How communication problems can lead to game clones

How communication problems can lead to game clones
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

August 6th 2013 at 12:40PM

Lee Perry on why designers use shared experiences and existing games to convey their ideas

Problems in communicating game design ideas can result in existing ideas being adopted in new titles, says former Epic lead game designer Lee Perry.

In a blog post, the BitMonster founder discussed the issue of game cloning, and the real reasons behind why many games feature similar designs.

Perry said that reasons such as financial envy, riding market trends and capitalising on an existing fanbase could all be reasons, but didn’t really explain why many creatives would want to lean heavily on another person’s work for inspiration.

He explained that the most challenging part of designing a game was communication, rather than coming up with ideas, balancing a game and how the title makes you feel.

“In my opinion, without doubt, nothing comes close to the hellish task of trying to pull a vision from your head and propagate it out to a team of developers,” said Perry.

“I'm talking about communication. Idea transfer. Debate. Salesmanship. Mustering an army, unrolling your battle plans, and doing what we can to convince the generals that the plan makes sense. The longer you work with teams, the more you realise that's the bulk of what we do (assuming you're working with others).

“There are countless tools for this of course; detailed design documents, prototypes, art reference folders, animatics, presentations, PowerPoints, 4 hour design meetings, shells, Lego dioramas, whatever, you name it. ALL of these exist purely to overcome our inability to directly wire your brain to mine.”

Perry went on to say that as a result of the difficulties in communication, which only ramped up at larger studios with added layers of bureaucracy, developers often resorted to describing their vision through an analogy of existing games, such as “Call of Duty meets MechWarrior”, or “Faster Than Light with Vikings”.

He said that using such simple communication was preferable to a large 50-page document that no one would want to read explaining each exact design point.

“The closest thing we have to a human 'brain dump' is our shared experiences,” he said. 

“It's why I can say to you in an elevator "Call of Duty meets MechWarrior"... three fucking words... and you can picture TitanFall in pretty vivid detail."

He added: “From a developer's point of view, existing games are a fundamental communication tool. Games themselves are our language.”

Perry concluded by stating that developers should learn from ideas already out there and use them as a starting point to improve upon, and said comparing similarities of one game with another was rarely a negative association.

He said however that he did not approve of developers who deliberately copied a game.

"If you're someone blatantly *duplicating* a game, and selling it, I'm not defending that... it's scummy, no doubt."