Startups Shouldn’t Worry About Copycats

Paul Graham’s Being Copied argues that startups shouldn’t worry too much about cloned competition in the market so much as making something worth copying.

On the Indie Gamer Forums and the ASP newsgroups, it isn’t uncommon for people to worry about competitors creating copies of their works and selling them. I’m not talking about large-scale copyright infringement in which people illegally sell your product. I’m talking about the difference between games like Luxor and Zuma. Legally, nothing is wrong as they are two different games as far as copyrighted materials are concerned.

Of course, if you’re an indie coming up with something new, you don’t want to work for months or years, prototyping the whole time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, only to have your best-selling product mimicked within weeks by multiple competitors. There are people who chase after money by going after where it already went. It’s demoralizing to know that you can’t do much to prevent someone from copying the good parts of your game. Essentially you went through a lot of research and hard work to make a great product, but once you actually release it, competitors will see it and copy it with little to no effort.

For someone just starting, however, Graham claims that copycats are not your prime concern. Until you create a product that is worth copying, you don’t have anything to speak of. When you do have a product worth copying, you’ll be ahead of the game. Your competitors will not only have to realize that you have a good idea and that it is possibly lucrative, but they then have to build their own versions and market them. Think about it. If you have a Space Invaders, Tetris, or Pac-man clone, you’d have a hard time marketing it. For one, you have all of the other clones competing. For another, the original is going to be more famous and well-known. So what’s the difference between those names and your game? Are Bejeweled clones doing better than Bejeweled? I doubt it.

You’ll have time to make initial sales and build up mindshare. Even though it is relatively quick and easy for competitors to create software, worry about the copycats later. For now, you need to build up a business to merit the worry.

4 comments to Startups Shouldn’t Worry About Copycats

  • Boulder Panic predates Bejeweled by a year:

    http://www.midnightryder.com/invboard/index.php?showtopic=9 (2000 release date for Boulder Panic)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bejewelled (2001 release date for Bejewelled )

    I remember thinking Bejewelled was a Boulder Panic clone the first time I played it.

    There is plenty more to the success of a game (or anything) than being first.

  • Jeff, I agree that being first is no guarantee of success. Microsoft always demonstrates that being last to the party is not necessarily a death knoll for your product.

    That said, I think a lot of people worry too much about clones and rip-offs. For a lot of people, the thinking is, “What’s the point of making something new? Customers don’t buy innovation, no matter what they claim otherwise, and if it is something good, someone else will come along and rip me off anyway.”

    Is it tough to compete with clones of your product? Of course. But why let your imagination scare you with images of potential competitors? Why not use it to create new and better products?

  • I dont think its the copycatters fault. USC professor Tracy Fullerton said, “Fear of failure, and the fact that students are only being taught whats already know, drives the copycatting that is so prevalent in game development.”

    Even those who learn from books are learning what is already known. Educators and authors must help by teaching innovation rather than ones and zeros. Game education and game books are mostly 90% technical and 10% design, if that. Education in all its forms is at fault here, because niether game developers or game buyers know how to recognize INNOVATION. You know what? , niether do I.

  • I suppose my only other comment is that..

    If you’ve (Where you’ve is anyone) created a game worth copying, than that is a fantastic start of a company. Plan for marketing up front before the clones hit.