What's wrong with Threes 1

Posted by HEx 2014-04-16 at 15:18

A few weeks ago, when the 2048 craze was at its height, this Mobile Mavericks article (mirror) was posted on HN. (Go read it. Go read it now. I'll wait.)

To say I disagree with this article would be putting it mildly. But hey, someone is wrong on the internet. It happens all the time.

However, here's the Threes team weighing in on the topic. They say essentially the same thing, only more diplomatically: woo, something we made became popular! But there's all these "rip-offs" that are more popular still, and we're not happy about that. Especially since we think they're inferior.

Why, they don't even have "save game syncing across devices, a beautiful top screen and gorgeous little sharing cards for social media"!

You have to pay for Threes, and you can only play it on your phone, and furthermore only if that phone is made by Apple.1 Spending fourteen months polishing your flawless jewel, releasing the result under those kind of restrictions and expecting people to be content to look but not touch is, well, naïve. That someone spends a weekend reimplementing a version that works everywhere just for fun is hardly surprising, and thus the year-long Threes development process surely counts as a Very Poor Business Decision Indeed.

That a Threes-like game proceeded to take over the internet is something that nobody could've predicted. The internet is nothing if not fickle. But if any version was to take over the internet, it would most certainly not be Threes, unless Threes ran in a web browser and was available for free. Those requirements are mandatory for the kind of exposure that 2048 has garnered.

2048 is absolutely an improvement over Threes, in every way that counts. But 2048 went one step further. It's open source. The sheer bewilderment at this is evident in the MM article:

"What isn’t alright by me is a game that releases for free and makes no attempt to make money, which is what 2048 has done. It does nothing to monetise: it makes no advertising revenue; it has no broader cross promotional purpose and it certainly has no in app purchases to make money."

This guy made a game and just gave it away? What is wrong with him?

This mindset is what I loathe about the mobile world2, and part of why I don't own a smartphone. Everyone has an ulterior motive, usually money. It's natural and assumed. Nobody would ever do anything that wasn't to their advantage, and users are there to be exploited.

Let's be clear here. 2048 is not a "rip-off".3 2048 is not destroying value, it's creating it. 2048 is someone building on what has come before. The many 2048 variants are people building on what has come before. This is how culture works. This is how culture has always worked. This human tendency is what made the technology on which Threes depends possible!

Why is this news to anyone? Particularly the author of the MM article, but also the Threes developers. That someone considered Threes important enough, inspirational enough to build on should be cause for celebration, not consternation!

They aren't the only ones missing the point, of course. Ownership of ideas is accepted and commonplace today. Imagine for a moment what might've happened had the Threes team spent some of their fourteen months applying for a patent on the mechanics of their game. Likely they would've got their "no rip-offs" wish: 1024 could have been effectively nipped in the bud. Its successor 2048 would never have existed. And nobody would ever have heard of Threes.

If you don't consider that outcome an improvement (I don't), maybe it's worth pondering how we as a society could start encouraging this kind of creativity instead of denigrating it. But first we need to start accepting that "derivative" is not a dirty word.

(Full disclosure: I made a 2048 variant. And I have never played Threes.)

[1] Yes, there's an official Android port now, but not until over a month after the iOS release, which was quite long enough. Also iPads count as big phones for the purposes of this rant.

[2] And before that, the Windows world. Happily, there are communities where people cooperate to make and give away software, even entire operating systems, without any motivation beyond wanting to make something awesome. And for that I am truly grateful.

[3] rip-off /ˈrɪpɔf/ n. a copy, and that's bad.


Leave a comment

  1. Alex Fink 2014-04-19 at 15:07

    For some reason I’m consistently getting XMPP error 404s from Jabber now. Anyway, this certainly isn’t incoherent, and I think it’d be fine to put on HN in this state.

    Feel free to delete this comment.