5 Insanely Successful Video Games That Were Total Ripoffs
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.
Angry 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?
FarmVille 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 ...
Pong Is a Knockoff of Table Tennis
Atari's Pong is considered the granddaddy of all video games, the one that gave birth to the entire gaming industry and therefore the reason many of us will die overweight and sore-thumbed. The game consisted of two bars hitting a pixel back and forth across a line, like a match of ping pong -- people went absolutely apeshit over that crap in the '70s, turning Atari into one of the most successful tech companies of all time.
Too bad it's a complete ripoff.
The massively successful, worldwide-renowned copy.
The first picture up there shows Table Tennis, a game released in 1972 as the culmination of six years of hard work by video game pioneer Ralph Baer, a true visionary who had been proposing the idea of "TV games" since way back in 1951. The second picture is Pong, which Atari put out in 1972, after the company's founder happened to see Table Tennis and decided to copy the game and all its elements: That is, two bars, one pixel and a line in the middle.
"Oh, you like my tie? I invented that, you know."
You see, video game consoles were an extremely hard sell back in the early '70s, mainly because nobody had actually heard of such a thing before. The very first one was the Magnavox Odyssey, which toured the country in 1972, demonstrating its games and proving to people that their TVs weren't possessed by the devil. Among those games was Table Tennis, and among the audience members in one of those presentations was a man named Nolan Bushnell. The very next month, Bushnell co-founded Atari, and later that same year, the first Pong arcade cabinet was released. It was an instant hit and soon overshadowed Table Tennis.
"That's great, but how do we turn this into dicks?" -Game visionaries of 1972
Atari might have been able to get away with their clone, too, if only Nolan Bushnell hadn't signed the guest book when he was at the Magnavox demo (presumably with a note saying "Great idea, guys, totally not gonna steal it now lol"). Magnavox took Atari to court over the infringement of their game -- and won. But instead of demanding that Atari stop making Pong, Magnavox simply slapped them with a one-time licensing fee: Atari paid the fee, then went on to make millions with Magnavox's idea.
Atari eventually came to dominate the video game industry, becoming "the fastest growing company in U.S. history" and bringing in $2 billion in 1982 alone. The Odyssey and Table Tennis may have broken new ground in the world of virtual entertainment, but Pong? Well, that's the game people get tattoos of.
The best part is that the ball actually moves.
Ms. Pac-Man Is a Knockoff of a Pac-Man Knockoff
Ms. Pac-Man was the sequel to Pac-Man that took place after Pac-Man had a sex change operation. But it started out not as an official sequel, but as a completely unlicensed and shamelessly illegal knockoff ... that went on to become one of the most successful arcade games of all time.
Future attempts like Ms. Mario Bros. or Ms. Call of Duty 3 had no such luck.
In 1982, when Pac-Man was still all the rage, two MIT students decided to create their own arcade game called Crazy Otto, which they accomplished by grabbing a Pac-Man cabinet and modifying the game's programming to their liking. The two students were excellent hackers, but not so excellent at disguising the stuff they were ripping off -- "Crazy Otto" was clearly just "Pac-Man, but with legs."
Somehow, no appendages at all is less disturbing than only legs.
Midway, the North American distributor for Pac-Man, was prepared to sue the pocket protectors off these two students when they noticed something -- their illegally hacked game was actually pretty good. The enemies were smarter, the character moved faster and the mazes in general were just better. At the same time, Midway was getting antsy waiting for Pac-Man's creators in Japan to provide a sequel as interest for the original game was beginning to die down. Leggy Pac-Man walked into the scene at precisely the right moment.
Look at it. LOOK AT IT.
So Midway bought the knockoff game from the students, replaced the new characters with the original ones and slapped a bow on Pac-Man/Crazy Otto's head -- that's how Ms. Pac-Man was born. The game was a massive hit, as fans hailed it as a harder, better and considerably sexier version of the beloved classic.
And you can barely tell she was once a dude.
Guitar Hero Is a Knockoff of GuitarFreaks
When Guitar Hero came along in 2005, it finally allowed the average joe to pretend to be a rock star without the talent or the practice or the "leaving your room once in a while" that are usually required for the job. All they had to do was pick up the guitar-shaped controller, strum the bar in the middle and hit the plastic keys when the game commanded them to. It's pretty simple, and that's why the game became so popular. Why didn't anybody think of this sooner?
Oh, wait, they did.
Are you supposed to grab them and fight? Because that would be so much more badass.
That's GuitarFreaks, a Japanese arcade game released by Konami in 1999. The gameplay was exactly the same as Guitar Hero: Players pressed plastic buttons and strummed a large plastic flipper on a guitar-shaped controller in time with the game's music. Every so often, the player could even raise the fake guitar in the air to gain extra style points. A small meter showed how well a player was keeping up with the song; too many missed notes and it turned from green to red to "Game Over."
Guitar Hero lacks the blue and yellow dongs from the Japanese version, though.
The game became a sensation in Japan and soon a PlayStation version was released, which came bundled with its own guitar controller. As Konami's music games started gaining traction in America, a company by the name of Red Octane began manufacturing controllers for them. Eventually Red Octane decided to make their own rhythm game using the same types of guitars ... and the same everything, really.
After hooking up with the developer Harmonix, who had a couple of music video games under their belt already, Red Octane grabbed the GuitarFreaks controller, added two more buttons and a whammy bar and called it a day.
"It was more of an afternoon, really."
They made the notes go down instead of up and changed the perspective of the "note highway," but everything was pretty much the same. Except for one small detail: Instead of using generic rock songs, Red Octane and Harmonix actually licensed rock classics like "Iron Man" and "Smoke on the Water." This strategy worked, and by 2009, Guitar Hero and its sequels had generated over $2 billion.
So what became of GuitarFreaks? It's actually still around, with sequels getting titles that are more convoluted and bizarre, like GuitarFreaks V5 Rock to Infinity, GuitarFreaks XG2: Groove to Live and GuitarFreaks V6 BLAZING!!!! Ultimately, though, it's still relatively unknown outside of Japan, while Guitar Hero, its knockoff, is the series that gets a South Park episode and talk of a reality show based around the game.
Ridley Davis is currently a student at Michigan State University. Give him a wave, if you can somehow track him down.
For more knock-offs that weren't so good at hiding it, check out 7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs and 6 Iconic Scenes Ripped Off From Lesser-Known Movies.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 WTF Stories from the Legend of King Arthur
And stop by LinkSTORM to play the shit out of Crush the Castle.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!