Inspiration and Cloning

There are only seven stories in the world. Or so the old saying goes. Every book you read, movie you see or game you play, the plot can be boiled down to one of those original stories or a combination of them, the only thing you get with new stuff is to see it played out in different ways. And to be honest, this is a good thing. Throughout the ages, people have been producing things and inspiring others to produce other things. And in most instances, out-and-out copying was considered fraud.

There is only one Mona Lisa. You can own a reproduction of it. But if someone were to paint a new painting that looked exactly like the Mona Lisa, except with a different signature, people would call it out as uninspired or even criminal.

Cloning in video games is getting enough attention that the New York Times is covering it. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to make a first person shooter” and complete another to take Halo, copy every single thing about it, put a new name on it, maybe tint the textures and call it a new game.

I don’t want to get into the subject too heavily, but there is a quote on the second page of the article I linked that I wanted to call out.

The issue of copying, Mr. Schappert said, is not unique to games, but for the entertainment industry as a whole. He compared the game industry to the movie industry, where new films always borrow ideas from older ones.

“The winner is the one with the best ideas, the best script writing, the best actors, the best cinematography,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. We have to earn the engagement of the consumer. This is entertainment.”

Only, it isn’t like that at all. What these game companies are doing isn’t borrowing ideas. It would be like Universal Studios or Sony Pictures sending people to Sundance to watch independent films from small production companies, record the film with a hand-held camera, not buy them for distribution, come back home, transcribe the script, make up storyboards from the video, cast A-list stars, land a top-notch director, and then produce a $50,000,000 version of the $200,000 film they saw at Sundance.

There is a fine line between cloning and inspiration. Some of these game companies are absolutely crossing it.

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