Monday, October 27, 2008

A Case for Cloning Games

Many people are angered by companies who clone other people's games. It considered unethical, or cheating, or lacking creative. Or simply evil.

In conversation, people often empathize with Serious Business, the creators Friends For Sale, who pioneered the extremely successful genre of friend-exchange games. They were copied by many others. They lost their dominate position of Facebook to a clone, Owned! On Myspace, they never got traction because other clones had launched earlier.

Those in the know, don't feel too bad for Serious Business, since Friends For Sale was a clone of the earlier Facebook game, Human Pets. But to their credit, Serious Business executed much better on the core game design.

Recent variations on friend-exchange games have innovated. My favorite, Harem, allows you to buy and sell members of the opposite sex to be your sex slave, which just brings to the fore the sometimes creepy sexual component of friend-exchange games.

Of course, the more recent cloning frenzy has focused around Mob Wars, the uber-successful text-based role-playing adventure game on Facebook that pulls in huge revenues. Clones of Mob Wars have often stepped out of the mobster paradigm into other genres, mainly into fantasy.

As a group, Mob Wars clones have been incredibly successful. It appears that as in casual games, players are happy to play more than one game that is nearly the same.

Players Like Clones

In casual games, cloning is the rule. Take for example, the extremely popular game, Diner Dash. It's a game that puts the player in the role of Flo, a woman trying to run a small diner. Gameplay is essentially running from place to place trying to keep control of multiple timed events.

It was a novel concept that its game publisher, Playfirst, has since turned into a multimillion dollar franchise. Well, not completely novel since its gameplay comes from the old 80s arcade game, Tapper.

Since Diner Dash was initally released, every major publisher and most indie developers has released a nearly exact clone of Diner Dash. And most have been very successful.

It turns out that players like to play the same game over and over again provided it offer slight variations.

The desire for a familiar experience isn't unique to casual games. It applies to role-playing games, first person shooting games, musics movies, television shows, books. Every form of media, in fact.

It seems that novelty is overrated.

Clones Make Sense in Big Markets

Between Myspace and Facebook, there's nearly 200 million people potentially playing social games. Even if a given game has 10 million installed users, it's very likely that most people on the social networks haven't seen it yet.

If the original game wasn't able to reach the entire market, then it's not harmful to the originator to bring the concept to players the original would have never reached. It's an unserved market.

Having said that, it's clear that clones severely affect the traction of the original if the clone enters a new platform or market before the original does. From what I've seen, the traction of the original game is barely affected by clones on the same platform.

To sum up: cloning is necessary to serve the audience. In large markets, clones enlarge the served market, rather than cannibalize it. So to not clone, would not only be stupid, it'd be a disservice to the market.