When an idea is hot and making money, there are bound to be people who want to hop onboard the bandwagon. Everyone wants a guaranteed formula for success. This can mean a lot of games that feel alike, due to people taking the same exact concept and running with it. But sometimes, a little borrowing is not such a bad thing. There are plenty of situations where tactfully employing elements from other games can mean more fun for everyone involved.
Forza Horizon 4 is a good example. Ahead of launch, we learned from the developer, Playground Games, that the game will have Horizon Stories. This is a new feature that has narrative gameplay based around certain activities. In the case that is getting the most attention, there will be a Crazy Taxi sort of mode. Since a taxi service in that series could not function like a real one, it is going to take an approach where getting a little creative on the route could be required. In this way, it is a good kind of borrowing. The last Crazy Taxi game we had was a clicker-title called Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire, this particular kind of gameplay is uncommon, and it will act as a fun throwback.
Another good kind of borrowing appears in Grand Theft Auto: Online. Rockstar is always adding new modes and challenges. Some elements can feel like they borrow from other games, because they absolutely do. It has been borrowing from battle royale games in its own way for a while. There’s the Motor Wars Adversary Mode, where teams drop into a shrinking kill box filled with weaponized vehicles and weapons. The Trap Door Adversary Mode functions similarly, only with people who are eliminated getting a second chance to come back, if they can survive and not fall into an ocean. Again, it is building on existing games, like Fortnite, and using that within your own framework and with your own ideas.
Perhaps the best example is when games actually successfully integrate other games into themselves in a way that makes sense. The Yakuza series is renowned for this. Sega has virtual arcades inside this world, which are filled with titles like Virtua Fighter, OutRun, and Taiko Drum Master. It is not stealing, because Sega owns the properties. It is also not piggybacking, because it is an optional side activity for Kazuma Kiryu to enjoy when he is not beating up thugs. Just like Animal Crossing games that integrate classic NES titles or Puzzle League into them make sense, as Nintendo owns the properties and you are happening to get furniture pieces for your in-game home that just so happen to add a whole new style of play to the game.
The only problem comes when games attempt to make this other title their whole identity. The situation with Cliff Bleszinski’s recent games offer a good perspective. LawBreakers, despite having some unique elements, was trying to hard to be like Overwatch and Battleborn. Encroaching on that formula only hurt the game. Radical Heights, his Bosskey studio’s other game, was trying to attempt the same battle royale take as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, without having its own substantial base to build upon. If you are starting with a pale imitation and have nothing else going for you to define yourself, it is blatant theft and can’t work.
It all comes down to walking the fine line between homage and cashing in. Plenty of games manage to play tribute and incorporate ideas that keep a finger on gaming’s pulse. Forza Horizon 4, Grand Theft Auto Online, and Yakuza all do it. But when games completely steal the entire essence of a game, instead of adding a few asides in an existing item, then things go horribly awry.