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Video: Create new genres (and stop wasting your life in the clone factories) Exclusive
June 21, 2012 | By Staff

[Note: To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]

Indie developer and Spry Fox CCO Daniel Cook is tired of seeing games that lift ideas from other titles. He believes too many studios focus their efforts on deriving their content from the industry's existing successes, rather than inventing new types of gameplay.

In a popular lecture at GDC 2012, he spoke out to change all that, urging developers to stop designing and start inventing. A video of that lecture is now available (above) for free, courtesy of the GDC Vault.

"I think of myself as an inventor. I think an inventor is a very honorable career to have, and it's not something you normally see," Cook says. "Usually you hear, 'I'm a game designer,' which means, 'I research other people's titles, and then I add my own +10 percent on top of that to make a market leader.'"

"Instead, let's be inventors!"

Simply click on the Play button above to start the video.

More Free Videos

In addition to Cook's lecture, the GDC Vault has added two additional free videos today, which cover mobile kids' games and the essentials of a good game trailer.

In "Guidelines for Successful Mobile Interactive Apps for Children," Carla Fisher of No Crusts Interactive reviews the key research and design principles behind developing interactive children's eBooks and mobile games. Along the way, she offers tips developers should keep in mind when trying to make an app accessible and appropriate for a young audience. [GDC Vault free video]

Elsewhere, Kert Gartner, an independent creator of indie game trailers, hosts "Trail-er Blazing: Creating the Trailers Your Game Deserves." Here, he runs through a number of tips that will help developers edit together their own trailers that effectively capture the essence of their game, and convince players to buy it in less than one minute. [GDC Vault free video]

These free videos join a host of other free and notable lectures already available on GDC Vault, including the classic game postmortems (Gauntlet, Harvest Moon and more) and track keynotes (from Blizzard, Plants Vs. Zombies creator George Fan, and more) from GDC 2012.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to all of this free content, the GDC Vault also offers more than 300 additional lecture videos and hundreds of slide collections from GDC 2012 for GDC Vault subscribers. GDC 2012 All Access pass holders already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription Beta via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can send an email to Gillian Crowley. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more free content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from upcoming 2012 events like GDC Europe, GDC Online, and GDC China. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS. GDC and the GDC Vault are owned and operated by Gamasutra parent company UBM Technology.

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Raymond Ortgiesen
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But the clone factory pays for my rent and student loans. I wouldn't have a life to waste otherwise. :(

Jonathan Jennings
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I know right ? not saying that originality isn't valuable or something to strive for or even that if you work with a similar formula you don't put your own teams or personal twist into it . It would be great if we all had the option to create experimental gaming experiences with solid funding but being innovate and paying bills are not often tied together .

Kenneth Blaney
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But there is also his other rule of "always have a few projects going". That way, while the clones are paying the bills, you can start to create something risky and innovative. The clones hedge the risk of innovation.

Luis Blondet
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As long as the IP laws support and reward predatory and parasitical behavior against innovators, the cloners and copiers will prosper and flood the industry.

Luis Guimaraes
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[User Banned]
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Luis Guimaraes
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Hey! Thank you, Joshua.

It's only iOS right now, with Android coming soon. It's our very first game, so we settled for something simple to make, a platformer. The point was for us to learn, which is important at first, but we still managed to put a good deal of interesting mechanics (some really crazy) in the final game.

We also put a big focus on the touch screen controls, making it suited for the platform. I'm personally really concerned with controls and have many designed systems for many genres already, whether we come to make them in the future or not.

I'd say even if you are going to make something similar to an existing game or genre, put your heart in it as if it weren't. Do not take the game for granted. Instead of minimum viable competitor, go at least for a minimum proud project, and make something you can call your own. Weather it's a whole new concept or a retake or an established one.

James Coote
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Some nice tips. I like the tip about purposely going against genre conventions

I disagree slightly with content bashing. If you're building a game based on innovative mechanics, sure, but if you want a great story, you should forget inventing new mechanics and really concentrate on telling a great story

Jacob Germany
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If you want a great story, you should be inventing mechanics that reinforce that story and experience. While I think narrative is a vital part of the medium, that should never be to the exclusion of mechanics. They should both work to reinforce one another

Robert Boyd
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Can't say I agree with him when he says that their games are more innovative than Super Meat Boy.

Benjamin Quintero
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I don't know that he ever actually said he was a "master" but I guess it was sort of implied. I felt the same way when I heard that comment. He certainly thought pretty highly of himself, showcasing his own games as apex examples of creativity despite repeatedly saying, "it's kind of like ____ and ____ but then you can see the heavy influences from ____".

A lot of what he said seemed to contradict his own methods and the entire argument sort of crumbled on itself. I like his idea that games should be unique, I just don't know that he gave a very strong argument.

Lars Doucet
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Have to agree with you guys here. I like a lot of Dan C's ideas, but I really flinch at the way he dismisses people who are "stuck in the past," (as he sometimes puts it), especially indies who work with "old" genres rather than striking out into completely uncharted territory to do "new" things.

(And as you guys point out, his games aren't exactly innovating in any significantly different way than Super Meat Boy, et al., are).

I wonder if this has anything to do with seeing innovation as "progress" (movement in one direction - "forwards"), rather than as exploration (movement in any and all directions, including "backwards").

Kenneth Blaney
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It seemed to me he wasn't very clear and consistent with his definitions. That is, he sort of says the "apprentices" are making clones, the "journeyman" are making the +10% and the "masters" are doing wholly original things. Sure, that sort of works if you ignore that there is a world in between 10% and 100%, but then he says "Super Meat Boy" is "journeyman" which isn't really accurate. Certainly we can say that "Super Meat Boy" isn't 100% new (run and jump puzzle platforming with crazy difficulty existed), but they took it in a very new direction and added a number of great features (the replay of all your lives is genius) which are certainly add to more than 10%.

Similarly, I'd say a game like "Canabalt" falls into that gap. On the one hand it is a fast paced platformer like "Sonic the Hedgehog", but the way it is done absolutely popularized the auto-runner genre.

Michael Joseph
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In the mid 90's to early 2000's when they aired cartoons like Samurai Jack, Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow & Chicken, PowerPuff Girls, etc. the Cartoon Network had a simple slogan... "Cartoon Cartoons."

According to wikipedia, "In 2005, Cartoon Network stopped using the Cartoon Cartoon moniker for its original animation."

What were the Cartoon Cartoons?

Why am I talking about cartoons? lol.

"Cartoon cartoons" signified a return to the types of silly cartoons where there was no limit to what one could make. Whacky, crazy, nonesensical at times... it didn't matter. And being silly didn't stop them from tackling weighty issues in novel ways (role reversals, weird science). Often times they had a lot more going on in terms of message and themes than they would outwardly suggest. These were cartoon cartoons, not animation that mimicked live action shows.

But the live action mimicry was the direction cartoons were going in the mid 80's to mid 90s with animations like GI Joe, Batman & Robin, Gargoyles, Thundercats, Macross/Robotech, Transformers, etc where every episode the cardboard cutout good guys defeated the cardboard cutout evil guys.

So whenever I hear "Cartoon Cartoons" I think of unbridled creative freedom and going back to one's roots.

To make a long story short, I'm looking forward to a broader re-embracement of "pc game pc games!" To me that means going back to the strengths of a personal computer which is depth of gameplay and simulation and player freedom... and pushing back from the console design school which has narrowed the craft in a lot of ways. Console & arcade design schools are all about cloning because only simplistic games get cloned. Deep and complex PC games like those in the Total War series don't really get cloned.

Nick Putnam
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I'm only a student, so I may not be the most qualified to talk about what happens in big budget game development, as I don't have any experience.

Though from an outside opinion on the game industry in general it seems the more money that is spent to bring the game to market, the less risk those are willing to take on creating something truely original, because they have more to lose. So, countless generic sequels are produced with slight variations in each iteration, yet to not stray far from the formula of what is popular in their game and what sells.

The creative side of me says "man I wish, every year wasn't countless generic shooters with slight variations on one another, though was more innovative in its approach to not even think about genre but focus more on discovering new mechanics that could be fun. Or if focusing on genres try to find ways to mix more than one together, to form new innovative types of gameplay."

Though the business side says "You can't blame them for continuing to focus on what sells, keeps the business afloat, and feeds their families."

Lex Allen
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Well, to be fair, not everyone can be an innovator. It takes all types. If you're an indie, it might make sense for you to support a forgotten niche that will support you.

Innovation is really risky because publishers don't work with people who make fringe games, and a lot of times publishers miss opportunities, but ultimately publishers win because they avoid the risks that come with innovation (i.e. no existing market).

So, I think it's not fair to call making a platformer "cloning" or "shady". Developers should be respected for creating genres that people like.

JB Vorderkunz
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innovation is a perfectly laudable goal that everyone should aspire to - but there's a reason that genres are so popular: because lots of people like them! Not yet in the business, I can still see how a decade or two of making similar games might wear on you, but if you love a genre and if the public (or enough of them) love it too, what's so wrong with that? They still make Romance Comedies, Horror Flicks and Buddy Pics after all...

Ahmad Jadallah
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In reality however, games that dared to go against the established conventions like the recent Alone in the Dark reboot and AMY were both hit very hard. Its not just the fact that they had game breaking bugs, but to me it seems that gamers can be reslient to change some times.

Michael O'Hair
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I don't remember the time when id Software ("the guys who created Doom 2") had to compete directly with Blizzard in regards to a cloned game (quoted around 11:30 in the video). I don't think they created Command and Conquer, either (Westwood Studios?).

For cloned games, the bottom line is "who executed better"; what matters is who made the more enjoyable game that sold more copies than competitors. Who executed the original platform games better: Space Panic or Donkey Kong? The answer commonly given is by far Donkey Kong, although Space Panic pre-dated Donkey Kong by about a year and did not feature a jump mechanic. But jumping was "the extra 10%" that cemented Donkey Kong in the annals of video game history and relegated Space Panic to the dusty aisles of obscurity. In that way, cloning a game and adding that extra 10% or more isn't entirely a bad thing.

Also, I think it's superficial to blame the success of clones on stronger marketing. Many games built in the 1990s were attempts to surpass Doom. Many of those Doom clones failed (and therefore forgotten) not because their marketing machines weren't running as hard and fast as id Software's, Apogee's (publisher for id Software's early titles), and Activision's (Doom 2's retail publisher) efforts, but because their games didn't execute as well as Doom.

As long as consumers long for sequels or game similar to their favorite games, clones will continue to propagate in popular genres. The issues aren't just limited to developers and publishers keeping on the safe and easy path of duplicating past success with clones, but in what players want and expect from games. Idealistic idea-farmers (game designers) might think that games need to innovate and press into new realms of experience, evolving the nature of games beyond "navigate maze plus killing things", but do most game players want or expect to play in new worlds and in new ways?

The board game part of the presentation was interesting, but don't forget that Monopoly was a "clone" of The Landlord's Game by Elizabeth Magie patented in 1903.

Based on the history and popularity of first-person shooters, most game players are quite content running around in mazes and killing things. But if an innovative game fails to sell well, don't disregard the possibility that many players don't want to play it and blame failure on marketing. After all, how much marketing muscle and budget made Minecraft so successful?

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kenneth Blaney
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The jumping mechanic of Donkey Kong is way more than +10% of Donkey Kong. Jumping impacts pretty much everything about the game.

Steve Sanchez
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I think he was referring to Dune 2, and while it wouldn't achieve rockstar status like Starcraft it's definitely not the failure he makes it seem to be. Dune 2 would go on to spawn several sequels, lead to CnC and the original game itself takes influeces from other games like The Ancient Art of War and Herzog Zwei.

Jay Anne
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A very well-done talk, but it is depressing that it is such basic material. It seems like a talk that should have been given 15 years ago. The general understanding of game design has not progressed very much, and seems to be filled with vague generic lessons. I would love to see elaboration on issues such as finding new mechanics in simulations that go beyond the usual timing, dexterity, physics, and economics mechanics. Or how to sustain organizational innovation against rapidly rising development costs. Or how to deal with the schizophrenic production schedule that comes from inventors aka research and development. Or how to sell unproven game designs to a skeptical audience. A shared set of terms for how to describe unexplored design space. New emotional goals for designs to achieve beyond the usual mastery, triumph, creative expression.

Steven An
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When you're just starting out making your own games, it's best to be a clone factory.

One of Danc's earlier games, Tyrian, is a total clone. But it's really quite good and I'm sure he learned a lot (and made a lot!) from making it.