Prepare for the Attack of the Video Game Clones
In retrospect, PAX East 2018 didn't feel like it had a lot of unique games to look forward to.
As I finished up my five day trip to Boston for PAX East 2018 I was asked over and over again what the best games I saw were. You can see most of them on the front page of our site, but in the moment I struggled to identify what the best experiences I tried were. The reason? They all felt kind of similar to games I’d already played.
Every time I settled on a game to describe as “one of the best at PAX East 2018” I found myself describing the game by mentioning others. Star Trek Adversaries was great, but it’s a pretty blatant Hearthstone reskin, which itself was a twist on Magic: The Gathering and other CCG’s. Dauntless was awesome, and it’s totally a free-to-play version of Monster Hunter. Deathgarden might be the most integral to this discussion, as it’s a faster take on Dead by Daylight, which is published by the same company.
To be clear, this isn’t a knock against any of these games. Every game ever made was built on the foundation laid by the games that came before it. Some of the best games of all time are inspired or ripped off from other games. It’s one of the best parts of the video game medium, the fact that things keep getting bigger and better. But, it was a jarring feeling to look back and realize just how many clones were out there and coming to a PC or console near you.
These clones are coming and it’ll be up to the audience which ones succeed
The examples I gave were just a few, and the phenomenon isn’t isolated to titles presented at PAX East 2018. It’s also not new. In previous years we saw Overwatch, Lawbreakers, and Battleborn all on the same show floor, all presenting hero shooter gameplay mechanics that were quite similar. There was also a stretch of time where every new game was a MOBA or shoehorned in MOBA-style mechanics. And then there’s the two biggest games going at the moment, both of which were plastered across the PAX East 2018 show floor: Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
These two games are so similar that PUBG’s publisher seemed to be mulling over a lawsuit; one they ended up levying against another “clone” that hit later. And Battle Royale clones are certainly going to keep coming, along with clones of other popular titles. It won’t surprise anyone if Battlefield and/or Call of Duty announce a BR mode for their new games.
Again, this isn’t necessarily bad or even wrong. Game developers looking at the market, taking a popular concept, iterating and improving on it is how video games have grown and evolved. If they can improve on the core concept, or present it in their own unique way, as the games mentioned above have, then it’s a good thing. But it still is something that is worth commenting on and thinking about.
As I grow older and my gaming time is limited more and more, I find that I seek out the more unique gameplay opportunities. I don’t want to play PUBG but with color and building (and a solid framerate). I don’t want to play Hearthstone but with Star Trek characters (actually, I really do and I’m looking forward to Star Trek: Adversaries quite a bit). I don’t want to play another hero shooter, and apparently neither did most gamers.
These clones are coming though and it’ll be up to the audience which ones succeed and which ones fail. I was in the minority in not looking for a different take on Battle Royale. The Elder Scrolls: Legends is a sort of Hearthstone clone that has made a huge name for itself. Other clones have become even more popular than their inspirations. Still, when you do find something unique, it becomes all the more enjoyable in this environment of iteration and improvement, rather than true invention and innovation.