How Original Does a Game Have to Be?
There is no question that we’re well into a trend of games being remade and remastered. Some, like Final Fantasy 7, has been in demand for more than a decade, while others such as Destroy All Humans! came as more of a surprise. However, remakes and remasters are designed specifically to recreate or re-imagine a game. Here, diverting from the original design can be seen as a detriment in any place outside of something advantageous, such as controls. There are games, however, that just seem to copy the designs and mechanics of others without any admitted connection.
This sort of occurrence isn’t anything new. Developers have long been influenced by other games and have even become quite successful in the process. Even going back to the early 90s, the term “Doom Clones” was the early description of what ultimately became the FPS genre. Games like Heretic, Duke Nukem 3D, Rise of the Triad, and Dark Forces all fell into this category having similar core designs.
Building a genre with a new style of game is something I’ve always believed benefits the gaming community. The MOBA craze some years ago lead to a large number of innovations of the style. However, like most of these crazes, the cream usually rises to the top and the rest of the games wither away. Dota 2 and League of Legends stand miles above the handful that remain in both quality and player base. Yet that’s not the case for every new genre. Soulslike games, spawned from Dark Souls and Demon Souls, have a variety of extremely similar games thriving among fans of the series.
The real reason I’ve come to this topic though, is Valorant. I don’t believe anyone has taken even a short look at the gameplay and not drawn obvious connections to Counter-Strike. Several games have adopted Counter-Strike’s design over the many years it has been around to varying degrees of success. Few though have been quite as evocative as Valorant. It feels as if it was almost designed specifically to pull players over from the CS. The weapons are similar in design, position, functionality, and even spray patterns. If not for the stand-out addition of unique tech and magical abilities, the games would be nearly indistinguishable.
Is this a problem taken on its own? I don’t believe so. As a friend once told me, “Originality is overrated, and execution is absolutely everything.” This is certainly true, though I’d place an emphasis on having the huge financial backing required to have strong marketing. Many extremely well-executed games have fallen to the wayside without that to bolster their spread. This, of course, is something of which Riot Games has tons. The success of League of Legends has given them the financial power to make a lot of moves lately, especially in developing new games. It doesn’t matter if they’re original or not – they can finance marketing on a level greater than nearly anyone out there.
We have yet to see if Valorant has the staying power necessary to take on Counter-Strike. Somehow, coming from a mod in 2000, Counter-Strike has managed to consistently grow to the point that it is the top game on Steam at any given time. It’s more popular than ever, so it’s no surprise rich companies are trying to take a piece of those million-plus concurrent players. Those are numbers rarely seen these days outside Battle Royale games – which itself drove the latest trend of derivative and copy-cat games.
This isn’t to say that originality doesn’t succeed in the gaming industry. Indie games thrive on pushing the boundaries of what we expect where publishers wouldn’t want to risk the money. One of the other more popular games on Steam is Rocket League, a game that still stands alone with its strange car-based soccer game genre. Though I suppose you could say that it is just derivative of soccer – and you’d be right. However, it’s only derivative, in the video gaming world, of Psyonix’s previous mouthful-title Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.
The full spectrum of games from the outright clones to the completely original will each face their own challenges in finding success. Games may not have to be that unique to grow and be appreciated, but I still find value in that originality. I can sit back and enjoy remakes, remasters, and heavily inspired games without much thought of their similarity to other games. Familiarity means less time I have to spend figuring things out. Yet, there will always be something special when I come across a game that makes me feel the way I did when I first played Katamari Damacy. Sometimes unique games can give you an entirely new perspective on what you enjoy.
What games have you enjoyed that have felt unique and original? Do you find value or comfort in familiar game designs in new titles? Let us know in the comments!