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Derivative Design: When is a “rip-off” not a “rip-off?”

There’s a term I see far too often used in gamer culture… hell, nerd culture in general, whenever a genre is forming or design elements start being used in multiple places. That term, of course, is “rip-off”.

We have other terms for it of course.
“Clone.”
“Copy.”
But what if it’s merely “coincidence”?
What if something you thought was original wasn’t as original as you thought?

To bring up what started this whole thing in the first place, let’s take a look at “Dragomon Hunter” and in turn, the game most comments cried foul for when they saw the debut trailer, “Monster Hunter”.

First off, there’s plenty you can claim was taken and/or stolen from Monster. There’s a bank available at the beginning of each “hunt”.
You have a small cute creature to follow you around.
You collect parts of monsters to create better gear.
But the differences far outweigh those similarities, even though people are going to pick apart everything once they’ve seen one.

The thing is, though, Monster Hunter isn’t all that original in the first place… especially when it comes down to the one thing everyone was pointing at. The monsters.
Capcom didn’t invent raptors, wyverns, manticores or the dozens of mythological monsters that you hunt within the game. They just gave them different names.
When Dragomon Hunter includes a flaming manticore into their game that’s their prerogative. You can call it a “Teostra” rip-off all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that the two characters aren’t exact model or animation copies. I’ve seen the Teostra fight and the “Molten King” battle plays out nothing like it. This isn’t Hunter Blade, after all.
Sure, you can make the case that Dragomon does far more than that, especially if you go about looking at the “Rock Gigant” and immediately think “Groudon” from Pokemon. But take a look at them side by side sometime. REALLY take a look. They look almost nothing alike, aside from their general color, stance and eyes. That’s not enough to be considered a ripoff. Rock Gigant doesn’t have smooth white spikes on its side. No runic markings on its body. No claw-tail. Rock Gigant’s jaw is two massive bone like plates, while Groudon has a rounded shark-like mouth. It’s not even close.
Yet our minds are desperate to make a connection and call out these apparently copyright violations when there really aren’t any.

The term “clone” tends to be thrown around a bit much around forming genres. When a new game comes out, or at least brings a new set of mechanics to life, others try to see what they can do with those mechanics. It happened with the First Person Shooter when the media dubbed them all “Doom Clones” in the early 90’s. When Mario 64 brought about a new style of gameplay with the 3D Platformer, all too many publications were willing to dismiss Crash Bandicoot, Croc, and hell, even at one time, Tomb Raider as “Mario 64 Clones”. Sometimes the “clone-name” never goes away, as we’re currently seeing with the recent genre trend, the “Roguelike”, a name that literally means “like the old PC game called ‘Rogue’ that contained permadeath mechanics.”

Another genre that of course has had “clone” and “rip-off” shouted at it more times than I can count is the MOBA. DotA Fanatics would have you call them “DotA-Style” games, as they’re unquestionably miffed by the fact that Riot’s “League of Legends” coined the term by making their own version of DotA. A term I will greatly admit is completely vague and nondescript on its own, applicable to hundreds of differing titles and genres, but the name’s stuck. You say “MOBA” nowadays and most players are going to know what kind of game you’re talking about. The market itself reached some sort of mobius-strip of cloning when Heroes of the Storm started getting rip-off accusations for including Jaina in their game when it was “so obviously a copy of Crystal Maiden”.
Just… just look into the history of something before you say some really stupid shit like that again, guys.

We’re seeing it rise up again with the similar titles of Overwatch, Paladins, and Battleborn cropping up. Three titles with similar mechanics but very different feels being labeled as copies by people who’ve played one or less of these titles, and have nothing to go off of beyond screenshots and promo trailers.

You want to see some actual “rip-offs” go look into the woefully under-regulated mobile market sometime.
The Mobile MOBA “Ace of Arenas” is such a painfully obvious League of Legends clone that I can name every Champion they copied to put into their game upon first playing them. Hell, when you include a fox girl who attacks with a boomeranging “soul orb”, can summon a trio of homing fireballs, and has an ult that causes her to dash toward enemies while firing shots, you wonder if Ahri and Riot might want to have something to say about it.
This brings about another observation. Ace of Arenas also has a Sun Wukong, which many Leaguers might cry foul as another “rip-off”, just as they did with SMITE adding a Sun Wukong. But here’s the thing… Neither League nor SMITE invented Sun Wukong. He’s been a Chinese legend for centuries. All Riot did was take the name, look and abilities of Sun Wukong and inexplicably give him a new lore. (Getting into Riot’s “re-lore-ing” would be a whole other article)
I’ve played one of those Mobile RPGs that uses characters and skills copied directly from League of Legends as well. Jolie from “Magic Rush Heroes” is Miss Fortune in every way but look. Muse is Sona. Emily is Annie. Yet the game’s mechanics are so far removed from the MOBA that it honestly amuses me, and just makes me wonder why they bothered.
You’ll find dozens of cash-in clones looking to ape the latest trend of the month. Some of the companies going as far to rip themselves off, by making the same kind of title with a slightly altered skin. King.com has so many versions of Candy Crush, a clone version of Bejeweled, mind you, that I’m pretty sure that bubble is well on its way to bursting. I’m just saying there’s plenty of real, honest to goodness rip-offs out there without having to look at a creature and go “Hey, that kinda looks like that one character if you squint and ignore these several traits! RIP-OFF!”

But let me offer up one question…

Does it really matter?

This isn’t like “The Asylum” trying to take advantage of the latest movie release by making a low-budget movie with a similar title in order to fool some unsuspecting, non-observant grandmother into buying it for their grandkids.
These games aren’t something you go to the store and pick off the shelf, trying to fool us into thinking they’re the real thing. There’s just people with varying amounts of personal creativity trying to place something they enjoy into their own personal world.
If there’s really a problem, a true concern, the companies in charge WILL take care of it, not a group of roving fanboy gatekeepers shrieking at every perceived infraction of copyright like a low quality copy is honestly going to take attention and players away from their favorite titles.

All in all, it’s best to be mindful of the true originality and source of something before you start mislabeling it as a reference, copy, or worse, “Rip-Off”. Reality is far more vast than the world contained within your favorite game.

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Posted on November 29, 2015, in Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Everything is influenced by a combination of multiple things the creator saw either recently or growing up. The trick is creaming enough influences together into a malleable dough, or at least changing enough elements of a single influence that it’s no longer recognizable. People who have never seen anything like it will call it “original” & “unique,” while others will see it for what it is & call it out.

    Bootlegs: Toy casts that make unauthorized use of the source’s casting moulds, games that make unauthorized use of the source’s engine assets.

    Knockoffs: Imitations inspired by other things that are made to resemble them, either very closely to trick a buyer into thinking they’re the real product, or only just different enough that it would get thrown out in court. Good examples are Video Brinquedo, Dingo Pictures, & pretty much anything sold in Blackberry’s app market, Facebook games, or published by BigFish.

    Spoof/Parody: An exaggerated imitation intended as humor, but some people still take extreme butthurt offence to them.

    Then there’s the official things that are usually viewed with just as much spite as imitations:

    Remakes: A carbon copy of something that changes many things, but sticks to a set formula. Examples: Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, Pokemon, My Sims, Hostel 2 & 3, Toy Story 2 & 3, The Hangover 1 & 2, Evil Dead 1 & 2, The Hunger Games 1 & 2, etc.

    Reboots & In-Name-Only Sequels: A reimagining of a franchise, an overhaul of canon & continuity, an official thing that’s so different from the original that on occasions is viewed as simply cashing in on the name to generate sales. A good game example is Ragnarok 2 Online, Phantasy Star Online, Shining Force Neo, & Ultima IX.

    Origin Story Reboots & Sequelitis: Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over & over & expecting different results. Prominent in superhero movies, superhero comics, Nintendo franchises, Ubisoft franchises, & The Sims.

    • To be honest, I’m a big fan of tropes. Rather than bitching about how unoriginal something is, I rather enjoy trying to figure out it’s inspirations & comparing things to eachother. The “If you like this, you’ll probably like that too” has been a mostly reliable way of finding new things to enjoy.

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