The Creativity of Original Content… and Why it Doesn’t Exist Anymore

flappy-birdThe Flappy Bird debacle left me in complete bewilderment while I watched the video game community applaud, degrade, and downright curse the popular mobile game. It was insane to think about just how intensely popular this game became. And the money… The money would inspire anyone to become a mobile game developer. But there was this lingering disappointment that I felt when I continued to watch people interact with this game, and I’m not completely sure if I can suitably explain why. I do a very damn good job of playing the devil’s advocate, and I often see the clarity in both sides, but there was this one lingering thought that just wouldn’t go away: What happened to the originality?

As a writer, plagiarism is a very important term to stress. There’s nothing worse than seeing your work copied or mimicked, and I guess in a way, stealing words may be a bit more personal than stealing ideas for a game. Then again, I could probably feel the same if I was a game developer. When you put so much of yourself into a project just to see others take it for themselves, the sense of betrayal is just mind-boggling. But there’s something that exists inside of this community, something I’ve ranted about before, and that’s gamer entitlement. We as consumers assume that we should have the power to influence the way products are made, whether that be through positive feedback and constructive criticism or through demeaning ways. And in an age that is essentially controlled by the internet, it’s usually easier to use cruel assertion to obtain the things we want.

We wish that video games would be taken more seriously in the eyes of our elders, however, we continue to prattle about like children who can’t control their tantrums. We complain and shoot down everything, sometimes even under the “professional” tone of criticism. Flappy Bird is just one instance that showcases this attitude, and it’s amazingly shocking to see just how hypocritical this community is. When the game first launched, combined with all of the complaints of the difficulty, there were people who ranted about the unoriginal features of the game’s appearance. There were shouts about how Doug Nguyen (the developer) should be slapped with copyright strikes, about the money he made off of the game, even as the same people continued to feed more attention and money into the dude’s pockets.

And when the game was taken down, what started to appear? Flappy Bird clones. Lots of them. Obviously some of these quick creations are simply humorous jabs toward the original game, but there’s something seriously wrong when a community can fly through a cycle such as this one.

From the game Flappy Beard Hipster Quest

From the game Flappy Beard Hipster Quest

An article on Wired revealed how easy it can be to create your own Flappy Bird-type game. Flappy Miley Wrecking Ball Pro, a Flappy Bird clone that uses Miley Cyrus’ head, was uploaded just two days after Flappy Bird was ripped away. Gregory Storm, the creator of the game, had only heard about the Flappy Bird game. “I had no idea what Flappy Bird was,” he stated. “Never played it. Hadn’t seen it.”

But he was able to purchase the source code of Flappy Crocodile and twist it into his own version of the game. Certain sites can allow developers to sell their app’s source codes to others which inevitably unlocks several clones in the app store. Storm continued, “They aren’t trying to be original and recreate the wheel. They’re trying to maximize their proven formulas and repeat them by re-skinning and using the same source code over and over.

“Everybody has the same basket full of odd ingredients and you have a short time to make something tasty with them or you’ll lose out.”

2723_2724_flappycrocodile

On one hand I’m thrilled that people can share their resources in order to allow other enthusiasts to create their own games. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about coding, I would appreciate being able to work off of someone else. On the other hand, however, I’m afraid that the well is starting to run dry. I’m afraid that these developers are going to continue tapping existing sources until there is no originality left. And then again, others may argue that the originality in video games has long been extinct… and this is where my whole thought process begins to unravel. Or perhaps it’s simply a moment of over-thinking… it tends to happen sometimes.

I’m curious to see your opinions, though! What are your thoughts about originality in video games and the possible presence of consistent plagiarism? What do you think about the tools that can make video game developing a much simpler process?

 

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3 thoughts on “The Creativity of Original Content… and Why it Doesn’t Exist Anymore

  1. We’re presently living in a sort of indie renaissance–a time where one or two developers can create something new and it can be lauded as the best game in years. But with that deliciously original indie goodness comes clones, rip offs, and money grabs. For every Fez, Limbo, or Kingdom Rush, there’s a million freemium clones. The advantage on the internet is discussions like this one: we can ponder theses pros and cons and that can reward the original and punish the phony (if we do it right, that is). On the other hand, the internet age has convinced many that all opinions are created equal (they are not)–and the swirling mass of the majority is often something you don’t want to ally yourself with.

    Of course, I say all of this as a video game blogger with an accelerated opinion of his own observations and… Uhm…. Opinions. So there’s some irony there.

    • Contemporary art is tough to talk about because we can’t gauge how important or even how good something is as soon as it comes out. It needs time to sink in. You mention Limbo, which, for all its artistic intent, I don’t really think is as great a game as Flappy Bird, as crazy as THAT sounds. Flappy Bird is strangely as ambitious as it is innocuous, this sort of bad Newgrounds looking thing that caused heaps of controversy. What did Limbo “do for the medium” and what did Flappy Bird do for the medium? Great things eventually sift to the top, like Dark Souls, which continues to be remembered for its greatness. I couldn’t confidently say it was great the first time I played it, but a year or two later, it makes more sense.

  2. This sort of blatant cloning has been around from the very start of video games. When games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders hit the scene, there were dozens of games that were pretty much re-skinned versions to make some quick money (see this link for some delightful examples of Pac-Man clones: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pac-Man_clones).

    I don’t think originality is gone from game development, or that we are in a total downward spiral of creativity. There are plenty of interesting and successful titles that have stood out over the last few years (Gone Home, Bastion, Fez, Journey, etc). With the advent of Kickstarter and the availability of coding education, it looks like many more are on the way (Goat Simulator!).

    Why the Flappy Bird cloning seems so widespread (outside of the fact that it is all over the place) is that the same resources that allow people to step into game development also gives folks the chance to try and cash in on a trend. The fact that mobile games are so popular to the general public has turned something that would be niche news 5-10 years ago into an international story. Think about it, no one outside of the gaming community really gave a crap that there were piles of crumby fighting games that tried to cash in off of the success of Street Fighter 2 in the 90s.

    So while I think the entire Flappy Bird story is certainly interesting and sad, it isn’t stopping creative people from making the games that they want to exist in the world. The takeaway from this whole debacle is that the public at large should stop being so damn antagonistic to the people who make games that entertain the world.

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