One word: Character.
And now, a longer explanation. A discussion came up recently on a developer forum asking what could possibly be done by indie devs in the face of huge companies such as Zynga and Gameloft. These companies have massive resources at their disposal, and have shown in the past that they are not against the idea of being “heavily inspired” by other successful games. If your indie game was a success, what is to stop them from cloning it onto another platform?
The answer to that, for me, is character.
Take the case of this week’s iPhone sensation Tiny Wings. You should buy it, by the way, because it is charming and lovely and has nice simple gameplay that suits the platform. But already reports are coming out that it is based on another game, called Wavespark.
Why have people taken to Tiny Wings, when they didn’t flock (yes, that was a bird joke) to Wavespark? Perhaps you should read my quick review again. The game has character. The graphics are simple but well done, the landscapes are stylised without being offputting, the cheery relaxing music suits it perfectly, and the little chirps the bird makes put a smile on your face. The whole package is charming.
Yes, the gameplay is good, trying to get further each play is compelling, and the single control fits the iPhone to a tee. But people aren’t loving it purely for the gameplay, and that character is what would be difficult to clone.
See also mobile darling Angry Birds. Obviously it’s not the first game with that gameplay. There are tonnes of free Flash games that are essentially the same game. People keep mentioning that fact as if it changes anything. It won’t be the last game of its sort either.
But can you buy plush toys of the stars of the other games? Do people make cakes in the image of the enemies? Do people love Angry Birds in part because the characters of these very annoyed avians, and the increasingly battled faces of their pig enemies are funny and charming? Of course.
Or how about Team 17′s classic Worms? Again, not the first or last of its genre. Possibly not even the best. But the game’s sense of humour keeps winning it fans on each platform it’s released on, over more than fifteen years.
And it’s not just small or indie games. Gears of War is often mocked for its ridiculously over the top machismo, but without larger than life characters like Cole Train you would have just had a grey cover shooter with a nice reloading mechanic.
The Fable series also has amazing character. It’s actually one of the few that feels to me like it has been made by the same country developers who made stuff like Head Over Heels and Skool Daze. Where others have run off and been happy to embrace Hollwoodisation, Fable is filled with every regional UK accent you can imagine. It has chicken kicking, blowing raspberries, sweary evil Gnomes, and dressing up in silly costumes. Not for any particular reason, but because those are funny things to do, that fit perfectly into the game’s universe.
The examples go on and on.
If your game has a strong sense of its own character, and players like that character, you will do well and people will not be able to clone your game successfully.
This article was originally posted on my personal blog at http://www.mainlyaboutgames.co.uk