How clone apps are making the world a worse place

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When Flappy Bird took the world by storm earlier this year, it perhaps understandably overwhelmed creator Dong Nguyen who hadn’t expected his little game to receive millions of downloads.

chupa

A few days after it made it big (many months after it first hit the app store), he pulled it from iOS and Android… a few days after that (approximately) ten billion clone games filled the void. Inevitably when something is successful, for every Flappy Bird, there’s also a “Floppy Bird”, “Flappy Penguin” and so on. This isn’t so surprising – but what is pretty horrifying is the industrial scale on which game cloning now takes place.

About a week ago Nguyen released his next game: Swing Copters. Whilst not exactly the most revolutionary title ever made, it has obviously attracted attention because of Nguyen’s new found fame… and this is where the vultures of swooped.

Enter a company called Chupa Mobile – which provides “templates” to make apps. Essentially, other companies that want to make a game like Flappy Bird can buy the code that does all of the tricky stuff – then customise the graphics how they like, and release it to the app store, ostensibly as a brand new app. Like colouring in a Paint By Numbers and trying to hang it next to the Mona Lisa.

Even before Swing Copters had been released, Chupa had already created and released a clone of the game – based on pre-release promotional material. Its version was called “Swinging Copters”, and for just $199 you can get the code to make your own-branded version too.

It looks very close to the original – so is an impressive rip-off. Presumably, as the company is offering the code this must be legal (copyright law is a complex mess anyway)… but doesn’t this feel wrong? For everyone who downloads Swinging Copters or one of its inevitable many clones, that’s less cash for Nguyen – the guy who actually came up with the game.

Swinging Copters isn’t the only game Chupa offers – there are tonnes of different templates available. including a Bejewelled/Candy Crush knock-off and also 2048.

In Chupa’s defence, the company isn’t alone in doing this and hell, it isn’t like Flappy Bird, Candy Crush or 2048 are particularly original games themselves all being derived from older titles, but isn’t it depressing that the app store can be so easily polluted by clone apps offering the same thing? Apple likes to claim that there’s over 1.2m apps available on the iOS store.. but how many are just a copy and paste with a colour change?

Similarly, there is the argument that there is nothing wrong with apps using code that has been pre-written by someone else. In fact, a major part of software development is collaboration and using the code of others. But these sorts of clones seem to take it to a whole new depressing level – and at risk of sounding melodramatic – with every download are making the world a slightly worse place.

James O’Malley