Video game clone

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The FC Twin, a popular clone system that plays both Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo.

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.

The term is usually derogatory, implying a lack of originality and creativity; however, an intentional clone may be anything from a "ripoff" to a honorary homage to its exemplar. Accusing a game of being a clone carries the implication that its developers or publishers try to profit off of the exemplar's success. In particularly bad cases this may be seen as a form of plagiarism or fraud and could be taken to court.

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.[1]

Video games[edit]


Neo Double Games. This is an unofficial handheld game console cloning the look of a Nintendo DS and featuring simple, LED games.

BYTE reported in December 1981 that at least eight clones of Atari, Inc.'s arcade game Asteroids existed for personal computers.[2] The magazine 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."[3]

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[citation needed], 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.[4] Look and feel lawsuits, such as the one Capcom filed against Data East over the game Fighter's History[5] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Early arcade games such as Space Invaders have been widely cloned, especially in the 1980s and still in the early 1990s.

Many 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[edit]

Online app stores[edit]

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.[13] 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.[14]

Legal aspects[edit]

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.[15]

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.[15] 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."[16] The underlying source code, and the game's artistic elements, including art, music, and dialog, can be protected by copyright law.[15] 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.[17] As an alternative, some elements of video game software have been protected through patents or trademarks.[17][18][19][20] 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.[15][21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[22]

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.[22]
  • 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".[24]
  • 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.[22]
  • 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.[22][25][26]
  • Sega had filed a 1998 United States patent for the gameplay concepts in Crazy Taxi[27] 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.[28] The case was ultimately settled out of court.[29]
A comparison of in-game screenshots, published in EA's legal filings, of EA's The Sims Social (left) and Zynga's The Ville, demonstrating the similarities in the games' art assets.
  • 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,[30][31][32] a practice common throughout the social game genre.[33][34] 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).[31] 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."[35] The two companies settled out of court on undisclosed terms in February 2013.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38][39] 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.[40] 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.[17]

Another approach some companies have used to prevent clones is via trademarks as to prevent clones and knockoffs. Notably, 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.[41]

Video game consoles[edit]

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[edit]

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.

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
Generation NEX Messiah Entertainment 2005 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) No
PolyStation 2005 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) PlayStation No
FC Twin Yobo 2006 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
SNS-101 (SNES redesign)/Super Famicom Jr. No
FC 3 Plus Yobo 2006 NES
none No
Retro Duo Retro-Bit 2008 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) No
Super Retro Trio Retro-Bit 2014 NES
none No
RetroN 2 Hyperkin - NES
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) No
RetroN 3 Hyperkin 2010 NES
none No
Sega Zone Sega 2010 Mega Drive/Genesis none Yes
RetroN 4 Hyperkin 2013 NES/Famicom
SNES/Super Famicom
Mega Drive/Genesis
Game Boy
none No
RetroN 5 Hyperkin 2014 NES/Famicom
SNES/Super Famicom
Mega Drive/Genesis
Game Boy
Game Boy Color
Game Boy Advance
none No


The Vii, released in 2007 in China; resembles the Wii

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.

Name Manufacturer Release date Resembles Notes
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
MyGame Wii 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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "For Creators of Games, a Faint Line on Cloning" New York Times, Chen, Brian X. March 11, 2012
  2. ^ a b Williams, Gregg (December 1981). "Battle of the Asteroids". BYTE. pp. 163–165. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Clark, Pamela (December 1982). "The Play's the Thing". BYTE. p. 6. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  4. ^ : Ed (2001-12-04). "Nintendo Cracks Down on Game Clones". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  5. ^ Dannenberg, Ross (2005-08-29). "Case: Capcom v. Data East (N.D. Cal. 1994) [C]". Patent Arcade. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  6. ^ Jack C. Schecter (2012-06-18). "Grand Theft Video: Judge Gives Gamemakers Hope for Combating Clones". Retrieved 2012-06-19. 
  7. ^ Patterson, Eric L. (November 3, 2011). "EGM Feature: The 5 Most Influential Japanese Games Day Four: Street Fighter II". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Daniel McNeely (2009-09-28). "Production Notes: Crush the Castle". Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  11. ^ Rigny, Ryan (2014-03-05). "How to Make a No. 1 App With $99 and Three Hours of Work". Wired. Retrieved 2014-03-05. 
  12. ^ Renaudin, Clement (2014-03-27). "Cloned to Death: Developers Release all 570 Emails That Discussed the Development of 'Threes!'". Touch Arcade. Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  13. ^ Tassi, Paul. "Over Sixty 'Flappy Bird' Clones Hit Apple's App Store Every Single Day". 
  14. ^ Batchlor, James (2014-08-21). "Flappy Bird creator's new game Swing Copters has already been cloned. A lot.". Develop. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  15. ^ "U.S. Copyright Office – Games". United States Copyright Office. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  16. ^ Kuchera, Ben (2008-03-09). "Patents on video game mechanics to strangle innovation, fun". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  17. ^ Adams, Earnst (2008-03-05). "The Designer's Notebook: Damn All Gameplay Patents!". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  18. ^ Chang, Steve; Dannenberg, Ross (2007-01-19). "The Ten Most Important Video Game Patents". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  19. ^ Ibrahim, Mona (2009-12-09). "Analysis: Clone Games & Fan Games – Legal Issues". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  20. ^ a b c d e McArthur, Stephen (2013-02-27). "Clone Wars: The Six Most Important Cases Every Game Developer Should Know". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2013-02-27. 
  21. ^ Orland, Kyle (2012-06-20). "Defining Tetris: How courts judge gaming clones". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  22. ^ Kohler, Chris (2012-08-08). "CourtVille: Why Unclear Laws Put EA v. Zynga Up for Grabs". Wired. Retrieved 2012-08-08. 
  23. ^ Bennett, Chris (1994-03-18). "Street Fighter II Vs. Fighter's History". Davis LLP. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  24. ^ Oxford, Naida (2007-12-11). "Twenty Years of Whoop-Ass". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  25. ^ US patent 6200138 
  26. ^ Sirlin, Davie (2007-02-27). "The Trouble With Patents". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  27. ^ "Case Analysis: Sega v. Fox". Patent Arcade. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  28. ^ Griffen, Daniel Nye (2012-08-06). "EA Sues Zynga, But Deeper Social Issues Threaten". Forbes. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  29. ^ a b Brown, Nathan (2012-01-25). "How Zynga cloned its way to success". Edge. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  30. ^ Jamison, Peter (2010-09-08). "FarmVillains". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  31. ^ Kelly, Tadhg (2012-08-04). "Zyngapocalypse Now (And What Comes Next?)". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  32. ^ Kelly, Tadhg (2009-12-18). "Zynga and the End of the Beginning". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  33. ^ Tassi, Paul (2012-08-03). "Zynga Pokes a Giant: EA Files Lawsuit After The Ville Clones The Sims". Forbes. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  34. ^ Cifaldi, Frank (2013-02-15). "EA and Zynga settle The Ville copycat case out of court". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2013-02-15. 
  35. ^ Dredge, Stuart (2012-02-03). "Should Apple take more action against march of the iOS clones?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  36. ^ Epsom, Rip (2011-12-11). "Can We Stop The Copycat Apps?". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  37. ^ Constine, John (2012-02-03). "Apple Kicks Chart Topping Fakes Out Of App Store". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  38. ^ Foresman, Chris (2012-09-04). "Apple now provides online tool to report App Store ripoffs". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  39. ^ Karmali, Luke (2014-01-22). "Candy Crush Saga Dev Goes After The Banner Saga". IGN. Retrieved 2014-01-22.