Saying that there are copycats in video games is like saying Donkey Kong is a giant ape.
Just look at what happened when id had Doom. Nearly every other game that featured a first-person point of view, guns, and fast action within earshot for the next few years was called a “Doom” killer by the press or in their own ads to try and drum up excitement.
More recently, we now have Zynga whose business model has been criticized over copying popular ideas and repackaging them as “new” games. At least a few of the upstarts that had tried to topple Doom embraced the FPS concept while doing more than change a few art assets.
I think part of the fascination comes from seeing just how far the copycats will take things. Will it be inspired by the same ideas and seem radically different at the same time? Or will it simply settle in being a blatant ripoff of a popular game?
Like 1983’s Cubit…ripping off of Gottlieb’s Q-Bert which came out in arcades the year before. Apparently programmed by one guy, Edward Pirali, it bore more than a superficial resemblance to Gottlieb’s original. Micromax was the name of the company, though in those early days, it might have just been the one guy. There’s so little information out there on them that we can only speculate. Cubit’s not even up on Virtual Apple.
Micromax also ran an ad for the game featuring it as the “only game of its kind for the Apple Computer” while touting it as “Innovative, new and colorful”. The developer, Micromax, even had the words “Innovators in micro-computer software” in the same ad. They certainly were big on saying “innovation” even though their first, and seemingly only, game was a blatant copy of Q-bert.
Look at that orange guy with the swear words bubble – just like Q-bert when he gets hit by a bouncing snake. To the artist’s credit, they tried to make it not so obvious by giving their orange guy sneakers and a pointed nose as opposed to a tubular one. Because that makes all the difference, right?
Micromax vanished shortly afterwards making this their first, and only, game. I can only speculate as to what might have happened. It’s possible that Gottlieb wasn’t pleased at seeing this and probably litigated them out of existence. Apparently Pogo Joe, another Q-bert clone, got away with what it did because it was different enough to avoid oblivion which Micromax’s version may not have been as lucky to dodge.
But the ad remains behind as an impressive piece of ripoff-art. You can feel the power of PR speak through the words that this thing throws out there while begging you not to look too closely. Now nearly more than thirty years later, a company like Zynga is accused of doing the same thing. Though instead of just one guy making their games, they can throw a team of programmers and artists against ideas they find interesting and drink that milkshake right up to the top of the charts.