A couple months ago, The Xplorion published an article about the rise of mobile gaming which talked about how the mobile game industry brought emerging technologies to the games industry, while reducing development costs and increasing the ratio of female representation in the gamer demographic.
While these are certainly positive influences of the genre’s emergence over the years, its sudden and unregulated boom in popularity has certainly come with less desirable consequences; namely, the increasing and seemingly uncontrollable deluge of low-quality, cash-grabbing, and flat-out copycat games that litter the various app stores.
No curation, no protection
You would think that the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, and any other app store out there would do their best to ensure that these game clones were quickly removed from their storefront.
After all, what kind of experience would that be for their customers? Browsing through pages and pages of trash before finding that diamond in the rough doesn’t sound like a good user experience.
The reality is that, at least for the Apple App Store, the app developers are left to their own devices to scout out, report, and dispute copycat claims.
While Apple does have a design guideline specifying that apps found to be too similar to existing ones may be removed, many developers have had their apps cloned regardless.
One even had the misfortune of not only being cloned, but his original app removed by a counter-claim from the copycat developer, because Apple can’t tell the difference between originals and clones.
On the Google side of the fence, the Play Store suffers from the same lack of curation but the problem is compounded by the sheer volume of apps hosted here versus on the App Store.
In 2017, Google removed over 700,000 apps that were copycat, malicious, or inappropriate in nature. That’s a staggering number of apps to kill, and yet is only a fraction of the total number of apps on the Play Store.
The junk pile only grows bigger, and neither of these storefronts’ solutions seem to be able to keep up. Apple famously employs a manual app approval process, yet copycats slip through all the time.
Google leaves it up to its machine-learning algorithm to catch the clones, but false-positives as well as the low barrier to entry make it inefficient at best. Both app stores offer user-flagging of apps for copycat content, but with over 20% of apps never even receiving a store rating, one can imagine how little a customer can be bothered to accurately and diligently report such offending apps.
Reskins: Same game, different name
Lately, the clone makers have gotten craftier and more creative about how they release their games as well. Not content with simply making an app with a similar name as the original, they now actually use other keywords to make sure their apps are not only discoverable, but show up as related search results to the originals.
Take PUBG Mobile for instance. It recently brought the battle royale craze to mobile devices, which has been a very popular game genre on consoles and computers for years now. Naturally, the copycat developers came to capitalize on the trending game.
Here’s a useful infographic that shows off a quick comparison of some of PUBG Mobile’s more popular competitors:
You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the differences between these games are negligible. In fact, PUBG Mobile, Free Fire, and Rules of Survival are at lease unique enough from each other to warrant having infographic breakdowns like this.
Other games, such as Flappy Bird, 2048, and Threes have been so blatantly copied—from their art style to their gameplay mechanics and content—that it’s hard to tell the original from the copies at this point.
With so many blatant rip-offs of so many popular games on every app store, why isn’t there more outrage from the players who might be duped into downloading a fake?
Gamers don’t really care
The fact of the matter is, most gamers don’t really notice it. Mobile games generally attract a more casual player base than console and computer gamers do, and for these players, all they’re really concerned about is whether or not they get their few minutes of entertainment.
Less important to them is whether or not what’s entertaining them is the “legit version” of the game. In some cases, such players may actually feel incentivized to seek out and download the cloned games rather than avoid them.
One popular mobile game design mechanic is to limit free play-time to players as a way to get them to possibly pay to play longer. It makes sense then for a player to just install a bunch of clones of the same game they enjoy playing, to avoid having to pay for time extensions.
Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled are the same thing, so why not play both and double your time allowance or number of lives?
Source: I made this
And in a few cases, sometimes the clone actually looks or plays better than the original. Which game have you heard of: Angry Birds, or Crush the Castle? Archero, or Tales Rush? Geometry Dash, or The Impossible Game? In each of these pairs of games, the first is the clone of the second; and the clone was more successful in the end.
In these cases, it seems tolerable for different versions of the same game to co-exist. Whether clone or original, if in the end the player comes out feeling fulfilled for enjoying it, then the game got the job done.
JP is a freelance writer, voice talent, emcee-slash-events-host, livestreamer, web developer, and dungeon master. When he isn’t writing about Games.LOL PC games as a guest author, he’s probably either doing one of those other odd jobs or trying to put the twins to bed.