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Threes vs. 2048: When rip-offs do better than the original game

My daughter has obsessed over a new mobile game called 2048. It’s a simple numbers-matching game, and everybody is playing it. The title from Ketchapp shot to No. 1 for free apps on the Apple iOS store after just 15 days, and it has held that position since last Monday.


Above: A screenshot from 2048.

Image Credit: 2048

The only problem is that it’s a copycat game, as Sirvo, the makers of Threespointed out in an open letter a couple of days ago. The letter shows the angst of modern creators who are powerless to do much about cloners, iterators, and homages that people might fail to realize are not the real thing.

Threes has been available as a paid $1.99 title since Feb. 6 on iOS and March 12 on Android. The title is currently No. 10 on the top paid games on iOS, according to market researcher AppAnnie.

That’s pretty awesome for an indie game with such simple gameplay. In Threes, the player must slide around tiles on a game board and combine 1s and 2s into 3s. Then they combine multiples of 3 to form larger numbers.

But the problem with simple games is that others can easily rip them off. And with more than a million apps in the app stores, players aren’t too picky about whether they are playing a rip-off or the original. My daughter didn’t realize she was playing a clone, nor did she really care. She was addicted, and so were her friends at school.

The first clone to hit the app store was 1024, which arrived 21 days after Threes, on Feb. 27. Then, on March 9, came 2048, created by developer Gabriele Cirulli, a 19-year-old Italian developer.

The Threes developers – Asher Vollmer, Greg Wohlwend and Jimmy Hinson — aren’t so worried about that game, as they noted, “It’s not very fun.” But 2048 was virtually identical with one tweak. Hacker News posted about it on March 10, and then the title took off. Now, 2048 has spawned more clones, like Numberwang 2048.

“It’s all in good fun, at least we’d like to think so, but try as our logical brains might, we still got the same ‘cloning feeling,’” according to Sirvo. “Especially when people called Threes, a game we [pored] over for nearly a year and a half, a clone of 2048. Others [riffed] off that — they thought 2048 was a better game than Threes. That all stung pretty bad. We know Threes is a better game; we spent over a year on it. And obviously, Threes is the reason 2048 exists.”

Cirulli, the maker of 2048, acknowledged that the game is “based on 1024 by Veewo Studio” and is “conceptually similar to Threes.”

Sirvo noted that the problem with 2048 is that it is too easy to beat.

“Is Threes a better game? We think so,” Sirvo wrote. “To this day, only about six people in the world have ever seen a 6144 and nobody in the world has yet to ‘beat’ Threes. But that’s what’s better to us as game designers. We worked really hard to create a simple game system with interesting complexity t...

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