Vague Patch Notes: MMOs taking inspiration from one another is not a bad thing

If that's even what happened


Back when Guild Wars 2 announced the Bladesworn elite spec for Warriors, I had a little fun with the idea because… well, let’s not be coy, that’s a gunblade. That sure as heck reads like taking inspiration from a weapon type that’s been present in the Final Fantasy franchise since 1999 and is now one of the jobs in Final Fantasy XIV. That doesn’t mean it is absolutely and indisputably the inspiration for the weapon, but realistically, it seems pretty likely to me since these are both super popular games within our genre.

I was not the only one who speculated about this. The difference, however, is that a lot of this discussion turned super weird super fast, with some GW2 fans arguing that there was no way ArenaNet could possibly have taken inspiration from this source and others acting as if the revelation about the inspiration was a creative negative.

But I was sitting over here thinking, yep that definitely looked like the inspiration, and that’s cool. It’s a good thing.

Let’s start by acknowledging something that’s at once self-evident and easy to overlook: Inspiration is a really hard thing to track unless the creative forces behind a given work explicitly tell you that it’s there. And even then it’s hard to be sure.

For example, there are some interesting overlaps in mythos between The Dark Crystal (which was released in 1982) and the original Final Fantasy (released in 1987). Did the former inspire the latter? I have absolutely no idea. It’s certainly possible that some ideas crept in there, but it’s also eminently possible that it’s purely a coincidence, or that both creative teams were drawing inspiration from the same source. No one has ever said that there’s a connection; it just occurred to me at one point watching the film.

Even further along the chain, it’s not exactly a stretch to say that elves in World of Warcraft are inspired by Tolkien’s elves in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But is that really the primary source of the inspiration, or was the Warcraft franchise more influenced by Dungeons & Dragons, which itself was influenced heavily by Tolkien? We’re never going to entirely know. Chains of inspiration like that are just hard to track, especially since basically every creative person is a giant cluster of half-remembered concepts derived from random inspirations and sometimes odd moments of brilliance.

I mean, at some point you get apocryphal stories about the Millennium Falcon being based on a bite taken out of a hamburger after the first design didn’t fly and you can see it, even if it’s not actually true that Joe Johnston waved a burger around as a demonstration of what he was thinking. Inspiration is weird.


That having been said, there’s also what I like to think of as a most reasonable chain of inspiration. If a designer comes out with a race of creepy scuttling black aliens that reproduce by using human beings as hosts, my first assumption is going to be that this was inspired by Giger’s design work on Alien rather than assuming it must be based on an obscure 1995 science fiction anime. It just means that you can make some reasonable guesses about inspiration, but unless someone tells you that the inspiration was X, you can never be certain.

So do I think that GW2 was inspired by FFXIV in this case? Yeah, it seems pretty likely to me. But where there is apparently a notable difference between me and a lot of people who observe that is that lots of people seem to think that the observation is proof that GW2 is creatively bankrupt or did something wrong, as if it “ripped off” FFXIV in some way, and to be fair that’s exactly what some folks mean. But I don’t. My reaction is just to note it as a likelihood and then say, “Dang, that’s cool.”

You know what got accused of ripping off FFXIV before it launched? Shadowlands. This is not an allegation without merit. There are obvious points of comparison beyond the title, since this was coming in after FFXIV’s award-winning Shadowbringers. Lots of people pointed out the comparisons that could be drawn. I even did it once or twice myself!

But the thing was is that a lot of those same comparisons included the idea that Shadowlands was going to suck because of that. Even if you say that Shadowlands was definitely inspired by Shadowbringers – which is far from a settled matter – the failings of the former don’t exist because it took cues from the latter. Taking cues from something well-liked of a high quality doesn’t mean that you’re somehow creatively bankrupt. Shadowlands has a lot of problems, but those problems are entirely its own, not the product of any inspirational source.

Taking inspiration from elsewhere is honestly just plain part of the creative process. A lot of creativity is just remixing ideas you found elsewhere and putting them into a new combination. That’s not some sort of failure. We have dozens versions of the King Arthur stories not because people just couldn’t think of anything else to write about but because people were attached to these tales and used them as inspiration and wanted to view them through a different lens.

Big... whatever this thing is.

This is without even getting into the fact that most of Shakespeare’s plays have inspirations that are well-known and discussed among scholars. The most celebrated playwright in the English language had an ear for dialogue and crafted some excellent plays we’re still adapting and making versions of to this day, and he was inspired by outside sources that already existed at the time he wrote.

One of my professors in college noted that fanfic comes from that same inspirational source as, say, rewriting the Arthurian tales to fit another lens, the very human impulse to look at a story and say, “There’s another interesting idea here you aren’t exploring.” And sometimes, yeah, you get something that’s derivative and boring and uninspired, but that isn’t a failure of the inspiration. It’s a failure of the use of that inspiration.

We’re coming up on (at least) 25 years of MMORPGs being a thing, and that’s ignoring the years and years of inspirational material before then just in the field of video games. Should I be cynical about GW2 melding in high technology because that already happened in Might & Magic back in 1986? Or should I be happy to see the fact that End of Dragons seems to be using that same trope and going in a different direction, even if I can also point to an inspiration from other contemporary sources?

Heck, shouldn’t that make me happier? To see a game I like inspiring others? If Black Desert came out with an update that seemed to be very clearly inspired by GW2’s Cantha, wouldn’t that be nice to see? Wouldn’t that degree of cross-pollination and shared creative vision show an industry willing to learn lessons from its contemporaries and take good ideas in new directions? Being inspired by familiar things doesn’t make them bad.

So yes, I’ll giggle a little bit when I see something that looks like clear inspiration coming from another game because it’s worth a moment of amusement. But that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with dismissal or mockery; it’s just a smile and a nudge. I’m glad to see games take inspiration from one another, and you should be too. And heck, that’s assuming it’s even what’s happening.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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