Back And Forth Cloning Battles With Zynga Continue With New EA Chapter

from the karma-slapped dept

Our first introduction with Zynga was back in 2009 when the maker of Mob Wars sued Zynga over its Mafia Wars game. Zynga was accused of copyright infringement and ended up paying a pretty penny. Later on in the year, Zynga turned around and sued Playdom over what it claimed was trademark infringement. Shortly there after Zynga was sued for trademark infringment over the name Mafia Wars. Then last year, Zynga decided to sue a Brazilian company, Vostu, for various claims of copyright infringment and even some claims that the company copied its entire business model. This lawsuit resulted in a very interesting ruling from a US Judge telling Zynga not to enforce its win over Vostu, because the US Judge wanted first dibs on the ruling. Remember this last case, because it is the most important one when reviewing this next lawsuit.

Just last week, word came in that Zynga was being sued yet again over allegations of game cloning and copyright infringement. This time the player doing the suing is none other than EA, the makers of the game The Sims Social. In its complaint, EA accuses Zynga of pretty much copying the entirity of the Sims Social in its game The Ville. In a press release about the case, EA states:
As outlined in our complaint, when The Ville was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of The Sims Social was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large. The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social. The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable. Scores of media and bloggers commented on the blatant mimicry.
Compare that to Zynga's statement about its lawsuit against Vostu:
Let’s be clear – it is one thing to be inspired by Zynga games, but it is entirely different to copy all of our key product features, product strategy, branding, mission statement and employee benefits lock, stock and barrel. We welcome Vostu into the arena of social games, but blatant infringement of our creative works is not an acceptable business strategy—it is a violation of the law.
In both statements, the accuser is stating that outright copying was taking place. That each accused game was a near replica of the other game. Such a claim from EA after Zynga made very much the same claims has got to be one of the largest legal karma slaps in history. One that Zynga will be very much lucky to walk away from.

Elsewhere in the filing, EA shows that Zynga's cloning is not limited to this one case. It lists numerous instances where Zynga had been accused of cloning other popular games. It lists the afore mentioned Mafia Wars, Dream Heights, Farmville and Zynga Bingo, all games that had been publicly accused of being clones. This was done to show that Zynga has an extensive history of cloning games.

EA's filing is also full of interesting screen shot comparisons in which it points out some of the more common similarities, such as the almost exact duplication of skin tone selections and personality types. EA even provided a video showing other similarities in animations.


Something to note in these examples is that they follow a very similar pattern to the filing Zynga made in its case against Vostu. In that filing, any time Zynga wanted to show off the similarities of the two games in question, it would show images that use as many similar elements arranged in as similar a fashion as possible. Something that EA does as well. This tactic is deployed as a method to project as much of a feeling of copyright infringement as possible. Unfortunately, it also clouds the fact that much of what is shown are in all actuality user made choices. 

In response to this lawsuit, Zynga has sent a comment out to the media.

The Ville is the newest game in our 'ville' franchise -- it builds on every major innovation from our existing invest-and-express games dating back to YoVille and continuing through CityVille and CastleVille, and introduces a number of new social features and game mechanics not seen in social games today. 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. 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.
Since we are in a compare/contrast mood today, let's take a quick look at how Vostu responded to Zynga's lawsuit.
Zynga has been accused of copying so many games that they’ve sadly lost the ability to recognize games like ours that are chock full of original content and have been independently created. Vostu has 500 brilliant employees working night and day making hand drawings and writing proprietary code for online games that our 35 million users worldwide enjoy. Zynga’s anti-competitive effort to bully us with a frivolous lawsuit — especially when we have some of the same key investors — is pathetic. While Zynga plays games with the legal process we will continue focusing on using our substantial resources to create games that entertain our customers.
There are two key similarities between these two defensive statements. The first is that both companies make the claim that their work is original and built with the companies' creative talents. The other is both are claiming that the lawsuits are less about copyright and more about attacking a competitor. It really boggles the mind that a company like Zynga has missed the poetics of this situation.

While we have repeatedly stated that the practice of game cloning is something that can be dealt with outside of the legal system, it is interesting to see these two players go toe to toe. What makes this case even more interesting than a typical cloning case, as I have tried to portray, is that Zynga set itself up for this lawsuit. Not just by copying EA's game, but also by providing the exact kind of legal precedent EA needs to win. If Zynga is to defend itself in this case, it is in effect defending Vostu's actions. Something that Zynga probably isn't looking forward to.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    The eejit (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:11am

    Zynga are probably the only "gaming" company with a worse consumer rep than EA. And as an ex-employee once described EA to me, EA is "a masochistic octopus".

    I think that either way, the only people to really win are the legal teams. However, the best result is that EA wins this, even though there are no GOOD results.

     

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      Richard (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:50am

      Re:

      the best result is that EA wins this, even though there are no GOOD results.
      The BEST result is that the judge tells both parties to sort their differences out of court and issues injunctions against the sale of both games until this happens - something like this DID actually happen in a chip case involving Hitachi and Motorola if I remember correctly.

       

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      Tunnen (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 10:08am

      Re:

      Haha, I am actually secretly hoping that the judge rules against both of them... That would be a GOOD result. =P

       

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      AndyD273 (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      The best result is the judge ordering the employees of the two companies to battle to the death...
      EA will probably win, just because of numbers, and also Battlefield experience... Although Zynga has that that Mafia mojo going for it. Except that they stole that mojo, so it may not work as well.

       

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    charliebrown (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:20am

    I have not played an EA game since the late 1980's. However, I don't like Zynga at all. So at the risk of being hated, GO EA! WOOHOO!

     

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    Machin Shin (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:27am

    Well, I guess one way to look at this is that two pathetic companies are going to loose a lot of money in this battle. The down side is that two legal teams will get rich.

     

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    VMax, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:28am

    Begun, the clone war has.

     

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    GMacGuffin (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:35am

    I've got $5 that the "similarities" between EA's claims against Zynga and Zynga v. Vostu were wholly intentional. Lawyers love to kick the opposition's own arguments back on them. It puts the defendant in the unenviable position of having to defend the very same claims it made against 3rd parties. ("Oh, but this case is different," says Zynga ...)

     

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    H Klang, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:51am

    Legal Cloning

    Are you allowed to copyright a lawsuit? Maybe Zynga should have done this first, as a preventive measure.

     

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    Bennett (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 8:54am

    EA Has a Huge Warchest

    This is a laughably ridiculous battle. EA has a bit of negative reputation because of their behaviour earlier this century, but Zynga on the other hand does not even have a quality title to its name. Meanwhile, EA owns the rights to a nearly limitless collection of games, many of which have actually been of quality.

     

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      JEDIDIAH, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 2:37pm

      Re: EA Has a Huge Warchest

      EA buys out innovative game studios and then ruins them. They strip the corpse of anything that can be exploited as a franchise and then suck the soul out of it.

      EA is the Borg of the games industry.

      If EA gets away with this they will destroy the industry as it gets mired in similar lawsuits. EA will no longer have any new studios to buy as they will all get sued out of existence.

       

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 9:03am

    Begun, the clone war has.

    Everybody knows Zynga's business model is to rip-off other people's game ideas.

    EA is also a bastard, but in this case they're in the right.

    (thanks, @VMax, for the genius title line...)

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 11:23am

      Re: Begun, the clone war has.

      One problem, copyright doesn't protect ideas and it doesn't protect gameplay. Unless Zynga literally copied art assets or code EA is wrong.

       

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 9:07am

    Pass the popcorn

    I have to admit, it gives me great pleasure to watch two horrible and ill-behaved companies go at each other.

     

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    Greevar (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 9:39am

    I'll say the same thing I said on Game Politics.

    Neither of them are in the "right". They are both equally guilty of what EA is accusing Zynga is and it's nothing that new to copy ideas (even if it bears strong similarities) from others and end up with something that makes people say it's a rip-off. A rip-off though? Come on, nothing in EA's game is really that original that negates Zynga from using the same ideas. Blaming Zynga for copying The Sims, is like blaming all modern military shooters for being too similar. They're harping on a game that is built on very common elements that are obviously prior art.

    "The BEST result is that the judge tells both parties to sort their differences out of court and issues injunctions against the sale of both games until this happens..."

    I agree with this completely, the court should throw it out and make them solve it themselves. Really, the market should make the determination which game is worthy.

     

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      Tunnen (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 10:10am

      Re: I'll say the same thing I said on Game Politics.

      The "BEST" result would be for the judge to rule against them both and serve them with an injunction against participating in the gaming industry. =P

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 10:29am

      Re: I'll say the same thing I said on Game Politics.

      I find complaining about copying of the sims amusing since the sims is copying from real life.

      Shouldn't "daily life" be in the public domain?

       

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        Greevar (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 1:39pm

        Re: Re: I'll say the same thing I said on Game Politics.

        That's what my thought was too. It's based on the common elements of a typical suburban lifestyle. There's not much room for originality for that, otherwise it wouldn't be what it is.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 2:43pm

          Re: Re: Re: I'll say the same thing I said on Game Politics.

          I was wondering how many ways can you show a pixellated person taking a shower? Magical rune collection? Rain dancing skill acquisition? Running start for a long jump into the sink?

          Quote from Will Wright, The Sims creator, back in 2008:

          "...it was surprising to me that we haven’t really had a viable competitor to “The Sims” since it was released. Which, I kind of almost would like to see at this point, to see what an alternative version of it would be."

          From an interview about Spore (pre-Amazon bombing, methinks):

          http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26565672/ns/technology_and_science-games/t/spore-will-wrig hts-latest-game-changer/

           

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    Thomas, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 10:01am

    In other news all the stupid Facebook games are exactly the same.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 2:40pm

    ROFL!! Zynga is a fucking joke!! They give a bad name to games just like the Chinese and Korean assholes with their pay to win games.
    They pump them out and when they die off they pull out and redo the graphics and maps then start again ripping more people off.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 6:45pm

    Sounds familiar...

    Zynga appears also to be copying Apple's business model: Copy from everyone then sue when someone else copies from you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 6:49pm

    Sounds familiar...

    Zynga appears also to be copying Apple's business model:

    Copy everyone then sue when someone else copies from you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2012 @ 7:38pm

    EA To Lose

    Zynga did not mechanically copy EA's work. That is obvious from the embedded video. Zynga was presumably careful to avoid purely mechanical copying in all other instances. Therefore EA's claim of copyright infringement fails.

    Zynga did copy a lot of ideas which are also present in EA's game. That is not a violation of copyright law, see Microsoft vs Apple over look-and-feel. Many of those ideas, such as the one of taking a shower, came from real life, which neither EA nor Zynga has a copyright on.

    Zynga to win this case.

     

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    faceless (profile), Aug 9th, 2012 @ 1:35am

    The best result would be for EA to continue this until Zynga goes bankrupt, then ultimately lose. Copyright doesn't and shouldn't cover this type of cloning.

     

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    Kyle Reynolds Conway (profile), Aug 9th, 2012 @ 11:24am

    With all of this wall building I hope they don't find they've forgotten doors and windows when the fire starts.

     

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    RyanNerd (profile), Aug 9th, 2012 @ 10:43pm

    I like Vostu's attitude

    "While Zynga plays games with the legal process we will continue focusing on using our substantial resources to create games that entertain our customers."

     

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