Threes creators express puzzlement, sadness over 2048 and rampant cloning (update)

The developers behind mobile numbers game Threes are "puzzled" by the popularity of the title's rip-offs, clones that tweak their formula and yet have gained traction in the media despite ever mentioning they are Threes clones.

In a post on the game's official blog, developers Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend voice their concerns, noting that while they know how to deal with clones, the rising popularity of these rip-offs is confusing and sad.

"With Greg being part of the Ridiculous Fishing team, we're not shy about calling a clone a clone, and believe us, there's no shortage of straight-up clones out there, especially on Android," reads the post. "But it's the not-really-clone sort of games, the rip-offs, that have popped up that have our feelings puzzled. We know how to deal with a clone, and likely, so do you."

The first clone, 1024, launched three weeks after Threes. The game mechanics are similar, except there are "stones" on the grid that never budge and block certain moves. The next one, 2048, is similar to 1024 but removed these blocks and is also open source. The latter has resulted in various spin-offs of 2048, and mainstream publications including The LA Times have run reports on the title without ever mentioning it was originally copied from Threes. In an interview with CNBC, 2048's creator Gabriele Cirulli cites his game is a clone of 1024 — the original clone of Threes — and the 2048 website only says it is "conceptually similar" to Threes.

Some spin-offs serve as commentary on the popularity of Threes clones, such as 2048 Numberwang and 2048: Triad Edition.

Threes developers note that they think 2048 is a broken game, as it is too easy to beat. No one has yet to "beat" Threes, which was designed to be played "over many months, if not years." They are happy with Threes success, but feel that players haven't had time to digest and understand the game's systems before clones began appearing and capitalizing on its success.

"Threes was cloned and beat to a different market within 6 days of release on iOS," reads the post. "2048 isn't that clone. But it's sort of the Commander Keen to Super Mario Bros. situation. Imagine Tetris was released and then less than a month later (instead of years) Dr. Mario was released."

In the same post, the Threes team published an extensive amount of materials detailing the game's design process, including messages sent between teammates, to "show their work." The text messages, images and emails chronicle the 14 months it took to develop Threes, with the post itself containing 45,000 words from their developmental journey.

"We do believe imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but ideally the imitation happens after we've had time to descend slowly from the peak — not the moment we plant the flag," the developers added.

Update: Threes designer Greg Wohlwend told Polygon that he hopes the LA Times will issue a correction to its 2048 article, or at least tone down its reporting on the group's blog post to make them seem less critical.

"That was a particularly upsetting article," Wohlwend said. "I see why the LA Times wrote the story that way to make it sexier with 'teenage developer makes hit in a weekend!' It's a fast-paced news cycle that can generate mistakes like that, so we get it. It happens. I'd just like to see a correction or be given the chance to comment at the very minimum.

"We're not super pleased with this either, which similarly bends the story with a misleading headline," he added. "It makes us look aggressive and mean, like were picking on Gabriele. We're not mad at Gabriele, or anything like that. Again, I'd like to hear from a journalist at The LA Times."

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