Wednesday, June 24, 2009
In the previous post I spoke about games getting a bad review because they had a feature the reviewer particularly disliked, or were missing one he considered must-have. In this post I'll talk about games which are more or less having identical sets of features. The clones. The clone wars title is not just a Star Wars reference, but is also because I think that the clones are killing each other.
Why do we have clones? Lets zoom out a bit, and have a look at the development of a product, any product. There are two major starting points for any development of a new product: Either market pull, or technology / design push. Market pull is when somebody notices a demand of the market, and develops a product to supply this demand. Technology / design push is when somebody has a bright idea for something new, and develops it without the market asking for it, hoping that demand will form once the product is on the market. Clones are typical market pull games. Somebody notices that for example World of Warcraft is making a lot of money, and wants a piece of the pie. He puts up some money, hires some developers, and tells them to make a game for the same market that WoW occupies.
The best case scenario for that results in a game like Runes of Magic. It is obviously a WoW clone in many aspects. But the devs realized that to compete with WoW they needed some unique selling points, so they added things like housing and dual classes. And the business managers of Runes of Magic realized that because they couldn't afford to make RoM as big and polished as WoW, there was no way to get people to pay the same as they did for WoW, and went for a Free2Play microtransaction business model instead. Runes of Magic is doing pretty well.
A more typical bad scenario is the devs having no idea what exactly makes WoW work and where one could sensibly add to it or modify it, and just producing a copy as good as they can. Basic gameplay identical to World of Warcraft, but with the budget being much lower the game is smaller, less polished, and with more flaws and bugs than WoW or Runes of Magic. Add some business people who believe that people will pay $15 a month for anything, and going for a monthly subscription business model, and you have a recipe for disaster.
And I think it isn't World of Warcraft that kills the WoW clones, it is Runes of Magic. A game like Runes of Magic can survive from the people who got bored with WoW, or who don't like to pay a monthly subscription. But those people will have a choice among several different WoW-like games. So the clone which is somewhat better done, offers a few new features, and is cheaper, is going to beat the less good clone that asks full price for nothing really innovative.
This year I already played several betas of games where I do think that they will be an utter failure. A game which slavishly tries to copy all aspects of WoW, mixes a few unoriginal and not really compatible features from other games in, and hopes you'll pay a monthly fee for that. Another game which plays more like Tabula Rasa, just working less well, being less fun, and having less good graphics. Even if the scenario is post-apocalyptic and not aliens, seeing how badly Tabula Rasa did, I don't think this one will make it.
And if I can see a game will flop after an hour in the beta, I wonder why the people who make it can't. Are they too close to their own creations that they can't see that another game is doing exactly the same but much better? Or are the devs simply lying to the investors, knowing very well the game will not live long past release, but unwilling to give up the monthly paycheck? Why are there so many bad games released, and I don't mean games that just don't appeal to some gamers, but simply bad clones with lousy workmanship and no innovation?