Saturday, June 12, 2010

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Pablo Picasso is famously attributed the quote "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal". Copying, or emulating, is when you try to be like someone else. Stealing is when you take it and make it your own.

In the MMO space, we have seen plenty of examples of MMOs copying World of Warcraft. And they fail. And everyone is left scratching their head and discussing what went wrong.

By contrast, Warcraft stole from Everquest (and other games). They took these ideas and internalized them. They didn't just copy the idea, they took ownership of it. Then improved upon it.

Consumers don't want copies
A copy is never as good as the original. When a company copies a work, they aren't thinking about the consumers. They are thinking about the product. It's all "look we have these too" because it's become a standard feature.

That type of thinking just doesn't leave room for thinking about improvement.

This is why I ultimately believe WoW has been so successful. Take Warhammer, for example, which introduced an innovative new MMO feature in the Tome of Knowledge. WoW took that same concept -- internalized it -- and created their Achievements system. They made it their own.

And having played both games, I can say that the Achievements systems for all it's shortcomings is widely more popular and used than the ToK.

You might disagree with Blizzard's vision, but let me assure you that this ability to take ideas and make them their own is the real reason they are so successful.

They steal ideas, they don't copy them.

My book
One day I'm going to write a fantasy trilogy. It might not ever be published, but I'm going to write it. :)

I think one of the reasons that I identify with this "stealing" concept is because of how I've approached creating the world and story for my trilogy.

I'm not going to discuss the specifics of my fantasy realm, but there are several core elements that were "inspired" by other fantasy works. Things I really enjoyed in other books I've read that I felt would have a great place in my world.

But I didn't just copy the idea. As I said, I was inspired by it. I took ownership of the idea and turned it into something that felt right for my world.

And it wasn't just one idea. But lots of them from lots of different inspirations. The result is something entirely different and I think only I would make the connection to what originally inspired my world.

This is how I believe an MMO developer needs to approach designing an MMO. They need to take lots of different ideas from lots of different games. Think about what they enjoyed about these games and then meld them into something cohesive that they own.

Something new. Something different. Something that those of us looking for that next cool MMO would want to play.

Not just innovation, but evolution as well.


Stabs said...

Well of course the biggest aspect of this is the WoW addon system.

It's basically getting volunteers to write code for their game, getting a pretty strong idea of how popular it is, then stealing it and reaping the benefits of a great UI development after all the uncertainty and bugs have been eliminated.

Pure genius. Wish I could find a few thousand fans to work for me for free. Then buy my work after I incorporate their work in it.

And because of the slightly dodgy but generally accepted copyright position laid out by their EULA they never don't own the IP rights at any stage of the process.

Carson 63000 said...

No disagreement with the basic thrust of your post, but I have to disagree with WoW's Achievement system being lifted from WAR's tome: I think it has a lot more in common with the achievement system of Xbox Live which preceded both WoW and WAR's implementations. Seems much more likely to me that both lifted the idea from Xbox, than that WoW lifted it from WAR.

Anonymous said...

You can't steal ideas, because ideas are worth nothing. It's about how well you execute. And Blizzard happens to be very good at that.

sid67 said...

@Nees: I've shifted away from this idea that it's Blizzard's "execution" that is superior.

Not because they don't execute well, but because other MMOs don't necessarily execute poorly and still fail.

So it can't JUST be execution.

Instead, I'm more inclined to think that what they do really well is embrace the ideas and make them their own.

So yes -- they execute well. But what makes what they have done superior is how they have taken good ideas and made them better.