No video game is completely original; Mortal Kombat was inspired by Street Fighter II, Halo was inspired by Half-Life and the Super Mario franchise was inspired by massive amounts of hallucinogens. But then there are some beloved games that weren't so much "inspired by" other games as they were "the exact game, with a minor paint job." Those knockoffs then went on to make millions of dollars.
5Angry Birds Is a Knockoff of a Free Browser Game
Chances are that everyone reading this has by now played or seen someone else play Angry Birds at least once, or most likely several dozens of times. The iPhone time-waster is simply the most popular game ever made. Basically, you use a slingshot to launch wingless birds into the air and destroy flimsy structures occupied by egg-stealing green pigs. It's as brilliant in its design as it is stupid in its story.
It's the video game version of Flavor Flav.
On the other hand, you probably haven't heard of Crush the Castle, an online Flash game that was released a mere eight months before Angry Birds and bears more than a few ... similarities. And if you have heard of it, then congratulations, you can now tell your friends you liked Angry Birds before it was cool.
"It was hardcore back in the day. People died."
For starters, the goal in Crush the Castle is also to launch projectiles from the left side of the screen over to the right, where your enemies (in this case, medieval soldiers and royalty) stand hiding within a hodgepodge of wooden planks, stone slabs and other easily knock-downable constructions. They use an old-fashioned trebuchet instead of a giant slingshot, but the gameplay is exactly the same.
So what sort of projectiles do you launch? Well, there's the standard sphere ...
Big deal, lots of games have ball-shaped characters.
Then there's the jumbo version of the standard sphere ...
Just a logical progression from the last one.
The one that splits into three parts ...
That's just, uh ... natural progression ...
And the one that explodes upon contact, like a bomb.
OK, fuck these guys.
We aren't the only ones who have noticed the similarities. In fact, the relationship between Crush the Castle and its vastly more popular knockoff, Angry Birds, has been the subject of collegiate study -- one researcher took it upon himself to find out why, out of two essentially identical games, only one emerged with shitloads of cash, apparel and a freaking TV show. His conclusion was that the cute characters and charming art style of Angry Birds made all the difference: Apparently it's just a matter of taking an obscure game, slapping animal faces on all the objects and boom, instant hit.
But we think the most compelling argument here is: How the fuck do you even arrive at the idea of building-dwelling pigs vs. slingshot-using birds if not by taking the perfectly logical concept of trebuchet vs. castle and just randomly changing shit to hide the theft?
4FarmVille Is a Knockoff of Farm Town
Zynga is the company that created some of the most addictive social games on Facebook, although we're using the word "created" extremely loosely here. To discuss every instance in which Zynga has apparently ripped off a smaller company would take five full articles, so instead of going into detail about how Zynga's Dream Heights was a knockoff of Nimblebit's Tiny Tower, Zynga Bingo was a knockoff of Buffalo Studios' Bingo Blitz, Zynga's Cafe World was a knockoff of Playfish's Restaurant City or Zynga's Mafia Wars was a knockoff of Psycho Monkey's Mob Wars, we'll just focus on their most famous clone: FarmVille.
Aka the reason you blocked your aunt on Facebook.
In FarmVille, you water crops, harvest trees and raise livestock -- you know, all that tedious crap you'd have to do if you lived on a farm, somehow made tolerable by virtue of being rendered in cartoony graphics. Soon after being released in June 2009, it became a huge hit for Zynga -- even though they completely ripped it off from an already existing game by a smaller company. Check it out:
Left: A multimillion-dollar franchise. Right: Not so much.
In February 2009, a relatively unknown company called Slashkey released a game on Facebook called Farm Town. Originally, the company sent out only a few invitations to friends in order to test the game, but the response was overwhelming -- those friends sent invitations to other friends, who did the same thing at a staggering rate. A few months later, the game had exploded.
It was at this point that Zynga waltzed in and said "Thanks, little guy, we'll take it from here." Using the exact same aesthetic and gameplay as Farm Town, they went ahead and crapped out a ripoff called FarmVille that went on to become an even bigger hit. Here's another comparison -- Farm Town is on the left and FarmVille is on the right:
"Let's make the heads 5 percent less giant; that'll throw 'em off."
One thing that FarmVille had that Farm Town didn't, however, was marketing. Zynga already had a line of successful Facebook games out, so all it took to convert one of their Mafia Wars or YoVille addicts to the joys of virtual farming was a conveniently placed ad within the established games. Couple that with FarmVille's tendency to spam your friends' Facebook walls relentlessly, and Zynga got the word out fast.
Meanwhile, all Farm Town had was the simple fact that they were first. Even now, three years later, it remains somewhat popular. From their Facebook page:
Impressive, right? Not so much when you compare it to this:
Because hard work and creativity mean less for success than a great marketing department.
This wasn't the first time Zynga had blatantly copied someone else's game, and it wouldn't be the last. But then they got cocky: Currently, they're being sued by EA for ripping off The Sims Social, of all things. Hopefully justice will prevail, but until then ...