Video game clone
A video game clone is either a video game (or series) which is very similar to or heavily inspired by a previous popular game or series. It also applies to a third-party remake of a video game console.
Cloning a game in digital marketplaces is common, because it is hard to prevent and easy to compete with existing games. Developers can copyright the graphics, title, story, and characters, but they cannot easily protect software design and game mechanics. A patent for the mechanics is possible, but acquiring one is expensive and time-consuming.
BYTE stated in December 1982 that that year "few games broke new ground in either design or format ... If the public really likes an idea, it is milked for all it's worth, and numerous clones of a different color soon crowd the shelves. That is, until the public stops buying or something better comes along. Companies who believe that microcomputer games are the hula hoop of the 1980s only want to play Quick Profit." Some video game genres are founded by such archetypal games that all subsequent similar games are thought of as derivatives. In the early video game industry, making a clone of a game was not illegal, provided that no outright copyright violation or trademark infringement occurred. As the gaming market grew large developers gained the ability to sue the developers of clones which were too similar to originals. Look and feel lawsuits, such as the one Capcom filed against Data East over the game Fighter's History also began to be filed, however are not common due to the legal complexities involved. With the adoption of software patents in some countries, e.g. in the United States in the 1990s, clone games are at far greater legal risk.
At times, games can be considered clones by the uninformed gamer if they resemble a modern popular game regardless of whether or not the game that has been "cloned" was completely original or not. An example of this is the way the majority of isometric RPG titles are considered clones of Blizzard's popular Diablo game, despite the fact that Diablo did not pioneer this style of gameplay and was in itself heavily influenced by Ultima VIII.
Early arcade games such as Space Invaders have been cloned very widely especially in 1980s and still in early 1990s. Most clones have been published by freeware computer game designers, but there have also been many commercially released clone games. Freeware-released versions have often been almost exact copies of earlier games, with only some minor elements and possibly the game's title changed.
Many famous titles by Jeff Minter were clones of arcade games in which graphics were turned from the original robot/spaceship graphics to animal creatures.
Notable cloned games
- Famous early arcade games of the golden age were cloned often, especially by freeware game designers
- Gun Fight (clones include Outlaw, Boot Hill, and Sheriff)
- Blockade (clones include Barricade, Surround and Snake)
- Space Invaders (clones include Super Invader, Galaxian, Galaga, Phoenix, TI Invaders, Konami's Space King, Nintendo's Space Fever, and countless others)
- Asteroids (clones include Stardust, Sinistar, Comet Busters!, and Minestorm, which was built into the Vectrex console)
- Pac-Man (clones include Munch Man (the most popular TI-99/4A game), and other clones)
- Defender (clones include Star Ray, Attack of the Mutant Camels, and Datastorm)
- Gravitar (clones include Thrust, Gravity Force, OIDS)
- Missile Command (clones include Liberator, Bio-ship Paladin)
- Qix (clones include Gals Panic, Xonix, JezzBall)
- Tron (clones include Armagetron Advanced, GLtron)
- Commando (1985), a vertical scrolling shoot 'em up, produced many clones such as Ikari Warriors, Rambo II, Dogs of War, Leatherneck.
- Arkanoid. The 1987 release of the computer conversion of this arcade game – which is itself a clone – triggered a flood of clones made for leading home computers of the day.
- Dungeon Master (1987) was an early first-person role-playing game (though early Ultima games contained similar dungeons). It was followed by many clones, though it took few years before the clones really start coming. Some of the clones took the game idea to a science fiction setting but most of them remained in fantasy world.
- Tetris has been ported to all but the most obscure platforms, often under different non-infringing names. See Tetris variants. In a 2012 federal court decision, one Tetris clone, Mino, was found to be an infringement of the Tetris copyright, rejecting the clone developer’s defense that it copied only non-expressive, functional elements of the original game.
- Great Giana Sisters (1987), famous platform game for late 1980s home computers, was a Super Mario Bros. clone to the extent that its publisher was threatened to be taken to court and the game was withdrawn from market.
- In the early 1990s, the success of Street Fighter II inspired numerous clones in the fighting game genre, such as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, World Heroes, Fighter's History, DarkStalkers, King of Fighters, and many others (Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Virtua Fighter and Tekken are also considered imitators to varying degrees).
- The success of Mortal Kombat caused the appearance of clones (known as Klones) such as Kasumi Ninja, Tattoo Assassins, Way of the Warrior, Ultra Vortek, BloodStorm and Street Fighter: The Movie, among others (ironically, Killer Instinct and Primal Rage were considered clones).
- In the 1990s, first-person shooters were called Doom-clones. Doom (1993) itself was the spiritual sequel to Wolfenstein 3D (1992), by the same designers.
- The success of the Grand Theft Auto series has led to many clones.
- Temple Run has been cloned a few times. Temple Run clones include Subway Surfers and Survival Run.
- Warcraft was originally a Dune II clone being an early game in the new real-time strategy genre.
- World of Warcraft has been cloned multiple times, commonly by companies that allow their games to be downloaded freely on the internet. Popular examples are Runes of Magic or Neo Steam.
- Guitar Freaks has spawned a great number of clones: Guitar Hero, Frets On Fire, Freetar, Guitar Zero and Flash Hero are the more notable ones.
- Defense of the Ancients, a popular Warcraft III custom map, has been cloned and emulated multiple times, leading to the genesis of the multiplayer online battle arena genre.
- Minecraft, inspired by Dwarf Fortress and Infiniminer, has spawned a host of heavily inspired titles based around the core mechanics of the game.
- Angry Birds, one of the best selling mobile games of all time, is a clone of Crush the Castle, which is also a clone.
- Team Fortress 2, a popular first-person multiplayer shooter created by Valve Corporation, spawned a clone called Final Combat.
- Wind Waker has been cloned by a mmorpg called Project Wiki which Nintendo later threatened to sue due to the similarities between the two games.
- Flappy Bird, a mobile platform game since discontinued, has been cloned numerous times due to programming code clearinghouses offering code to replicate the game with different art assets.
- 2048 is considered a clone of Threes!, released a few weeks earlier; despite being later, 2048 has gained more popularity due to its lower cost and claims it was developed over a weekend, when the developers of Threes! have noted that the fine-tuning of the mechanics took them months to develop.
Online app stores
Online app stores are particularly prone to cloned games, because developing an app is relatively cheap and the threshold for publishing is low. At one point in early 2014, developers were submitting 60 Flappy Bird clones per day from the original Doug Nyugen title to the Apple app store. In the wake of Flappy Bird, other notable cloned game apps were 2048, Piano Tiles and Timberman. Within days after Nyugen released his second app, Swing Copters, over 20 clones using similar graphics and names, had appeared on the app store.
The legality of cloning a video game has been an issue for the industry since its conception. In 1976, Ralf Baer, creator of the Magnavox Odyssey console, settled with Atari out of court over claims that Atari's version of Pong was an unauthorized copy of the tennis game for the Odyssey system.
In present-day law, it is upheld that game mechanics of a video game are part of its software, and are generally ineligible for copyright. The United States Copyright Office specifically notes: "Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles." The underlying source code, and the game's artistic elements, including art, music, and dialog, can be protected by copyright law. In the United Kingdom, "neither a game’s ‘look and feel’ nor its mechanics are protectable", according to Nicolas Murfett, a legal associate for Harbottle & Lewis, while the European Union has yet to come to a resolution on the matter. As an alternative, some elements of video game software have been protected through patents or trademarks. It is generally recognized in the video game industry that borrowing mechanics from other games is common practice, and their widespread use would make them ineligible for legal copyright or patent protection. Courts also consider scènes à faire (French for "scenes that must be done") for a particular genre as uncopyrightable; games involving vampires, for example, would be expected to have elements of the vampire drinking blood and driving a stake through the vampire's heart to kill him. In legal cases, the nature of the underlying game is often considered in light of other aspects of a video game clone; for example, the Tetris Company, as recently as June 2012, has been successful in its legal challenges to stop unauthorized clones of Tetris, despite the relative simplicity of the game's artwork and mechanics. Similarly, SpryFox LLC, the developers of the mobile game Triple Town, successfully defended their game from a clone, Yeti Town, developed by 6Waves, through court settlement after the judge gave initially rulings in favor of SpyrFox; these rulings suggested that there was copyright protection on the gameplay mechanics despite drastic differences in the games' art assets, though other factors, such as prior agreements between SpyrFox and 6Waves, may have also been involved.
Some of the more notable legal actions involving video game clones include:
- In 1982, Atari brought a lawsuit against Amusement World, claiming their arcade game Meteos violated their copyright on Asteroids. Though the court identified twenty-two similarities in the game mechanics, it ruled against Atari citing these elements as scènes à faire for games about shooting at asteroids.
- Atari sought an injunction in 1982 to block the sale of K.C. Munchkin for the Phillips-Magnavox Odyssey², citing excessive similarities to its Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man. Though the court initially denied the injunction, Atari won on appeal; the court noted that though K.C. Munchkin offered different features such as moving walls and fewer dots in the maze to eat, "substantial parts were lifted; no plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate".
- Data East sued Epyx over copyright violations from Data East's Karate Champ used in Epyx's World Karate Championship. Similar to Asteroids vs. Meteors, the court ruled in favor of Apyx, stating that while many elements were similar, they were necessary as part of karate championship-based game, and the remaining copyrightable elements were substantially different.
- Capcom filed a 1994 lawsuit against Data East over their fighting game, Fighter's History, which Capcom claimed cloned characters, art assets, and move sets from Street Fighter II. The court ruled against Capcom, stating that while some elements may have been similar, no direct measure of willful copying could be found; the court further found that many of the characters in Street Fighter II were already based on public domain stereotypical fighters, and were ineligible for copyright protection.
- Sega had filed a 1998 United States patent for the gameplay concepts in Crazy Taxi The company subsequently used that patent to sue Fox Interactive over their title The Simpsons: Road Rage, citing that the latter game was developed to "deliberately copy and imitate" the Crazy Taxi game. The case was ultimately settled out of court.
- In August 2012, Electronic Arts (EA), via its Maxis division, put forth a lawsuit against Zynga, claiming that its Facebook game, The Ville was a ripoff of EA's own Facebook game, The Sims Social. The lawsuit challenges that The Ville not only copies the gameplay mechanics of The Sims Social, but also uses art and visual interface aspects that appear to be inspired by The Sims Social. Zynga has long been criticized by the video game industry as cloning popular social and casual games from other developers, a practice common throughout the social game genre. In past cases, Zynga's clones have typically been from smaller developers without the monetary resources to pursue legal action (as in the case of Tiny Tower by NimbleBit, which Zynga has cloned in their game, Dream Heights) or that are willing to settle out of court (as in the case of Zynga's Mafia Wars, which was accused of cloning David Maestri's Mob Wars). Pundits have noted that EA, unlike these previous developers, are financially backed to see the case to completion; EA themselves have stated in the lawsuit that "Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product. But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it." The two companies settled out of court on undisclosed terms in February 2013.
More recently, with the popularity of social and mobile game stores like Apple's App Store for iOS system and Google Play for Android-based systems, a large number of likely-infringing clones have begun appearing. While such storefronts typically include a review process before games and apps can be offered on them, these processes do not consider copyright infringement of other titles. Instead, they rely on the developer of the work that has been cloned to initiate a complaint regarding the clone, which may take time for review. The cloned apps often are purposely designed to resemble other popular apps by name or feel, luring away purchasers from the legitimate app, even after complaints have been filed. Apple has released a tool to streamline claims of app clones to a team dedicated to handle these cases, helping to bring the two parties together to try to negotiate prior to action. While Apple, Google, and Microsoft took steps to stem the mass of clones based on Swing Copters after its release, experts believe it is unlikely that these app stores will institute any type of proactive clone protection outside of clear copyright violations, and these experts stress the matter is better done by the developers and gaming community to assure the original developer is well known, protects their game assets on release, and gets the credit for the original game.
Another approach some companies have used to prevent clones is via trademarks as to prevent clones and knockoffs. Notably, King.com have gotten a United States trademark on the word "Candy" in the area of video games to protect clones and player confusion for their game Candy Crush Saga. They have also sought to block the use of the word "Saga" in the trademark filing of The Banner Saga for similar reasons, despite the games having no common elements.
Video game consoles
Cloned consoles are often bootlegged/pirated/unlicensed. These kind of game systems are often sold online, or at flea markets especially in developing countries, where it is seen as an affordable alternative to more expensive consoles such as the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. Cloned consoles come in a variety of styles, shell shapes, etc. In some cases, a game system clone will have built-in games, and a cartridge slot for expansion.
Notable cloned video game systems
Normal cloned consoles play games of older consoles. If they are officially licensed, they are made by third-party companies who have been granted permission to manufacture and distribute by the original manufacturers (i.e., Atari and Sega). If they are not officially licensed, they are made by companies that do not have contractual agreements with the original manufacturers with regards to intellectual property.
Atari Flashback 2 (2005) - Official console playing Atari 2600 and 7800 games
Generation NEX (2005) - Plays NES games
Dendy (1992) - Plays NES games
|Name||Manufacturer||Release date||Clone of||Physical resemblance||Officially licensed?|
|Atari Flashback||Atari||2004||Atari 2600/Atari 7800||Atari 2600/Atari 7800||Yes|
|Atari Flashback 2||Atari||2005||Yes|
|Atari Flashback 2+||Atari||2010||Yes|
|Atari Flashback 3||Atari||2011||Yes|
|Dendy||Steepler||1992||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)||Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)||No|
|FC Twin||Yobo||2006||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
|SNS-101 (SNES redesign)/Super Famicom Jr.||No|
|Generation NEX||Messiah Entertainment||2005||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)||No|
|PolyStation||2005||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)||PlayStation||No|
|Retro Duo||Retro-Bit||2008||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
|Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)||No|
|Sega Zone||Sega||2010||Mega Drive/Genesis||none||Yes|
Game Boy Color
Game Boy Advance
Also known as cosmetic clones, these consoles are very similar in appearance/design to a major console, but are architecturally very different to the ones they imitate, often using simpler hardware in lieu of more complex processors in order to save on manufacturing costs. They are mainly built in China.
|Vii||Jungle Soft||2007||Wii||Sold in China only, built-in games|
|WiWi||Wii||Sold in China only, similar to the Wii|
|iSport, built-in games||Wii||Sold in China only, built-in games|
|Zone 40/Zone Mini/Zone 60||Jungle Soft & Ultimate Products||2010||Wii||Built-in games|
|POP Station||PlayStation Portable||Built-in electronic handheld games|
|Neo Double Games||Nintendo DS||Built-in electronic handheld games|
|Mini PolyStation 3||PlayStation 3||Built-in electronic handheld games|
- Clone (computing)
- Nintendo Entertainment System hardware clone
- Category:Nintendo Entertainment System hardware clones
- Category:Atari 2600 hardware clones
- Game engine recreation
- Video game remake
- Grand Theft Auto clone
- List of Pac-Man clones
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