Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t Like Competition

April 24, 2013 -

Vlambeer is no stranger to cloning controversies. A while back, its game Radical Fishing was "cloned" by another company and turned into a game called Ninja Fishing. I responded with a blog post about why the idea of game cloning should be an accepted part of the industry. The idea that copying game mechanics is neither unethical or theft as many people like to claim was central to my point. Game cloning has been around since electronic table tennis. It will be with us long after. Other industries are not immune to the effect either. Yet for some reason it gets a lot of negative attention in the games industry.

This past week, it turns out that the gaming community spotted what they claimed to be another Vlambeer cloning case. In this case, Vlambeer is working on a stylized aerial dogfight game, Luftrausers, and out came yet another game, SkyFar, that follows a similar path. You can view footage of Vlambeer's game here and the supposed clone here. To me, this seems to be yet another case covered clearly by my previous response. But with all the press the controversy was getting, I had to vent. So I went to Twitter and said the following:

I am so getting tired of Vlambeer's overreactions to game cloning. Why are they making a big deal over a game on a platform they aren't on?

It is one thing to complain when a supposed clone is directly competing such as with Triple Town, but this latest complaint is ridiculous.

There are ways to deal with it that don't involve crying to Apple and Google. For one, you can ignore it, two you can do better than it.

I was halfway hoping to get a response, but didn't really care either way. But I did get one. Rami Ismail, business and development guy at Vlambeer, responded with the following:

I'm getting equally tired of brushing cloning off as if it's a good thing. It is not and should not be 'OK'. Inspiration, fine.

From here, he and I had a long debate on Twitter. While the debate mostly confirmed their stated positions on game cloning, I did want to elaborate on a few things found in there. First up was Rami's second tweet to me.

In the end, though, we do not control what the press writes about. We just reply honestly when there's a request for comment.

This seems odd to me. While I understand that Vlambeer cannot control what the press says, they can control what they say to the press. One would think that it would be obvious for the press to seek out someone who is known to have controversial opinions on a fact of game design such as cloning. Once alerted to something that deals with that company and that controversial topic, the press would seek them out for comment.

If that is how the press functions, then responding to the press in exactly the fashion they were seeking is basically falling where they want you to be. So in reality, this whole ordeal could have easily been avoided had Vlambeer not responded or responded in a non-controversial manner.

The next tweet deals with their response to this game "clone". They stated to the media that they are contacting Apple and Google to get them to do something about it. When confronted with this Rami responded:

We do intend to challenge a game that takes our style, theme and gameplay & admits to faking their screenshots & trailer.

This was a running theme through his comments. Rami seemed to be under the impression that their only option was to complain about the game. When I brought up the idea that they could instead compete with what is apparently an inferior game on a platform they don't target, he brushed the idea off with this:

We're not competing, we do not intend to compete. We don't care about competing. We care that that's our work being ripped off.

And that is the problem with their view point. Competition is somehow a bad thing to them. They do not believe they should have to compete against similar ideas. That is a dangerous line of thought. A line of thought that has them admitting that rather than compete, they would have the competition banned. Referring to my comment confirming that their hope is to have the "clone" banned from iTunes and Google Play:

Like you said, that's not our decision, but it is what we hope the judges will decide.

I seriously hope that Vlambeer is in the minority in their opinion. The idea that we should not have to compete in a marketplace of ideas and concepts in gaming is absurd on many levels. Game developers compete in such a way on a daily basis. Call of Duty competes with Battlefield. The Sims Social competes with the Ville. Diablo 3 competes with Torchlight 2. And so on and so forth. Each of those games could be said to be a clone of the other. Yet, barring rare occasions, the companies choose to compete with each other in the market rather than complain and try to have the competition banned.

In conclusion, I want to respond to one last tweet from Rami:

No, we just feel victimized by people intentionally ripping off our games. If someone is inspired by our works, we're proud.

I asked him where the line was because to me it seemed that they are placing it so far askew that there could be no "inspiration" they would accept. In response to that query, he simply stated that he felt my placement was too far askew in the other direction. Based on my conversation and other media responses by Vlambeer, it would seem that the only way they would consider something to be an "inspiration" rather than a "clone" would be for the competing game to be released after their game and not for sale or monetized in any way.

While that placement of the line is not confirmed by Rami or Vlambeer, I think it is pretty safe to assume that it is in the ballpark. I would hope that other indie and even AAA developers would move away from such a mindset. By treating as a clone  anything that even remotely cross-eyed looks like it might compete with your game, you are showing that you cannot compete in a real market. Without some kind of artificial controls on the market, you would fail at the first sign of competition. Why would any developer want to believe that?

Reposted From Random Tower

Game Politics Correspondent E. Zachary Knight


Comments

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

Except maybe (a big maybe) the beige color palette and thanks to the minimal style and simple dog fight mechanic the game is pretty generic, no wonder it gets cloned...there isn't much original to it. At least from what I've seen.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

And that is the problem with their view point. Competition is somehow a bad thing to them. They do not believe they should have to compete against similar ideas. That is a dangerous line of thought. A line of thought that has them admitting that rather than compete, they would have the competition banned. 


That does not strike me as what they are saying.  Many people are commenting that they should not care about about games that they are not competing in the same market with, and I read their response as it not being about the actual competition in the particular app store, but the principle of the matte.

I agree that they kinda go off the deep end, but I do not get the impression that they are against competition, they just have a rather extreme take on the topic of duplicating other people's work.

That being said, I do not think the issue is completely cut and dry.  I think most developers would agree there are completely unacceptable cases (bordering on counterfeiting) and some rather slimy ones (like Zynga's behavior), so there are lines out there that we generally agree are not ok to cross... but where those lines are can be kinda fuzzy and often depends on where the line benefits the particular speaker.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

"We do intend to challenge a game that takes our style, theme and gameplay & admits to faking their screenshots & trailer."

Style might get limited protection, but theme and gameplay get almost none. When the theme is "dogfighting" and the syle and gameplay both resemble games from the early 80s, you frankly have no right to complain about being "cloned".

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

To repeat what I said in Gamepolitics' previous post on the subject:

I don't see enough similarities in visual style to call SkyFar a clone. It may have similar mechanics, but it's not as if the mechanics involved are particularly original. Quite frankly, they both look like Atari games with better graphics and animations.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

Okay, what is the deal with this particular company?  Developers have their games cloned all the time.  Why are these guys getting this much press?  Is it because they have a controversial opinion on the subject?  Because I'm willing to bet most developers would share this opinion, so they're not being controversial really.  It's the topic itself that is controversial.

My two cents is that I agree with the notion that there is a good kind of cloning (taking inspiration, iteration on mechanics and advancing them) and a bad kind (outright copying exactly).  We should encourage the good kind and discourage the bad kind.  However, I don't want to see any legal processes for this.  It should be done by voting with our wallets.

If you start trying to legally define what is cloning vs. "inspired by", that is a very slippery slope and there is a real risk of legitimate game ideas getting killed by a stupid legal precedent.  That's a risk that isn't worth it to me.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

Voting with your wallet is not always the best or most fair way to address a problem, in fact it can actually be pretty destructive.

Moving away from this specific example and into a more extreme case there are things like patents and research.  In places where such protections do not exist (historically) what ends up happening is someone invests time and resources into developing something, another person comes along and takes the design wholesale and then is able to produce the object with much lower up front cost (since the did not pay for any research, did not sink the cost of mistakes or prototyping, etc) and thus can offer a lower price.  People voted with their wallets and bought the cheaper items, which results in a situation where the market rewards the person who didn't do the work and punishes the person who actually took the risk and invested the capital.

You also have predatory marketing issues, large brands tend to have higher visibility and better channels into retail space, so people will generally vote with their wallet and buy from those companies, even when they blatently steal or rip something off (this is a common problem in movie production, studios accept script submissions from unknown writers, steal the script, produce the movie, and people will go see it).  

Most consumers neither punish nor reward good behavior through purchasing, brand and cost tend to be the dominant factors, so all 'voting with your wallet' really tends to accomplish is reward companies that can make things cheap or are high profile.  Of course some consumers of course do care, but their impact outside niche markets tends to be pretty minimal.  Moral victory with no real effect on the parties in question.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

Games and other entertainment media do not operate in the same way as physical goods. When a movie such as Dante's Peak comes out, people don't stop and say "Wait, there is this cheaper 'Volcano' movie that we can watch instead of Dante's Peak. Let's do that." That scenario doesn't happen.

Neither does it happen in games. No one who is looking for Vlambeer's Luftrausers will stop when they see SkyFar and say "Oh look here is a cheaper game to play. Let's do that instead of the other game I wanted." Either they will get both or get the one they want. Specifically in the games industry cheap equals crap. 

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

True, that does not happen, but they will go 'hrm, $20 for a DVD at best buy or a 5 bucks from that vendor on Amazon with the funny name'.  Outright counterfeit is an extreme example of cloning but that is why I picked it.

A few steps closer would be those companies that produce products with nearly identical names and design to some other brand, like those fake 'disney like' movies you used to see in grocery store checkout lines.  They contained no directly copied content, but they were still very questionable rip offs that I think companies would be justifiably annoyed about.. and I can attest that the game company I used to work for was occasionally bashed by our customers because they got ahold of counterfeit product designed to look like and had names similiar to our stuff, and WE got blamed for it being crap... then when we tried to politely explain to the customer (or forum thread) that they got bamboozled by a counterfeiter, they usually just circled the wagons and got worse.

Depending on your customer base and branding, cheap knockoffs that are not necessarily easy to differentiate from your own work can actually hurt your public image.  As always, think in terms of poorly informed people outside our identity instead of gamers who have lots of domain knowledge.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

"Depending on your customer base and branding, cheap knockoffs that are not necessarily easy to differentiate from your own work can actually hurt your public image."

Luckily, that's not what's going on here. No reasonable person would be confused by these two games any more than they'd be confused by two WWII games, two racing games, two flight simulators, etc.

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

Rami's response can be found as comments to the original article.

http://randomtower.com/?p=658#comment-11456

Re: Vlambeer is “Cloned” Again And Responds That It Doesn’t ...

I really enjoyed reading this article, though I am not sure where I stand on cloning because I'm not a developer and having nothing to lose. I do think there is merit to the whole idea that releasing a better product is more important than being first to market.

 

 

 
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