rip-off. We sh*t you not. Now you’re thinking, it’s like 3 white lines and a moving dot, what’s there to rip-off? Well, exactly that. The original game was called Table Tennis by Magnavox Odyssey and that’s exactly what it was, except the longer lines that represented the paddles were broader and more square-like. Everything else was the exact same, Atari ripped it all off. Magnavox sued Nolan Bushnell (He’s the guy who started Atari) for that and won, but Magnavox just took a one-time licensing fee of $700,000. Which looks like a lot but if you think about how much Atari went on to make out of pong, it’s pocket-change.
Another popular and often cited example of blatant ripping-off is a game called The Great Giana Sisters. If you haven’t guessed from the name yet, it’s a rip-off of the Super Mario Bros. Not only are the level designs almost identical, even the gameplay was pretty much the exact same. Just a few sprites and blocks were different. Of course, if there’s one thing anyone knows is that you don’t mess with Nintendo. It wasn’t long before they swooped in and shut The Great Giana Sisters down. Mario clones are commonplace these days, one search on any app store will show you dozens of Mario clones that are freely available to download. At least most of them bother to change it up just enough to avoid Nintendo’s wrath descending upon them.
Rip-Offs in Mobile Games
When it comes to ripping games off, no platform does it better than mobile. The smartphone gaming industry is pretty much 5 percent original games and 95 percent ripped off. Err, we may be exaggerating a bit but you get the drift.
Just take a look at some of prominent mobile game maker Gameloft’s titles. It seems they’ve made an art form out of ripping-off AAA titles for smartphones. Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. for instance feels conspicuously like Halo and Shadow Guardian is mostly Uncharted. In these cases at least they tried being creative with their naming but then you have games like Modern Combat. Can you guess which game that is a clone off? If you’re wondering how they get away with it, well as long as you change a few things here and there you’re golden. Gameloft CEO Michel Guillemot was actually confronted about the obvious cloning in their games in an interview with IGN Wireless, which he responded to by saying that the gaming industry at most gets like “one new idea a year” and the themes they can use are limited. Basically, Gameloft is saying that the gaming industry is running short on creativity. Unfortunately, they may be right.
You can easily find dozens of clones of Halo, StarCraft, Uncharted, GTA, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Dota, Pokemon, etc on the App Store and Google Play. The list is damn near endless. If something new starts getting popular, you can be sure that the there will be an influx of clones in a few days. Just look at all the Clash of Clans and Clash Royale clones, and even the Flappy Bird clones when that were a thing a few years ago.
Rip-Offs in Social Games
If we had to point out another game type besides mobile games that is rife with rip-offs it would have to be social network games. Primarily Zynga actually. You know, the folks behind the ultra popular FarmVille and Mafia Wars and god knows how many more games. Just about every game of theirs is a rip-off. FarmVille, for example, is an almost identical clone of a game called Farm Town. Mafia Wars was a clone of Mob Wars. And while the originals struggled to see success, Zynga basically just took all of their hard work and popularised it better. As for why these companies never sued Zynga? Perhaps they don’t have the deep pockets needed to sustain a long drawn out legal battle with a multi-million dollar giant. Ironically enough, Zynga continue to sue anyone else who allegedly tries to rip off their ripped-off content.
Rip-Offs in Online Games
Now this section most will be familiar with. This is where we talk about the usual suspects. So if you were thinking DotA and LoL you were right. If you were thinking Paladins and Overwatch, you’d be right again. We used characters from these games on the cover because a) they’re easily recognisable and b) clickbait.
The hot topic right now is how similar Hi-Rez’s Paladins is to Overwatch. But that’s because team shooters are the hot topic right now. Before team shooters were the “next big thing”, it was the MOBAs. Every other MOBA that came out was accused of being a DotA clone and in most cases that was true. The biggest rivalry was of course between DotA and League. These two didn’t really have much competition except each other, they still don’t. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying there aren’t other good MOBAs out there. Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm and Hi-Rez’s Smite are good MOBAs in their own right. They’re just nowhere near the two sitting on the top.
League has been accused several times of ripping off characters and abilities from DotA. The similarities are quite obvious in some cases and subtle otherwise but they’re there nonetheless. To be fair though, we need consider certain factors. For instance, not many may know that few of the people who actually worked on the original DotA left to join Riot Games and work on League. Can’t blame them for taking inspiration from something they made themselves. It’s lazy but it ain’t illegal.
As for the slew of MOBAs that spawned because of the success DotA and League saw, you can’t really call a game a rip-off for using the MOBA format. Thanks to DotA the format has become a genre in itself. For that matter, the MOBA format itself first appeared in Starcraft, on a map called Aeon of Strife. This map was adopted into Warcraft, meaning technically even DotA is a rip-off.
Similarly, everybody is talking about how Paladins is ripping Overwatch off, to the point where they’re basically calling Paladins the free-to-play Overwatch. But they seem to be forgetting Team Fortress 2, which is the OG team shooter. You can draw a lot of similarities between TF2 and both Overwatch and Paladins. Overwatch went on to become far more successful than TF2, making Blizzard over a billion dollars in just a year. So it’s not surprising that its success spawned several team shooters and Overwatch clones.
The world of gaming is at a point right now where you can’t tell if something’s a rip-off or not. Of course, you can tell the obvious ones apart but for all you know, some of the more popular games we play today could very likely have been rip-offs of some little-known game that never saw the light of day. These games just had the advantage of better funding and advertising. Blatant rip-offs are lazy and cheap attempts at making a quick buck. They’re more common on platforms which can easily be populated with games, which is why they’re so common on smartphone app stores and social media. Even Steam has a knock-off problem which they’re supposedly working on. However, we need to keep in mind that imitation is not always a bad thing. Legally locking down an idea or mechanic would be catastrophic to the progression of video games. There are a lot of great games that are perfected rip-offs. Or games that have come from adding a unique twist or perspective to an existing format or gameplay style. Take Smite for example, creating a MOBA in the third-person was a unique enough selling point that it’s still doing well even today. Gearbox’s Battleborn is a good example of how you can combine team shooters and MOBAs.
Taking a concept or idea and making it better, drawing inspiration from an already good game to make an even better one. That’s always a good thing, right?
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.