This post was last updated on
If you have been anywhere near the mobile gaming scenes recently, you must have noticed some games look incredibly similar to each other. You may go as far as saying one game has copied the other. While particularly prevalent in the Mobile Gaming scene, this affects all forms of Gaming. But how do developers manage this? Is it just a coincidence? If not, how do they get away with cloning other games? Let’s look at the three main reasons why cloned games in Mobile are so prevalent these days.
1. Creating games is easier these days
With advancements in technology, it is easier than ever to create games. Both software and hardware have improved massively during the technology boom of the past few decades. There are many easy-to-use and free programs for creating games now. Even the tools which are not free are relatively cheap, a cost that can be made back multiple times over with one moderately successful game. Below you see an exact copy of the popular warfare game Call of Duty Mobile
One of the most common practices when learning these tools is to copy something you know. So, not only are these tools free and easy to use, but one of the main ways to learn how to use them directly feeds into copying popular games. It’s even easier with Mobile Games, as they have to be more accessible and less reliant on strong internet connections.
These factors have led to a surge in “copycat” developers who can create cloned games in no time.
2. CHINA – One of the main reasons
In 2000, the Chinese Government imposed a near-complete ban on Video Games, particularly consoles. Between 2000 and 2015, these laws changed numerous times resulting in strict regulations (practically bans) on all non-Chinese content. This meant both software and hardware were expensive for Chinese players and developers alike. As a result, instead of creating original games, it was easier and faster for Chinese developers to copy Western games (which were unavailable in Chinese stores). Many wannabe developers found today were formed during this era in China which is one of the reasons behind cloned games in mobile these days.
It’s also worth noting that Western stores did not ban Chinese developers, so it was a one-way issue. International Copyright Laws don’t exist, so International protection relies on countries agreeing and imposing the same laws. Due to the bans, the Chinese Government’s stance on copyright in gaming during this time is not clear.
3. Complications of the Law
Laws surrounding Gaming are relatively new and quite complicated. Whilst International Copyright Laws don’t strictly exist, many countries have agreed upon a set of laws. As most App Stores are based in the USA, US Copyright Laws are standard for most of the world.
Let’s briefly explore the main points which mean cloned games are not breaking any laws despite being blatant copies of other games.
You can’t copyright the idea of a game
While you can Copyright the art, characters, music, story, and finished products, you can’t copyright the mechanics, most of the code, and the general choices of the game. This is why cloned games will look and sound very similar, but not identical. The gameplay can almost be the same, provided specific details (e.g. names) are changed.
E.g. You can have 2 games about a Princess in a Castle, as long as the princess and castle look slightly different and have different names. It’s a bit like school homework, you can almost copy Wikipedia, provided you write it in your own words.
Proving a game was copied is very difficult
Intellectual Property is legal jargon for “original ideas”. It’s very difficult to prove someone copied your idea, which makes Intellectual Property difficult to protect. They could have just had the same idea at around the same time as you. The same thing that inspired you could’ve also inspired them!
Given enough time and popularity, you can have a reasonable idea that someone copied your idea. However, game mechanics are not protected by law, so with enough changes, they can legally copy your ideas.
You can’t copyright necessary elements
Necessary Elements are things that a game does not make sense without. For example, First-Person Shooter games need guns, a health system, and enemies. In general, you cannot copyright concepts which, if removed, would make the game an entirely different game. You can copyright specific instances of these elements – E.g. not all Football games are allowed to use real player names.
You are allowed to use ideas from existing games
One of the big decisions behind these copyright laws is to allow creative growth in the Gaming industry. Allowing new games to use ideas from existing ones prevents the stagnation of the Mobile Gaming market. If the first time a new idea was included in a game nobody else could use that idea, very few games would exist; every game would need to have a new mechanic and the industry would quickly grind to a halt.
The reason we have such a diverse and healthy Gaming Industry today is that developers don’t need to check every release to ensure they haven’t accidentally copied someone. Developers can create games knowing they are protected by law even if an almost identical game is released just before theirs. Game Development is far from a secure market to be in, but this law allows developers to complete their projects knowing their game will safely make it to the market.
And these very laws which allow the industry to thrive also allow the cloning fad we have seen recently.
And those are the 3 biggest reasons that so many cloned games in mobile exist. It is not a good sign that it’s so difficult to spot original games these days. But if that’s the price we pay for the diverse and thriving gaming market we have, then it’s a price worth paying.
What’s your take on the issue of increasing number of cloned games in mobile? Drop in your opinions in the comments section below.