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Innovation and Imitation in the Games Sector

This 2-year study investigated the tension between innovation and imitation in the Digital Games Industry. In this project, we understand imitation as a basic social practice that informs our learning and making. This seems to be particular true for the gaming industry: Entire game genres (think platform sidescroller games or first person shooters) have emerged by re-making and extending on great games. While the view that imitation is a constituent part of innovation seems to be shared throughout the industry, recent tussles over alleged clones have sparked lively discussions about legitimate and illegitimate imitation practices in game development. Given a legal context that is far from being clear on these issues, studios and publishers face a considerate amount of uncertainty regarding the question which practises are deemed fair or legitimate.

Empirically, we have investigated this tension between imitation and innovation by means of a multi-method case study: A document analysis of industry handbooks, a discourse analysis of contested cases and extensive interviews with different professionals and stakeholders from the sector in Germany. Lead questions were: Are there implicit norms that are shared across the industry or within specific communities? How do designers, programmers, artists and marketers themselves draw the fine line between legitimate inspiration and illegitimate plagiarism? How do they react when seeing their ideas being taken up? What is the role of legal instruments (copyright, patents, trademarks) in this matter? Building on pre-studies analysing online discussions and industry handbooks, the study investigates these by means of qualitative interviews with ?

Duration03/2014 – 06/2016



Christian Katzenbach, Prof. Dr.

Associated researcher: The evolving digital society

Former employees

Journal articles and conference proceedings

Katzenbach, C. (2018). There Is Always More Than Law! From Low IP Regimes To A Governance Perspective In Copyright Research. Journal of Technology Law and Policy, 22(2), 99-122. Publication details

Van Roessel, L., & Katzenbach, C. (2018). Navigating the Grey Area: Game Production Between Inspiration and Imitation. Convergence. Publication details

Katzenbach, C., Herweg, S., & van Roessel, L. (2016). Copies, Clones and Genre Building. Discourses on Imitation and Innovation in Digital Games. International Journal of Communication, 10, 838-859. Publication details

Lectures and presentations

Shades of In/visibility: Confronting Collaborative Authorship in Wikipedia, Game Production, and Fanfiction
68th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). Hilton, Prague, Czech Republic: 26.05.2018

Christian Pentzold, Wolfgang Reissmann, Christian Katzenbach

There’s more than Law in Controlling IP! From Low IP Regimes to Multimodal Copyright Governance
9th Workshop of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP). University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada: 12.07.2017

Christian Katzenbach


Distributed Voices: Making Collaborative Authorship In/Visible
68th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). Hilton, Prague, Czech Republic: 26.05.2018

Christian Pentzold, Wolfgang Reissmann, Christian Katzenbach

Copies, Clones and Genre Building - Innovation and Imitation practices in the Games Industry
Quo Vadis 2015. Create. Game. Business.. International Games Week Berlin. Café Moskau, Berlin, Germany: 23.04.2015

Lies van Roessel, Henrike Maier, Christian Katzenbach