I, like many of my Indie brethren, hate Cloners. I honestly believed that this would not be a controversial opinion but I was wrong. A surprising number of people think that clones are a-o.k. Their arguments for thinking cloned are a-o.k. are oft repeated. Whenever someone writes an article about shitty cloners cloning some game the same arguments tend to crop up. Since I’ve heard them so many times I figured I would respond to all of them in one place. Maybe this way I’ll stop being tempted to wade in to every hundred comment debate-wasteland on cloning.
If you don’t know what cloning is or want a primer you can read Sarah’s post on the subject. It has some great specific examples.
Arguments for cloning:
1: Everything is a Clone!
Here is the big one. This is the most commonly used argument that clones are fine. It is simple. The argument is that game development is equivalent to cloning. Many of the great games in history are simply clones of something else. Some of the most popular examples are: Doom = Heretic = Rise of the Triad, Dune 2 = Warcraft, Infiniminer = Minecraft.
The problem with this argument is: no they aren’t! All of those games have significant changes to their game design. Maybe you’ve never actually played these games? Maybe time has made you forget how different they are from eachother, but they are not clones! They are similar, but not clones! But ha! Where do you draw the line between similar and clone? Well that’s argument number 2.
2: It’s a Fuzzy Line So There’s No Such Thing
Where is the line between clone and honest iterative improvement? I don’t know precisely where the line is. I can’t mathematically define it. I can’t write down a definition of the line. But that doesn’t really matter because so many clones are way over the line. I don’t have to know exactly where the line is to know that a lot of these horrible clones are on the wrong side of it. They are so aggressively cloney they never even imagined there was a line to consider. I can see arguing about whether a specific example is or isn’t over the line. But I can’t understand arguing that the line doesn’t exist because it’s fuzzy.
3: We’re Going to be Sued Into Oblivion!
Many of us are not calling for new laws. Our societies haven’t really figured out how to protect intellectual property. It’s a hard problem and the Indie game community doesn’t have anywhere near the required heft to make laws happen anyway. So since laws aren’t going to happen there’s no reason to worry about that dark dystopian future. But that doesn’t mean cloning isn’t reprehensible. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral (I’m sure no one is going to argue with me on that point).
4: You Deserved to get Cloned
If someone can write your game better than you or serve a market you aren’t serving then good for them. You deserve to get cloned.
We’re working on it dude! We’re trying to get our iPhone versions out but it takes some time. Especially since, unlike the cloners, we have to babysit the original release and might have to assemble a small team to make the new version. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The cloners strength is getting something shipped. Our strength is inventing something elegant and fun. You can’t let us starve or you will lose your source of elegant and fun.
5. Game Design Has No Value
So here’s the one that really gets me. This one feels like people spitting in my face. It often comes out as “they changed the graphics so it’s fine” or “it’s more polished so they deserved it”. I love game design. I’m writing a game right now that I am in love with. It’s new, it’s crazy, it’s fun (hopefully!). I spent two years prototyping stuff before I had this idea. I have since spent nine months working on it and a lot of that time has been spent trying to design it. I think about game design obsessively. I have done major rewrite after major rewrite to try to discover how to make this game work. I theorise, I code, I playtest, I start over. It is really really hard to design a fun new game.
I think part of why people think it’s easy is because a good game is (ideally) simple and elegent. Since most people have never tried to design a game they don’t really know what’s involved. You will hear the phrase “the best ideas are the simple ones aren’t they?” and that’s true. But what that phrase doesn’t capture is the immense amount of work it takes to chisel a horrible lump of granite into something simple and elegent.
If you think it’s o.k. for someone to lift 2 years of my work, slap a panda on it, and beat me to the iPhone then you are a massive dick.
6. It’s Everywhere and There’s No Way to Stop It
It is everywhere and it always has been. Dirty damned cloners have always existed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have an effect. If everyone in the world hated cloners then there would be fewer clones. People tend to avoid taking jobs that will make them seem like assholes to their peers. People don’t tend to buy things that morally outrage them. If we just keep stating our case reasonably and passionately we can make a difference to the culture of games. The only thing you hear more than “cloners will always exist” is “video games are a young medium”.