dinerroller.jpg One of the more controversial aspects of the recent casual game boom has been 'the clone wars'. And no, we're not talking Count Dooku, but rather, certain simple game designs that seem unduly influenced by other, earlier games, but are still extremely popular, because the casual game-playing public don't know who created it first.

For example, PopCap's Zuma is one of the most popular casual games of all time, but it's being challenged in the download charts by both MumboJumbo's somewhat different Luxor, and by recently Big Fish-acquired French developer FunPause's Atlantis, which even goes as far as to put 'Luxor' and 'Zuma' in its homepage's HTML keywords.

But, while PopCap's James Gwertzman comments in a recent interview of Zuma's success in 2004: "We were all very excited about it, but it's 2005 and there have been a ton of very obvious Zuma clones", we have to ask - how about Mitchell's 1998 title Puzzloop for arcades, also known as Ballistic for PSX in the States? The game's basic design seems identical to Zuma.

There was even some talk of Mitchell, which has released a PC version of Puzzloop, taking PopCap to court over the issue, though neither company has ever made public statements about it. But wherever the first version of that game originated, it's clear that, as Gwertzman comments: "Making clones of existing games isn't as profitable as it used to be."

Yet, it's 2006 and it's still going on, and the most egregious yet is ToyBox Games' Roller Rush. It's not only such a blatant copy of gameLab's Diner Dash that it hurts, and it's already in the Top 10 on Yahoo! Games, ahead of Diner Dash, showing that clones can be just as financially successful in the short term.

So here's the real question - who's going to be the first to sue, as Namco did with Pac-Man clones, over a casual game concept? Maybe many of these ideas are too simple to be copyrighted, but something feels just a little over-ripe in casual games right now regarding game clones.