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casual ripple effect pt2 : Clones

October 2, 2007
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In the first casual ripple effect, I explored the idea that Nintendo may not be the winner in the current-gen war, but that the success of their casual gaming push has had effects on nearly every strata of the video game industry, leading up to Konami’s decision to develop a “putting on your make-up properly” application for the DS. Some people commented that the the “casual gaming boom” was ruining it for the rest of us, ie the more hardcore gamer.

I instinctively agreed, but upon further thought decided that this may not entirely be the case. Game development studios are businesses and businesses need to make a profit. It’s hard, time-consuming, and risky to come up with an original IP, so many times it’s more profitable to simply “clone” one. When GTA3 became the wild success that it was all sorts of clones started popping up, including The Getaway, the True Crime series and all the way up to Just Cause. The developers of these games would have you believe that they’re original IPs and that they offer more than GTA ever did, but once you get past the slight tweaks in gameplay and the change in scenery (From London to fictional South American states) you end up with a glorified GTA knockoff. And these are some of the better clones mind you, I’m sure there are some that are much worse.

This phenoma isn’t native to video games either. Remember the years when almost every other movie had Stallone, Van Damme, or Schwarzenegger in it as a tough, badass action hero? Remember when boy bands were the big thing in the music industry? Brilliant people create brilliant IPs that blaze a path for the “me-toos” to follow. It’s just the way the entertainment industry works.

Back to gaming, there’s a whole subcategory of small development studios that exist for the sole purpose of producing “me-too” games. These guys are small startups looking to make their big break by cutting their teeth on a clone then possibly moving on to an original IP. Most people may not be aware of this, but the sheer number of watered down titles for the PS1 and 2 is startling. I’m more aware of this because we have entire malls filled with stalls hawking pirated games, some of which never even raised a blip on the radar of public consciousness. God knows how many of the knockoffs actually turned a profit, but the point that I’m really trying to make here is that those knockoffs were clones of hardcore games, because that was what was selling back in the day.

Enter the current gen casual gaming hurricane.

When Nintendo released Brain Age to much fanfare, there was also big brain academy, and now we have Master Jin Jin’s IQ challenge. Players of both gams might want to argue that they are distinct from each other, but that’s a matter of opinion. To me, one brain training game is the same as another, and I’m looking for more people to hop on the brain training bandwagon. God knows how many clones there might be in Japan (Bill, a little help with this one?). Nintendo recently released their “face training” application, and now Konami’s rolling out their “make-up” app. And we all bemoan the sheer number of minigame-games in the market. Casual games are the new hotness, and since they’re that much cheaper to develop, they’re even more tempting than ever for developers to clone. If you need any proof of this just check out the PC casual gaming scene, where for the most part everything is a clone of Bejewelled.

What that means for “the rest of us” is that we no longer have to wade through endless titles of knockoffs, and get to sit back and relax and properly enjoy quality hardcore games. I say quality because you know that the developers who stay in the hardcore game “genre” will be there because they’re really passionate about making epic games, and not cashing in in the minigame phenomenon. You’ll still have your Metroids, Super Marios, Bioshocks, Gears of Wars, Halos, MGSes, Civilizations and Final Fantasies.

Let the uneducated masses wade through the morass of cloned casual games if it makes them happy. Go ahead and turn up your noses at them while they swing their wiimotes and nunchuks with glee. The playground that is gaming just got a little more crowded, but there’s no need to worry because there will always be more than enough room for everyone to play.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2007 11:08 am

    And it is not just the gaming and movie businesses, Ryan… remember the “.com Bubble” in the 90s? And look at the recently-burst “Housing Bubble”! All products of the same “me too!” get-rich-fast attitude. These are all simply different versions of the original “Pyramid Scam”, in which an original successful idea is exploited by someone in the know that drags in a bunch of uninformed investors or consumers that think they will finally get a break.

    I recently have discovered the Xbox LIVE Arcade, and I have come to the realization that MicroSoft entered the casual games and virtual console games long before Nintendo did it with the Wii… but at a far more reasonable prices. Their big problem is that the 360 lacks the wiimote…

  2. October 3, 2007 11:51 am

    Hmm.. i think Nin and MS started at about the same time. No doubt Nintendogs was out before the Live Arcade made itself known. But whoever hatched first, Yahoo Games, Newgrounds and all that other online casual crap was there way before the DS was conceived. Then again, you could say Tetris initiated casual gaming, but that’s a pretty hardcore game. It all comes from somewhere.

    Great article, bee tee double-u. But there’s an aspect you haven’t covered, which is Nintendo’s horrendous lack of any sort of quality control. There’s a feature in this month’s EGM about it which i haven’t yet read, but i’ve been saying that same thing since last year. Sure, letting everyone put anything on their systems is probably fairer and a free market type of mentality, but Nintendo made their brand powerful by enforcing some sort of approval process. These days, the only thing that’s gluttonous to them is Manhunt rather than Oblongatta Flexing DS 2: Super Pilates Edition (featuring 80 more Su Doku puzzles!).

    Nah you know what, i don’t give a care anymore. I’m with you, let em do what they feel like. That’s how the industry flows.

    Good to be a PS3 owner right about now.

  3. October 3, 2007 11:55 am

    And wasn’t Just Cause set in the Venezuelan jungle? That’s what i read on the back of its box.

  4. October 3, 2007 12:51 pm

    Actually, the LIVE Arcade started back with the original Xbox, but it didn’t get too far… the prices were too high for just a few arcade games that we already had in all other platforms!

  5. October 3, 2007 1:13 pm

    Like i said, before it made itself known.

  6. October 3, 2007 5:40 pm

    My point was that other developers did try to woo that “casual gamer” untapped customer, but failed… They lacked that “extra gimmick” that Nintendo has put in its two most recent efforts!

  7. October 3, 2007 7:39 pm

    Casual games were around long before ds and Wii, but for a long time they were ostracized for being casual. Nintendo simply legitimized casual with their consoles, thanks to an amazing marketing team and the blood of 20 virgins.

  8. October 6, 2007 3:57 am

    Casuals games are for on the John. Hardcore for the living room/bed/dorm rooms. PC games for the outright nerds.

    Casual gaming in the living room is too weird for me. I feel like I should just go outside or do something more useful with my time. At least with Core fames I get a feeling of accomplishment.When I play on a PC I feel like I am not getting work done, or I should be blogging before Rollin fires me.

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