Is there anything wrong with games imitating other games?
There are lots of different names for them. Rip-offs. Copy-cats. Clones are common in the game world, though there is a lot of argument about what constitutes a clone and whether or not there’s negative meaning to the term. Is it bad for a game to derive elements from another game?
Clones have been around for as long as games have. When I went to the arcade, I never played Pac-Man, I played Ms. Pac-Man. I never played Galaga, either. Galaxian for me, and they were both clones of Space Invaders.
Until there was an official name for the first person shooter genre, these games were referred to as Doom clones. They weren’t even necessarily similar, like many arcade clones were. This leads to a situation where any first person shooter is a Doom clone, which makes the term rather useless.
The style of play in Diablo games, when featured elsewhere, gets the game referred to as a Diablo clone, which is strange given that Diablo was itself a clone. Many modern games suffer from this, too.
Any modern sandbox game gets called a Grand Theft Auto clone, which borders on preposterous given that sandboxes were around well before GTA. Saints Row takes a brunt of the criticism, and it is indeed very similar to GTA.
Both games revolve around criminal activity, collecting guns, stealing cars, and so forth. The first Saints Row was very much a clone in the cynical way, but the series set itself a part. They still pay homage to GTA, but they go their own way. While Grand Theft Auto has distinguished itself with gritty drama, Saints Row has gone the other direction with light hearted satire and pop culture riffing.
I remember one time I was playing Dante’s Inferno and a roommate made an effort to inform me that it was just a rip-off of God of War. Having not played God of War, I can only say that they do look similar. Sort of how God of War looks similar to Devil May Cry. It is absurd that when a game becomes the most popular example of a genre, it defines the genre. Hack and slash games are very similar, as playstyle genres are wont to be.
If someone tries to tell me a game is similar to another game, I’m hard-pressed to find it a bad thing. I don’t mind that first person shooters are similar, so long as they make good use of the perspective.
The most recent clone kerfuffle involved the mobile game Flappy Bird, which was known for both looking a lot like a mishmash of Super Mario graphics and for being really difficult. Even though it was derived from something else, it created a new game which many people seemed to enjoy (or hate, if the death threats against the creator are any example). Many clones sprung up trying to capture what it did, and now that it has been pulled from the market, the clones are all that’s left.
I think, in part at least, gamers like to defend their favorite games, and when they see a similar game, they feel the need to point out that their game did it first. Why this is a bad thing, I don’t know. We don’t worry that two car companies released similar cars. The variety is actually a good thing.
Competition inspires companies to innovate and set their games apart. Of course there will always be companies trying to cash in on popular crazes (especially in the mobile market), but I feel that clone is far too often used negatively.
What competition shouldn’t do is drive people to malign games similar to their favorites just because they’re similar. Whether it’s an homage, straight-up copy, or just falls into the same genre, clones deserve a shot. If it was good enough for the original game, it’s good enough to give a shot elsewhere.
There are lots of games. Some different, some similar. I like different kinds of games, but I don’t only play one game from each genre for fear of liking a clone of something. If a game does something interesting with the materials at hand, then it’s a good game. In fact, gaming as a whole would benefit if people were less afraid to try and put their own spin on existing things. Maybe not quite like Flappy Bird, but there is a lot of room for people to be creative.