This is a weird question, but it’s one I’ve found myself dwelling on for the longest time now: is Epic Games a cheater?
This is going to be one of those really rambly rants, by the way, so if it ends with me concluding that Ubisoft is probably at least partially responsible for the anti-vaxx movement try not to be too surprised.
But anyway. Epic Games. Cheating. The subject really popped into my head when the news broke last week that dataminers had found evidence of a “second chance” van in Fortnite, which would clearly be aping the Apex Legends system of allowing you to re-spawn your team members if you grab their “banner” and take them to an approved respawn station, which takes several seconds and leaves all parties terribly vulnerable for the duration. This, combined with integrating the smart ping system that Respawn developed, shows that Fortnite is really shameless when it comes to just stealing good ideas from Apex Legends.
And part of me was feeling a little indignant about that, because I guess at this point I would be an Apex Legends fan (I’ve been playing it on the PS4, usually a few rounds a day) and I had his nagging worry that if Fortnite just took all the best ideas then no one would have a reason to play Apex Legends anymore, and since I’m just sort of sick of the Fortnite domination I was happy to have some healthy competition.
But then I was like: that’s sort of Fortnite’s whole thing, y’know? That’s exactly what they did to PUBG, stealing their idea, doing it way better, than stealing all their users. And while I don’t think the effect will be quite as dramatic as it was for PUBG (after all, it was bogged down with performance and server issues that Apex Legends doesn’t have, and Apex Legends still has the unique distinction of having Hero shooter qualities) I sort of realized that, hey, I don’t think Fortnite has a single unique idea in its whole DNA. The building aspect is sorta ripped off from any number of survival games, the cartoony cell-shaded Pixar style is basically Team Fortress 2 with weird costumes instead of fun hats, the Battle Pass was just straight lifted from DOTA 2, and lord knows with all the lawsuits sent their way they haven’t invented a single unique dance…
And I’m not saying that’s a terrible crime or anything. Games steal ideas all the time, and if one game steals an idea and does it better than it deserves success. It’s just that Fortnite has done a lot of stealing. Enough stealing for me to be like “hey man – chill out for a sec here”. It’s definitely not bad enough that they should be sued for it or anything (looking at you Bluehole) but it’s noticeable. And a little worrying that one of the biggest games in the whole damn world is just shamelessly cannibalizing smaller games to make itself an even bigger behemoth.
Granted, it's using at least some of that money for a really good cause. So we can feel at least kind of good about that.
But then I had a thought not long after I started this article, which sort of ultimately convinced me to write the ideas out: Epic Games is doing the same thing to Valve, kind of. I mean they’re definitely not the first company to make a digital marketplace for games after Steam, others have tried with varying levels of success. But the Epic Games store’s whole thing is that it undercuts Valve by offering developers a bigger cut (an objectively good move, I should add) and in the process it has literally stolen games from the Steam storefront: The Division 2 probably, Metro: Exodus definitely, and any number of small indie titles from creatives all around the world.
It’s like Epic Games is the rogue of the games industry. Always stealing, stealing, stealing, and becoming the richest party member in the process.
So, I was like, “is this a systemic thing for Epic Games? Do they have a history of pulling this sort of stuff?” So I did a little research literally in the middle of writing the first draft of this article, trying to find evidence of more, like, “theft”.
And I mean… kind of?
First game people know Epic Games for (at least, among gaming historians and old-timers) is Unreal Tournament, which was basically Quake but slightly better. Then we’ve got the Gears of War series, and while it sure as hell didn’t invent the cover-based shooter it did popularize it and innovate the formula enough for me to give it a pass. So fine: their biggest new IP pre-Fortnite was new enough. They’ve got that going for them.
But yeah, Shadow Complex is sci-fi Castlevania, Bulletstorm is Painkiller but sci-ci and worse, and Fortnite itself was a mix of zombie-survival game, tower defense, and of course, it would later go on to steal from PUBG and make itself a battle royale game, and make Epic Games about a billion trillion dollars.
Oh, and Paragon was Smite but worse. I kind of forgot it was a thing until now.
To be fair you could pull that with any studio to make the same point – like, technically there’s a lot of overlap between the original Legend of Zelda and friggen’ Hotline Miami – but you see what I mean, right? Epic Games has only a handful of new ideas and everything else is just sort of air-lifted from other more successful games.
And I guess what I want to ask at this exact moment is, like, how much is acceptable?
I guess I already answered that, games steal from each other all the time and it’s how the industry works, but let’s go back to the specific example of Fortnite, Apex Legends, and PUBG for a second here, because all those examples I listed before, that was before the advent of “live services” and the idea you’re supposed to pay 60 dollars as like an entrance fee for a digital wonderland that also has other avenues to help you relieve your wallet of cash.
Because games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, PUBG: they exist to be played a lot. There’s no story to start and finish, you play them because you intend to pick them up again the next day and the day after that, at least as long as you can stay interested in the gameplay. When Fortnite saw how well PUBG was doing and thought “we can do better”, that seemed like a fairly reasonable thing to do. It was a small struggling game who took a bet on a new mode and needless to say things turned around. That seems fine because in the process of updating their game they also made a better game than PUBG. Because, you know, servers and stuff.
That just feels a bit different from the biggest video game right now – and possibly of all time – seeing a game do something that fans really like and say “yeah we’ll do that too” and just stealing it wholesale. It feels like a monopolization of ideas, because you just know a whole bunch of kids are going to see that and think “ah gee Apex Legends sure ripped off Fortnite”. And suddenly I kind of “get” the dance lawsuits that I had formally laughed at as superfluous. It kind of sucks when an idea you’re proud of is stolen by someone enormous and they don’t give credit for it.
But anyway. Live services. If we’ve got every live service (no matter what the genre) ripping each other off and stealing ideas, that kind of homogenizes the whole gaming industry in a way. And I just realized that’s already happened with loot boxes but it would be great if it wouldn’t spread like some of kind of plague. Every live service needs loot boxes, and battle royales, and respawn points, and ping systems, and maybe even power armor and random loot drops so in the end the only triple-A games ever being made are character-shooter battle royales with power armor and flying around and boring bosses and loot boxes and poorly-delivered stories that would bring shame to a proud legacy of narrative in fiction and Bioware what the hell are you doing?!
I know this wasn’t about Bioware but they did the exact same thing in Anthem, stealing a countless number of ideas and now look at where it’s gotten them! I really should have brought them up sooner!
Okay, look, I’ve gotten off-track. All I meant to say is that by making their games as apolitical as possible and allowing people to “draw their own conclusions”, Ubisoft has done more than just a disservice to their stories and plots. You see, they have categorically refused – on many occasions – to show their characters getting vaccinated. And since Ubisoft has yet to have a character on any band of the autism spectrum, and they’re encouraging people to draw their own conclusions, it’s not too large a leap to assume that Far Cry: New Dawn is literally telling people not to get their children vaccinated.
I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.