Monday, February 19, 2007

Attack of the Clones

For many of the most successful games in the casual space, there are a number of clones - games with the same functionality, often with no, or only very minor changes, except for the artwork and sound. Sometimes even the theming will be the same.

Most clones so far have been of games which don't rely on a large amount of varying art assets, and where the levels can be generated programmatically with a simple algorithm.

There are a number of properties of a game that would make it considerably more difficult to clone, and whilst higher production costs are a factor, I don't think there's a direct relationship between the development cost of a game and its cloneability. Creative developers should consider what they can do - relatively inexpensively - to give themselves a competitive advantage over uncreative developers seeking to piggyback their work.

Here are some of those properties off the top of my head:
  • reliance on hand-designed levels, so that the player feels like they are solving a problem that another person has designed for them.
  • reliance on a large amount of high-quality artwork (like Huntsville).
  • reliance on a 'black box' simulation where it isn't immediately obvious how to copy the functionality (e.g. a sports management game).
  • inclusion of a well-written, well-presented story (like Monkey Island).
  • inclusion of strong characters (and perhaps even their development).
  • an online community providing social play (like Puzzle Pirates).

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