The digital dust has settled over Zynga’s blatant copying of NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower back in January. Besides a clever infographic from NimbleBit and a load of bad press, there were no real ramifications for Zynga, no fines, no lawsuit, nothing. It’s not surprising; after all it is one of the benefits of stealing from those who are smaller than you. The social games giant has been doing this for quite some time, cloning or flat-out stealing games from smaller companies, and standing behind their corporate legal shield while the victims can only look on in frustration. Zynga probably thought something similar would happen when they made The Ville a game which was *ahem* “inspired” by EA’s popular The Sims Social. They were wrong. EA has the resources to fight back, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
You really have to hand it to Zynga; they’ve managed to become hated enough to make even EA look good. it was only a few months ago when The Consumerist’s online poll ranked EA as ‘The Worst Company in America,’ for 2012.The article cited EA’s habit of “nickel and diming” it’s users to death, often holding on to pieces of finished content in order to charge for it later. While they do have a point, I think the reason they were ranked first over Bank of America has more to do with the fact that gamers are more “online oriented” and are more likely to participate in online polls. Still no matter how you slice it, it was not a good day for EA’s PR department. It’s no surprise then that EA has taken to Twitter to score some points with the community by offering “their shield” with previous Zynga victim NimbleBit.
While EA is technically only defending themselves, there is a chance to set a legal precedent in what has been traditionally a grey area for gaming and copyright infringement. You can take a look at the actual court filing here, but it’s safe to say that EA is attempting to not only sue for The Sims Social, but on behalf of everyone Zynga has stolen from in the past. There’s even a section in the document titled, “Zynga is widely reported to have achieved much of its success in the gaming market through cloning competitors’ games.” The section goes on to mention potential copyright theft dating back to Mafia Wars back in 2008, a game which was essentially a clone of Psycho Monkey’s Mob Wars.
Gamasutra has even put together a series of videos comparing the two games, specifically this one simply titled “shower,” which shows how much of a clone The Ville actually is. I, for one, was floored by how similar they were. I had seen other Zynga clones in the past, but it doesn’t even look like they’re trying to hide it with The Ville, there’s almost no difference at all. There are only two reasons I can think of that Zynga thought they could pass this off as their own work; they’ve either been fooled into thinking this is innovation and they’re true believers, or they’re very confident in their legal team.
I hope that EA takes this all the way to court and doesn’t allow Zynga to settle and avoid a nasty precedent. Either way, the result of this trial could have far-reaching implications for copyright law within the gaming market.