GDC: Spry Fox claims 80 per cent of devs work at copycat studios

CCO Daniel Cook believes that derivative design is a choice, but it is ingrained by standard industry practices

Daniel Cook, CCO of mobile developer Spry Fox, addressed a crowd at GDC about the pitfalls of imitation and copycatting in game design.

According to a report on Gamsutra, Cook told the crowd that the creation of "shady, derivative crap" is a choice on the part of each designer.

"There's a lot more to life than cloning the work of others and merely adding your own 10 per cent innovation. I want designers to stand up and say: 'I am an inventor!' That way we have a chance to not only make a mark upon the world, but even change it."

Despite the recent accusations of plagiarism aimed at companies like Zynga and 6waves Lolapps, Cook's argument was not limited to social and mobile studios.

He put the proportion of developers working for studios that engage in copying the success of others at around 80 per cent, and claimed that those that do are giving up their chance for a higher level of success.

There's a lot more to life than cloning the work of others and adding your own 10 per cent innovation. I want designers to stand up and say: 'I am an inventor!'

Daniel Cook, CCO, Spry Fox

"Innovation pays off as it allows you to be first, fastest and to dominate," he said. "You have to invent and execute, of course. If you fail to execute then it leaves the door open for someone to come in an take your innovation and establish their game around it as market leader. But there is a magic spot where innovation tied with execution pays off in this industry."

Cook warned that even standard industry practices like design documents and milestones can encourage imitation by preventing designers from following up on new ideas.

"I hate design documents," he said. "Anyone writing design documents right now: You are wasting your life. Written designs are theories and they become locked in too early. Instead try to use design logs - more like a diary of the design. They look ahead at the next few steps, but mainly chart reactions to the theories and builds."

"Iterate with the willingness to change direction. Milestones are the enemy of innovation. In real invention the goals change. Be open to changing goal posts as you go. That way we have more of a chance to claim that we are inventors."

Spry Fox is currently engaged in a legal dispute over similarities between its popular iOS and Android title Triple Town and 6waves Lolapps' Yeti Town - one of a number of other claims to have emerged this year.

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Latest comments (4)

The challenge is more than being the first to innovate, but to be able to capitalize, and make it commercially successful, in quality, style and excellence that blows the competition out of the water that your title now becomes the new standard bearer that other companies look up to
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Majd Abdulqadir5 years ago
They're starting to come off as a bit whiny. That's not a good approach in life.
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Gary LaRochelle Digital Artist / UI/UX Designer / Game Designer, Flea Ranch Games5 years ago
"...the creation of "shady, derivative crap" is a choice on the part of each designer."

No. It isn't. It's the choice of the people who pay (hired) the designer. They have the final say over what the designer produces.
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Jeremy Glazman Programmer 5 years ago
But you also have a choice to not work at a place that doesn't value your creative input.

On a related note, earlier in the talk he also states that while designers must listen to the advice and ideas of the people around them, the designer should also have full veto power over any design choices made in the game. I tend to agree, but I don't think I've ever seen a designer actually given that much power over a product.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeremy Glazman on 8th March 2012 10:54pm

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