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?