Aug 20, 2012

How can companies like Zynga get away with copying other companies' games?

Electronic Arts is suing Zynga for ripping off EA's The Sims Social to make The Ville. I don't usually give EA a lot of love, but I hope they wipe the floor with Zynga on this one. As a long time gamer, I have been astonished that Zynga has made so much money off of other people's ideas. I played Harvest Moon, a title published by Natsume, at least 15 years ago, and the first time I saw Farmville, I actually thought that Natsume had brought Harvest Moon to Facebook. Nope, it was Zynga ripping off Natsume and developer Marvelous Entertainment. Again and again I see Zynga clones of other developers work. Zinga ripped off NimbleBit's Tiny Tower and released an almost identical game called Dream Heights. Zinga ripped off Psycho Monkey's Mob Wars and released Mafia Wars, which is pretty much the same freakin' game.

Back in my younger days I did a little work in game development, and I can't begin to explain how I would feel if my months, or even years, of work were blatantly copied by a company with enough money to fund an army to duplicate my game in a few weeks. I really feel for the developers that this has happened to, it must be so heartbreaking and frustrating.

What will it take to stop what looks to me like one company blatantly taking the ideas of another and making money off of it?  Doesn't copyright law prevent this type of thing? Will EA finally be able to stop Zynga from remaking other companies' games and profiting off them?


I agree with you 100% about Zynga.  I'm sure they would disagree, but when I look at that company I see a business that doesn't focus on original ideas, but rather on monetizing the ideas of others.  To use your example of Harvest Moon, Yasuhiro Wada brought a new concept to gaming.  I mean, really, who else would have thought of a game where you struggled to grow turnips for hour after hour as the core of your experience, then actually made it amazingly fun.  Not Mark Pincus, I'd wager.  But what Pincus did think of was how to use social media to make a fortune off of Yasuhiro-san's concept. 


You mentioned copyright law.  Well, Zynga may not be a company I respect, but I do acknowledge that they understand how to minimize risk of a copyright violation.  I'd wager that there is not one line of code that is identical between Harvest Moon (any of the series) and Farmville.  That alone makes it much harder to prove infringement.  I'm sure that they would point to other games that are based around resource management to claim that Harvest Moon really wasn't an original concept, even though I think it was too.  EA has the resources to spend to litigate its claims aggressively, but there is no way the Zynga hasn't recognized the high probability of litigation under its business model and planned accordingly, from development to programming.  


To be fair, gaming has been a fertile ground for taking and refining existing games for decades now.  If you are old enough, think back to the early 80s, and how many space invader clones there were on game systems.  Or how many Bejeweled clones are out there now on Google Play or the App Store. 

Well, look at Apple and Samsung. Samsung clearly ripped off a lot of Apple's ideas, but who knows if that will make a real difference in court. It costs so much to litigate these cases, with no guarantee that a judge or jury will actually make the right decision.

I agree though that companies should not be stealing each other's products. In this case though I am not sure that EA is going to be able to get a satisfactory solution from the "justice" system.
Answer this