原作者：Jessica Conditt 译者：Willow Wu
Voodoo是一家法国发行公司，2013年由Alexandre Yazdi和Laurent Ritter创立，核心目标就是让智能手机用户玩到更多的iOS/安卓游戏。那时是App Store的繁荣期，有些优秀的开发者收获了不错的销售成果。Ridiculous Fishing、Device 6、Year Walk、The Room Two、Impossible Road和Badland这些都是2013年发行的游戏。从这以后，Voodoo就开始利用活跃的移动市场赚取丰厚利润，先后发行了Snake Vs Block, Paper.io, Flappy Dunk和Rolly Vortex。
Ben Esposito是一位来自洛杉矶的游戏开发者，独立游戏《未完成的天鹅》（The Unfinished Swan）以及《伊迪·芬奇的秘密》（What Remains of Edith Finch）让他名声大噪。他近期的项目是Donut County，玩家在游戏中控制地上的洞，吞噬的东西越多，洞就越大。
Esposito早在2012年就有了这个“地上洞”的想法，并开始了游戏机制的设计，然后Donut County就逐渐演化成了一个剧情主导游戏，用一种干净的色粉画风格来展现洛杉矶的靓丽风景。经过六年的开发，Donut County预计在今年登陆iOS、PC以及Mac平台，因此Esposito最近开始在营销方面下功夫。但是Donut County应该会是一个付费游戏而不是F2P。
与此同时，Hole.io这个免费游戏在六月就上架了App Store、 Google Play和PC。Hole.io成为了App Store最受欢迎的街机游戏，Google Play平台的下载量也已经超过了100万次。
Esposito亲眼见过克隆游戏所带来的灾难。在看似阴险的App Store发行世界中，Voodoo并不是唯一的剽窃者，比如Gamenauts和Ketchapp这样的公司也是。Gamenauts是Ninja Fishing的开发公司，这个游戏因为抄袭了获得2013年度苹果设计奖的Ridiculous Fishing而臭名昭著。2010年，Vlambeer发行了Flash版本的Ridiculous Fishing，并计划将其推向移动平台。在2011年，Gamenauts推出了一款名为Ninja Fishing的iOS游戏，游戏中的多个元素都和Ridiculous Fishing很像，当时的Vlambeer决定暂停该游戏的制作。（今年6月Voodoo也发行了免费克隆版本的Ridiculous Fishing）
“对Vlambeer来说，市面上开始出现Ridiculous Fishing山寨游戏是一件非常严重的事，”Esposito说。“Ridiculous Fishing还没有发行。Vlambeer团队的创意显然是非常有意思、具有独创性的，游戏的制作水准也很好。他们真的在呕心沥血做出一个最佳版本的Ridiculous Fishing。然后山寨游戏狠狠地打了他们一耳光——游戏内容是无所谓的，重点是那个玩法，其它不值钱。”
Ketchapp在2014年发行了热门游戏2048，其实它就是山寨了Asher Vollmer创造的Threes，发行时定价2美元。除此之外还有Skyward和Run Bird Run，前者跟《纪念碑谷》非常相似，后者应该是抄袭了Flappy Bird的创意。Ketchapp的收购方是《刺客信条》的发行商育碧。
Voodoo游戏部门副总裁Gabriel Rivaud在2017年8月的App Masters播客节目上解释了公司的商业模式。 来自世界各地的开发者们把beta版的游戏或玩法视频寄给Voodoo，由他们决定是否要帮助这些开发人员把创意做成一个免费游戏(包含IAP、广告和付费的无广告版本)投入市场。Rivaud表示这个过程很快。
The word “casual” has long been flung out as an insult on video-game forums and social media. It’s deployed to belittle the interests of people who enjoy more relaxing experiences than gritty shooters, strategy-rich online games or time-sucking RPGs. Unsurprisingly, it’s most often hurled at anyone who says they like mobile games.
For Voodoo, “casual” isn’t an insult. It’s a cash cow.
Voodoo is a French publishing company founded by Alexandre Yazdi and Laurent Ritter in 2013 with a focus on bringing iOS and Android titles to as many smartphones as possible. This was a time when the App Store was booming, and a few high-profile developers were raking in the dough. Ridiculous Fishing, Device 6, Year Walk, The Room Two, Impossible Road and Badland all came out in 2013, for starters, and Voodoo has been capitalizing on the energized mobile market since with its own titles, including Snake Vs Block, Paper.io, Flappy Dunk and Rolly Vortex.
Voodoo proudly describes itself as a company that “develops and publishes highly casual mobile games” — not just casual, but highly so. Today, Voodoo is a ubiquitous name in mobile gaming; it’s the No. 1 publisher on the App Store in terms of downloads with more than 150 million monthly active users. Voodoo games generated 300 million downloads in 2017, and that figure is on track to hit 1 billion this year. In May, Goldman Sachs invested $200 million in the publisher.
Financially, Voodoo is crushing it. But in the eyes of many independent developers and their fans, Voodoo is a shady beast constantly hunting for scraps of game ideas that it can quickly transform into profit.
Take one of Voodoo’s latest titles for example: Hole.io. Players control holes in the ground that grow bigger as they consume objects on a city street. It’s a simple, clever idea, but it didn’t come from Voodoo.
Ben Esposito is a Los Angeles game developer who’s made a name for himself working on indie hits The Unfinished Swan and What Remains of Edith Finch. His latest project is Donut County, a game in which players control a hole in the ground that grows bigger as it eats the surrounding environment.
Esposito had this “hole in the ground” idea and began working with the mechanic in 2012, and since then Donut County has evolved into a story-driven game celebrating the sights of Los Angeles in a clean, pastel-art style. After six years of development, Esposito has recently been ramping up his marketing efforts — Donut County is due to hit iOS, PC and Mac this year, and it’ll be a reasonably priced premium title, meaning it won’t be free-to-play.
Meanwhile, Hole.io is free, and it hit the App Store, Google Play and desktops in June. It’s the No. 1 game on the App Store in the Arcade category, and it’s been downloaded more than 1 million times on Google Play.
“There’s clearly a market, and Voodoo has found it,” Esposito said. “They’re starting to dominate it, and that’s why people are investing in them. I think it’s a different market than the type of stuff I’m making and my friends are making. Because we’re making these very specific, interesting, weird, not-cheap games.”
Hole.io’s existence was a shock to Esposito. The mobile-gaming market was in its infancy when he began working with the hole mechanic in 2012, and indie developers were waking up to the possibility of making real money on the App Store; the mobile market was just beginning to flood. Today, the stores are oversaturated: Android users have 3.8 million apps to choose from, and Apple fans have 2 million, according to Statista.
As Esposito explained it, he felt as if he were living in a Donut County bubble since 2012. He was heads-down, evolving its theme and refining its mechanics, and wondering the entire time whether people would actually enjoy playing an entire game as a hungry hole. It was an innovative idea, and the market hadn’t yet been proved. Everybody might hate it, his subconscious whispered as he worked over six years, but they might also love it, so keep going.
And then, on June 25th, 2018, he woke up to Hole.io. He left a note on Twitter explaining the situation — Donut County was finally on track to go live this year, but its core mechanic had been cloned and made free on the same mobile store he was targeting.
“I didn’t realize how emotional making a video game would be,” Esposito said. “I think luckily I’m at a point now where all the major decisions were made; I’m just kind of going through the motions to fix the bugs and make everything work. The emotional aspect of it doesn’t matter as much at this point. But had this happened a year ago, I would have been pretty devastated.”
Esposito has seen the havoc of cloning first-hand. Voodoo isn’t alone in the world of seemingly shady App Store publishing; it shares the market with companies like Gamenauts and Ketchapp. Gamenauts is the company behind Ninja Fishing, a title that notoriously knocked off Apple Design Award winner Ridiculous Fishing a solid two years before the game’s release in 2013, devastating its two-man development team, Vlambeer. (Last month Voodoo launched its own free clone of Ridiculous Fishing).
“That was a much bigger deal for them when they first got cloned,” Esposito said. “It was before it was released. They obviously had a really interesting, really special idea and a really good execution of it. They were working extremely hard to make the best version of it. Then they got slapped with this. They got the same message I did, which is that the content doesn’t matter.”
Ketchapp made a name for itself in 2014 with the release of 2048, a free game that ripped off Asher Vollmer’s Threes, which cost $2 at launch. Ketchapp is also behind Skyward, a game that looks suspiciously like Monument Valley, and Run Bird Run, which riffs on the Flappy Bird idea. Ketchapp is owned by Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft.
Voodoo and Ketchapp are two of the biggest publishers on the App Store, and if Voodoo’s $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs is any indication, there’s a high cap on their potential for revenue. These companies don’t just publish clones, of course — Ketchapp has a library of more than 100 titles alone, while they’re both seeking out more developers every day.
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.
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.（source：engadget ）