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Imitation is the sincerest form of robbery | This Week in Business

Fortnite Impostor is a little too close to Among Us for comfort, but what recourse does Innersloth have?

This Week in Business is our weekly recap column, a collection of stats and quotes from recent stories presented with a dash of opinion (sometimes more than a dash) and intended to shed light on various trends. Check back every Friday for a new entry.

Epic Games launched its Fortnite Impostors mode this week, and as you may have guessed from the title alone, it's a recognizable facsimile of the gameplay from breakout indie hit Among Us.

In Impostors, ten players occupy a high-tech facility called The Bridge. Eight of them are there to keep things running smoothly, but two are looking to sabotage everything from within. The players periodically gather together and discuss who might be the impostors and then vote them out.

Developer Innersloth's Among Us plays out similarly both in its social multiplayer mechanics and in the thematic wrapper, an observation that was not lost on the indie studio.

QUOTE | "We didn't patent the Among Us mechanics. I don't think that leads to a healthy game industry. Is it really that hard to put 10% more effort into putting your own spin on it though?" - Innersloth co-founder Marcus Bromander reacts to Epic's announcement of the Fortnite Imposters event.

This is obviously not the first time Epic has been accused of cloning another game. Fortnite Battle Royale and its 100-player last-one-standing deathmatch came quickly on the heels of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, which was itself an iteration on mods Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene had worked on for DayZ that took inspiration both from the 2000 film Battle Royale. That was an adaptation of a Koushun Takami novel from the year prior, which the author said had been inspired both by sleep-deprived hallucinations and Stephen King's 1979 novel The Long Walk, about a fascist near-future America where every year 100 boys are forced to walk a 450-mile marathon where only the winner survives. King has said he was inspired by a fad of 50-mile hikes organized by radio and TV stations in the early '60s, one of which he entered but failed to even reach the halfway point before dropping out.

In short, creative ideas aren't born in a vacuum. Everything is inspired or informed by something else -- usually many somethings else -- whether those be other creative works, historical events, or personal experiences.

Epic's output is no exception. Long before the battle royale version of Fortnite was even conceived of, the original version of Fortnite was made with Minecraft squarely in mind. Throw in Gears of War's adoption of the cover mechanic from Namco's Kill Switch and Shadow Complex's roots in the Metroid formula and Epic has a track record that spans the entire iteration-to-homage-to-theft spectrum.

Gaming has historically been built on that spectrum, often toward the "theft" side of things. Before there was Pong, there was Magnavox Odyssey table tennis. Before there was 2048, there was Threes. Farmville, Farm Town. Guitar Hero, Guitar Freaks.

It's not unusual for someone to take someone else's idea, give it a meaningful twist, or a new coat of paint, or even just a bigger marketing budget, and come up with a phenomenon. It's slightly more unusual for a massively successful company to do it this brazenly though, and against such a sympathetic target.

STAT | 11 - The current headcount of Innersloth, as revealed earlier this month when the studio tweeted about adding two new full-timers.

For a company that is in the middle of a hugely important lawsuit in which it is painting someone else as a greedy corporate bully, Epic's eagerness to put its own version of Among Us out into the world feels more than a little hypocritical.

But however successful Fortnite Impostor is, it doesn't take away any of the money that Among Us has already made (which I honestly hope is a very impressive sum), and there's a chance it won't even eat into Innersloth's financial future that much, either.

The past few years have shown us that this is not a zero sum industry, that success doesn't always have to come at the expense of a competitor, and that multiple similar experiences can thrive. (Somehow there remains room for three separate major Call of Duty games with no apparent cannibalization between them.)

And as much as Epic's actions may strike one as the sort of thing that shouldn't be allowed, I don't think I would welcome seeing that decided in court.

Because however that case turns out, if clear homage and inspiration becomes a viable claim for redress in the courts, it probably won't be the little devs like Innersloth that benefit in the long run.

Court cases are a hassle and an expense few indies would willingly pursue, especially against industry giants with their own legal departments. Instead, it would be the deep-pocketed IP holders who opt for legal action, those who could transition smoothly from squashing fan projects starring Samus Aran and Simon Belmont to cease-and-desisting the next generation of indie Metroidvanias in a heartbeat.

STAT | 562 - The number of fan-made games Nintendo had removed from GameJolt with a DMCA claim in one day because they "copy the characters, music, and other features of Nintendo's video games."

Frankly, the only good thing I would see coming out of a wave of lawsuits over this type of theft would be the entertainment of watching very serious judges forced to endure a parade of lawyers earnestly arguing the minutia of fighting game mechanics like Roman Cancels, Krushing Blows, V-Shift Breaks, Cross Chop Guard Breaks, and Critical Edges.

That could admittedly usher in a golden age for a quotes and stats digest column with a penchant for absurdity like this one, but after much deliberation, I have decided the harm such a future would do to the entire industry ultimately outweighs the benefit to one site's weekly recap column.

Oh, don't worry about This Week in Business. Thankfully, we can already count on this industry to churn out a steady stream of nonsense, so it's not like the column will lack for source material. Now let's see what else happened this week.


QUOTE | "For example, whether you spent time working a McDonald's in-game at a virtual mall or McDonald's down the street from your house becomes irrelevant, because the money/value you earned is exactly the same." - HiDef founder and chief creative officer Jace Hall is one of several true believers we spoke to for a feature about this metaverse thing people keep chasing. And no, in case you're wondering, he did not explain what job this person would be doing at the virtual McDonald's, why a virtual McDonald's would employ human staff when there's no food to cook and the company is replacing every possible human employee in actual McDonald's with automated kiosks, or what possible business model a virtual metaverse restaurant would have in the first place.

QUOTE | "The idea of creating an alternative world in which everyone has to use your currency, play by your rules and everyone wants to promote their brands is really appealing to rich people." - In the same feature, Rami Ismail does a succinct job of explaining the current enthusiasm investors and start-ups have for building the metaverse.

QUOTE | "I believe the traditional single-player game experience will be gone in three years" - Mark Cerny, 10 Years Ago This Month, offering a prediction for the future at a Sony GDC Europe event. Sony's Shuhei Yoshida and Mick Hocking also offered their predictions, but they didn't really fare any better.

QUOTE | "In some regions our event isn't called Pride, it is called 'new colors.' We did that intentionally so our players could experience this content. We weren't able through local laws, or in some cases through more normative restrictions, to launch it as Pride." - Riot designer Jake Street talks about the company's efforts to celebrate diversity and how it runs Pride month events in places where such diversity isn't welcome.

QUOTE | "I swear to God, I would like one time to search for 'Christchurch' on Roblox and not find a new recreation of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting on a game platform aimed at very young children." - ADL director of strategy and operations Daniel Kelley, pointing out that Roblox has a problem with user-made games about mass shootings.

STAT | 77 - The number of game development studios within the Embracer Group at the beginning of the week, before it announced the acquisitions of Smartphone Labs, Fractured Byte, and Demiurge, as detailed in the company's post-earnings conference call.

QUOTE | "We're moving away from a model where everyone has a desk and a space, so our space needs are very much reduced by the new model we want to pursue." - Zynga COO Matt Bromberg explains why the company is vacating its San Francisco headquarters and embracing a hybrid in-office/remote model.

QUOTE | "Notices are being sent to former employees to confirm that Riot's severance agreements have never in any way prohibited speaking to government agencies." - Riot Games says it is (finally) complying with a judge's order to make it clear to former employees who signed NDAs that they can still tell the government about illegal activities. California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing has said that language in the company's settlements with women employees and separation agreements suggested otherwise.

QUOTE | "When making decisions that affect players we take the time to review exactly what the potential impacts are and whether they serve the players' best interests. When we delisted Syndicate and Ultima Underworld we missed that step and so didn't fully consider the players perspective." - EA says it messed up when it pulled some of its classic games off GOG.

QUOTE | "One would assume that if a country goes out of lockdown, with great summer weather, that the engagement, concurrent users and revenue would go down. But we're not seeing it. I've chatted with a whole bunch of colleagues. They're not seeing it." - TinyBuild's Alex Nichiporchik believes the pandemic has converted people into gamers for the long haul.

STAT | $1 million - The amount of money Steve Spohn tried to raise for the AbleGamers charity to mark his 40th birthday. He reached that goal this week and his birthday is next month.

STAT | 1 - The number of Big Chuck cheeseburgers I ate at Holy Chuck to mark my 40th birthday. So in a way, we're really both kinda heroes, if you think about it.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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