From Clones to Genre

"I'm hesitant to use the term Grand Theft Auto clone anymore, because open world games are becoming so ubiquitous that the term feels hopelessly quaint, like how we used to call First Person Shooters Doom clones."

While genres can be known for a variety of works, they don't always start out that way. Usually they start out as loads of obvious Follow the Leader copies of a Genre-Busting or making work, or a Genre Popularizer for a genre so small that this is the first time the mainstream has heard of it. Eventually many of the followers stop being that (though copies still exist), and start having loads of works that stand on their own. This is the point that you don't just have a bunch of clones, you have a full genre.

This doesn't always happen, though. Kart-racing Video Games have yet to go past just being Mario Kart clones in spite of both Mario Kart and the clones having been around since The Nineties. On the other hand, this can happen almost immediately. Tetris was such a simple game, any clone needed to set itself apart to avoid getting sued.

Compare Derivative Differentiation (which can be used to help the clones stand out on their own). A Trope Codifier can invert this, if it comes long after the Trope Maker and the original genre was relatively differentiated and well-established before then, and it's followed by a sequence of clones.

The opposite is Genre-Killer.

Examples (State the genre, popularizer, and then the turning point to full genre):

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     Anime & Manga 


  • The Cyberpunk and by extension all other Punk Punk Genres were all started by William Gibson's Neuromancer. The turning point was when author K.W. Jeter decided to call the genre in which he was writing Steampunk leading to, if not every other work of Punk Punk, at least the idea of Punk Punk as a category.
  • Gonzo Journalism was launched by "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved", written by Hunter S. Thompson for "Scanlan's Monthly" in May 1970. Scanlan's named what Thompson did—basically send his notebook from the weekend in for publication barely edited—"gonzo", and Thompson more or less went along with it to both the style and the name. Afterward, both he and other writers aimed to reproduce the style of that one article. Today, various other authors have put their own spin on the style, transforming it from "Hunter S. Thompson clones" to "a form of journalism started by Hunter S. Thompson."


  • Post Britpop. Started by the countless imitators of Radiohead's The Bends and OK Computer albums, of which the most defining were Travis's The Man Who for the folksy variety, and Doves' Lost Souls for the art-rock variety.
  • Several critics (such as this one) have expressed skepticism of the use of the term "djent" as a generic label in its own right, arguing that all of the bands in the so-called genre have yet to move past simply imitating Meshuggah.

     Tabletop Games 
  • In 2008, Donald X. Vaccarino took the idea of each player using a deck, a la Magic: The Gathering, and put a new spin on it. What if, instead of players creating their deck ahead of time and bringing to the match, players had to start with the same limited deck and build it up from the same pool of cards as their opponent? Thus was born Dominion, which launched an entire genre that would be known as deck-building games. There were a fair number of forgettable clones, but games like Ascension, Thunderstone, and Marvel Legendary have established reputations as excellent games in their own right, by playing around with themes and mechanics based on Dominion's main ideas.
  • The Pokémon franchise spawned craze in Japan for anything with collectable monsters, that would later be imitated by series such as Dragon Quest (via the Dragon Quest Monsters series) and Telefang (which overseas was ironically sold as a bootleg Pokemon game, after being poorly translated). The collectable monster concept proved successful as a card game as well, when the Pokemon card game was released. This success would lead to Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Monsters becoming extremely successful. The success of Yu-Gi-Oh! lead to imitators trying to get on the bandwagon of making a show about a game, so that kids will want to buy the real version. With so many shows like this out there nowadays, such as Duel Masters, Beyblade, Battle B-Daman, Medabots, Bakugan, and Chaotic just to name a few, one could say that "Card Game Animes" have become a genre. They all feature a tournament arc, talking about what the game is "truly about", and posing dramatically while playing the game.
    • It should be noted that the concept of actually capturing monsters to fight with was first shown, in fact, with Dragon Quest V. The Pokémon series was in development at the time, though, and although it didn't start the trend it did refine it, becoming the precursor to what Monster Battling is today.
  • While trading cards had been around for years, 1993's Magic: The Gathering made them into an actual game. (It was not the first — the earliest collectible card game was published in the late 19th century — but it was the first real success.) This prompted a glut of trading card games that were very similar to Magic. The turning point came in the late '90s, with the success of very different trading card games like Legend of the Five Rings and Decipher's Star Wars TCG.
  • Genres exist in Journal Roleplay too. Though it's still fairly different from the modern understanding, Drama Drama Duck was the beginning of "reverse jamjars", where characters meet at an interdimensional hub (though in this case it's the Internet) at their own discretion and still live in their own worlds. Island is usually credited as the first crack jamjar, and Landels, its successor Damned, and Econtra made horror into a journal game genre by developing the usual traits of a horror RP — for example, free reign for character death but having it come at a price, powers being limited or removed, a mystery the players don't know the answer to, and the event system, common in other games for silly fun, being used to break the characters' spirits.

     Video Games 

  • As in the quote, the First-Person Shooter started out with the template codified by Doom, to the point that those that came after were commonly called "Doom clones." The turning points are largely accepted to be the first GoldenEye game and Half-Life. Some believe this trope is happening in reverse now, however, thanks to the rampant popularity of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and its sequels, with many, many, many shooters copying its modern-day setting, focus on customizable weapons, fighting the Russians for ill-defined reasons, and multiple player characters from different special forces groups who may or may not survive the entire game.
  • Likewise, Third Person Shooters were called Tomb Raider clones. Games like Max Payne, Syphon Filter, and SOCOMUS Navy Seals, changed that, so it was its own genre (albeit a sister genre to FPS). Later, games like Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War would popularize the "Over the Shoulder Shooter" style of third-person shooter.
  • The Strategy RPG genre may be famously known through the games Final Fantasy Tactics, or Devil Survivor, but Nintendo's own Fire Emblem franchise (developed by its Intelligent Systems division) was the one that started it all, spawning a slew of imitators such as Langrisser and the Shining Force series, due to how it combined RPG Elements with strategy that resembled your typical game of chess, which in the late 80's-early 90's was original, and innovative.
  • The Fighting Game genre was actually well established before Street Fighter II, but after that game, almost all games in that genre quickly became clones. While some games set themselves apart, like Mortal Kombat, those were through gimmicks like blood. Even later Capcom fighters were just SF II clones. The turning point to finally making the genre distinct again was Virtua Fighter, not just with the Polygonal Graphics, but adding a different style than the acrobatics and special moves of SF II. Later games like Tekken and Soul Calibur added their own dimensions.
  • Now aside from Western RPGs having an open world for years (such as The Elder Scrolls series, going all the way back to Arena in 1994), Wide Open Sandbox games were largely clones of Grand Theft Auto III, until deliberate twists on the open world (such as Burnout Paradise, Crackdown and No More Heroes) made it into a full genre.
  • Cookie Clicker spawned various derivatives and knockoffs, which people have started to name "idle games" or "incremental games". Before that, the only other well-known game that could retroactively be labelled into that genre was Candy Box, which Orteil also said was the inspiration for Cookie Clicker in the first place.
  • Roguelikes are an odd case; the term has been used to refer to plenty of games with wildly varied mechanics, and only two things in common: Randomly Generated Levels and item placement, and permadeath with no way to recover saved games. Everything from The Binding of Isaac to Minecraft's hardcore mode qualifies, in a way. Yet the name continues to stick because nobody's ever agreed on a better one.
  • The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre began as a custom map for Starcraft called Aeon of Strife, and when Warcraft III and its map editor came out, several maps were created that were styled after that. The genre was popularized by Defense of the Ancients, followed by DotA: All-Stars. The popularity of these games spawned such MOBA games as League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and Dota 2. The term MOBA was coined by Riot Games for League of Legends as a marketing term specifically because everybody referred to the genre as "DotA clones" and they didn't want their game always being compared to DotA.
  • This is happening to Minecraft. While the concept of building blocks in a video game was not new by any stretch of the imagine (in fact, Minecraft was largely inspired by Infiniminer), Minecraft put it together in such a unique package that it was bound to attract imitators, such as FortressCraft, to games clearly inspired by it, such as Terraria. However such a plethora of games with similar concepts but large twists are coming out now (Ace Of Spades, GunCraft, Mythruna, etc), that it is far too many to count, and many of them are standing up on their own merits.
    • Even Don't Starve arguably counts as one; it's all the survival and crafting aspects of Minecraft with the world-made-of-building-blocks part taken out.
    • Other "Survival Games" are cropping up as well. Directly-competing games like Rust and 7 Days to Die came out at pretty much the same time.
  • The term Metroidvania is used to describe platformers that have a large continuous map, and the progress is governed by acquiring new abilities rather than through Event Flags. The term is now used as a genre, but was originally used to refer to the Castlevania games that used this formula, in the same sense that they'd be called Metroid clones, since Metroid did the formula first.
  • The Platform Fighter genre started with Super Smash Bros., and early attempts to copy it's success were merely just that, pale copies with no attempt to shake up the formula. Later, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, while still unapologetically being a clone, at least shakes up the formula with a different life and super system, contributing to making itself distinct. Air Dash Online, while being the Trope Namer, brought focus to the genre's competitive viability after Melee's accidental success in the area, followed by Super Smash Bros. tributes Super Smash Flash 2 and Project M, and the genre is only continuing to grow with Rivals Of Aether diversifying the formula further with implementing a parrying system and removing focus on grabs and recovery.

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Genre Launch