[In this editorial, Colin Anderson, MD of innovative Scottish game developer Denki (Denki Blocks, Sky/DirecTV interactive TV casual games) takes the casual game industry to task for its complaints about game 'cloning', suggesting it forces developers "to be creative and think about the consumer".]
In March this year, two High Court judges in the UK ruled that the ideas behind computer games could be copied
– perfectly legally. For many people, this signalled the end of the industry, the premature death of the casual games market and ruin for developers and publishers across the land.
Even now, some of the most respected names in the casual games market see the issue of 'clones' as a serious impediment to the growth of the games market as a whole.
Personally however, I was delighted. After all, how many truly original games do we see in any average year? As in all areas of the media, there's a finite number of fundamental concepts and a smaller number of control mechanisms that are fun to play.
While on the surface it may seem that the judgement opens the floodgates to untold numbers of clones, copycat titles and dull, identikit games, but the truth is that the ability to take ideas from other games and draw inspiration from other peoples ideas is at the heart of almost every single area of the media.
If the judgement had gone the other way and the judges had decided that ideas could not be copied, then we'd be in trouble. The floodgates would have been opened for developers, publishers and patent trolls would end up mired in endless lawsuits, fighting over who created what first and what core mechanics, controls or ideas are at the heart of their games.
Instead we can all go out and innovate, polish and create, without having to worry that someone will land a lawsuit on us for using blocks, bricks, colours, tiles, or a similar control method to an existing title.
This is a oversimplification of course, however it illustrates a very serious point. We need to be able take existing ideas and refine them, reinvent them and make something new.
It's a very noble sentiment to call for original new content, but on a purely practical level that would cut the number of games on the market (the whole games market – not just the casual games sector) by 99%. A lot of people still think this a good move, but it simply wouldn't work.
Look at other areas of the arts – music and literature. If the early rock and roll stars had patented the twelve bar blues, then music industry as a whole would not exist. The diversity and depth of different musical styles would never have evolved.
The same is even more true in the book world. If authors could not reuse or copy certain genres or core plots we'd be stuck with half a dozen books worldwide.
It's worth noting that it's entirely possible to take an existing idea and build upon it and reimagine it, to create something very different. As an example, look at two of the most popular games in the casual market – Bejeweled
and Jewel Quest
At a very basic level, they are very similar. The core mechanic is almost identical. However the focus of each game is very different and each title has built up a devoted following, who love the twist each game puts on the basic core idea.
Game cloning is not the bogeyman the market seems to think. It forces developers to innovate, polish, reinvent existing styles and above all, to be creative and think about the consumer.
The alternative is the scary option. Individual genres and control methods controlled and licensed by a brand/patent owner. That's a world where fun doesn't have a place in the games industry.
[Colin Anderson is MD of Denki. If Gamasutra readers would like to respond to this editorial, please submit a Letter To The Editor, and we'll run the best responses in the near future.]