Cloners and Idealists

It’s the age old rivalry that plagues the Indie game development industry (or more specifically the game development forums). In fact though, I actually think it’s mainly a one way thing: idealists attacking cloners – the idealists feel they have to bitch about clones but the cloners don’t seem to have much to bitch about (apart from why their clone isn’t selling as well as another clone).

Anyway, I was talking to my partner, Helen, tonight about the two opposing camps of indie developers. There’s the cloners who seem to be in it for the money and the idealists who are doing it for art of whatever. She pointed out that if you make a clone, and you enjoy making it and people enjoy playing it, then what’s the problem? You’ve delivered value and made money from it, fine. If people sit around criticising cloners and say they’d never lower themselves to such a thing and then never actually produce anything, then it’s just all about their ego – they aren’t delivering any value anywhere. If you manage to combine “high ideals” AND you make a game, then even better, good for you – but don’t expect it to sell unless you are delivering what a large number of people like (to spend money on) and not just what you like. Of course you can always release it for free so your work is out there – but these days it takes a really large effort to finish a decent game so you’d have to be ultra dedicated to do it just for fun; and whereas a lot of us might like to think we are dedicated enough to do that, the obvious reality is that we are not. Shame, but there you go.

At the end of the day, the portal owners can sit there content in the knowledge that they are doing very well from selling clones no matter what the idealists say. Some idealists say the market will self-implode, but I think this is wishful thinking on their part. Cloning exists in music, movies, books, food, clothes, mainstream games etc. and has done for years. People like familiarity.

9 Responses to “Cloners and Idealists”

  1. Tex Pine Says:

    I think you could also see it from another perspective as well: cloning is less risky. Of course you will have a small piece of the pie, since there are so many clones like your game, but it IS less risky to sell something that is already proven successful (anybody from EA?).

    Innovation is much more risky, and more costly – it will take more time (maybe years, like Bookworm Adventures and The Sims) to get to a both innovative and salable gameplay. Many prototypes will be thrown away, and you can’t be sure when exactly you will have that design that will nail when implemented on a final form. However, the final game, for its uniqueness, can potentially outsell any ultra-polished clone, like Peggle, Chuzzle and Alice Greenfingers. And sell for years and years – hell, Bejeweled is five years old and still sells so much!

    In the end, deciding on cloning or innovation could end on an economical choice, even if unconsciously:

    – Will I take the safer path and sell a fair number of units for one or two months, but with a somewhat already built fan base?

    – Or will I invest my savings on a potentially more profitable project, but risking on ending up with something not fun enough (poor sales) or that will demand more investment and time than predicted?

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Yep absolutely that is the case. I chose the “safe” path because I have a family. However, I hope to be branching out a bit more soon. You know that great as Peggle was, it didn’t even sell that well…?

  3. Brian Meidell Says:

    Good points.
    As one who would probably be considered a cloner after our last game, I’d like to explain my view on it.

    Our first game, Constellations, was trying to invent a mechanic, and we did a really crappy job with it. It bombed.
    We don’t have day jobs, so we had to succeed with our next game. We tried making a few prototypes (that were much closer to regular casual mechanics than our first game) and sending them to portals to see if they thought them likely to succeed, and were basically told that it was extremely risky to do this.

    We decided to do a regular match-3 game and focus on the surrounding feeling of progress. In the beginning it bothered me that people were so unwilling to try something new, but after having worked on it for a while, I started realizing something.
    I am exactlly the same.
    I prefer first person shooters. I have played a boatload of them, and as long as they are well produced, I don’t seem to tire of them. If you look at it, the core gameplay mechanic is the same from game to game, with minor variations.
    What really changes is the level design, the graphical theme, etc.

    This is exactly how it works with casual games – people prefer a mechanic very close to what they are used to (match 3 for example), so they don’t have to move too far outside of their comfort zone. Yet they like the new music/levels/powerups.

    I don’t expect every action movie to find a fundamentally new story, or every game to be a new engine or a new game mechanic. I find something I like, and then I enjoy the variations on the theme, until I get tired of it and look for something else.

    I think there is still room for being inventive and breaking new ground within a theme, like Cradle of Rome did (and prospered for), and I have plenty of admiration for really well-crafted games, even if they don’t invent a completely new type of gameplay.

    As so many others, we chose the safer path, which we certainly hope is only a stepping stone until we have a stable enough situation to actually go out and create the next big hit.

  4. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks for your comment Brian, it’s nice to hear a viewpoint straight from the horse’s mouth. I too am in the same situation except that I made the decision to make clones from the start (well that’s not quite true, I was making a kung fu platform game for 6 months that I ditched when I realised selling it would be very hard). My story is here in fact:

    Naturally I’m building up skills and contacts in this “game” (excuse the pun) so that I can branch out and try some other things later on. In fact my next game may be a little different, but I feel “safe” doing this as I’m working with BFG on it.

  5. To clone or not to clone? « Tex Pine Says:

    […] People from Grey Alien Games arouse a subject on their blog, regarding the differences on cloners vs. idealists on casual game design. To clone or not to clone, that’s the question! I commented the post, […]

  6. papamook Says:

    Tex is right that the percentage of the pie can be smaller in comparison but when that pie dwarfs the other it really is no contest.

  7. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Well it’s a decision I made to get me started. Then the trick is to get a bigger slice of the big pie by doing stuff “right”. Then after that it’s using everything you’ve learnt to make a new pie…

  8. xc Says:

    I’m hungry…

  9. GameProducer.Net » To Clone Or Not To Clone? Says:

    […] from Grey Alien Games arouse a subject on their blog, regarding the differences on cloners vs. idealists on casual game design. To clone or not to clone, that’s the question! I think it worths to […]