Originality is often a key factor in the success of media. However, each passing day that becomes more difficult since there are only so many colors to paint with or notes to sing. Critics may cry foul over copycats if a creator doesn’t properly strike a balance between the familiar and the avant-garde, but I see this as a good thing.
If you know anyone in their 20s or younger, chances are you’ve heard of a game called “Fortnite.” Six years after it was first revealed, one of Epic Games’ first departures from the “Gears of War” series released last July. The core concept has four players work together to construct fortifications to defend themselves against hordes of zombies.
Then two months later a new standalone mode called “Fortnite Battle Royale” came on the scene. Rather than a cooperative mode, this new experience was a free-for-all that throws 100 players in a constantly shrinking region fighting to be the last survivor.
Why pivot the game’s style so quickly after launch? Because “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds,” released that March and it was the game everyone was talking about. Naturally, competitors wanted to emulate the formula.
“PUBG,” as it’s commonly called, is itself an expansion of the developer’s fan-made modifications present in other games like “DayZ” and “H1Z1.” The name of the game style, battle royale, is a direct reference to the 2000 Japanese film “Battle Royale” where the government forces middle school children fight to the death.
What does that sound like? Suzanne Collins’ popular “Hunger Games” trilogy. I personally never saw it as a blatant rip-off like others did. Collins’ work went beyond the arena and explored more dystopian themes. It is easy to unfairly compare pieces of culture anytime they’re diluted to the point where all nuances are stripped away.
Video game critics mocked Epic Games for the apparent cash grab, though. Nevertheless, “Fortnite” has eclipsed its predecessors in sales and users, signifying that the game type is soon to be a norm.
Now there’s “Radical Heights,” a quickly made game released by Boss Key Productions after former Epic Games designer Cliff Bleszinski wasn’t satisfied with the performance of their other game. It was recently announced that the “Call of Duty” franchise will jump on the bandwagon instead of a having the usual single-player campaign.
Multiple military shooters can coexist and so can battle royale games. Subtle differences, like pacing, weapons available and polish, make each version appeal to one person or another. This has happened earlier in other video game genres. The popularity of multiplayer online battle arenas, or MOBAS, gave us “League of Legends,” “DOTA 2” and “Heroes of the Storm.” Going back further in the annals of video game history, every first-person shooter was called a “Doom” clone at first because the game was so influential.
I may hate labeling media by genre, yet I don’t entirely dislike the concept of genres. Copying someone’s hard work beat for beat shouldn’t be celebrated, but there’s nothing wrong with tweaking the essence and helping spearhead a new game mode or genre. Stylistic constraints can improve what’s available and are not a hallmark of creative stagnation.
These types of trends of course don’t occur just in media.
Go into almost any brewery and you’ll see New England Style India Pale Ale. A few years ago sour beers were all the rage and before that everyone wanted to see how far they could crank up the International Bitterness Units for their IPAs.
IBUs, however, don’t translate one-to-one. A coffee porter may have higher IBUs than an IPA but the bitter flavor of coffee isn’t the same as the taste of resiny pine needles. “Hoppy” doesn’t mean anything if the hop varietals are unknown.
I’m still not very keen on extremely bitter IPAs but four years ago I learned to not judge a beer before sipping based on style alone. When I tried one brewed with Amarillo hops I learned that they could have a citrus tang instead of tasting like grass.
Since that discovery, I’ve asked about the ingredients and flavor profile of every IPA I saw on a menu before writing it off. NEIPAs, however, take the guesswork out because according to the style they should be hazy, juicy and delicious due to the common usage of Mosaic or Galaxy hops. I don’t have hunt for obscure bars or rare cellars to find refreshing notes of mango, pineapple, and other tropical flavors.
You can choose to see it as selling out, or you can choose to see it as a bonus for choosy consumers. Take a look at gluten-free food. While the alternative diet is necessary for those with celiac disease, it irrationally became a new version of a low-carb lifestyle. The upside is that people who truly need the food now can freely browse whole aisles instead of a single shelf.
It’s easy to be cynical of the bandwagon, but I rather revel in increased accessibility.