CrowdStar CEO: 'There's confusion about genres and copies' [Interview]

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Tower Town
The infamous Dream Heights is now available to all on the App Store, and while reviews are positive overall, a number of them draw comparisons between Zynga's game and NimbleBit's Tiny Tower. After the past month and a half's dramatic David and Goliath scenario, it's not surprising. But It Girl creator CrowdStar has its own tower-building game, Tower Town, and not once has NimbleBit contacted the developer, according to CEO Peter Relan. What gives?

CrowdStar CEO Peter Relan"It was a side-scrolling tower builder--completely different from Tiny Tower. You scroll to the side, you build many towers, you don't just go upwards," Relan tells us. "[NimbleBit] never, ever contacted us to say, 'Hey, Tower Town is a copycat.' Never, ever. We were in the genre and we were not a copycat. We feel that healthy innovation is going on when 1.) new genres are being created, and 2.) within the genres, different styles of games are being created."

While we're not sure whether CrowdStar's game is "completely different," Relan raises an interesting point. CrowdStar launched Tower Town in November 2011 through its StarFund, which backs small-time game developers. NimbleBit launched Tiny Tower in June 2011, long before CrowdStar's game. Perhaps Tower Town was just different enough from Tiny Tower to dodge the indie game developer's snark-filled letters.

"When we made Tower Town a side-scroller and we added mining to create room for new towers, that was a fundamentally new element that makes the game very different," Relan says. "The economy behaves differently and the way you expand your Tower Town, in this case, behaves differently. Once you go that path, then I think the design of the game requires some fundamental thinking and is pretty much a new game design. That's justified."

According to Relan, Tower Town is justified because of how it separates itself from other tower-building games, and thus adds to the overall genre of tower-builders. The CrowdStar CEO thinks that people are a bit cloudy on what constitutes as either a clone or an addition to a genre, and that Zynga, in part, is to blame for that. "It's inaccurate to say, 'Well, there are five other games like that.' That's a genre of games. There's a difference," Relan says. "I think their statement confused the issue."
Tiny Tower
"I think there's a confusion in the industry about genres and copies slash clones. When Zynga stated that there were five other tower games before Tiny Tower, they weren't five clones of Tiny Tower. Let's say there's a pets genre game--four or five pets games. All five pet games have some dogs, cats, rabbits, whatever. You're gonna have the tower-building game as a genre, which I think is a fascinating genre," Relan admits. "There's a genre now. CrowdStar created in the shopping category, then other people enter the genre also. So, genres do get created."

Dream HeightsWith that, Relan thinks that copycatting isn't as pervasive in the games industry as it seems, but rather new genres are being created. A games, nay, an entertainment world without genres would be boring, admittedly, but there is a line to be drawn. The CrowdStar chief does admit to the glaring similarities between Dream Heights and Tiny Tower. If that's the case, then where exactly do you draw the line?

"The choices are many in how you do the user interface. You have lots of creative freedom there," Relan tells us. "But if you choose not to exercise that creative freedom ... that's when you cross the line."

But copycatting, cloning, what have you is nothing new to the games industry. Hell, it's nothing new to the entertainment industry if not the majority of creative works for all time. The chatter over copycatting in the games scene will slowly become (for now), but what happens after the hot topic cools down?

"Fundamentally, people who come into this industry want to create games. [Designers,] by their very nature and their passion are interested in design, not copying," Relan says. "I see this as a particular approach, which has been called 'follower'. That culture and that approach is not the [prevailing] approach in the industry, in my experience, because most people in this industry want to do something different."

What do you think of Relan's take on the copycatting issue in mobile and social games? Have you tried Tower Town or Dream Heights yet? Share your thoughts in the comments. Add Comment.
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