To what extent is gameplay copying justifiable

Thought this would fit well in the design discussion. Its my rant from another thread:

quote:What about games plagiarizing other games? I'm not talking about the art side (where it is obviously happening) but on a gameplay point of view. There are a number of genres and its ok for a game to dip into them and take stuff but sometimes it goes too far.

For example, how many GTA clones have you seen in the past 2-3 years? Thats right... heaps! Now its not wrong to take many elements of a great game like GTA and put it in your own, but when you deviously try to make it exactly the same (same setting, same language, same violence) then it becomes despicable. Look at True Crime, its a total rip-off gameplay-wise and it also sucks. They cant even match the great gameplay of GTA games. Actually, no GTA clone since GTA3 has matched it aside from the 2 GTA sequels.

I was reading a new review of the new PC release of Driver3, again a GTA rip-off and a bad one to boot. As a designer if I was in a position to make such a game I would at least try and differentiate slightly or add new gameplay elements that would work. I'd also try to stray away from the whole gangsta/mafia stuff, its been done to death in the space of 3-4 years with only a couple being good enough. I hear EA just released The Godfather, a GTA-esque mobster game using that particular universe. Its cool, its a rip-off to an extent but at least they aren't pretending, its a game based on a great mafia movie. Cliche but its ok. But please stop doing it!!! There seems to be no imagination at all.

Now watch all the unimaginitive MMO's that will be released in the next year or 2 running off the success of WoW. Just watch the craze!

/end rant

What I mean to say is, how much should/can designers and studios be allowed to copy gameplay formulas or general ideas before it becomes just wrong? Ok I know most companies, especially their shareholders, are in it for the money and dont care if the game they are publishing/making is a blatant copy of another game, so long as they make money. And thats understandable.
Do the designers not care that they are copying other desings? Some maybe not, but i'm sure most would have many original idead that would probably be left out in case it is "too original or different" and the shareholders have a heart-attack cause they sold 20.000 copies less.

When should designers step up and speak their mind about what should and what could be done, two very different things? I'm not saying copying gameplay is a bad thing, on the contrary its needed in order for games to evolve. Every game has elements from some other game or a number of games, and thats good. But its wrong when a game is a complete copy of another game and especially when its not even as good as the game it is copying.

Thoughts?

mcdrewski's picture

It's never (AFAIK) been decided in court. Apple sued Microsoft over Windows "look and feel" being taken off the Mac, and I believe that the case was resolved instead by a licensing agreement rather than a landmark court decision.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_v._Microsoft

skunx's picture

Yeah AFAIK I have never heard anything like that either. But that wasnt the point of this post.

What I'm asking is how far can a designer go with copying elements of other games before he should be ashamed of himself for having no original ideas?

Its a tricky question I know, whenever I think of games design-wise alot of the time my mind wanders to what other similar games have done and sometimes I use that as a base of how some gameplay element could work. I do however have this voice waaay back in my head continuously pushing me to do things as different and as original as possible.

And theres the flipside of copying gameplay. I would have alot of respect for a designer that, for example, copies the GTA formula but actually makes it even more kickass than GTA itself. But usually the case is that its just a rip-off, and a bad one.

Other games that fit that category that just came to mind. Juiced, a Need for Speed wannabe, blatant rip-off and a bad one. Also there are a couple of racing/combat games coming out or already out, cant remember their names, but they are nearly identical to the Burnout series and as far as I can tell they kinda suck .[;)]

Caroo's picture

Nothing is truly "original" really. And if it is truly original in visuals and gameplay the only thing I can think of is one of those obscure Russian games where nothing is explained. Even a game shadow of the colossus isn?t original to a whole. Melbourne houses transformers had you battling a giant before colossus came out.

Copying concepts isn?t a sin. Copying an entire idea or formula however is. But how close do you define all this? Easy!

Generic WW2 game. Pretty standard FPS in which shooting and throwing grenades to kill an enemy is the only thing you do. Lets say that?s made by EA games.

Another Generic WW2 game. Exactly the same visual style and game play BUT instead of being alone your surrounded by many of your allied troops.

Not a big change really. But it's more then enough not to come up as copying in legal rights.

"NEW" ideas for games come up in three ways:
1) We ether add one or two new elements to a genre of game "Like drivable vehicles in first person shooters"
2) We cross hybrid genre types like RTS and FPS in the same game and hope to god it works [and more times then less it doesn?t.]
3) We look to old ideas to make new games. Today?s survival horrors can be traced back to pac-mans game play. Avoid unkillable enemies to progress by getting power ups and casually having enough power to destroy the enemy. Even though they always come back.

There are unlimited ways to make "new" ideas. I myself shell out a game and story idea most of the time through listening to different kinds of music. Everything is a reference.

So really don't get shits at the designer when he rips of 'metal of honour' and calls it 'Call of duty.' Super cool ideas that ARE FESABLE is hard to come by. And for the safety of his fellow workers and their paychecks he sometimes submits to unoriginality. True originality hardly ever grabs corporate attention because by the term "new and fresh" they really mean. "Cool and fun. but with security."

ruzza's picture

Funnily enough, even some good games decided to "copy" good elements of other games.

One example is where you can use the PDA in Doom 3 - the interface reminds me of the system used in the Blade Runner game. Also Halo did use vehicles before Half Life 2 did :)

If you could say that Id Software "invented" the FPS genre, then how many games also use this genre now?

I agree with Caroo in that if it adds to the formula and makes it better, then it's not a bad thing. Games are getting a lot harder to make, so companies probably like to use a successful formula to make money. It's a bit like what the music industry is doing churning out remakes from the 60s, 70s, 80s and packaging them in dance music :) But change does happen slowly and hopefully a new form of game genre will develop.

souri's picture

All throughout game history, there've been games that have innovated or became so popular that a barrage of clones and copies followed. Space Invaders, Mario Bros, Tetris, Street Fighter 2, and Doom to name just a few oldies that spawned countless clones. A lot of those clones usually add their bit to the formula and pushed the genre further, so in that way I'm pretty fine with the process. But there have been times where game developers have copied a game so blatantly that action has taken place against the copier. One of those was when Nintendo took Rainbow Arts to court for their [url="http://images.google.com.au/images?q=great%20giana%20sisters&ie=utf-8&oe..."]Great Giana Sisters[/url] game which was too close to Super Mario Bros for comfort. Anyway, that game was eventually pulled from the shelves.

My opinion is that if a game developer is making a complete copy of a game without adding any new innovative ideas or anything else substantial to the game idea or mechanics, then it's doomed and the game is destined to be outdated by the time it's launched. Considering the long development times these days, by the time you see the game you want to copy, and the time that it takes to develop it, right till when you finally release it, many years will have already passed since the original idea, and many other competitors have probably pushed that genre much further.

skunx's picture

Good point Souri, but that doesnt stop them from trying. I know that True crime for example did not sell like GTA, not even near, but it did sell quite abit anyway. Which goes to show. And yeh, its not a complete copy but its pretty close.

And Caroo and ruzza, i'm not debating whether its should happen or not as I agree thats the only way games will evolve, bit by bit. I'm just saying at what point does a designer put his foot down and say "NO! Our main character for our GTA clone will not be named CJ! I will not allow it!" Oh and btw CJ is the characters name in GTA:San Andreas. Funnily enough the main character in the GTA rip-off Driver:Parallel lines is called TK... hmmm... yes... ok...

I'm just ranting anyway, Its just sometimes I believe we must push ourselfs to at least take a shot at something more creative and have standard formulas in order to fall back on if things dont go well - design-wise.

Caroo's picture

quote:Originally posted by skunx

I'm just saying at what point does a designer put his foot down and say "NO! Our main character for our GTA clone will not be named CJ! I will not allow it!"

That my friend is purely an opinion and will differ to every designer and it can probably translate into every industry from graphic design to furniture design.

For me: I'd put my foot down and say No to the copying of the game if I was allowed absolutely no input on what this game had. This doesn?t mean I wanna decide every facet of it. God no I?m not a power monger.

But flexibility of design and creative input is in my opinion just as important to a development team as good management. Sure some things for the sake of direction have to be planted in stone.. But if the game was a total clone and only a few art assets and story/character changes where made [which is really all the difference between doom3 and quake4]

You?d find I wouldn't be working there long. If it?s no longer a joy to design then why am I doing it?

Jackydablunt's picture

I'm fully with skunx of course, we've had this discussion a few times, it's about integrity, if you've got a design that you yourself know deep down is copying another game, then its on your own integrity to at least try to search for an alternate delivery. Yes you may not be able to find a better solution but if you can say you at least tried, then you can call yourself a Designer, its pretty much the definition of the title I believe. Sorry Caroo but its too easy to say "Everything's a copy" yes Colossus wouldn't be 100% original but man, ain't no other game like it.

There is soooo much a developer could do with a WW2 shooter, a design i'd like to do, what I call 'Reichschild' is about the player taking the role of a Fallschirmjager, a German paratrooper in WW2, think about it, you're taking the player right out of their comfort zone, they're fighting for the nazis. Even if you keep the exact same mechanic as MOA and COD with a simple role reversal you're playing waaay outta left field, I think it would be awesome.

Unlike the Allies the German soldiers were kept fighting throughout the entire duration of the war and there would be some incredible stories. You could cut the game up with interviews with actual soldiers and it would be enthralling. You'd start off in the boot camps on the eve of Poland listening to Hitler's speeches, everything's light and proud and hopeful, and initially it'd be all go.

First few missions you're absolutely hammering, rolling over Poland, rolling over France and Belgium with thousands of infantry and tanks by your side, then a southern campaign, Greece, Africa, no stopping them, but then... they hit Russia. There could be offhanded conversations about how they shouldve waited till England was finished, or how perhaps how its getting colder and all that kinda stuff, "No, Hitler knows what he's doing". Throughout you could hint at subtleys like cattle trains rolling past with barbed wire over their windows, and though the characters may not know what they are (or they might) the Player will.

It could start swinging, the Player's unit makes their first retreat, then theres another, and another, they start finding Black propoganda dropped by the English and it messes with morale, then, Germany declares war on the US. From that point on the feeling of desparation builds and builds, more and more Russians, the English bombers start appearing overhead, theres a massive failed air assault over Crete and they cancel all future airborne attacks so the Player's unit is grounded. Then, D-Day, you're fighting for your ass trying to keep the GI's from reaching the shore but you have to run, you're now the one on the ground fighting the paratroopers, you fight them in France or the English in Holland, Hitler orders a final attack in the Ardennes and they hammer the GI's back but your final hope is dashed when all these indestructable new King Tiger tanks run out of fuel.

Final mission is completely reversed from the first, you're defending Berlin from the Russians, Hitler's dead and your fighting with old men and kids, where you once had all the ammo and equipment to choose from you've now got 1 clip and have to find more, there are shells exploding everywhere, civillians are being shot for surrendering, hundreds of thousands of Russians are entering the city, and where you once had whole armies running beside you, your alone, and your final mission is now just simply to survive and escape to the West to be captured by the Americans instead.

It could play exactly like COD, but just look at the difference a simple role reversal would make, one change, and its completely messing with the Player's mind, and we haven't even BEGUN to tweek the gameplay yet. I find a lot of people are just too content with only one feature carrying a whole game, they come up with one sales point for the box and thats it, it becomes the only thing they focus on and as for the rest they just settle for "the way the other game did it" a Designer should design, not simply copy/paste.

necrobator666's picture

quote:NO! Our main character for our GTA clone will not be named CJ! I will not allow it!" Oh and btw CJ is the characters name in GTA:San Andreas. Funnily enough the main character in the GTA rip-off Driver:Parallel lines is called TK... hmmm... yes... ok...

TK?? the kid?? thats just terrible, total ripoff of alex kidd.. when will the plagiarism end... those damn driver creators, totally copied the looks of GTA3 too, except a long time earlier... you even start gta3 in a car almost identical to the car you start driver 1 in...

dont think its big deal myself, original games are so few and far between, very rare things, and original games dont come out often enough to just play original games, same with movies, if Driver 4 or True Crime give some GTA obsessives sick of aimlessly driving around san andreas after the games ended some pleasure even if not as much as the GTA games, then its jobs done...

cant just play the great games, can remember being so sick of total annhilation that i would play dark reign for hours, dark reign was a useless game in comparison, with no features TA didnt do better, but it had a heapa missions and Id played TA to death...

people seem happy to accept the next FPS as original "oh look, theres no crates/barrels" or some crap, but in unaccepted genres like 3rd person crime simulators, everything seems to be plagiarism.

guess just gotta wait a few years, the doom-clone tag has dissapeared although the difference still between modern FPS and doom is pretty minimal except the graphics and AI/physics.. Galaga-clone tag well gone, so hopefully as GTA series ages the GTA-clone tag will die off cos its stupid...

skunx's picture

necrobator i'm not sure who inspired who, if you remember driver and grand theft auto came out around the same time back in the day, only difference was that gta (then) was a 2D top-down game and driver's gameplay was primarily focused on driving and not a mix of driving and walking/running (although it did have some very limited on-foot sections).

And they were both sweet back in the day, but you could still see driver lacked the certain charm GTA games had (well thats personal preference). I'm sure the gta creators had a look at how driver did things when they were developing GTA3 but that resulted in a unique and interesting game, they re-created the world they had imagined. On the other hand the driver franchice has been declining ever since and even the driving part of it is not cool anymore. They have tried to emulate GTA more and more (via having more access on foot).

The point is, they are both games doing the same thing and having a very similar story (main character gets out of jail and wants revenge or similar) its just that it seems driver and other such games are content with simpy copying the formula over and over. Its not a bad thing but its not a good thing either. I mean the whole idea of a large sandbox environment can be put to use for something other than a crime-related game.

And yes there are many original games, it just depends what you think original is. A game doesnt have to define a genre to be original. Even the smallest details can make a game original compared to one that doesnt have those details.

And even though they were both ok for their time, the original GTA was way better than the original Driver. Why? Cause in GTA a mission had you parking a van full of explosives under the police headquarters whereas driver didn't.[xx(]

skunx's picture

Driver had sweet vehicle damage for its time though.

Anonymous Dogg's picture

GTA, driver and true crime are not rip offs all three have a different set story environment. In one your a gangster criminal in the other your a for hire driver and the other a cop. I dont see these as copies. I believe that even though the game play might be similar the games are mostly different to each other and unique in their own way. There are limits to what a game engine can be meaning a person can only do limited things like drive a a car and shoot someone, so its up to the designers to use these bases to set a game-story environment and compete with other designers to show who is more creative and which tittles and sequels sell better. A rip off is when you can cleary see that writters have not used original ideas and details but have modified them to make it look different without honestly paying for it or asking permission. This is where I believe legal action should be taken.

skunx's picture

Yeah I mostly agree with that, apart from taking legal action, i doubt thats needed. I'm just imagining designers themselves being to ashamed to design a total rip-off thus forcing them to be at least somewhat creative, which in the end is a good thing.

I was just ranting on how it seems that lately designers are getting dangerously close to being content with copying stuff and not coming up with stuff for themselves. I can relate to them though, I can see how friggin difficult it is to come up with something somewhat original and entertaining at the same time. Some times it just doesnt work and knowing what others have done is a good backup.

I guess what I was most annoyed by was when i watch these developer interviews on gamespot where usually the lead designer is talking about their game. It annoys me cause they seem to come off as total smartasses talking up their game that is a clone of another game but never mentioning that they took their inspiration from that said other game. They sort of seem like "yeah and like i'm the designer, and like me and the boys came up with this awesome game its really kickass...etc etc". I know its part of their job to bullshit here and there especially about their baby project but it still bugs me when i see it.

I would like to believe that if i'm ever in such a position, talking about the game i'm making, I will have the balls to say "hey well my game is cool, its inspired by this or that game but we have tried to evolve this and that and take the best elements of this or that to make a better game". I have alot of respect for designers that pay tribute to the games that inspired them to do things one way or the other. Maybe i'm not making much sense at all.

ruzza's picture

skunk - it makes sense what you say. If you see musicians being interviewed, they usually say they have been influenced by different types of music, bands and individuals. Usually if a musician decided to sample a piece of older music (like some dance tracks are doing), they would need to follow copyright law. I suppose games seem to have a more blurry line when it comes to copyright, otherwise there wouldn't be as many FPS (or other genre) clones :)

I think most consumers won't buy the game it was a bad clone of another or just was copied with a few bits and pieces changed, so it's probably in the game designer's best interest to put in some originality. Many people like the originality of games and good gameplay. Also people will buy sequels if they are good (eg: I liked Max Payne and the sequel game as both games pushed the envelope).

Anonymous Dogg's picture

is there a web site where games are rated? (by the players?)when I buy games I always tend to decide by looking at whats written on the box or magazines. Also just would like to mention that I really hate when sequels are released and are cheap and pathetic due to an attempt to make money off the impressions of the original.[:(!]i was pissed off when doom 2 only gave me an extra cheap s@#T shot gun all the money them guys have doom 3 was cool, i liked the torch

skunx's picture

Well I disagree, i though Doom 2 was better than Doom 1 and that the torch in Doom 3 was frustrating, at least until you get used to changing back and forth.