OPINION: Video game developers confuse innovation for imitation

By Jorge Vasquez

Game developers are copying previously published games. Though it’s annoying for gamers, it is necessary for innovation.

There are video games in development and on shelves that resemble games within the same genre, and that’s because game companies see their successes and hope to emulate them.

They’ll use the same in-game assets and engine as the more popular titles, but add new mechanics so they can be marketed as new games.

Once in a blue moon, these “copycat” games will bring something new to the table that change the game industry.

“Fortnite: Battle Royale,” for example, was just another game in the battle royale copycat bandwagon.  It has however, seen mainstream success due to ease-of-access, lower hardware requirements and fort building mechanics.

Previously, it was “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) that reigned supreme over battle royale games like “The Culling”, “DayZ”, and “H1Z1”, but these games all looked and played the same.

However, “Fortnite: Battle Royale” is free, with the exception of micro-transactions, it has smooth gameplay and it has a building mechanic that allows for three dimensional movement; all of which appealed more broadly to gamers.

In February, “Fortnite” generated $126 million despite being free and PUBG earned $103 million with $30 per copy, according to Forbes. This shows the exponential popularity of the game.

“Fortnite” has turned into a household name and into a staple of the genre because its developers, Epic Game and People Can Fly, took ideas from other games and put their own twist on it.

Then comes along a blatant “Fortnite” clone, “Radical Heights”, that tries to piggyback off their success.

Though it is commendable that another developer wants to add to the plethora of battle royale games already out there, they went about it the wrong way.

“Radical Heights” is a free-to-play early-access title, which means it has not been officially released. It adds dodge-rolling, biking and zip lining to the battle royale template.

That might sound new and innovative, but the game is unpolished, choppy and empty.

The $15 founder’s pack available for purchase makes the game feel like a money grab.

These types of plagiaristic titles that prioritize profit over gameplay are insulting, and players notice these things as shown by the 7,574 mixed reviews left on the Steam page of the game.

Although “Radical Heights” brings new elements to battle royale that are enjoyable, it is overshadowed by poor execution and bad reception.

This isn’t limited only to battle royales. This happens in role playing games (RPGs), multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs),  first person shooters (FPSs) and especially in mobile phone game apps.

Two games that have been copied the most are “Wolfenstein 3D” (1992) and “Doom” (1993) by id Software.

These classic and somewhat ancient titles were among the first of the online FPS genre. Back before we had the internet, they were played through the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET).

This sparked a whole industry of online multiplayer games and inspired the creation of franchises such as “Halo,” “Call of Duty” and “Half-Life,” many of which are still industry powerhouses three decades later.

Most game developers copied id Software’s format and changed it to create completely new games that could appeal to either sci-fi lovers, history fanatics, technology enthusiasts, and others.

The copying of games back then was necessary to have more variety, but in modern times, the gaming library is just ending up saturated with all these look-alikes.

When was the last time a “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” or “Candy Crush” clone was developed?

Trick question. They’re will always be game clones, but we as gamers and consumers should be able to tell the difference between something that was quickly put together and something that took thought and effort.

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