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Not-So-Cheap Imitation

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When a work or product is successful, the natural response by competitors is to imitate it. More often than not, these works are panned for that very reason. But then, there comes that one imitator that manages to exceed the expectations of the viewers. Not only are they considered good, but they actually manage to be more popular than the work they were imitating.

Causes of this include:

  1. The imitator improving on the flaws of the original.
  2. The original being divisive at best.
  3. For foreign works, it can be because one got more attention than the other due to No Export for You.
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A Sub-Trope of Follow the Leader. Compare From Clones to Genre and Dueling Works. Contrast They Copied It, Now It Sucks. For In-Universe examples, see Effective Knockoff. For when a parody gets more popular than the original, see "Weird Al" Effect. It can sometimes cause cases of "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny. This is also the first step From Clones to Genre.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto has some notable similarities to Hunter × Hunter, mostly due to Masashi Kishimoto being friends with Yoshihiro Togashi. However, Naruto ended up being the more popular work (particularly in America) for a multitude of reasons. One was that Naruto didn't suffer from the same frequent Schedule Slip that plagued Hunter x Hunter. Another was because the first Hunter x Hunter anime from 1999 didn't reach American shores until nine years later, which was at the height of Naruto's popularity by then. The third possible reason was that the 1999 anime was Cut Short due to overtaking the manga rather quickly, and it didn't get a more proper adaptation until 2011.
  • My Hero Academia was primarily influenced by Naruto. However, many critics prefer My Hero Academia to Naruto for deconstructing the many cliches the latter played straight.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure was heavily influenced by Fist of the North Star, especially in its early arcs. While JoJo was a niche series for a while, it exploded in popularity in America with the start of the 2012 anime, whereas Fist of the North Star is at best a Cult Classic in America.

     Comic Books 
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     Food 
  • Sunshine Bakery introduced its chocolate sandwich cookie, Hydrox, several years before Nabisco's Oreos. However, mostly due to an unappetizing name and poor marketing, Hydrox was soon overtaken by Oreos in popularity and became so dominant, Hydrox were eventually viewed by the public as an inferior imitator.
  • This trope led to the creation of New Coke. During The '80s, Pepsi was out-selling Coca-Cola, despite the former being introduced a decade later. In order to compete, the recipe for Coke was changed so that it would taste more like Pepsi, but that was about as effective as you might think. By pure irony, Coca-Cola sales skyrocketed when they brought back the original recipe.

     Film 
  • X-Men (made by 20th Century Fox) and Spider-Man (made by Sony Pictures) sparked the Comic Book Movie Boom of the 2000s. However, after Marvel made their own film studio, Fox and Sony refused to sell the film rights to the X-Men and Spider-Man back to them for the longest time, leading to the Marvel Cinematic Universe being started without them. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe ended up being a huge success, usurping the box office records set by the X-Men and Spider-Man movies.

     Literature 
  • The Hunger Games was published in a period where Young Adult Romance novels were all the rage after being sparked by Twilight. However, The Hunger Games ended up being more acclaimed because of having better writing and characters, and ended up starting its own trend of young adult romances being within a Dystopian setting.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Stranger Things was heavily influenced by the works of Stephen King, particularly It. In fact, this was because the Duffer Brothers were originally going to direct It (2017). Not wanting to let their vision go to waste, they reworked the concept into their own. While the 2017 It movie was highly successful, Stranger Things ended up being a huge Killer App for Netflix.
    • This influence was so strong that the 2017 It faced a lot of comparisons to Stranger Things upon its release (and it didn't help that the two productions shared an actor).

     Music 
  • Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain admitted to being heavily influenced by The Pixies, even mentioning in an interview that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was his attempt at writing a song like theirs. Today, Nirvana are one of the most renowned bands of all time, whereas The Pixies - while not exactly obscure - are considerably less famous.
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     Toys 
  • There are numerous companies which produce their own version of the Rubik's Cube and more often than not improve upon the mechanism used by Rubik's themselves. These "knockoffs" often turn faster and more smoothly than Rubik's brand cubes and sometimes include magnets for additional stability. It's gotten to the point that, among the speedcubing community, Rubik's brand cubes are considered to be among the lowest quality of cubes, with their only real advantages being their widespread availability and name recognition.

     Video Games 
  • Not long after the release of Fortnite, the game released a free to play Battle Royale mode as a response to the popularity of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. However, not only did the Battle Royale mode boost downloads for Fortnite, it even surpassed PUBG in popularity, much to Blue Hole's dismay. Jim Sterling addressed the possible causes including Fortnite being free to play, lacking the bugs that affected PUBG, and having a style that gave it more of an identity.
  • Dragon Ball Fighter Z follows the success of tag-team Fighting Games like the Marvel vs. Capcom series (and in particular, the third game, some of the mechanics of which are also used in DBFZ), but is also critically acclaimed, has 2+ million sales and is often deemed as a new contender against the MVC series, especially in the wake of the disappointments aimed at Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite's problems.
  • DICE Studios created Battlefield 1942 in 2002, a well-received game featuring large-scale combat, the option to use vehicles and planes, and so on, all to capture command points to control the battlefield. The game was far from a flop, but then along came Pandemic Studios and Lucas Arts, who took the same concept, slapped a Star Wars skin on it, and named it Star Wars: Battlefront, which completely eclipsed 1942 in popularity. DICE did go on to grow Battlefield into a shooter that rivaled Halo and Call Of Duty for several years as well. And when Electronic Arts acquired the Battlefront license, everything came full circle, as DICE were the studio chosen to develop Star Wars Battlefront (2015) and its sequel.
  • Depending on whom you ask, Stardew Valley is this to Harvest Moon (now known as Story of Seasons). It started out as a fan-game aimed specifically at Harvest Moon fans but became a Sleeper Hit upon release. This is largely because it has a PC release (thus allowing for modding), because it's on more consoles than the mainly Nintendo Harvest Moon franchise, and because it was under $20. While which series is better is up to debate, Stardew Valley has sold over 5x as much as the best selling Story of Seasons title.
  • Blizzard Entertainment has four such properties that can be considered this; Taking the original ideas, sanding down the flaws for smoother gameplay, adding a certain flair and making it their own.
  • Guitar Hero looks an awful lot like GuitarFreaks before it, due to having the same core gameplay: Both games give the player a guitar controller and they must tilt the strum bar while holding down the corresponding fret buttons to hit notes that scroll vertically. But it soon became the catalyst for Rhythm Games as a mainstream genre in the West, featuring a lot of nuances to make the game appeal to a wide range of Western fans such as popular licensed songs, vivid background animations and characters, and full-length songs. While GuitarFreaks is by no means a crappy game, it's clear that both games are designed for different audiences.
  • Ever since the 2016 open beta, Paladins has been accused by fans and the media alike to be a clone of the above-mentioned Overwatch, despite the two games playing very differently to one another. What actually happened was that both games just happened to be in concurrent production with each other and were using media stereotypes found in all manner of fiction. The game has proven its staying power, however, being released for every console going (even getting a Switch port almost a year before Overwatch), it's still fairly popular on PC, and it's one of the few games that can be considered The Rival towards Overwatch, as other games, like Battleborn (which released far too early and got overshadowed by Overwatch), and Lawbreakers (which failed to capture the same market) failed to do so.
  • Final Fantasy started out life as basically "Dungeons & Dragons for the NES", borrowing a lot of mechanics and monsters from it. It has since become one of the highest-grossing video game franchises in the world, with endless sequels, spinoffs, rereleases, and adaptations to non-game media.
  • Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune. When it was first released, one of the criticisms of it was that "it's just Initial D Arcade Stage for people with no skill." It ended up surpassing Initial D as the preferred arcade racing game precisely because of its lower barrier to entry and its critically-acclaimed Yuzo Koshiro trance soundtrack, and is one of the most popular arcade racing games today, especially in Southeast Asia. It helps that Maximum Tune has stuck with the same basic formula since the original game with incremental updates and upgrades every new version to keep the game fresh without alienating existing players, while Initial D's popularity started to dwindle after the third iteration due to changing game engines and physics with every new release. In fact, while Wangan continues to get releases in the Asia Pacific and Oceania, Initial D ended up becoming Japan-only after the fourth version of it.

     Other 
The counterpoint of Sturgeon's Law, that the 1% of everything that isn't shit is actually quite good, applies just as much to bootlegs as it does to legitimate products. A number of both bootlegged products and legally-permissible imitations are noted for their astonishing level of quality, to the point where it's easy to mistake said bootlegs for legitimate products. As for the legally allowed imitations, sometimes they can become a viable competitor to the product they were knocking off, and can even eclipse the original in popularity (most famously with Oreos, which started off as a knockoff of Hydrox cookies but have since become far more popular among consumers). Some examples of highly convincing bootlegs are as follows:
  • A Taiwanese bootleg of the Perfect Sessions Boxed Set for Cowboy Bebop exists that packages the series and 2001 movie— which is not actually included in the legitimate set— on three DVDs rather than the standard six. Apart from bitrate problems during particularly cluttered shots (e.g. the hyperspace sequences) and using a digipak instead of several keep cases in a box, the set is astonishingly close in quality to a legitimate product, to the point where it's commonly sold even on sites like Amazon as if it were genuine, with both buyers and sellers being none the wiser.
  • A bootleg LP of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World floated around in the mid 70's that almost perfectly replicated the packaging of the original US release, aside from the speech bubble on the back being slightly too low. The audio is noticeably poorer quality, being sourced from a legitimate LP dubbed to tape then back to vinyl, but the bootleg was convincing enough to appear in bargain bins in mainstream brick-and-mortar retailers.
    • A number of other bootlegs exist for Bowie live shows and singles compilations that put an almost professional level of quality into the audio and packaging. One particular bootleg of a 1972 show in Santa Monica (appropriately dubbed Santa Monica '72) was so well-done that EMI eventually released it as a legitimate product in 2008, retitled Live Santa Monica '72.
  • The Dark Side of the Moo is a notable bootleg Pink Floyd compilation released in 1982 while the band were on hiatus. The bootleg has earned considerable acclaim for mainstream critics and for a while was one of the most accessible ways to get a hold of certain poorly-distributed singles and the studio version of "Astronomy Domine" in the US (as it was not included on the American release of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn). According to its anonymous creator, The Dark Side of the Moo was popular enough to continue selling well into the mid-1990's, long after vinyl as a medium went dormant pre-2007.
  • The GamBoy [sic], normally called the GB Boy Colour ("Game Boy ''Boy'' Colour"?), is an unauthorized replica of the Game Boy Color noted for being a surprisingly accurate imitation of the original. Despite the speaker only using one audio channel (instead of doing a mono mix of both channels), the screen being slightly-stretched, and the IR port not being functional, the GB Boy Colour actually has a working backlight— something the legitimate GBC lacked. As such, many still consider it a good budget method of playing Game Boy and Game Boy Color games on "original" hardware without having to jump through hoops to make the screen visible in dim lighting (discounting the Game Boy SP, which did have a frontlight on early models and a backlight on later ones).
  • Prince's untitled black album was a popular source of bootlegs since its planned 1987 release got cancelled. Because a number of LP and CD copies from the planned 1987 run still survive today, they've been a common source for sufficient-quality audio on these bootlegs, and the album having an all-black cover makes it easy to imitate the original packaging. Even after Warner (Bros.) Records finally gave the black album an official release in 1994, high-quality bootlegs still circulate here and there.
  • The Ultra Rare Trax series of Beatles bootleg compilations became somewhat historically important specifically because of its quality, showing that remastering, when done right, could produce high-quality bootleg and official releases that could surpass the original LP copies.
  • The Dendy Jr. was a notable Taiwanese bootleg of the Famicom that became a sensation in Russia during the 1990's, when the country was still suffering from the fallout of the Soviet Union's dissolution and didn't have enough money to afford importing the genuine product. Despite the dubious nature of the games (illegally) released on it, the Dendy Jr. itself is considered one of the better and more faithful "Famiclones" on the bootleg market, especially by the standards of those made before Nintendo's patents on the Famicom expired.
    • On that note, the expiration of the Famicom's patents allowed for a number of higher-quality Famiclones to glut the market, as the system's technical specs could now be legally replicated and utilized to create better-quality alternatives to the original hardware. Some of these better-quality post-patent Famiclones include the Analogue NT and the AVS, both of which are compatible with both NES and Famicom cartridges and peripherals and natively support high-definition HDMI output.
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