Industry Insider Roundtable: Mobile Game Cloning ? Inspiration or Plagiarism?

Insights & Best Practices

March 21, 2016


min read

Each month we'll be asking some of the mobile industry's best and brightest to take on an industry topic?everything from the ins and outs of mobile marketing, to the dos and don'ts of user acquisition. For our first feature, we wanted to tackle one of mobile gaming's biggest and oldest problems (or is it a problem?): cloning.An issue almost as ancient as the App Store itself, cloning (or copycat gaming) is a quick way for developers to piggyback off of the success of other, more established mobile games. Whenever a Crossy Road or Flappy Bird sails to the top of the App Store charts, a flood of clones looking to share the financial spoils of a viral hit are sure to follow.Some devs call this copycatting inspiration, a smart way to wield the success of others as a razor-sharp marketing tool and give mobile gamers even more of the good stuff. Others call it plagiarism, a shameless get-rich-quick development scheme that devalues the work of the originals.In an attempt to settle this ongoing debate, we invited our panel of experts to weigh in on the topic and answer the question: Is it ever okay to clone a game just to make marketing easier?Des Gayle?Founder, Altered Gene


Straight off the bat I'm going to say it's not okay to clone another game to make marketing easier. That being said, I understand there are times when a game just nails something; whether it's Mario's pixel-perfect locomotion, Batman's combat system or Monument Valley's beautiful art?something so good that it's genre defining.That said, the temptation will always be there because discovery and user acquisition are such a pain.S


teve Stopps?Co-founder, Team LumoIf you look through the history of game development you will find developers taking inspiration from games they love?often benefiting players and developers.Candy Crush was definitely not the first match three game, but [publisher] King put their own unique spin on the genre and created a smash hit. The question is, when does inspiration cross the line into infringement?I am not an IP lawyer, but I would suggest that if a game has a strong similarity to another game in name, style and game play, then it's a step too far. There is a difference between creating a game to capitalize on an existing market or genre, and misleading the public.Dan Walters?Co-creator, Calvino Noir


Game cloning is a part of the mobile ecosystem and is caused by the open, non-curated nature?of the mobile app store fronts. I think that most gameclones don't hurt the original developer and, even though it can seem evasive to your IP, cloning is unavoidable and often a mark of success.However, taking huge chunks of a product and replicating them without creative improvements, or abusing a trademark is not only wrong?it's also illegal. But it may make you a little bit of money, so I can see why so many are tempted given the challenges of discoverability when building something new.Carter Dotson?Writer, Touch Arcade


Great artists steal, meaning they make the adaptations necessary to make something their own instead of just blatantly copying things wholesale. As some of the interviewed developers make clear, originality and clever adaptation is a risk. However, walking the line between originality and clever adaptation is a risk.Peter Willington?Producer, Auroch Digital


Looking at one game and wholesale copying every idea, presentation style, monetization model, controls and so on, then making a cursory tweak, giving it a new name and launching it on a store for sale, is never justifiable.But let's also not kid ourselves: the games industry has been pinching ideas from movies, books, theater, art, and other video games almost since day one.If a game comes along that mimics Crossy Road's gorgeous art style, but transposes it to a puzzle game, is that cloning? What if they took the majority of the gameplay and re-skinned it as a high definition dark fantasy? What if they made a totally unrelated game but called it Crossy Road Warrior? How many of the three previous things could you do before you'd be comfortable calling it a clone?


Ed Barrett?Creative director, AnimadeA few years ago, we released a simple game on the App Store which received a small amount of praise for its stripped-back design and characterful animation style?it was a labor of love for us, given we were a tiny team with little experience.A year or so after its release we'd seen gamespotentially inspired by ours on the App Store, but they differed enough visually that it didn't seem so much of an issue. One game in particular, however, drew our attention for its use of the same fonts, designs, color schemes and UI. Even the text and descriptions, which we'd labored over, were identical in order to appear with our app in searches.In this situation, there's a fine line between flattery and offense. That line is crossed when someone puts skill, experience and time into like-for-like remaking a game for seemingly nothing more than financial gain.I think it's about respect for other people's creativity. When that respect is overlooked, the result is clones that exist purely to feed off whatever success?or even luck?a product may have had.