Monday Chat #5 — Video Games: A Constant Cycle of Rehashed Ideas?

So today’s topic originates from this Reddit post: https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/6slno9/cartoon_network_stole_my_game/?utm_content=title&utm_medium=user&utm_source=reddit

Basically what happened is that the creator of the flash game A Dance of Fire and Ice found that their was a Cartoon Network flash game strangely similar in concept released on their website…

Now, to be fair, A Dance of Fire and Ice is one of the top rated (and most played) Kongregate rhythm games whereas Cartoon Network tends to throw out their flash games every month or so to make way for content more relevant to the current programming; so overall, this specific instance isn’t that big of a deal. But what about the concept in general? After all, this has happened plenty of times — Bejeweled and Candy Crush, Crush the Castle and Angry Birds, and Pandemic and Plague Inc (just to name a few). So is there something inherently and morally wrong with the concept of “Great artists steal”, or is there some justification in it after all?

Now in order to really get a case on what a true “rip off” is, we need to focus on two things: style and substance. Let’s take an example with the CN debacle. A Dance of Fire and Ice and the CN game both have the same core gameplay element — rhythm based timing game based on two constantly rotating sprites that one has to time correctly to keep on the path. However, in style, both games differ — Dance has more of a concrete, minimalist style that models after the two elements which the game is named after, whereas the CN game… just has a bunch of shitty Gumball sprites. Secondly, there’s the substance — there’s the fact that its clear the CN game doesn’t run on Dance’s stolen code, cause the game runs like shit. That means that there’s only on real similarity between the two — the gameplay. But is gameplay copyright-able?

As you’ve probably been able to tell, of course not. There’s plenty of turn based RPGs, or first person shooters, or 3D collectathon platformers. Once one person makes a subgenre, its free for people to refine and edit themselves — as long as they make their own source code. After all, we don’t see people paying royalties to the creator of Wolfenstein, do we?

Another thing though, and perhaps a bit bigger of a deal, is with the size of the business. Bigger businesses can market better than individuals, and thus the mainstream appeal of two very similar games can go to a later game rather than an earlier one. Rovio probably had a much bigger budget to advertise Angry Birds than Armor Games had for Crush the Castle, and Armor Games had a bigger budget than all the other small developers doing similar games way before that! There’s also the choice of distribution. Crush the Castle was originally flash exclusive, which only has the audience of the every diminishing minority of those who play flash games. Rovio, however, took a chance with the ever expanding mobile app market and it ended up paying off big time. So, although people might not like it, business sense does play some part in it.

Now, all these games discussed so far have been fairly different in style and substance, but there is a possibility of blatant rip offs succeeding over the originals. Such is the case often within the mobile market. For a specific example, back in 2014 the app Bad Apples, a blatant stolen version of Cards Against Humanity, reached the top of the app store, causing it to overshadow Cards by over tenfold. Fortunately, due to some clever marketing by Cards Against Humanity — and the poor development upkeep by the Bad Apples creators — Cards was able to regain its spot in popular culture as the original adult party game. Still, one might consider poor moderation of the App Store like this proven case to lead to many other undiscovered rip offs that succeed the original in popularity by many times.

Now, to go back to the main question — is the original always the best? After all, is it really that much of a shame that the content rich and well maintained Plague Inc is more popular than the fairly barebones Pandemic series? Honestly, I think that as long as there are not blatant rip offs of a game, it’s fine to have a sub genre generate and to enjoy better, later games that come out of it. It’s always good to remember the roots, but it’s not mandatory to love them. So while the developer behind A Dance of Fire and Ice isn’t exactly justified in his worry, I think he’s in pretty safe hands.

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Just a quick heads up — there will be no new Monday Chat next week. I’m moving into university, and then on that weekend am going to a related camping trip, sparing me no time to write. But hopefully after that I’ll be able to make room for continuing to make new posts in my schedule.

Currently reading: I finished Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka in a single night, and damn was it darker than I expected — a great read, and worth spending a couple of hours on. Still, I’ve decided I’m going to chill on the digital library for now, seeing that my physical book collection is pretty sparse and I can probably run through them fairly fast. I’ll probably make this my main backlog goal going into university.

Currently watching: As I mentioned before, I saw Dunkirk in theaters. While I really enjoyed the movie, I still don’t understand Christopher Nolan’s insistence on adding some level of non-linearity to his stories, even if they don’t make any sense. In this movie its particularly blatant — each story takes place a certain amount of time from each other, a la one week, one day, and one hour. But the stories all end up lining up in the end… so what’s the point? It seems like Nolan just added this in since people know him as “the weird mindfuck story guy” and kind of as an afterthought. I feel like the movie would’ve been a bit more cleaner and more coherent without this in place. Still, despite this — I mean, it’s a Nolan movie, right? — it’s still damn good. 8/10.

Currently playing: Mostly Skyrim and Mount and Blade Warband mods… though I DID start running a new NCAA Footbal 09 dynasty game (you know, what all the cool kids are doing right now) with the plan of making a long game that would use the import feature for Madden 09’s franchise mode (pretty basic stuff, everyone knows this), but then I remembered I was going into college and probably didn’t have time to do all this. Whoops.

Currently listening: Been picking up on a few new tracks. INOJ’s Time After Time cover has some pretty bumpin’ aesthetic. My Dead Girlfriend’s Danke is a solid banger. Other than that, I’ve been listening to some miscellaneous KPM tracks.

Well, that’s all for now. Remember to follow Codex of Aegis on Twitter and Facebook for more updates.

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