Lunchtime Discussion: Influences

Under the influence.

How often do you hear about a game “ripping” something off? It seems to me that this cry goes up from gaming fans all too often, although frequently as part of fanboy “wars” (and oh how I hate the overuse of the word war). If an element of a sucessful game crops up somewhere else it is instantly subjected to claims that it was “stolen” from the game, and the “copycat” game is in some way worse for it.

Lets get one thing clear first. Just because a game borrows something from another title, that doesn’t make the newer game automatically bad or cheap. There are certainly games that are bad, and they may even be bad because of the borrowed element. However, they’re not poor games because they’re taking an innovation from another game, they’re bad because of the way they’ve implemented that particular feature, or because the game falls down in another aspect.

What strikes me as odd is that we don’t cry out about the notion of “stealing” a concept in other mediums. You don’t say that someone “stole” slow-motion shots or any other cinematic method. No, a film uses it, other film makers see it and use it in their films and the medium as a whole moves forwards. It’s how progress toward new and interesting things is made, by building on the work that others have done before you. In fact it’s pretty much how the whole of science and engineering works. If you had to derive every new idea from base mathematics (after inventing an entirely new numerical system) nothing would ever move forwards. We’d still be trying to make a hand axe from a rock that wasn’t too similar to our neighbour’s.

Of course there are direct rip-offs that exist within gaming, or any form of media for that matter. However, when you just take one element from something else successful and use it in a way that makes something new that’s fun or interesting then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact there are lawyers like Lawerence Lessig who want to reform copyright law to allow even more freedom to borrow from other works and build upon them, something that I feel can only be a good thing.

So, what’s your take on this? Is taking a gameplay mechanic or a general concept from another game “stealing”? Should developers try and stop this sort of thing? Or is it, in fact, a good thing for gaming?Helping the industry as a whole to move forwards, evolve and thrive? Is it just being influenced by other people you admire, or is it ripping them off?

12 Comments

  1. No its not stealing. As you said there are exceptions to this, where games (and other media) completely rip off one another. But borrowing and using other medias idea is and always will be the natural way to progression.

  2. There would be no progression without these imitations. As long as people doing the ‘stealing’ try to add something to the experience rtaher than rehashing then i see no problem with it

  3. if every game had to come up with something completely new and innovative, and not borrow at least one element from an existing game, then there would not be many games around!

    Using gameplay mechanics or elements, you could probably do a tedious link from pong, right the way through to something like mass effect, and games are certainly better off for it.

  4. “You don’t say that someone “stole” slow-motion shots or any other cinematic method.”
    Yeah, but it was quite an annoying trend when it has suddenly appeared literally everywhere.

    • I loved the slow motion in Max Payne game, was great when a helicopter was side sweeping the building you were in!

  5. As with anything it all depends. I think with fifa and pes, they’re both in a position where they need to be seen to be doing their own thing, not merely stealing each other’s ideas. If something truly innovative comes about, like people are saying with autolog, then it needs to be borrowed and built on to get improvements until it’s the real deal.

  6. I think it depends on what elements is used from another game. Gameplay mechanics or visual representations is not a big issue for me. But if they ‘steal’ too much of story elements, then that would piss me off.

  7. Pretty much all games are based on something that came before (with the exception of some of the truly original ones, but they are few and far between). It is very hard not to be similar to something else nowadays! There is nothing wrong with taking an existing idea and expanding it or fitting it to a new scenario, it is how games have evolved from the times of Doom into games like COD. Sometimes something is just so unchanged though that we wonder, was there any effort put into this? But on a whole, imitation is pretty unavoidable!

  8. Night vision, heat vision, lens flare – once someone did it, it appeared everywhere. Seems to be the same trend with helicopters appearing in games these days…

    As far as gameplay goes then I can’t see anything wrong with thinking… “we want to make a 3rd person shooter what’s the most popular 3rd person shooter, what do we love about it, what would we change… right lets make the sucka”

    That’s how things progress, its also how sequels can improve on the originals, I’m struggling to see a downside for gamers as it means things are in a constant state of evolution

    Sure for my personal tastes Madden peaked at ’95, FIFA with ’09 and NHL with 2002 because they hit the sweetspot between fun & realism, the same probably goes for other genres with MW1 more fondly thought of than it’s peers etc and why I’m so scared about Starwhawk being tweaked & fondled too much it loses what I love about Warhawk

  9. Referring to the comparisons you’ve made I’d say people are using others ideas which isn’t a bad thing, not stealing. If they used someone’s idea before the originator had actually had chance to complete their idea first I guess it could be classed as stealing.
    Anyway, that’s my opinion if that makes sense… reading that back to myself I’m struggling to understand what the hell I’m on about myself :/

  10. What makes it worse is when lazy reviews go “this first person shooter isn’t as good as COD, they copied this, this, this and made a bad job of it”. There’s only so much you can do with certain gameplay mechanics. styles & genres.

    Games will generally fall into catagories like FPS, RPG, Racing, SandBox, sports, etc… They then get labelled against the best of that category. They haven’t stolen anything, they are just trying to do their own thing.

    Unless a game is stealing a story element or copying a level structure or something that is blatenly ripped out of another game and put in theirs, it’s not stealing.

    I don’t condone it, and games need to be more creative. We had all the games coming out with fire, with sand, bullet time, QTE, etc.. But there is a clear line between being influenced by something and copying something.

    If you can be influenced by something and then make it better you have the winning solution.

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