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Competition as a force beyond good and evil
by Rami Ismail on 07/08/13 06:20:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Now that we're preparing the release of the first update for Ridiculous Fishing, it's a rare opportunity to reflect on two years of hard work and controversy. There's one final subject that has been bothering me since the start of the Ridiculous Fishing cloning debacle, and it's been one that has required me to think for a long time. That subject is the place of competition in our industry.

For some people, competition is some sort of magical force that makes things improve. That's perfectly fine - some people need some sort of external quality bar. When Ridiculous Fishing got cloned, they were the people that told us that that’s how free markets work and that we should ‘just make a better game’. When I responded that we don't want to compete (that's why we try and make new, original games) they somehow felt this was an issue that should be corrected.

As the business half of Vlambeer, I try to keep competition out of what we're doing. Just like at any good game jam, we'd rather be helping out than competing with each other. What surprised me, however, was that some people felt that this was –for some reason- an inferior stance towards the business of videogames. Zachary Knight, for example claimed Vlambeer had started to suddenly love competition now that we had 'beaten' Ninja Fishing. That’s not true. The only reason we cared about ‘beating’ Ninja Fishing - whatever that may mean - is so that we could show the industry at large that when you clone a game, you do get an inferior product. We wanted to show the industry that making games because you want to make games is the better way to go about game development.

The problem is that these people have an outdated understanding of motivation in relation to business or entrepreneurship. They see the economy at large being driven by competition, but cannot separate the larger forces at play from the individual motivations that drive people. For Vlambeer, competition is not a driving force – in fact, like in the case of Ninja Fishing forcing us to compete with them, it’s often a distraction.

Our driving force is outdoing ourselves: the next game has to better than the previous. Our next marketing campaign has to be tighter than the last. Our next deal needs to be better than the previous. Our next interview better than the last. Our next talk needs to be more effective, our next seminar more educational, our next gamejam more useful. Not because of the market, not because of the economy, not to show the world that we’re better than others - but because we want to get better.

Talks

On a much larger scale, though, Vlambeer wants to cooperate. We both care a lot about game development, about indie development, about the people already in the industry and the people trying to get into the industry. We've set up dozens of opportunities to help out and co-organize a large number of events and initiatives to that point. We realize that, if we want gaming to be a healthy, welcoming environment, you have to treat people coming into the environment with respect and courtesy. You tell them that making games is about making games and helping one another out. If you want them to rip off ideas instead of creating their own, you teach them that it's just about competition and that making games isn't about making games, but about minimizing costs and optimizing profits. It's that simple.

Sure, you need to make enough money to stay afloat, but the verbial pie is large enough to share it amongst all of us – often without the need to compete at all. Chris Hecker explained this eloquently in his GDC 2013 talk, in which he pointed out that Nobody Knows About Your Game. Eitan Glinert worded things even better: 'We're not competing with each other, we're competing with obscurity.' The fact that someone bought an indie game doesn't mean they won't buy another indie game - in fact, it's more likely that they will.

What I do isn't about being better than somebody else, it's about being relevant to the industry, the medium and the people I care about. It's about making sure I work with Jan Willem and the rest of our collaborators to make great games for the fans. It’s about helping out other developers, whether they’re just starting out in an emerging region or established developers looking for some feedback, It's about inspiring and informing students all around the world. It's about sharing and cooperating against obscurity. These are sentiments that I see all around the scene, cooperation instead of competition, sharing instead of patenting, collaborating instead of antagonizing. 

Whether you want to compete, improve, dabble, change the world, just have fun - or whatever your motivation to make games may be - know that your motivation is perfectly valid whatever anyone on Gamasutra tells you. Make the games you want to make, make them with the tools you like - and most importantly, make them on your own terms.


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Comments


Lars Doucet
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Hi Rami! Very interesting post.

How do you feel "ownership" of ideas relates to competition/cooperation?

Specifically, how would you reconcile these two paragraphs?

"If you want them to rip off ideas instead of creating their own, you teach them that it's just about competition and that making games isn't about making games, but about minimizing costs and optimizing profits. It's that simple."

"These are sentiments that I see all around the scene, cooperation instead of competition, sharing instead of patenting, collaborating instead of antagonizing. "

From my perspective, claiming to own ideas seems contrary to the spirit of sharing and co-operation, but I admit I might be missing some nuance. I'm definitely not trying to be antagonistic here, would really like to know what you think.

Rami Ismail
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Obviously, this goes back into the distinction between inspiration and cloning. For me, a large part of it is a moral issue, which means that obviously it falls into a grey. Ideally, we'd be able to share without fear of anybody stealing an idea, but create without worries of somebody legally claiming ownership of a singular idea. That's why I'll always object to legal protection for mechanics, but just as much object to a ripoff.

For example, Broforce is obviously inspired by Infinite SWAT and Muffin Knight by Super Crate Box - and I have no problems with those games. There's nothing I'd rather see than our ideas being propagated by other developers, or explored in another or different direction. However, somebody fully ripping of our ideas just to earn money is not 'sharing'.

Lars Doucet
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Thanks for the informative and detailed reply :) I think this helps me to understand your exact position a bit more clearly.

James Coote
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There's another type of ownership as well. In fiction, you have the idea of canon, where there is an official "reality" of the world/characters/story and then spin-offs and fan fiction where people can mess around in the sandbox as it were.

For games, it's more than just the tangible fiction/IP, but the whole feel and spirit of the game that constitutes what is canon. When that changes ownership to a better resourced imitator, it's really damaging, because it's loss of the ability to create the future (if that makes sense?)

Scott Campbell
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Who is the arbitrer is when it comes to 'cloning' and what % of a mechanic needs to be 'stolen' before it's a 'clone'. What stops RF from being considered a 'clone' of two other games, just stuck together? Is it like pornography - we just know it when we see it?

Danny Day
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@Scott: The metric I prefer when judging if something is a clone or not is simply how the developer in question solved gameplay problems. If all they did when an issue cropped up was go "Oh, how did the other game do this" and then implement the exact same solution, mechanic for mechanic and value for value, then they're cloning. If they thought about the issue deeply in terms of their game's situation (which is probably at least slightly different to the games that inspired them, otherwise telling if it's a clone would be obvious) and implemented their own way of fixing the problem, then it's not a clone.

This lack of consideration for how minor (and often cosmetic) changes actually have a long-term effect on gameplay and thus drive a game to be different to experience seems to me to be why most clones are often inferior to the games they're ripping off. Even in your example of combining two existing games into a new whole, there are going to be unique gameplay considerations that emerge from that union, problems that need to be solved in unique ways.

Scott Campbell
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@Danny: I completely agree. Even seemingly superfluous cosmetic changes can have a massive impact on player perception. But assuming that there are cosmetic changes, even in clones, that would seem to be an argument for cloning rather than against it. Is Candy Crush a clone? Certainly it's using a mechanic that's been done to death. I'm really uneasy about claiming to be original and calling out others for cloning. We're all walking on the shoulders of giants here and I haven't seen a truly original game for years (with the exception perhaps of the odd puzzle mechanic).

Luis Blondet
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That's why i stay away from Game Jams and other events. They expose your ideas to people who are more likely to copy them, people with more and greater resources than you.

Nothing protects your ideas more than obscurity or the impression that they are not worth copying.

The broken IP laws are influenced by big industry players who are deathly afraid of the only thing that can be a threat to them; competition from a creative and innovative upstart. If capitalism was balanced as a good competitive game, you would see more big players falling and more often, but in the age of legal bribery (Lobbyism) the ones with the money make the rules.

Rami Ismail
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I've yet to have anything copied from talking to people at a game jam. In general, it seems like talking about your ideas in a business environment is far more likely to get you cloned.

Obscurity is what we tried for Ridiculous Fishing, and when it was cloned we had to scramble to rectify that. In the future, we're just going to own our ideas by being as public as possible about them.

Adriaan de Jongh
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(Rami - It's funny reading about this knowing what happened with Wasteland Kings... ;)

James Coote
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I thought the idea of game jams was doing crazy experimental stuff that you wouldn't normally do, bouncing ideas off each other and seeing what sticks. And if nothing sticks (as invariably happens), at least you learned something and made some new friends?

Also what is the point of obscurity? Are you making a game for yourself only? In which case, who cares if others copy it? If you're making it for others to play, again, it reaches more people if copied. If you're in it for the money, I only heard of Ridiculous Fishing because it was cloned, and like hell can I remember the name of the clone. It's all good PR and ought to translate into sales

Nicholas Heathfield
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James, I think he meant that the development was meant to be obscure - when the game was done or nearly done, THEN turn on the taps of publicity.

E Zachary Knight
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Glad that my articles have made you think. That is why I write them. I want to make people think about the industry and what goes into it.

On the finer details of my articles, yes you will be competing. You will compete on many levels. Whether that is obscurity, AAA games, other indies, and withing various genres. Call of Duty and Battlefield compete with each other just as much as they compete with other FPS games. Final Fantasy competes with Skyrim and other RPGs. Ridiculous Fishing competes with Ninja Fishing and other fishing games. That is part of the industry. Just because your game doesn't fall neatly within an established genre doesn't mean that you will not have competition.

Yes games are not fungible. Meaning that no game is a true replacement for another. There is plenty of room for many indies and AAA devs. People will buy your game as well as some other game developer's game. However, people are not made of money. So you are competing with other indie developers and AAA developers for a limited resource. Money spent on your game is less money to be spent on someone else's game. Money spent on someone else's game is less money to be spent on your game. That is why we compete with each other.

As for "beating" Ninja Fishing, I wrote what I wrote because you said you were not in the business of competing. You implied that you lost something when your game was cloned. From my perspective, I think you gained much from being cloned. For one, it showed that your game idea was creative enough to garner attention. Second, it gave you a chance to do better than you might not have done otherwise. You say that you are only interested in competing with yourself. You say that you don't want to be in the business of competing with other developers with the same type of game. But you did it anyway and you admitted that you felt that you did better. That to me is a good thing, whether you want to admit it yourself.

Now on this:

"I try to keep competition out of what we're doing. Just like at any good game jam, we'd rather be helping out than competing with each other. What surprised me, however, was that some people felt that this was –for some reason- an inferior stance towards the business of videogames."

I don't know who said that or if you feel that I alluded to that. However, I think it is important to collaborate and help others. I have been doing so for many years. It is one of my goals in life to be a source of inspiration and education for other game developers, both new and experienced. So I am glad that you feel as much.

That is why I have started not just my Random Tower blog, but also another site meant to foster and grow the games industry in Oklahoma, my home state. The industry there is still in its infancy with nothing but indies trying to make way any way they can.

Danny Day
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I think the point that Rami is trying to get across is that focusing on competing from a business perspective is not a good investment of the extremely limited resources available to an indie developer. You may be right that games are all competing for people's time and money, but the actual impact of that level of "marketplace" competition on actual indie sales and thus business decisions is negligible. Indie after successful indie will tell you this time and again...

What's far more impactful is having your time and effort rendered meaningless when someone rips off your implementation and ideas wholesale. Even worse is the negative effect that terrible feeling of loss and intellectual violation has on your drive to create and how badly it saps the almost irrational amount of hope that drives most indies.

Want to feel like utter shit as a creative? Get cloned.

E Zachary Knight
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And again, I don't see why getting cloned should or could make someone feel that bad about the creative process. That just doesn't make sense to me. Perhaps it stems from the fact that I want to make games similar to the ones I loved playing as a kid and that desire has softened me on the idea of clones. I don't know.

Rami Ismail
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Zachary, that might just be. We started making games because we want to make unique, original things. Our games might feel similar to things that exist, but we can very much guaranatee of every single one of them that nothing like it exists. That and our style of execution are what makes Vlambeer Vlambeer.

Our dislike for competition stems from that: we're not competing since we're making something unique and being semi-forced into some sort of competition while someone runs away with those things is extremely exhausting and demotivating for us.

E Zachary Knight
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Rami,

I am glad that you are striving to make unique experiences for people to play. That is noble.

However, once a new idea is put out in the open, then it is open to be copied. There is nothing you can do about that. At that point, you can either litigate, bow out, or move on. Moving on and doing what you do best is the best option as far as I am concerned.

John Gordon
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"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Rami Ismail
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I used to believe in that quite. Now I think Inspiration is the sincerest form of flattery, and imitiation is the cheapest form of 'inspiration'.

Rami Ismail
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Somehow, a double post.

Mark Nowotarski
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Interesting, at the pure game level it seems like protecting your ideas is ultimately bad business. At the hardware level, however, protecting your ideas is essential. Some of the biggest filers of design patents for graphic images are the hardware companies. Apple, for example, has a design patent on the iPhone GUI (actually, they have or are getting over a hundred). That was their key weapon against Samsung. More here http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2013/08/06/strong-design-patents-the-po
wer-of-color/id=44342/


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