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September 3rd, 2014
10:03 PM ET

Game Faces: Rami Ismail

For a small developer that's just four years old, Vlambeer has a surprising influence on the gaming industry.

The Dutch studio is made up of just two people, but it's one of the most well-known indie developers. Co-founder Rami Ismail almost feels like an unofficial spokesman for the industry.

"We are not afraid to speak up against things we find problematic in the industry, and things we find interesting in the industry," said Ismail.

Indeed, he has been a staunch supporter of Anita Sarkeesian and her series examining women in video games - a series that has sparked a wave of abuse for Sarkeesian and those who stand with her.

He also suggested Vlambeer's high profile might be because the company always seems to find itself in the middle of the industry's latest trends.

"When cloning was a big news story, Vlambeer was the company that got cloned. When Twitch was becoming a big thing, Vlambeer was working on a game that had live streaming."

It's their response to cloning that makes the company stand out.

It all started with a web game Vlambeer created called Radical Fishing. Happy with the concept, they were working on adapting that game to iOS as Ridiculous Fishing when they saw a trailer for Ninja Fishing, a game that seemed very similar to their original web game. And Ninja Fishing was set for release on iOS before Ridiculous Fishing.

Ismail says they explored legal options, but lawyers told them that gameplay cannot be copyrighted like art and music. The look of a game cannot be copied, but how a game controls and how it feels is not protected.

Surprisingly, he actually agrees with that, citing the stifling effect patents have on the smartphone industry. "Having that freedom to create and build and iterate on existing things is really important for the games industry."

But it did mean that that someone had effectively beaten them to their own game. It left the company in a deep funk; Ismail said they didn't work on another game for another six months.

That's when the other half of Vlambeer, Jan Willem Nijman, had an idea for a dogfighting game: LUFTRAUSERS. The game encourages players to be aggressive and constantly attack opponents to keep a high combo. It's an unusually aggressive game by Vlambeer's standards, something Ismail says was intentional.

"It is everything that we felt right after we got cloned. In a way, it's a perfect metaphor for how we felt, and that's actually exciting that a game can be that."

And don't worry about Ridiculous Fishing. Vlambeer eventually finished the game and released it last year, when it was named iPhone Game of the Year by Apple.

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