A search query for “Zynga + cloning” yields an ugly set of results. While I feel sorry for Nimblebit, Buffalo Studios and all the other small developers who get trampled by this kind of thing, I’m baffled that anyone was actually surprised by it. This was always going to happen.
Historically, the games industry has not exactly been stellar at commercial strategy:
Exhibit A: pretty much the entire console industry missed the social gaming wave.
Exhibit B: the sheer number of console game studios which closed over the last five years in the UK and US, while trying to follow the publisher-developer model as it imploded.
Unfortunately, we’re seeing the same commercial myopia again today amongst mobile and social game developers.
There’s a somewhat old-school concept known as ‘defensibility’. Have you got a fighting chance against any competition who comes after you? In an insanely crowded market, with obscenely well-funded competitors all chasing the same audience, what defence have you really got? People who are getting into the mobile/social games market need to take a long hard look at that question.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the practice of cloning. But games startups need to accept the reality that the game has changed. If you want to survive, you must have some kind of defensible aspect to your business. You need to be doing something which is hard to replicate. The chart below is how I think about this aspect of the games industry right now-maybe it’s useful for you as well.