What’s the line between stealing an idea and iterating on it in video game design? (16:26)
The whole fortnite-among us thing is interesting to me because (from what I can tell) the battle royale genre and the social deduction videogame genre (or among us-like) both evolved from community made games and coincidentally as a 12 year old I played early vesions of both those genres a lot.
The earlieast among us-like that I can think of is the 1987 social game/party game/experiment Mafia (which later turned into warewolf) created by Dimitry Davidoff, a psychology student at Moscow State University. That game got very popular among students and nerds through the 90’s but there wasn’t and official release, it was more like a makeshift game. Through the 2000’s it was played in online forums and even got some official board game releases.
I think a lot of people are aware of this game.
But what I think is the reason we have the videogame genre today is the release of a 2009 Mafia inspired board game called The Resistance, that game exploded among board game circles and it’s eventual 2012 iteration that got even more popular Avalon.
The Resistance and Avalon took the concept of Mafia/Warewolf and made it quicker and tighter and it got rid of the moderator role making it a more enjoyable experience imo.
My uncle introduced me, my brother and my cousins to Avalon in 2012 and it was a huge hit among us (no pun intended), we used to play it all the time when we got together and even to this day, 9 years later, we still play it at the request of some cousins, though it has already worn out for some of us.
At the same time I got into a weird game/thing called Garry’s Mod , think of the community game building aspect of Roblox but with Source Engine, there I encountered upon a game mode called Trouble In Terrorist Town, which was basically Warewolf/Mafia with guns in videogame form. Garry’s Mod has always had a horrible community but as a 12 year old with limited english skills I wasn’t aware of that.
The alpha for Trouble in Terrorist town was released as a Half-Life 2 mod in 2009 after some players where playing a makeshift version of it in another mod. It was later released in Garry’s Mod by the same person who did the half-life 2 mod. And it also was released and got popular in other games like Roblox.
As a side note, the game mode Prop Hunt has similar origins and was also later “stealed” and used in Call Of Duty and Fortnite. Here’s and article by Robert Yang on that topic.
The Resistance perhaps isn’t relevant in all of this but I think it may not be a coincidence that the year The Resistance was released and got popular was the same year Trouble In Terrorist Town was released. I think it played a part on revitalizing the genre but it may just be a coincidence.
A lot of other social deduction videogames came in between Trouble in Terrorist town and Among Us, like Deceit, Barotrauma, Town of Salem and even some oficial Warewolf releases but neither came close to the success of among us. I think a key part of what made among us rise above other games in the genre (appart from being super accessible because it was free and available for smartphones and becasue something called covid-19 and because you didn’t need to be good in an FPS) was that it gave the innocent players (the ones who aren’t the traitor) something to do. A lot of other games struggled because there wasn’t something players could do while trying to figure out who the traitor was.
As for the modern Battle Royale genre, (to me that means a game where a lot of empty handed players are dropped in a map full of scattered weapons and tools, and the map get’s smaller as time progresses) was born after The Hunger Games movie came out in 2012, and people started making “Hunger Games” maps and modes in Minecraft multiplayer servers.
This section in the wikipedia for Battle Royale gives context of the early battle royale mods and game modes.
Minecraft Hunger Games was huge among kids my age back then (mostly popularized by youtubers), granted it required the pc version of minecraft, (huge multiplayer minecraft servers weren’t available at that time for console versions) but it still was a very active community with it’s own vocabulary for different maps and stuff, I remember that there was a like an attitude in my 6th grade classroom that was like, “oh you are playing minecraft on your ipad just building houses?, that’s for babies, we play in huge online servers and we play the hunger games”.
Then there was that attitude with H1Z1, an arma 3 battle royale mod where the PlayerUnknown guy was a consultant. It was like: “Oh you are still playing Minecraft Hunger Games? That’s for babies, we are playing H1Z1”
I remember playing H1Z1 a lot, (I have like 90 hours registered on steam) until finally I won a match and I felt like had beaten the game so I stopped playing.
What I wanted to say with all of that is that, having experienced a lot of the iterations of both battle royale and among us-likes games, I agree that the main thing to define game design stealing is intention. Most of the games that I mentioned added something significant to the game idea they were riffing on or brought the experience to a different platform, but even if fortnite added the building mechanic which is very important to it’s gameplay, and even if fortnite adds something significant to it’s among us mode, I would still feel like it was stealing rather than expanding because of who’s doing the stealing. The fact that it is epic or activision doing it is what feels disgusting to me.
The weird thing is that if a company like Epic or Activision wanted to pay royalties to someone for something like prop hunt or battle royale, who would they give the money to?
Since these are game genres and ideas that have been constantly evolving with work from online communitites working on mods and stuff like that; there’s not a clear single person or group of people to credit. I mean for battle royale it maybe be PlayerUnknown (aka Brendan Greene) (but then what about the people that did The Hunger games in Mincecraft?), but as for social deduction games? Who would epic pay for that? Among Us? The original guy who did Trouble in Terrorist Town? Dimitry Davidoff? or just license The ressistance ip?
If they choose anyone, a lot of people would get mad, so it’s obvious that an answert does not exist.
And then there are cases like Garena Free Fire, where a decently sized company capitalized of the Battle Royale explosion in 2017, and made a mobile game that’s one of the biggest games in the world right now. There’s probably a lot of negative stuff about Garena, but at the same time I feel like something like Free Fire gives the chance to kids of lower income countries that could never afford a console, to play the same kind of game that everyone in the world is playing, since the game runs even on older/cheaper smartphones that they can borrow from their parents.
Because of that I genuinly have no idea how to feel about Garena Free Fire.
At first I was just gonna write something like “I played a lot of the games that among us and fortnite got their ideas from, and I agree that intention is kind of what matters”. But then I thought about giving context and it turned into all of this.
I think that all we can do is hope that a scumbag lawyer from a big company doesn’t figure out how to convince the U.S government to let them patent game design lol