There Are No Original Ideas in Games, and Why That’s Okay

Simple thought: copycats are everywhere, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s a sentiment that I’ve held for a long time, but recent news of the Nintendo making a 3DS peripheral to add a second circle pad have finally pushed me over the top. Well, not the actual news, but rather fan reaction.

I read the news on a popular Nintendo news blog, and the comments on this particular news post was surprisingly flooded with anti-Nintendo comments along the lines of “Ha, looks like this time Nintendo’s copying Sony.” Usually, the site is full of anti-Sony comments along the lines of “lulz, Sony can’t stop copying Nintendo,” but that’s neither here nor there.

What I really want to know is: who cares?

Now, you obviously can’t scratch the brand name off of a product and re-sell it as your own. What you can do, though, is take an idea and improve upon it. Between Nintendo and Sony, they’ve done it several times to each other. Things like the DualShock, Gamecube discs, PSP, Move, and 3DS’ circle pad add-on simply wouldn’t exist without the competitor’s innovations, and they were all in the name of improving upon the other’s shortcomings.

The most maddening part of the entire argument (from either side) is that once one company does something, then it somehow becomes immoral for another to do anything similar. If that were true, nothing would ever get done. Imagine if only Henry Ford were allowed to use the assembly line at his manufacturing plant, or if he was the only one allowed to manufacture cars. Hell, just imagine if no one but Magnavox were able to make game consoles just because their Odyssey was the first one on the market.

Everyone’s familiar with that slightly jealous “why didn’t I think of that?” mentality, and there are plenty of instances outside of the gaming industry in which improving on an idea leads to bigger, better things in the long run, which breeds healthy competition that ultimately benefits the consumer. Apple’s success with their iPhone and iPad have led to a great selection of Android-powered smartphones and tablets. Toyota’s Prius led to an influx of other manufacturers creating their own hybrid vehicles. Snuggies and Slankets. The list goes on.

Within this current generation of video game machines, there’s very little that you can consider to be an original idea. The PS Vita is an evolution of what the PSP was, and its touchscreens are an improvement over the archaic ones used on Nintendo’s DS and 3DS. The Move was a blatant attempt at getting in on the motion craze, but it still offered 1:1 tracking that was lacking in pre-MotionPlus Wii controls. The second 3DS circle pad, while clumsily handled, is at least an admission that there are better control options for a handheld. Both the DualShock and the Xbox 360 controllers are essentially evolutions of the SNES controller introduced 20 years ago.

The software side of this phenomenon is even more apparent, with a consistent history of borrowing ideas. Arcade shoot-em-ups and fighting games in the 80s and 90s spawned countless me-too titles, including great games such as Galaga and Mortal Kombat. The 16-bit era saw a flood of mascot-based platforming games trying to capitalize on the Sonic and Mario craze, although games such as Bubsy and Awesome Possum are better off forgotten. Today, we have (approximately) 800 first-person shooters with a modern warfare backdrop due to the success of Call of Duty 4, while third-person action games such as Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine take as many cues as they can from Gears of War … a game which ultimately owes a tremendous amount to Resident Evil 4.

It’s not impossible to be annoyed by the way companies do business these days, especially when they try their damndest to spin their ideas as 100 percent original. However, to pretend that this wonderful medium of ours isn’t built on the evolution of older ideas, concepts, and technology is simply crazy. Without the healthy competition that comes with game companies constantly trying to one-up each other for our affection (or wallets, whatever), the entire industry would be a boring, stagnant mess.

Next time you like something because it’s so original and great, take a second to remember: it isn’t.

Readers Comments (3)

  1. Good article. Like Newton once said: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Sure some things are inventions but most things are variations or improvements. There are countless examples of it, for example in music, engineering & science.

  2. LuLz you copied this article from ign

  3. i see a loot of new inovative ways of teling a story in a videogames
    eweryone does it their way, ewery big dew has their own uniqe aproach to teling a story and ewolving upon it, thats the inovation i see in videogames, not the setting, not the caracters, not the genre, but the way you tell a story, ( its either in cutscene, in gameplay, in-game dialog, or a specifdic mix of all of them… )
    you cant start building a game from scratch, you hawe to set some sort of foundations, its not copying, its just the way it is, and not just in videogames, its in ewery medium (exept cave paintings)

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