This email arrived yesterday:
Um. Yay? I guess we won? Well, no. Not really. Maybe we didn’t lose quite as much, but when cloning’s involved it’s never really something anyone can “win”. There’s a lot of stuff that we’ve been wanting to talk about, having spent a lot of time thinking about cloning recently, so here goes:
Sorry we couldn’t make LoEH better
We tried. We really did… Being in the unique position of y’know, being able to talk to the guy cloning our game, we had a lot of feedback and ideas that we tried to give. Not only to stop him, well, cloning us. But also because we’d much rather have played a game that truly innovated on the ideas behind DD. Seeing someone else dig into the same creative space we’ve been sculling around in and ending up with something different to play? That’d be awesome.
We gave Mr Farraro ideas on how to change LoEH so that it wasn’t a DD rip off. We tried to motivate him to create something cool and offered to work with him to help deal with the resulting longer dev time. Obviously he didn’t go for it. We’re sorry about that.
No, the item system wasn’t something we suggested, that’s his big claim toward differentiation. We had nothing to do with it, which should be obvious through its complete lack of balance: Making the game easier as you get better at it, through rewarding players with items as they complete dungeons, is not how you create an engaging difficulty curve.
It sucks that people paid for a game that’s no longer going to be updated, whose bugs and crashes won’t be fixed. It sucks that some people were exposed to a poor facsimile of a game we’re really quite proud of. We very nearly halted development on the full game to put something very like V0.15 on the iPhone for free. In the end we realised that the best game we could give you all is the one we’ve been working on non-stop since March last year and anything that takes our focus away from that is a bad idea.
We hate that we’ll be judged against LoEH now
“But for the way that the dust has been kicked up, and the fingernails have come out over this, DD had better blow League out of the water on every conceivable level. The system should be flawless, the UI needs to be innovative and earth-shatteringly beautiful…”
This is what we were most afraid of when we first heard about LoEH. Leaving out the sheer crazyness of being compared to our own game logic, we now have to deal with the fact that there are people out there who have seen LoEH before they were even aware of DD. Yes, this is partly our fault (uh, for not marketing to a user-base we didn’t have a product for yet, I guess) but now we have to conquer that odd first-adopter loyalty just because someone else stole our work. Awesome.
The worst part is that DD v0.15 blows LoEH out of the water! It’s not even in the realms of comprehensibility to compare the final full version to something that’s not as good as our own alpha. But, when the full comes out, we’re going to be told that we “stole” features from LoEH. And not just things like the classes or spells taken from the alpha, no…
One of the first new systems I wrote for DD in Unity is the upgraded inventory. I even mentioned it here a few times. We designed it on paper in June or July last year, with all sorts of neat ramifications for the game as a whole. Then, months before we’d even heard of LoEH, while Marc was building the new level generation code in Unity and Rodain was adding Lothlorien to the alpha in GM, I was hammering away at the inventory system that some wonderful human being is going to say we filched from Eric Farraro.
We think that false basis for comparison sucks.
We’re baffled by the attitudes toward cloning
Some people seem to have the strangest perception of game cloning. “But the App store is full of clones!” they say, somehow expecting the “But everybody else was doing it!” excuse to hold water despite it never working when they were 8 either.
This argument seems to hinge on the fact that some games are inspired by others. When fully trotted out, the logic goes something along the lines of: Every game ever is inspired in some way by another game; This means that if we were to start allowing legal protection for games in any form, all new games would never be made due to lawsuits; Thus, you’re Tim Langdell.
Older media like film and music have rather complex attribution and copying systems in place that work most of the time. Concepts like plagiarism and referencing are extremely important to authors and scientists alike. To say that the medium of games can’t have any form of starvation-prevention for the stupid buggers that keep making them doesn’t seem to make much sense. It’s hard to imagine how games can be protected as IP for the same reasons that it would be hard for someone to imagine the idea of copyright before the advent of the printing press: It’s only a relevant problem now, we have no language to correctly quantify how much of a game was copied and at what fidelity. (We’re partial to the idea of measuring the newness of a game concept/implementation in Kilo-indies)
That said, laws are there to help societies function, not to make us be less dickish to each other… There’s a huge difference between something that’s legal and something that’s ethically sound. Ethics has been and always will be, reactive and highly context-based. Legal systems are sluggish and, out of neccessity, rigidly codified. That means that the law is always behind in terms of what people find acceptable in new or rapidly changing fields. For the sake of the games industry though, we hope that a classification for cloning that’s better than “We’ll know it when we see it” emerges sooner rather than later.
We’re not saying that copyrights, patents and licensing systems are the way to go, in fact in many cases they’re far from perfect. But arguing that precedence removes ethical responsibility is never something that any morally sound human being should tolerate.
We think cloning is a dumb strategy
Why would you want to clone a game as an indie developer? Or even a publisher-held studio? This is the age of everyone and everything being worried about copyright. You can’t heave a brick these days without hitting something that’s involved either in copyright infringement or enforcement in some way. Laws are going to change, games will enjoy more protection eventually. More and more cloned games are being shut down by platform owners that realise they’re hurting the platform’s perception. Game buyers understand what a clone is and – even if they don’t – are less likely to spend money on something that others have complained about.
Anyone involved in creating digital content in any way, shape or form has to spend time thinking about the implications of trying to earn a living as information just gets easier and easier to copy. Eventually, say the worst-case scenarios, the main things people will be trading on are their reputations and the goodwill of their customers. If that’s the case, then reputation becomes an incredibly important resource. Sabotaging how you’re perceived by being an immense dick on a medium that’s as history-aware as the internet is possibly not the best thing to do if you want a solid career.
But say you’re only making games for the money. Stop laughing… Given a purely financial motivation, cloning still doesn’t work out: You’re basically saying that you don’t believe in your own skills and have to rely on a confidence trick – getting to a particular market first – in order to skim some of the income that another game would have gotten. From an investment perspective, this sort of thinking can make sense in the physical world, where markets are created through location and distance. But digitally, you’re only guaranteed any long-term income in a fragmented, niche market that’s likely to be overlooked by the original developers.
Because you never want to be going up against the original developers. You have to get your clone out before their game hits the same buyers. Your clone has to be built faster, for less and with less understanding of the core game design. Without that “first on the scene” perception (or some other attention grabbing trick – holiday skinning is always popular), your clone game won’t be bought at all.
And why clone an indie game? Larger companies ignore markets that might sustain smaller companies, but trying to find the cracks that a tiny, adaptable, able company leaves un-monetised is a recipe for bankruptcy. Especially as more cross-platform tools and engines gain popularity – that SCO-Xenix implementation you were counting on selling? Yeah, Unity runs on mainframes now too.
Cloning is financially riskier than building an original game: You are increasingly likely to have your clone’s earning window cut short through either technological, legal or consumer-awareness avenues. In the end, cloning isn’t about trying to go for the “quick win” and earning a bunch of money you wouldn’t have gotten before. It’s actually about trying to lose slower than the other guy. You don’t have to be a rocket-surgeon to realise that’s a stupid way to try and earn a living.
At least, that’s how we feel about it.