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The Story of Copycat and Clone Games on Google Play
Despite what some naysayers would claim there are plenty of fun and great games on Google Play. There are also seemingly endless amounts of bad games. Knockoff or copycat games are particularly noteworthy. Why do developers steal other games ideas? I am going explore this topic. I will explain why developers risk violating copyright infringement to make their games.
What Is a Copycat Game
Note when I say copycat game I mean a game that is almost the exact same as another game. It is important to make this distinction. There are plenty of games that share ideas but still have differences. Why would a developer do this?
How Do Developers Make Copycat Games?
Taking advantage of a popular game is a quick and easy way to get noticed. The developer is hoping that people will confuse the clone game with the more popular game. Developers do this by having similar names or looking the same as the game they are trying to copy.
Some developers steal the artwork of another game. There are many Candy Crush lookalikes. The reason developers copy Candy Crush goes back to the idea mentioned before. People will see the game and maybe get confused for the real Candy Crush. Or maybe these developers are too lazy to come up with a more original idea, so they copy what they like? Who knows? Another thing to keep in mind is in some cases these games are cheap and easy to make. So even if a fake or knock game is not very successful the developer may still make money.
Examples of Copycat Games
There are many examples of games that have knockoffs or clones.
- Minecraft clones
- Pokemon clones
- Digimon clones
- Nintendo game clones (Mario)
- Sonic the Hedgehog clones
- Pacman clones
- King game clones (Candy Crush Saga)
Anything that well known is likely to have a copycat game or clone of it. To list every example of one of these kinds of games would be a monumental task. I am going to focus on the more known and more covered instances of this happening. I will start with an example I personally remember and found to be interesting.
Can You Think of Any Ripoff Games?
The Flappy Bird Story
Flappy Bird is a game about flying between pipes made by Dong Nguyen. This game became very popular for a while. It is interesting to note that this game has green pipes that look like they come from a Mario game. So the game itself already is somewhat using another game assets. For some reason, the developer decided to take his game down from the App store and Google Play. You can see the original Tweet here. In an interview with Forbes Dong Nguyen claimed he removed Flappy bird from App stores because of feelings of guilt over the addictive nature of the game. If only I could live with such guilt and make the money he made in one day. But to stay on topic, this caused a void and developers were all too willing to fill it. Thus many Flappy Bird clones were spawned. It is important to remember that you can not play the original Flappy Bird game on Google Play. So every Flappy Bird game listed on there is a clone.
- Fappy Bird
- Flappy Bird (clone)
- Flappy Dunk
- Flappy Crush
- Blue Flying Bird
- Floppy Bird
- Flappy Cat
- Flappy 3D
- Happy Bird Pro
- Bird 420 MLG (LOL really!?)
- Flapping Online
There are too many examples to list, but people jumped on this game. Flappy Bird spawned an entire genre of clones and similar games. If only I thought of flapping birds across the screen first.
Quote from Dong Nguyen
“...I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it's best to take down Flappy Bird. It's gone forever."
The Minecraft Before Minecraft
CastleMiner Z is game that was on Xbox 360 and is on currently available on Windows. My theory about this game is it had some success because of the timing of the release. CastleMiner Z was released in November 2011. Minecraft was not able to be bought on Xbox 360 until May 2012. I imagine people who wanted to play Minecraft may have bought CastleMiner Z instead. CastleMiner Z is a Minecraft clone that was available to buy before Minecraft. At the time CastleMiner Z was much cheaper than Minecraft. Undercutting is a tactic some developers have used in mobile gaming as well. Make a clone game and sell the clone for cheaper or give it away for free. Some people will pick the cheaper alternative.
Threes and 2048
The story of Threes and 2048 is another interesting story in mobile game development. Threes was developed for iOS and was ported to Android. The game is about manipulating numbers around. The game is considered to be fun and is well liked. Threes won Apple game of the year in 2014. This popularity soon spawned clones and knockoff games. 2048 is not a clone of Threes but a clone of 1024. 1024 cloned Threes. I know, confusing. Anyways 2048 found much more popularity than Threes. The developer of 2048 claimed to have made the game in a weekend. He also doesn't charge for the game. Yet there is this feeling that 2048 stole what success Thress could have had. This case is interesting because while similar 2048 is not a direct copycat of Threes. At this, you may wonder what is the Google Play policy on games like this?
Quote from Threes Developers Asher & Greg
"We do believe imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but ideally the imitation happens after we’ve had time to descend slowly from the peak -- not the moment we plant the flag."
Why Doesn't Google Play Do Something!?
Well, Google does, in fact, have a policy against games like this. This policy is not new either. You can see this in the developer rules and guidelines. Google will and does remove ripoff games from the Google Play store. So then why are there still so many of these games even with the policy against them in place? There are multiple factors to consider.
First off is the hands-off approach Google takes. Google is all about automation. Google uses programming and bots to enforce their policies. While a team of people does review new applications as noted in this Techcrunch article part of the process is still automated. The article states that Google is trying to find a balance between reviewing applications and not stopping developers from creating new applications.
I also think people are not reporting knockoff games. If users don't report the game and it goes unnoticed nothing happens. The developers can also file a legal removal request. The developer has to consider if taking this action is a good use of their time. The developer of Threes did try to get rid of clones of their game removed from Google Play. The developers of Threes gave up though and, they realized there will always be clones.
Quote Polygon Article
"Vollmer told me he used to spend sleepless nights working his way through the knock-offs, trying to get them removed from online stores, but recently he's become resigned to the notion that Threes! will be perpetually copied."
Would You Report a Game for Being a Copycat?
Nintendo Is Very Aggressive About Copyright Infringement
There are clones of Nintendo games on the Google Play store right now. Nintendo very aggressively protects their copyright. They even shut down some fan projects that were going to be free. So why would clones still be listed in the Google Play Store? I can only assume either Nintendo didn't notice or don't care. The main point is even huge companies have to deal with knockoff and clone games.
Is Copyright Infringement Actually Happening?
We must consider if a clone game a violation of copyright. A game can be very similar but still unique enough to be considered original. These issues get into a confusing legal grey area. Copyright laws are complex and confusing. 2048 has different icons, and the gameplay is different. 2048 was unique enough for Google to not remove the game from Google Play.
In obvious cases of copyright infringement, Google will remove the copycat application. But when the issue is more a grey area, the results depend on how Google and developers handle the situation. As long as certain developers can make money by stealing other people's ideas, they will continue to do so. I guarantee the next big game on Google Play will have plenty of clones soon after it is released.
© 2017 Eric Farmer