Monument Valley | Skyward
Voodoo VP of Gaming Gabriel Rivaud explained his company's business model on the App Masters podcast in August 2017. Essentially, developers from around the world send in beta builds or gameplay videos and the folks at Voodoo decide whether they want to help bring that idea to market as a free title (with in-app purchases, ads and a paid ad-free version). It's a fairly quick process, Rivaud said.
"What we will look at is whether the game is well-executed -- if it's good quality, it's not buggy, if the person understands, thinks about the user experience," Rivaud said. "And whether it's innovative. Is it just a copy of a very famous game? Then we won't really consider it. We're looking for teams who are good technically and then who also can twist gameplay."
Rivaud is looking for Innovative ideas, a lot like Esposito's hole mechanic. Scratch that -- to Voodoo, it's Hole.io's mechanic, pitched to the publisher among dozens of other emails that day.
"I guess the part that feels the worst is that Voodoo might not even know that that game copied my game," Esposito said. "They don't have to know, because someone else did it and then pitched it to them. They probably thought it was a really cool, inventive idea, and then they made it. They might be surprised to hear there's another game that's like that." Voodoo didn't respond to Engadget's request for comment.
"Is it just a copy of a very famous game? Then we won't really consider it."
- Gabriel Rivaud
There are few options for cloned developers. Aside from putting the publisher on blast on social media and spreading the word about the original game, there isn't much to be done. Apple and Google are the gatekeepers, but legally they have little power to remove games that look or play like other titles. Game mechanics and ideas aren't protected under copyright law, though unique assets can be -- and this is actually a benefit to the industry. It means Nintendo can't copyright the idea of "jumping" and id Software can't prevent other developers from using "first-person shooting" as a core gameplay method.
"I don't think it's worth it for me to pursue it any more than just starting this conversation," Esposito said. "I'm making this game by myself. I do everything on it. It takes extremely large amounts of my energy to just get it done. Whatever I might potentially gain from seeking legal action, it's probably so costly to do, so it's not worth it for me."
The video game industry is like any other creative field, with developers taking ideas from other games and infusing them with their own perspectives, driving the medium forward and leading to ever-more-spectacular experiences.
Clones take this idea of sharing and evolution to an ugly place. Launching someone else's idea, free, sometimes before the original comes to market, is an uncomfortable way to conduct creative business.
Uncomfortable, but legal.
"I guess the weird, flip-side, positive thing about it is that there's a huge market for a single idea," Esposito said. "You can resell the same idea, there can be five versions of it and they can all make money, which is weirdly nice to hear. That's my silver lining of it. People have proven the hole-in-the-ground thing is cool. Maybe if they think my game is a sequel to that game, I'll take it. Whatever. That's fine."