Let's face it... People always had a tendency to copy others. Everyone did it at least once during their lives although some find it hard to admit. It somehow became a reflex. Remember when you were young and you tried to dress and act like the stars you saw on T.V.? And later, when you became a teenager and started to copy the guys you thought were cool and followed fashion trends no matter how ridiculous you thought they were. And this behavior is not only visible in people alone, but in the T.V. shows, movies, music, and of course, computer games.

One of the main reasons this happens is money. As you know, what is trendy, sells, and what sells is what all companies want. And game producers are no exception. Of course, there are many other reasons why games copy each other, and of course consequences, both of with I will try to discuss further on.

First of all, there are things in games that, although they seem to be the same everywhere, don't make them a cheap copy. Let's take the chat system as an example. It's basically a square in the left corner of the screen where all text appears, with a re-size button and filters for friends, guild, etc. You may also consider the movement system. There are generally two systems available: the WASD and point and click. Usually, there are no other options. And the list may continue with the inventory, skill trees, character page, even levels, and so on. Of course, these are basic game mechanics that are the same in any MMO, but in origin they were also copied from other games and refined with time, until they reached a state where little can be improved. It's like the driving wheel in a car – although it may seem different with different models it’s basically a spinning circle with little innovation possible.

Background story

"The forces of light/good/pink/dancing pandas collide with the forces of darkness/evil/black/ugly monkeys in an epic...". How many times did you hear this line as an introduction to an MMO? It's a subject so overused that when they see this, many experienced gamers simply give up the game. But why do we see this so often? Well, because since the dawn of time the fight between good and evil was a subject that fascinated mankind. God vs Devil, David vs Goliath, Hercules vs Hera... there are so many examples in history. Furthermore, making a basic story with this kind of dispute is quite easy, you just take an ugly guy, make him face a handsome one and that's it. No imagination needed, no complicated plots... simple and efficient, you now have your reason to kill another 1000 mobs to get 1% XP. The sad part is that this type of story still sells and probably always will. It survived thousands of years throughout history, I don’t think it will stop with the gaming industry.

Fantasy Setting

When I say fantasy the first thing most of you will probably think of is World of Warcraft and, of course, "WoW clone" (a collocation so used that some forums banned it). There is a general misconception nowadays that any fantasy game is somehow related to WoW and stole something from it. But you are wrong. WoW also copied another game in many aspects including the setting: Dark Age of Camelot. Which in turn, is inspired by the MUDs which are also inspired by the pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons, and the connections could go on endlessly. But it's no wonder that fantasy settings are so used. I don't think there is anyone out there who didn't dream to be a paladin in shinning armor slaying a dragon or a grand mage repelling hordes of demons. A fantasy setting encompasses all the dreams of might the child inside everyone has. This is the reason why despite the flood of fantasy MMOs people still play them.

Generic races and classes

Humans, elves, orcs, warriors, mages, hunters... From this aspect
it sometimes seems like we play the same game but with little variation. Obviously it would be somewhat awkward to play a fantasy game which lacks humans or at least a race that resembles them but a variation from the standard orc and elf races coming from the Scandinavian folklore would be welcome. Those two races were made famous mainly by Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and Dungeons & Dragons universe. They already had a background story, a cultural and behavior stereotype created so all developers had to do was introduce all this into their game. As for the classes, the mage along with his famous fireball together with the warrior and hunter are the typical characters in fantasy books and fairy tales, again with their own well established set of characteristics. If you take into account that these are also very popular, it quickly becomes a recipe for success, even though originality is sacrificed.

Reasons for copying

Well... put short, money. Most companies' policy is to create something that brings as much money as possible with the least effort and investment, preferably with little or no risk at all. This is why each time a box-office success or a best-seller comes out, it is soon followed by games and other production usually having a doubtful quality. Not that it would matter. This kind of games are only created to suck money from fans. Also, money is the reason why successful games are copied too. As I said before, nowadays, fantasy games are on top so it's obvious why so many came out. There were Ultima Online, Everquest, Lineage, Dark Age of Camelot. Then came World of Warcraft, which took everything good that these former games had and created something that from an economical point of view was flawless. Other games then started following this strategy, each with at least some success such as Runes of Magic, Perfect World or Shaiya.

Taking chances, many times, is not in game developers' best interest. There are many examples of original MMOs that failed either because they were too revolutionary for their time, or the new implementations in its mechanics hadn't been tested enough. One such game is Auto Assault. The idea behind the game was brilliant. Just like the title says, the main focus was on armored vehicles in a post-apocalyptic world with classic characters only being used inside cities. The most interesting feature was the deformable terrain, the first of its kind to ever be implemented into an online game. Unfortunately, due to the low number of subscribers, it was decided for the game to be shut down. Tabula Rasa is yet another great game with immense potential that just couldn't do it. It was placed in a futuristic world with a FPS-RPG style of play. Again, the game didn't attract enough subscribers to keep it alive.

Still hope...

Revolution is what makes the world evolve. Following the safe path may be enough for some, but to truly make something epic you need to improvise, to be original, to free yourself from standards. Although many have failed to survive by going a different way, there is still hope. There are still many good games that are like no other.

First of all, there is the revolutionary EVE Online, with its global server, real time skill training system and really massive universe. There is also Fallen Earth, a game which finally seems to have found the perfect formula for the post-apocalyptic MMO. And the list may continue with games like Guild Wars, Second Life, Atlantica and so on.

There will always be a war between economists that want to choose the safe way to make money from games by copying and using well known brands, and talented designers that make originality a way of life. Nevertheless, the gamers are the ones who chose what they want to play. There will always be those who prefer a game placed in the world created by their favorite book or movie but I believe that originality is the way to go in the MMO world as there are more and more good games coming out, and ways to stand out of the crowd will be increasingly difficult to find. But in the end, gamers will be the ones to decide which one prevails: copies or originals.

Written by Sicaru Adrian for MMORPG Gate