A culprit for cloning

Lee Perry on how constraints of communication lead to developers basing games on the work of others

Many games have a "sameness" about them, and BitMonster Games co-founder Lee Perry has an idea why. Writing on his personal blog, Perry boiled down to one word the biggest reason why talented designers would lean on the work of others rather than try to produce unique games: Communication.

"In my opinion, without doubt, nothing comes close to the hellish task of trying to pull a vision from your head and propagate it out to a team of developers," Perry said. "I'm talking about communication. Idea transfer. Debate. Salesmanship. Mustering an army, unrolling your battle plans, and doing what we can to convince the generals that the plan makes sense. The longer you work with teams, the more you realize that's the bulk of what we do (assuming you're working with others)."

It's incredibly difficult to make others "get" a truly novel idea, so the most easily transferred ideas are the ones based on shared experiences, Perry said.

As Perry explained, "I drop a 50-page document on your desk for a bad ass viking game with clans, ship upgrades, encounter types, plot points, and mechanics? If you're like everyone else on the planet you're not going to read that, who would want to? But I say 'FTL with Vikings!' and again, Mindlink 2000, we are 90 percent on the same page! We have our starting point and you can start making assets now! From a developer's point of view, existing games are a fundamental communication tool. Games themselves are our language."

The problem of communication becomes more pronounced the larger the project is, Perry said. Often times, the only way for a massive publisher to keep multiple layers of management, external development studios, and marketers all locked in on the same vision is to have those sort of existing reference points to get across the thrust of the game. He said that's also why sequels are so popular with companies. Every team that starts to work on a sequel knows from the very beginning what sort of game they're trying to make.

"With this in mind I'm frankly astonished when a larger organization creates something that isn't easily summed up with 'X meets X.' It's something of a miracle," Perry said.

Perry was careful to say he in no way approves of developers blatantly duplicating someone else's work, but was all in favor of teams using other games as a starting point. Once they've got the ball rolling on development, however, Perry said they need to add their own innovations to the mix.

"Games are like brownies," Perry said. "There's only so many common ingredients involved; it's all about the ratios of those components in the recipe and how it's all executed. The best games out there are the ones that borrow heavily from existing games, but execute it so well that players feel like they're experiencing something new and unique."

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Latest comments (2)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 4 years ago
This is a problem of marketing in the game industry. The inability to create and build brands. As a result our industry is massively derivative and plagued with plagiarism.
Too many people think that marketing just means product promotion, when it is so much more.
True marketing people work with the creatives to build a unique brand identity that everyone working on it can relate to.
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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive4 years ago
What Lee says about communication issues within the team is quite interesting and true. Though let's not forget that developers can't help feeling the strong influence of other works that transpires in their own titles. Sometimes the best design ideas are simple evolutions on previous concepts.

@Bruce, The opposite is also true. Marketing folks and other higher-ups often descend from the heavens with their Almighty Solution to Everything, and basically request a clone of game X to the development team. Throughout my career, I've been told countless of times that my idea was "nice" but could I please make it more like [insert currently popular title]. In the end I think the best solution is a clean compromise between imitation and novelty but finding that sweet spot is never easy.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Hugo Trepanier on 7th August 2013 2:32am

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