That old familiar feeling: Same Games, Different Titles

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As some of you know, I write a game-review website called The Game Aisle and it started as a way to force myself to keep up with what’s new and cool in the mass-market and mass-appeal specialty-market game industry, but I never thought it would be as much of an education as it’s turned out to be.  One
of the things I find most interesting and perplexing at the same time is the number of games that are virtually the same.  Okay, they may have different stuff in the box and different names, but they use very similar mechanics.  Some times these games have a “familiar feel” because they are reminiscent of games from the past, but recently I’ve come across quite a few games that are being released at just about the same time that are essentially identical twins on Halloween.  They have different names and they have distinct looks, but what’s under the theme and artwork is almost exactly the same. 

Is this purely a coincidence?  Are game manufacturers all hoping on the same trend-wagons?  Or do we recycle game play mechanics over and over so much that it’s finally becoming obvious? 

Now, don’t get me wrong, some of these games are great!  There are ones that have improved on past games to make them relevant and appealing to today’s consumer.  Two games that are cute renditions of the 1967 classic Feeley Meeley are Fundex’s 2003 Monster Under My Bed and Educational Insights’ 2010 game Laundry Jumble.  Both games replaced the cardboard box in Feeley Meeley and put in something far more visually interesting (a bed and a dryer) and they added their own twists to the gameplay, but essentially players are rewarded for feeling around and retrieving the correct item.  Luckily, these two games were released years apart and were targeted at different age groups, but what about when homologous games are marketed at the same time to the same consumer?  

 

In the past few months I’ve come across a couple pairs of games that very similar once you scrape away the name and graphics.  Without mentioning any names, there are two “quick-listing” games and two “draw with stuff” games on the market now that serve as great examples of this phenomenon.  It makes the prophecy in Harry Potter, “For neither can live while the other survives” take on a whole new meaning, because I don’t believe a game can reach their full potential while an almost-doppelganger is lurking in the game aisle – except of course if the game is one of the heavyweights like Scrabble or Monopoly, there isn’t much that’s going to make a dent in those.  But, I’m sure none of the manufacturers in my little test group are thrilled to be in this position, but it will be interesting to see if one, both or neither of the games in each pair can make it.  

 

5 thoughts

  1. Interesting post! You can see the same tendency in other fields as well. Suddenly there are several movies about big rocks speeding towards earth…
    Seeing this from a developers view i assume that it is of course easy to use mechanics that seem to be working, and not take chances trying new stuff.This is of course bad as fewer new innovative ideas will come out.
    But we also have to understand that the buying public is rather conservative. They seem to prefer the well known, even if it is a “copy”, to what they do not not recognize or understand right away. And stores are often even more conservative. So I have a feeling that the problem not only lies with the manufacturers.
    Being publishers ourselves (Mindtwister out of Sweden) we try hard to be innovative and take the road less travelled. But we learn again and again (not seldom the hard way) that we need to become more mainstream to get our games sold. We’ll not stop trying(!), but I have a feeling the problem lies not only with the manufacturers.

  2. As a game and toy reviewer I must admit to suffering from plageristic fatigue. Policing it is virtually impossible. What I can do is celebrate the truly unique, out of the box game developers who bring fresh ideas and exciting twists to their games. It is these innovative gaming efforts that make what I do a blast.

  3. I think short memories and human nature are part of what’s in play here. Who ever heard of Balsamic Vinaigrette before too many years ago? Now it’s everywhere to the point where you can’t order Thousand Island even if you wanted to. Something wiggles its way into the collective consciousness, and then it churns around until something else steals our attention. You see this in movies, TV shows, fashion, housewares, and on and on… but I think it’s all part of the evolutionary process. Revolution is something we aspire to, but in reality, it’s pretty rare.

  4. Good stuff, and I hope those words are taken to heart by many!
    I think the other thing worth mentioning here is that truly successful games tend to be very unique. Unique doesn’t guarantee you success, but it does help to solidify your brand when players refer to it as “the game where you do…” as opposed to “it plays a lot like the game XYZ, except…”.
    Your post is also very true of the video game world, where many games are simply lumped into buckets (platformer, shooter, RPG, etc) because the interfaces for interacting with the game are limited (and I think development cost acts as a deterrent to the risks associated with ingenuity).

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