Tiny Gamemaker Takes The Right Approach To Giant Zynga Copying Its Game: It Thanks Them

from the nicely-done dept

It’s no secret at all that casual gaming giant Zynga has a dreadful reputation for copying the games of others, and then crushing them in the marketplace. What’s even more ridiculous is that Zynga also has a habit of using IP laws to go after competitors. There’s been a lot of news this week over the story that Zynga’s new tower sim game Dream Heights appears to copy another game, Tiny Tower from Nimblebit, a small, 3-person development shop. As with any “big company copies little company” story, this story blew up fast and is getting a ton of attention. But what struck me most about it was how Nimblebit handled itself. Rather than threaten or sue or flip out… it put out a (slightly sarcastic, yes) “Dear Zynga” image that congratulated the company, wishing them luck, and saying that they were “looking forward to inspiring you with our future games.”

It’s a perfect response in so many ways. First, rather than resorting to a costly and pointless legal process, it makes the point pretty damn clearly — juxtaposing screenshots from the two games. Second, by taking a cheeky approach to it, it makes Nimblebit look even better, and Zynga more obnoxious. I would imagine that this controversy ends up helping Nimblebit quite a bit.

It also demonstrates, yet again, that there are social costs to straight up copying. Even if it’s legal (and it might be — and it should be mentioned that there have been other sim tower games as well… ) there’s a social stigma against such blatant copying. And it seems that by going public Nimblebit ends up accomplishing a lot more. It gets a lot more attention to its own game without wasting money on a costly and long legal process… plus it shames Zynga, but still leaves the actual competition open to the market place.

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Companies: nimblebit, zynga

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Comments on “Tiny Gamemaker Takes The Right Approach To Giant Zynga Copying Its Game: It Thanks Them”

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Marcus Carab (profile) says:

I think the images also demonstrate that, whether or not people like to admit it, Zynga does bring something to the table – and it’s all about the design. Tiny Tower looks like a gamer’s game – rather rigid in its way, with everything methodically laid out and nice compact little pixel fonts, and an overall sense of uniformity. It feels like an interface.

That’s not bad – in fact it appeals to me (and I’m sure lots of readers here) much more. But the Zynga version is worthy of some recognition: their graphics are bouncier and rounder and less uniform, with brighter colours and humanist typefaces, big bright buttons and artwork that looks more like modern vector icons than traditional videogame sprites. The avatars have that cartoony feel to them. It feels like a little animated world – not an interface.

Zynga knows a lot about psychology and it’s clear they apply it to their visual design as much as their game mechanics. The Tiny Tower graphics engender a subconscious reaction in a lot of people – they are, to put it bluntly, geekier than the Zynga graphics. Zynga’s is designed with the flashiness of advertising. Personally I love the Tiny Tower look – but then, I grew up playing DOS games and coding in QBASIC. Is it really any wonder that Zynga pulls the big numbers from the general population with their games?

dave says:

Re: graphics

“Is it really any wonder that Zynga pulls the big numbers from the general population with their games?”

For a while they milled countless games off the same tired turn based equasion and put them on facebook. All they had to be was at least a little bit catchy. They reel in high numbers this way, looks good on paper, but the games get boring FAST. They just aren’t as good as they look.

I think it’s a unfortunate that they shamelessly copied that, and in my opinion this is the sort of thing copyright laws should be focused on. Zynga should be giving Nimblebit credit and sharing profits, particularly because this is a for-profit situation.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: graphics

I’m no fan of Zynga games – I’m just saying that the ability to use those design talents to create games that catch the average user’s eye and draw them in is a real and respectable talent that is worth noting. You can argue that it’s cheap and dirty, but I’m just saying it’s not as if they aren’t bringing a very real type of skill into the equation, and doing some very real work to earn their success – because they are.

As far as what you say about copyright, I have to completely disagree. There is no way Zynga should be giving them money. If they did, where would it end? Should both of them pay royalties to the publishers of Sim Tower? Should Nimblebit be paying Fox because they apparently use the joke name “Mapple” as a stand-in for Apple, which The Simpsons did first? Should the pioneers of pixel art get a slice? Should Atari come calling, saying they invented games where you progress by moving up floor-by-floor?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 graphics

I agree its just a shame that Zynga feels its free to emulate other but at the same time it likes to swing the big stick if it thinks someone is emulating them. You really shouldn’t be able to have the best of both worlds.

On that I completely agree. The hypocrisy is absurd and I would love to see Zynga slapped down every time they try to throw their IP weight around.

But I also don’t think two wrongs make a right in the copyright word – for Tiny Tower to use its IP against Zynga just because Zynga does it to others would, in my mind, only compound the problem (and I know that’s not what you’re suggesting here – it just seems like that’s where a lot of people’s minds go. But “give ’em a taste of their own medicine” is not a useful approach when the *real* goal is to get everyone off the pills altogether.)

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: graphics

Copied? They didn’t copy it. They used the same ideas and created something entirely on their own. Zynga didn’t use anything that belonged exclusively to Nimblebit. They only emulated Tiny Tower, it’s not a copy. Copying would mean that both screen shots look, pixel to pixel, exactly the same in a side-by-side comparison, but they don’t.

Accusing Zynga of copying Tiny Tower is no different than saying that GIMP or Corel Paint is a copy of Photoshop. The only similarity between them are the ideas behind the games. The worst you can say about Zynga in this is that they are lazy about generating ideas, but everyone in the entertainment industry is lazy about ideas. That’s why we have “Snow White” and other old folk tales in Disney’s film catalog. It’s why so many novels become movies or old animated shows like “Transformers” become big budget films. It’s because everybody just re-hashes ideas into their own interpretation. It’s cruise control for profit, like caps-lock is for awesome.

What you’re asking for copyright to do is just stupid and reckless. You’re asking for the ownership of ideas and nobody has the right to do that.

rallen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: graphics

“Ownership of ideas”? I believe the RIAA/MPAA might disagree with you, there. They have literally spent MILLIONS of dollars in bribes to politicians in the USA and elsewhere to have laws and trade agreements created that DO give them ownership of ideas.

SOPA/PIPA and ACTA is twisting copyright into EXACTLY what you’re against.

Alien Bard says:

Re: Re: Re:2 graphics

Those weren’t bribes, they were ‘donations’

…Made with the expectation that the person receiving the ‘donation’ would take specific actions on behalf of the contributor. That’s completely unlike a bribe where the person receiving the bribe is expected to take specific action on behalf of the contributor.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: graphics

Yeah, like Marcus, I disagree that this is the sort of thing copyright should be addressing. Zynga copied the idea & mechanics, sure — but I think this is little different than blues musicians “copying” each other. Zynga did put their own stamp on it. They didn’t just rip off the graphics directly, they probably didn’t copy the code directly, etc.

And I’m saying this as someone who has a problem with Zynga’s business practices and have had more than a few of my own software products “ripped off” in exactly the same way.

Willton says:

Re: Re: graphics

I think it’s a unfortunate that they shamelessly copied that, and in my opinion this is the sort of thing copyright laws should be focused on.

I disagree for many of the reasons stated before me, but in any event, copyright does NOT focus on this sort of thing because the only thing that was copied was the game mechanics, not the appearance or “expression” of the game. What would protect this sort of thing is patent law, assuming that the processes by which the Tiny Tower game operates are indeed patentable, which I doubt. However, even if they were patentable, I also doubt that the folks at Nimblebit would go through the expense of filing and prosecuting a patent application in connection with their game. A 3-person operation whose premier salable good is a $0.99 game likely does not have the desire nor the resources to go through with that.

Another AC says:

Re: Re: graphics

Tell me again why should Zynga share any profits with Nimblebit? They copied an idea, big deal. The winner is the one who executes it better… who cares if that happens to be the one that came after the originator?

I never understood this concept that people can own ideas and it is somehow wrong or evil that someone else implements the same idea (successfully or not).

Sure it may suck to be one of the three developers that work for Nimblebit in that case, but that’s how free-market capitalism works… learn from it an innovate better πŸ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: graphics


They not only copied they improved upon it, now if the little guys were able to copy Zynga without getting sued they would be fine, you see copying is a two way street is not a one way.

Both get their market share, whatever that is, the little guy is able to take advantage of the big corporate bully and the big bully keeps taking advantage of the little guy.

The little guy also can claim he was the original creator, which bring more sympathy to them than it does for Zynga.

Philip (profile) says:

You definitely saw this differently.

> that congratulated the company, wishing them luck, and saying that they were “looking forward to inspiring you with our future games.”

I saw that entire image as complete sarcasm bashing Zynga. There are even rebuttal images from other small indies bashing Nimblebit for bashing people (just people in general) for copying.

There’s one image, I’ll need to find, from an indie that properly congratulates the copying. It was on Reddit yesterday, if I recall. Need to locate it …

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I’m sure the millions of casual gaming drones that play Zynga’s rip-off titles will be well aware of the “social cost” of them copying Tiny Tower.


Yeah, and I’m sure that those millions of “casual gaming drones” would have definitely been finding and playing indie titles like this if only Zynga didn’t exist.


Brad Hubbard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sarcasm aside, you make a salient point – most gamers won’t know Zynga blatantly copied Nimblebit’s game.

But you know who will know? Investors, and employees. SOMEONE at Zynga knew they copied the other game. Maybe it was the Product Manager, maybe it was the whole team, but you can bet the entire company didn’t know.

And you can also bet that future hires will come across this and stories like it. If I’m good at what I do and want to create original games, Zynga isn’t the place for me.

Pendrake says:

Re: Not a privacy fan

“Tiny Tower on Android needs to be able to load your entire contact database.

Fun or not, they don’t get to harvest my data even if it’s free. I’ll deal with ads but this is just ridiculous.”

Um, I just ran off to the market to check this game out and it isn’t made by Nimblebit. I went to Nimblebit’s website and I don’t see any word on any of their apps being on android. πŸ™

vegetaman (profile) says:

Re: X-Gen Studios has something to say on this subject

I believe the point of that image is that a lot of people have had issues with people copying their ideas for iPhone app games — it wasn’t accusing Nimblebit of any copying.

I just googled the app store and these games and wound up with the following information:

I Dig It -> InMotion Software, LLC

StickWars -> John E. Hartzog

DCX2 says:

How are they different?

I looked at the screenshots in that image. Honestly, I can’t tell which game is which, at all. They look identical to me.

I’m reminded of how Rihanna had to pay out for some images from her S&M music video because they looked too close to some fetish artist. Also reminded how Apple got Samsung kicked out of Germany because the Galaxy Tab looked too much like the iPad. These images are way, way closer to each other in nature than either of the two previous examples.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

I don’t understand why people like these games that force you to wait 8 hours to see the flower/building/etc that you produced. Almost all of these games take a fun, well-paced simulation from somewhere, and sticks a “wait 8/16/24/32 hours till it’s done” mechanic.

If I want to play a game, why should someone else decide how often I can play? Yeah I know it’s done so that they can milk people for “megabuckzors” or “zyngabills” or whatever fake currency they make people buy with real money to get things NOW. But there’s plenty of games that don’t make you wait, or you wait 30-60 seconds top and may probably even accelerate time.

In SimTower construction was near instant. Many RTSs take a few seconds for a building to pop up. In Harvest Moon, you had to wait a full day but doing other quest-type things, and even there were ways around that.

Man, these “social sims” are so tedious.

CeejaY says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jan 26th, 2012 @ 8:23pm

Nimblebit’s game is actually the one that looks better. The pixel art is cute as hell. Not everybody wants game art to look so saccharin like it was designed for 10 year olds but it will all come down to personal preference. The thing that annoys me the most is that if the situation were reversed and a little company like Nimblebit had “borrowed” the idea from Zynga, Zynga would have crushed them with lawsuits. I’ve played both games and Nimblebit’s Tiny Tower is superior on so many levels and regardless of the competition from Zynga their game will remain as popular as ever.

Bloody Good Games (user link) says:

We never recommend Zynga

As fans of casual games, we never recommend our readers buy anything from Zynga, as they’re the scumbags of the gaming world when it comes to stealing other people’s work.

They’ve also just been listed as one of the biggest bullies on the block for going after who THEY see as competitors, even though half the time it’s them who stole in the first place.

We’ll definitely be writing a story on Nimblebit. Like to give the little guys some promotion, especially when they’re being screwed like this.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You seem to have confused “legal” and “socially acceptable”

None of us think that absolutely all forms of copying are right. Plagiarizing someone’s work and passing it off as your own, for example, is a dick move. Copying someone then yelling at others for copying you is infuriating hypocrisy. There are lots of times when copying is frowned upon socially.

The issue is that attempting to legislate against these unacceptable forms of copying just creates more problems. I mean, some people are total jerks – but we don’t have laws against being a jerk. We let other people deal with them through social pressures. Most people agree that adultery is a dick move – but it’s still legal in most places. Same thing. Generally speaking, I think most of us here would rather artistic issues to do with copying be handled in these societal ways, rather than through copyright law.

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