A Talk with Threes App Designer Greg Wohlwend (New Disruptors 74)


I think it’s somewhat harsh to refer to 2048 as a parasite. As a developer myself, the beauty of 2048 for me is in the technology, the fact that it’s HTML and Javascript and works so wonderfully when simply saved to the desktop from Safari. The developer also credits Threes for inspiration right on the main page of the game.

Agreed. The dev of 2048 didn’t know about Threes when he created it. He was taking inspiration from another game, 1024 which itself was inspired by Threes. None of them are clones of Threes though. Rather they are variations.

I’m sure different people have different ideas of how much stuff has to change to be a clone. Is Mario a clone of Pacland? Is Sonic a clone of Mario?

Another issue is as much sympathy I have for the Threes developers having spent 14 months designing and making Threes, the ended up with a game that’s super easy to clone. I don’t know how to feel about that. A game like Monument Valley is not easily cloned whereas Threes is. Just like Flappy Bird was easy to clone and hence you saw tons of clones. I have no idea what I’m trying to say other there. I just think there’s something to that.

A competitor looking at the result of much time, money and effort invested and knocking out a cheaper version (since most of the expensive work is already done) that cuts into the sales of the original is a very old problem. It’s a great incentive to never again bothering to innovate. Copyright was invented because of that but it’s not going to help in this case.

There’s added complications, of course:

The fact that these knockoffs are free (thus potentially MUCH more popular than the originals), and the copycats don’t get money from it.

The whole ‘piracy is not actually theft and could even improve your product’s visibility and sales’ argument.

And of course, the very human annoyance of remaining relatively obscure while the copy of the copy of the fruits of their labor explodes in popularity and recognition, gets memes and xkcd shout outs, and ironically ‘becomes’ a whole new genre.

This all deserved to be theirs if fairness is a factor.

Haha what? If you clone a clone it’s still a clone. Reskinning another game’s mechanics is just sleazy work. They’re knockoffs. This is the same stuff many people lambasted Zynga for doing. It would take a single Google search to learn about the origins of 1024 and the fact that it’s a Thress! clone.

Mario vs Sonic vs Pacland have different mechanics - you couldn’t simply reskin one and get the other. The difference in gameplay would be notable. 2048 and the like are simply dull reskins of the same game.

I guess I’m one of those people who didn’t have any interest in threes, but loved 2048. I looked at threes at one point, and did not find it all that compelling. Maybe it was the UI, the UX, or simply the 1 + 2 = 3 pattern. On the other hand, I immediately found 2048 very engaging. 2048’s UX is great. And the powers of two progression naturally fit with my though process (1, 2, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96, 192, … just seems clunky and non-intuitive to me). Overall I think 2048 is simply a superior game when compared to threes.

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Indeed. I found out about Threes only thanks to 2048.

Tbh, I can see why Threes will never be as popular as 2048: the learning curve is much steeper and the game is so much harder overall. This was intentional: the authors admitted on Hacker News that, while developing Threes, they initially discovered the “anchored corner” technique (which is basically how you solve 2048: keep a border row ordered, with your highest tile in the corner, and “accumulate” maintaining that order) and implemented countermeasures in the number-drawing algorithm. The result is that I’m still playing Threes while I got bored of 2048 (after you get “cornering”, it basically becomes a game of patience and you’ll regularly end up with "4096"s), but clearly, for this sort of games, simplicity beats replayability/depth any day.

If you bother to read Gabrielle’s writeup, the game was written as a fun weekend project, and wasn’t intended to be a product, but rather a platform for playing around with design and HTML5 concepts.

Calling this sleazy…meh, I’m not going to touch that, other than to disagree.

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