Social games giant Zynga is famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask,) for “borrowing” ideas from other companies’ games and adapting them (or again, depending on who you ask, copying them verbatim,) into their own products. According to a blog post by Zynga VP Dan Porter, game developers have always copied others’ ideas, and the debate about originality is simply “a distraction.”
“What I actually said was that all games are derived from other games, that this has been happening long before Zynga, and that the debate about originality in games is vastly overblown and misses the mark,” Porter wrote, adding “Before making Draw Something we ran OMGPOP for four years and made lots of games that were inspired by games we loved and we emulated the mechanics from games with great UI. This is no great revelation.”
This particular blog post was in response to earlier news articles in which Porter himself was quoted as saying “[Zynga is] often accused of copying games, which is mostly true,” statements which Porter says were taken out of context.
In his blog post, Porter argues that social games developers should spend less time arguing about originality and more time focusing on how to manage their games as an on-going service. “The bigger point that I made, one that was overshadowed, goes to the true genius of Zynga. After making games for years, it was joining Zynga that made me understand the art, science and special sauce running games as a service.”
Porter seems like a smart guy, but he seems to miss the point of the criticisms leveled against Zynga entirely. While it’s true that games have always been influenced by the titles that have come before them (just try to find a platformer that does borrow an idea or two from Mario or Sonic, or a fighting game that doesn’t use the foundation that Street Fighter 2 established,) Zynga has done a little more than just draw “inspiration” from other games: their games often look like simple re-skins of their competitors’ products and feature nearly identical gameplay. It’s one thing to be influenced by the games you love, it’s another thing to copy them in their entirety.