Commercial success almost always results inevitably in imitators, nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of video game development.
With the tools for game development being more easily accessible than ever before, the difficulty becomes turning your creation into a profit. There exists three frequently used methods of making a game that people not only like, but want to spend money on.
The first and most abused is sequelization: taking an already-popular franchise and taking the metaphorical bat to the metaphorical horse until every ounce of profitability has been beaten out of it.
The second, and least common, is creating something that stands out in the market. This means creating a game that not only does something unique and interesting, but also provides the player with an experience that both leaves an impact and fulfills whatever your game’s sale price is.
The third, and most prevalent in recent years, is what could be described as genrefication. Genrefication is the act of taking something that became popular through sequelization and flooding the market with imitations and derivatives in the hopes of pulling a profit from releasing substandard products on the original’s popularity alone.
In October of 2011, Minecraft changed the survival game genre. After obtaining licensing deals with Microsoft and Apple, this unassuming game went on to make over $101 million during its first year. Following Minecraft’s success, clones like Craftworld, Fortresscraft, and Terraria began flooding the market. The result was the creation of the “crafting survival” genre.
Ordinarily, the creation of a genre of games would be a good thing, providing a great deal of content for a fanbase that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. However, these clones resulted in forcing the creation of new genres in order to help categorize them. In addition, the clones would often be made without genuine intent for quality, but instead with the hope to ride on the profitable coattails of the current trend. In the end, the vast majority of these were created with the intent of cashing in on something that ended up being more popular than expected.
It wasn’t just limited to Minecraft. Games like Portal in 2007 and the creation of the term “Physics Platformer”, as well as the four-year flood of “Cover-based Shooters” that followed Gears of War’s release in 2006, show that this trend has been going on for as long as digitally-distributed gaming has existed.
The difficulty with “genrefication” is that you can’t rightly propose a preventative solution without entering the realms of censoring creators and their potential work. That being said, the best possible solution is for consumers to properly inform themselves prior to making purchases that might end up supporting faulty products.
Showing the creators of these derivatives that riding on the coattails of another’s success is not a financially viable tactic is the only way to encourage creativity in the medium. Hopefully someday, the unique and memorable will no longer be the exception in game development, but the rule.