Square Enix announced a new game called Foamstars at the May 2023 PlayStation Showcase. It’s a multiplayer shooter where players shoot multi-colored foam at each other with wacky weapons. There’s just one problem. This game already exists, right?
The internet responded to Foamstars by accusing it of being a copy of Splatoon. It’s easy to see why. After all, Nintendo’s franchise is a multiplayer shooter where players shoot multi-colored ink at each other with wacky weapons. It’s almost the same concept.
It goes beyond that though. So many of the weapons in the Foamstars trailer feel like imitations of Splatoon’s weapons, even down to the sound effects. A montage of special attacks reveals clones of the Baller, Inkzooka, Killer Wail, Inkstrike and Splashdown. The design of the pink-haired girl who appears prominently in the trailer bears similarities to the Inkling girl from the cover of Splatoon 2. I did initially think the surfboards were unique at least, until I realized that they could simply be considered a variant of Splatoon‘s squid and octopus forms.
Obviously, Nintendo doesn’t have an exclusive right to make painting-turf gameplay. Plenty of other developers are welcome to make something new out of Nintendo’s base concept. However, the more the trailer showed off ideas ripped straight out of Splatoon, the more baffling it became.
However, Foamstars is the product of a wider problem within the games industry. It’s a problem that Square Enix in particular keeps running into. I’m talking about the live service gold rush.
We can blame Fortnite for this. The game makes billions for Epic and is attracting branding deals, concerts, film premieres, and other events. It is an undeniable success. The problem is, every other publisher wants to replicate that success. More often than not, though, this results in direct clones, with publishers thinking that making the exact same game will bring the exact same success.
Fortnite led to countless battle royale clones such as Spellbreak or Ubisoft’s Hyper Scape. Destiny clones like Anthem were gunning for Bungie’s success. The success of Among Us has caused social deduction games to flood Steam. None of these have managed to replicate the success of the high-profile game they were copying.
Square Enix is not immune to this, as it constantly jumps on the bandwagon. Much like other uninspiring live services, those games have also rarely replicated the success of the big names. Games like Babylon’s Fall and Chocobo GP both launched in 2022 and promptly closed by the time 2023 rolled around. Even getting a Marvel license for the Avengers game failed to bring much success. Now the latest attempt to attract success appears to be copying a more low-key live service game, Splatoon.
Splatoon is rarely thought of as a live service game. This is partly because it doesn’t contain microtransactions. Instead, it’s funded entirely through the game’s direct sales and DLC expansions. However, the presence of persistent updates, time-limited events like Splatfests and Splatoon 3’s seasonal rotations do fit the live service model.
It’s also a huge success for Nintendo, with Splatoon 3 breaking launch records in Japan upon release. It’s easy to understand Square Enix seeing that success and deciding to capitalise on it, especially with so few other imitators on the market.
However, the reaction to Foamstars shows the fault with this approach, and it’s the same problem other copycat live service games have run into. Live service games demand your attention, usually with daily logins or time-limited events. With so much time and money invested in the game you’re already playing, you’re likely to just stick with what you know instead of jumping into a different game that demands your time.
As a result, the players of the successful titles do not want to drop their current title for a new one. Fortnite players didn’t want to switch to Hyper Scape. Destiny players didn’t want to switch to Anthem. And now, based on the reaction online, it’s unlikely that any Splatoon players will buy PS5s to play Foamstars. This Splatoon player certainly isn’t interested, and I already own a PS5.
What’s extra fascinating about Square Enix’s desperate pursuit of its own massively successful live service is that it already has one. Final Fantasy XIV is one of the biggest MMOs on the market, and the profit it generates is almost certainly one of the key things keeping the company afloat. Square Enix could coast off that success and focus the rest of its attention on the single player RPGs it built its reputation on. Instead, they’re choosing to make their own knock-off Splatoon.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Foamstars will find an audience on PlayStation that doesn’t already own a Switch for Splatoon. Maybe it will prove to be more than just the carbon copy it currently appears to be. Maybe it will buck the current trend of live services going up in smoke. But it’s not looking likely.
Splatoon became successful because it offered something new and unique, especially within Nintendo’s catalog. Foamstars is not offering some new and unique. It’s offering “Splatoon at home”. That is a serious uphill battle for Square Enix if they want to make the game a success.
Foamstars is set to release for PS5 and PS4. Splatoon 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch.