Why You Should Copy Others’ Work
If you’ve ever heard people tell you not to copy then you’re in the wrong place. I’m going to tell you why copying people’s work is one of the best things you can do. It’s a controversial subject because they talk about it all the time. Why people shouldn’t copy, why there are so many clones out there, and why everybody has a similar skill set. It’s just a lot of complaining and moaning on why there’s stuff that’s so similar out there. I remember when I was younger my teachers would always tell me not to copy. Don’t do that, don’t do this.
One thing that I always did that has helped me tremendously in my life is I copied everybody’s work. I just straight-up copied it. This was also very useful in learning game development because when I didn’t know how to do something, I could either spend infinity trying to figure that thing out OR I could just copy the thing that someone else did. For example, one of the first things that I did when I started making games was when I saw a game that I liked, I would go and make the same game. I’d start with a copy of the game that I wanted to make.
When I decided that I wanted to learn a little bit of vector art using Illustrator, one of the first things that I did was I took an image from South Park and just drew on top of it. I ended up actually using it in a couple of game jams. When you copy something straight up and take someone else’s work, use it as a reference and draw over it as in art, or same thing as with programming or building, the learning curve is so much shorter, because you’re starting with something that has a beginning and an end.
You know where you’re at and you know where you specifically want to go. If your intention is to learn game development or something like that, there is no end to what you can learn. You could literally be learning for the rest of your life and you still could not learn everything there is to learn about game development. But if you start from the perspective of, “I’m going to learn how to make Tetris”, that has a finite end. That has a skill set that you can acquire, a timeline, and an awesome thing you can create at the end. It has a very actionable goal. And I find that by copying first, there are so many advantages that you can have.
You can cut the time down drastically on what you will learn. If I spent all of the time learning art, if I spent it just trying to learn art, I would be nowhere. I’m not the best artist, I’m still learning this stuff. But I feel that my basic shaped little characters came out really well in Heavy Metal Harry, specifically because I copied South Park’s art style. I straight-up copied it and now I know how to do that and I can add my little pieces to it. Once I was able to copy the art, it was so much easier for me to actually build my own little pieces on top of it, tweak a few things, and find my own voice in that.
When I was building my applications and I copied other people’s UI and UX, for example, it was so much easier for me to tweak and figure out what I wanted. This is a method that has brought me so far and I still use it to this day. I have a folder on my desktop called a swipe file. Every time I see somebody post a picture or a gif or any kind of image like a concept drawing or whatever it is on Facebook or Twitter or wherever else, and I just love it, and it inspires me, I copy that into my swipe file.
And so I have this folder full of images of kinds of games, all kinds of art styles, and stuff that I like. Usually when I’m going to make a game or I’m looking for a theme from one of my games or I just want to experiment, sometimes I just sit down and just do a prototype in Photoshop or the game engine. I will go into the swipe folder and look through it, and choose an art and try to build something else from it. I start with copying it, and that helps me accelerate my learning curve so quickly, versus doing anything else.
There are so many times where I can look at an image and I don’t know what the game is. This usually happens with single mechanic mobile games. A lot of times the art is just basic shapes—weird and abstract. Although I don’t know what the game is, I’m like, “Okay, I think this is what it is and so I’m going to try and make that.” Just looking at it gives me an inspiration to build something and try it out. And I could copy the art style, and copy whatever and build something awesome on top of it.
Now, to the people that say, “Oh well, you should never copy people’s work, you should never do that.” Listen, every idea ever known to man is not original. Everything that comes out of your brain is the iteration on top of all the other ideas that you have ever seen or heard or watched. They’ve all been in your brain and it just took those and modified them. That is really the concept of a genre. The FPS genre is a bunch of games that people copied mechanics off of each other, that’s what it is. The FPS mechanic has been copied over and over and it became a genre. That’s all genres is.
Every idea that you come up with is not original. Your ideas are literally not your own. They are of other people’s ideas put together in a new way. If you think, for one second, that you are completely 100% original at anything you do, you’re wrong. Everything that you do is influenced by everything that you’ve ever discovered, watched, or input into your brain. It is incorrect to think that you could create something completely original while being surrounded by a world that is just constantly feeding you information. And the great artists, the great creators out there, the great people, will tell you that copying is a great way to improve your skill set and iterate, enabling you to find your own voice while you do it.
I’m not suggesting that you literally go into Fallout 4, and strip the graphics files and use those in your game. That’s illegal, stupid, and that doesn’t get you anywhere. I’m not suggesting that you go on the App Store, find a good game you like, and literally clone the exact same thing and then put it up in the App Store and try and make money from it. That’s not what I’m suggesting. I’m suggesting that if you want to learn a skill, you should start by copying other people’s work, because that is the fastest way to learn and the easiest way to find your voice. You can absorb all of these other people’s voices and learn from them. You can then say, “Okay, now I see why they did this, now I see why they did that.”
Do it that way and you’ll learn so much more rapidly. It’s such a great way to intake and learn all this stuff. So the next time your think, “Hey, I should be super original.” DON’T.
Copy someone else’s shit, start from that, and iterate later. Make cooler shit on top of it.
That’s the easiest and fastest way to make something really awesome. And honestly, it’s a way to be creative and innovate because you can start with something that’s already there and build on top of it. It’s just a better way to build.
So those are my thoughts on the subject. If you’ve got any comments on this, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.