The creators of the vastly popular PlayerUnknown’s Battle Grounds made gaming news headlines last week, taking legal action against a handful of games mimicking PUBG a little too closely.
One clone features a frying pan as a melee weapon, while another uses the term ‘Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner’ in their marketing. Both are under heavy scrutiny and may end up being yanked.
While PUBG Corporation/Bluehole have every right to protect their brand, some allegations push the boundaries somewhat. It’s almost as if they’re taking credit for creating the whole Battle Royale genre, despite a few examples – including DayZ and H1Z1 – existing before PUBG’s release.
Can you imagine if Nintendo claimed ownership of the side-scrolling 2D platform genre following the success of the original Super Mario Bros? The NES would have missed out on several key titles, most of which became long-running franchises.
Indeed, it’s impossible to stop rival developers from copying currently popular trends. Once a studio finds themselves with an unexpected hit, a dozen imitators will surely follow. This is how new genres are formed, inducing some friendly competition.
In fact, blatant plagiarism in the video game market can be traced back all the way to gaming’s inception, as we dare to delve into below.
Breakout – 1976
Clones of Atari’s Breakout were so rife that you may not even know it by its original name. Even the genre it belongs to has different monikers. In France, the genre is known as ‘casse-briques’ (brick breaker), while Japanese gamers refer to it as ‘block kuzushi’ (block destruction). Generally, though, Breakout clones are known as either ‘paddle’ or ‘bat and ball’ games.
Arkanoid was Taito’s rendition – released ten years after Atari’s original – and it became a huge arcade hit, gaining numerous sequels. The Game Boy also had its own brick breaker in the form of Alleyway. Although a popular release, being one of four GB launch games, it wasn’t rated highly by critics due to failing to add anything new to the genre.
The Watara Supervision (known as the QuickShot Supervision in the UK) even came packaged with a bat and ball game, known as Crystball. It wasn’t the best choice to bundle with the system, highlighting how blurry the screen became when handling fast moving objects.
Sticking with handhelds, SEGA had their own take too. Woody Pop for the Game Gear was a popular release during the system’s early days, so called due to the bat being a wooden log known as Woody. A tree spirit, no less. It was a darn sight more imaginative than dull old Alleyway.
Space Invaders – 1978
We don’t need to tell you that Space Invaders was a colossal hit. It was a pop culture phenomenon, leading Taito’s classic to become a household name. Even now, 40 years on, it’s still possible to purchase Space Invaders merchandise. T-shirts, keyrings, baseball caps, mugs and more are readily available in high street stores and supermarkets.
It has to be one of the most imitated games of all-time. Why didn’t Taito clamp down on clones? Quite simply, the copyright of the original game hadn’t been properly protected – only the name ‘Space Invaders’ had been trademarked. In short: it was a free market.
Pretty much every system ever released has a Space Invaders style game, with early examples including the Intellivision’s Space Armada – the first Intellivision game to animate more than eight sprites – and the Fairchild Channel F’s Alien Invasion.
We can’t forget Galaxian either, which was Namco’s attempt at creating a bonafide rival rather than a mere clone, boasting full-colour graphics, a scrolling starfield, and background music. In many ways, it set the standard for all arcade games that followed.
Pac-Man – 1980
The moment Atari felt somebody treading on their toes, they beckoned their lawyers. After the biggest name in gaming bagged the prestigious Pac-Man license from Namco, Atari’s rivals tread very carefully when it came to developing their own Pac-Man style maze games.
This pussyfooting resulted in K.C. Munchkin, published by Philips for the Magnavox Odyssey. The creators went great lengths to add several key differences to Pac-Man, so that should they end up in court they’d have a leg to stand on. Instead of four ghosts, there were just three. Mazes – which featured optional random generation – had just 12 pills (known as munchies) to collect, and K.C himself was blue rather than yellow. Sadly for Philips, these changes weren’t enough – Atari managed to convince the courts that Phillips had copied Pac-Man, and so K.C. Munchkin ended up being pulled from shelves. It had a good run, however, making it to store shelves a whole year before the notorious Atari 2600 rendition of Pac-Man.
Lock ‘n’ Chase – published by Data East in Japan and Taito in the US – managed to elude Atari’s grasp by taking the cops ‘n robbers route, adding the ability to erect walls. Other clones tasked players with filling a maze with indefinable pills and pellets, rather than emptying it.
Atari’s reach extended to the European microcomputer market, forcing Commodore to yank the Vic 20’s Jelly Monsters – one of the system’s most impressive looking games. Luckily for Sinclair, Hungry Horace for the ZX Spectrum got off scot-free.
For those unable to afford a microcomputer or console, Grandstand’s Munchman tabletop electronic game was the only way to bring the Pac-Man experience home. It wouldn’t be fair to call this a knockoff as it was, in fact, a rebranded officially licensed Pac-Man game from Tomy.
Later Pac-Man clones were far more creative and unique than those that preceded them, including Shigeru Miyamoto’s Devil World, an innovative maze game that was denied Nintendo of America’s approval due to religious imagery.