It has been famously quoted, “bad artists copy; good artists steal”, meaning that a good artist can truly make a work that inspires them their own. I would argue you don’t even have to be that talented to steal — as long as you have the passion and put in the effort to steal something thoroughly, it will become yours.
I have long experience in graphic design, especially with t-shirts. When I started, I was reluctant to to do anything that showed I was inspired by another artist. But once I got more experience and realized the work that inspired me was originally inspired by other works by other artists, I stole more freely.
I was surprised to discover that if I let the inspiration be part of me — really understood and appreciated it — then I could add my own flavor and the final result was often so different from the original that people would be surprised what my inspiration was.
That is what you want to do with game design. Don’t just take a game you like and change the artwork and a few rules. Absorb the game and mix it with your unique concepts, ideas, and preferences. Put your heart and hard work into it and make it truly yours.
What work has inspired you that you are reluctant to “copy”? How could you truly steal it?