Everything Is a Remix

Everything Is a Remix

Everything is a remix. According to the series by Kirby Ferguson, creation requires influence. Everything that is made is a remix of pre-existing creations. Whether fair or not, covers and knockoffs are two forms of a legal remix. The process of creativity is straightforward: copy, transform, combine.

Game studios use remixes as a way to build the next hit title. The best studios are able to leverage their existing player base to test what remixes will work.

The Remix

Recently, we’ve seen two remixes in gaming that have generated a fair amount of controversy online. First, Fortnite announced a limited-time mode, Fortnite Impostors, modeled closely (or exactly, depending on who you ask) after Among Us. We’ve also seen the console release (and the explosion of PC players) of Splitgate, a game described as “Halo meets Portal.” Both instances are fairly direct copies of existing titles. Fortnite Impostors follows the same social deduction game mode as Among Us but takes place inside of the Fortnite universe, notably in 3D. Splitgate feels exactly like Halo. Some maps feel oddly familiar (Stadium seems to match Midship from Halo 2), and many of the game modes and weapons are borrowed from Halo. Splitgate feels so similar to Halo that I was surprised that the game was able to be released as it was, without challenge from 343 Industries or Microsoft.

Remixes in gaming are common. Many of the most popular games today are remixes of existing titles. In August 2018, as Fortnite was reaching peak popularity, I wrote about the rise of new games types:

Every so often, new games types rise in popularity and create a new category. In some cases, these new categories are modifications of existing game types. The multiplayer online battle arena game type started as a modification of StarCraft, one of the most popular real-time strategy games. Today’s battle royale craze started as a modification of online survival games like Minecraft and ARMA 2… In both of these instances, the communities created game types they wanted, and as the popularity of the game rose, major publishers took noticed and legitimized the game type by further developing it. This formula may be the key to finding the next Fortnite.

League of Legends was not the first MOBA, Fortnite and Apex Legends were not the first battle royale titles, and NBA 2K was not the first basketball simulation game. Truly unique ideas in gaming (as well as broader media) are rare. Among Us is even a remix, inspired by the social game Mafia (or Werewolf according to Wikipedia).

That said, simply copying a game isn’t a lasting strategy. Titles need something unique that keeps bringing players back. We’ve described this before as the unique hook of a game:

Games with staying power typically have a unique hook, something new that they’ve introduced to players that helps them stand out from the field and defines a key part of the gaming experience. This might be a completely new game format or a mechanic in a game that hasn’t been seen before. While many point to battle royale as the driving force behind Fortnite’s success, we’d argue that its building system is really the unique hook. This makes the game feel distinctly different than other battle royale games, and it also enhances the watchability factor.

Fortnite Impostors appears to be lacking a unique hook. To use Kirby’s language, it simply feels like a cover of Among Us. While many of Fortnite’s players are likely to try out the Impostors game mode, it is highly unlikely that a substantial portion of Among Us’ player base goes away. I’d argue that Fortnite exposing its players to a social deduction game mode is likely to help Among Us more than hurt it. Players who enjoy the game mode are likely to turn to Among Us after the LTM ends if they want to continue the experience.

Epic Games

While it’s not surprising that Epic wants to bring new game modes into the Fortnite universe, it’s notable that the company has taken two different approaches with Fall Guys and Among Us. These two titles, along with Fortnite, are highly social, aesthetically pleasing, tend to cater towards a younger player base, and have an emphasis on repeat playability (they’re not story-driven single-player experiences, rather, each game is predictable but slightly different each time, and it’s incredibly easy to start again). They likely have an overlapping player base.

With Fall Guys, Epic chose to acquire Mediatonic, the studio behind the popular title. Similar to Epic’s acquisition of Psyonix (the developer of Rocket League), the core gameplay of Fall Guys didn’t change, but Mediatonic received access to new tools and resources from Epic Games.

As Epic Games continues to build out its publishing arm and diversify its IP outside of Fortnite, Among Us feels like a natural fit. But, instead of an acquisition, Epic chose to remix the game inside of the Fortnite universe. It’s possible that an acquisition was discussed, but judging by some of the tweets from the Among Us team, it seems unlikely. Time will tell how Epic handles portfolio construction and the expansion of the Fortnite universe, but if there’s someone I’d bet on, it’s Tim Sweeney.

The Role of Community

For game companies, understanding what the community wants to play (and what source material to remix) is paramount. Many of the studios that understand this have a built-in advantage, either allowing user-generated content, adding things like Fortnite’s Creative mode, or even supporting community game mods. Roblox takes this idea to an extreme and is a platform for content creation in itself. All of these examples give studios early data on what the community likes, potentially giving them a headstart on a new remix.