Zynga doesn’t always know a good thing when it sees it. The overnight success of Draw Something lured the studio into acquiring studio Omgpop for $210 million earlier this year, and that purchase contributed to the company’s financial meltdown in July. The easiest and most profitable strategy for Zynga in the past has been to just make an exact copy of its competitors’ games. That’s cheaper than acquiring them! Nimblebit’s Tiny Tower begat Zynga’s Dream Heights. Zynga’s most famous games, FarmVille and Mafia Wars, are mirror images of MyFarm and Mob Wars and they’re responsible for the company’s $2 billion value.
The salad days of mimicry are likely over for Zynga though. Electronic Arts declared copyright war on Zynga over the weekend. EA Maxis, the studio behind The Sims, claims that Zyngas The Ville is an “unmistakable copy” of The Sims Social.
EA filed its complaint against Zynga with US District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday, claiming the FarmVille company “willfully and intentionally copied and misappropriated the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a violation of US copyright laws.”
Maxis lead Lucy Bradshow expounded on the lawsuit for EA’s official blog. “This is a case of principal. Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product. But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it,” said Bradshaw, “I’m certain there will be a response. Some will say The Ville simply iterates; some will tell us to get over it and move on. We are confident in our position, and that we will prevail. But even if we do not, we will have made a point.”
Zynga blasted back on Monday. “It’s unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles,” read a statement from the studio, “It’s also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga’s CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players.”
In February, after Zynga came under fire for blatantly copying Tiny Tower, a memo to Zynga employees written by CEO Mark Pincus laid bare how the company’s entire mandate is based around copying competitors’ games rather than designing new ones. “We don’t need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. There are genres that we’re going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are,” it reads, “And, this has always been the case for our company and the rest of the industry. Zynga Poker, FarmVille, CityVille and Words with Friends, none of these games were the first to market in their category but we made them the most fun and social, and the most popular. There are rules of engagement in our industry. Companies have to respect each other’s legal and IP ownership rights in the form of copyrights and trademarks.”
Of course this is just a different version of what Pincus said in 2010 according to an ex-employee: “I don’t fucking want innovation. You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”