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In this reprinted <a href="http://altdevblogaday.com/">#altdevblogaday</a>-opinion piece, University of Wales senior lecturer Mike Reddy discusses plagiarism in the game industry, and why copying might be what developers do best.

Mike Reddy, Blogger

November 21, 2011

5 Min Read

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, University of Wales senior lecturer Mike Reddy discusses plagiarism in the game industry, and why copying might be what developers do best. While I teach Computer Game Programming, I've had a long involvement in plagiarism in Academia, mostly through sitting on various national committees as well as actively campaigning for understanding why it occurs, rather than just blindly penalizing it. Plagiarism is more of a hobby* than an actual research area for me, but through accident as much as design I have been in a position to influence the attitude of fellow teachers throughout the World. So, this article by @dantheduck, "Plagiarism as a moral choice", which looks at the real world pressure to "clone" the work of others, is the collision of two normally separate worlds. A Servant of Two Masters The allusion to copying prior to it being considered a "crime" was/is refreshing. It brings home to me the value of working with creative "clay" rather than descriptive "pen" for assessment:

  • It's hard to plagiarize an assignment when you are building rather than writing, and easy to spot copying when under the process of creation is missing.

  • It's impossible in the medium to not encode traditional interactions, so novelty stands out, but competent copying is itself an achievement.**

  • On a vocational course – increasingly in vogue with the UK government – competence is preferable to creativity, for employers at least.

In the game industry, copying is difficult and is financially, if not morally, superior. There have been few legal battles over stolen content, ideas, techniques, compared to Art, Film, and Literature. Creativity seems to be when copying produces better results than the original. The question is not whether but how much to copy. It's Not Theft, It's Reuse There is far more "recycling" in this industry than many others. Partly this is perceived as market-driven – as The Jam lyrics claim, "The Public wants what the Public gets!" – and in part is technical; film companies don't tend to need to re-implement cinemas each time they make a movie. However, code reuse, if not level design, should be encouraged, so long as it makes sense. And predictable user expectations for interaction – WASD anyone? – make game play straight-forward; there isn't a BookFAQs web site explaining how to proceed with Lord of the Rings P1 by "turning the page and starting at the top of page 2″ as far as I know. Or is there? So, is the 90/10 copied to new ratio an extreme example of "standing on the shoulders of giants?" or is the copying actually beneficial? What IS important, far more than the "Games iz Art!" debate, is whether derivative work is derogatory. Listen to this music, if you will. It's from here, but don't look yet. Shout out what it is. Now, did you William Tell it or Lone Ranger yourself? Suffice it to say that most Brits of a reasonable age will call out the TV program, not the original musical reference. The sad thing is once an association is there, it's impossible to remove. The Hovis bread theme for example is more widely known than the identical largo from Dvorjak's New World Symphony. None of these are plagiarism per se, but the reuse taints and diminishes the original by reducing the experience of the greater work – all these examples are where a small part/movement is isolated from and exaggerated above the whole – ruining their context. Spoilers By now you should know my hidden example was The Antiques Roadshow where "experts invite members of the public to bring along their antiques for examination." Of course, what it's really about is voyeuristically hoping that someone's priceless artifact is worth squat, or spotting people's hypocrisy and general avarice, which is a deadly sin for a reason. There's nothing like it for exposing the 'value' of things, instead of their value. The only exception to this was the recent Remembrance (World War) special where none of the items covered were given a price/market value; a major, but sadly brief departure from the tried and true global formula. Global? Yes, global! The show was revamped, with a new theme and is on all over the World. Ok, the US needed a more accessible theme, but the cookie cutter has struck again. Listening to the various tunes though, paints a different feel for each. The musical expression can be deep, complex and inaccessible or light, superficial but easy to grasp. The analogy here is to game play mechanics. Remember when "sandbox" games were "GTA clones" or "first-person shooters" (FPSs) were "Doom clones"? Full Circle… So, it seems @dantheduck has a point. Copying, but hoping it magically comes out better, is what we do best. Angry Birds is a recent example, as are many Zynga and PopCap games. Whether this is "right" is up to you! * I've tried to keep away from becoming a mainstream plagiarism researcher because I didn't want to sink into depression. ** I tell my students each year that copying – i.e. reproducing in their own code – Miyamoto's 6502 assembler implementation of Mario's jump in Super Mario Brothers is the ultimate challenge. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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