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Copycat game design is damaging casual market - PopCap

Too many developers are making “cheap knock-offs” of successful games and holding back growth of the casual games market, according to Jason Kapalka, chief creative officer at PopCap Games.

Too many developers are making "cheap knock-offs" of successful games and holding back growth of the casual games market, according to Jason Kapalka, chief creative officer at PopCap Games.

With low development costs, studios are able to churn out copycat games in a short time, but these titles rarely make enough money for developers to grow past a hand-to-mouth existence, says the PopCap founder.

"Very few games are developed without reference to past games. There's always going to be titles that build on a previous mechanic or game. But there's a fine line between that and very bold-faced rip-offs that aren't adding anything to the game and are just trying to make a quick buck," said Kapalka, in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz.

"There's games like that in the hardcore gaming market of course, but the problem in the casual space is that the investment in resources can be a lot less. So a three person studio isn't going to build a knock-off of Warcraft. But they could crank out a clone of Bejewelled in a few months. The barrier to entry is a lot lower so you get a lot more of it.

"The worry is that it encourages a lot of independent developers to churn out these cheap clones instead of original projects," offered Kapalka.

"They think they can do a quick knock-off to help pay the bills and then they can work on their big magnum opus but that rarely happens. Once you start down that road of making rip-off games you never make a huge fortune off it and you end up working hand-to-mouth."

According to Kapalka, casual game developers are not taking advantage of the benefits that the sector offers, such as the freedom to work in small, creative teams on original IP.

"It's a worry about the overall creative state of the industry. It should be a really creative opportunity to have a small team that has the luxury of creating whatever it wants and getting to market without the usual cumbersome problems that come from publishers and other factors.

"The casual space should be encouraging a huge amount of creative design but there's a lot of imitation and that's a shame," he said.

The full interview with Kapalka, where he discusses Xbox Live Arcade development and his views on big publishers such as EA entering the casual space, can be read here.

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Matt Martin

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Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.

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