EA Sues Zynga for Copying The Sims Social

| 3 Aug 2012 19:40

EA says its lawsuit over Zynga's The Ville is a "case of principle."

Zynga has been no stranger to accusations of copyright infringement - its games often bear a striking resemblance to games by smaller studios, with titles like Dream Heights earning angry letters from the studios that felt ripped off. Most aggrieved studios are too small to afford the expense of litigation, which has thus far kept the company safe from lawsuits. But what happens when Zynga makes a game like The Ville that resembles The Sims Social, made by EA? Well, as it turns out, EA has answered that question definitively, by filing a lawsuit against Zynga for copyright infringement.

Make no mistake - this is not EA threatening to sue Zynga, or simply claiming that Zynga ripped off its game. EA has, according to Maxis Label General Manager Lucy Bradshaw, officially filed a lawsuit against Zynga today. Bradshaw summed up the legal argument of the suit by stating, "in legal terms, our claim is that Zynga copied the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a clear violation of the U.S. copyright laws." The complaint specifically points out that the similarities between Zynga's and EA's games were noticed immediately upon The Ville's release.

But, according to Bradshaw, it goes beyond superficial similarities. "Zynga's design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social," she stated. "The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable."

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This isn't just an effort to protect EA's profits, though - Bradshaw said that this "is a case of principle." Bradshaw pointed out that, while EA isn't the first to accuse Zynga of copyright infringement, it is "the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it." She condemned copyright infringement as both unacceptable and illegal, and wrote that, by suing Zynga, EA hopes to "have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don't have the resources to protect themselves." Bradshaw ended her statement by saying that "today, we hope to be taking a stand that helps the industry protect the value of original creative works and those that work tirelessly to create them."

Zynga fired back in short order, releasing a brief statement about the upcoming lawsuit. After taking a couple sentences to plug Zynga's own games, including The Ville, YoVille, and CastleVille, General Counsel Reggie Davis flatly stated, "it's unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to [The Ville], and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles." Davis also made sure to mention the resemblance between Zynga's long-running CityVille and EA's recently-released SimCity Social, which went so far as to not-so-subtly mock CityVille in a trailer for the game.

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Although accusations of copyright infringement are as common as cheap copycat games, particularly in the mobile and social spaces, this is the first time a company with the legal and financial weight of EA is officially suing a studio on copyright-infringement grounds. Other high-profile lawsuits, while often related to copyright infringement, have legally been based on patent infringements, name trademarks, and even NDA violations instead. This has partly been due to the difficulty of proving copyright infringement over design alone - a game can use one mechanic that's similar to another game without a problem, but the line between "inspired by" and "clone of" gets hard to define as the design similarities increase.

Thus, the common counter-argument is that the game accused of infringement merely iterates on its predecessor - a claim Bradshaw recognized when she wrote that "some will say The Ville simply iterates [on The Sims Social]." But if EA sticks to its principles and refuses a settlement, then successfully proves that ripping off design alone can constitute copyright infringement, that could make a lot of developers think twice about how much "inspiration" they take from successful games.

Source & Image: Inside Social Games

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Finally a hero comes to save us all from the mess of plagiarism that is Zynga. And it's EA. Huh.

Between this and Tim Langdell, it seems like the only moves EA makes any more that I can fully condone are its lawsuits.

kitsuta:
Davis also made sure to mention the resemblance between Zynga's long-running CityVille and EA's recently-released SimCity Social, which went so far as to not-so-subtly mock CityVille in a trailer for the game.

So Zynga first rips off SimCity, then dares to essencially call its social gaming version a copy?

It's long since time that Zynga gets a lesson anyways. every single game of theirs was a social gaming ripoff of existing games.

TheScientificIssole:

thebobmaster:

TheScientificIssole:
Wait, What did EA do? I still don't understand.

Basically, back in the mid 90's to early 2000's, EA bought up several well-loved studios, such as Westwood ("Command & Conquer"), Bullfrog Productions ("Syndicate"), and Origin Systems, Inc. ("Ultima"), and basically ran the companies into the ground, all three of them closing down after sub-standard releases. Gamers never forgave EA, and since then, every misstep EA has taken has been magnified.

EA didn't develop the games that caused that then. Still do not understand.

They produced them, and owned the studios that did develop those games, so most gamers hold EA responsible.

thebobmaster:

TheScientificIssole:

dnazeri:
YES YES YES. As much as I hate EA, I hate Zynga 40 times that amount. All of EA's faults are shitty business practices which treat consumer poorly, and they do me no damage cause I don't buy their games, plus the people who do buy EA games don't seem to mind. But Zynga actively hurts developers I support even though I don't buy their games.

So +1 for EA indeed. This brings their running total to -1546.

Wait, What did EA do? I still don't understand.

Basically, back in the mid 90's to early 2000's, EA bought up several well-loved studios, such as Westwood ("Command & Conquer"), Bullfrog Productions ("Syndicate"), and Origin Systems, Inc. ("Ultima"), and basically ran the companies into the ground, all three of them closing down after sub-standard releases. Gamers never forgave EA, and since then, every misstep EA has taken has been magnified.

EA didn't develop the games that caused that then. Still do not understand.

Think we have any luck of the court ordering Zynga and EA to fight to the death and they end up killing each other?

...That would be so cool.

Nicolaus99:
Ew, EA or Zynga? They're both scum. I'd have to lean towards Zynga here though. The Ville might be a blatant rip off but The Sims pretty much created a new genre; how could anything in that genre not be a rip off to some degree? Unless they're direct lifting the art and music this doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Are we really going to start copyrighting concepts, "styles of play" or controls? The whole video game industry is a giant cookie cutter festival. Just starting this issue with the first person shooters alone would be an absurd farce in motion.

Go read the court complaint. It's a delightfully entertaining fifty pages, complete with pretty pictures. To say that the two are substantially different games is to say that the riff that backs Queen's "Under Pressure" is substantially different from the riff that backs Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby."

Ew, EA or Zynga? They're both scum. I'd have to lean towards Zynga here though. The Ville might be a blatant rip off but The Sims pretty much created a new genre; how could anything in that genre not be a rip off to some degree? Unless they're direct lifting the art and music this doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Are we really going to start copyrighting concepts, "styles of play" or controls? The whole video game industry is a giant cookie cutter festival. Just starting this issue with the first person shooters alone would be an absurd farce in motion.

Mygaffer:

The numbers I have looked out show a company that overestimated how big their audience was going to be and how long that audience would hang around.

I think we going to start seeing people lose interest in these types of games as time goes on due to the lack of any real reward in playing them.

I was considering this overestimation, combined with the capricious nature of social gaming popularity and I came up with a sort of forecast for the future, which will inevitably be wrong, but bear with me as I go through a series of causes for what I think will cause the social/casual gaming market to implode in the next few years:

1) Originality is rare. Ripoff after ripoff after ripoff. How many times have you played Bejeweled, but it wasn't Bejeweled, but it behaved mostly like Bejeweled, so you just shrugged and played it anyway? Words With Friends isn't anything new (Scrabble came out a few years prior), but the implementation of it was original. Same goes for Draw Something, as it's just networked Pictionary. Nothing new, but implemented well enough to get quite popular.

2) The number of people playing those two games now is probably ten percent of what it was at its peak. Free games mean you don't really feel like you have to get your money's worth. Take a PS3 or Xbox game: You pay sixty dollars for that game, you play it for weeks, even if it's not very good, because then you can really tell people, in-depth and at great length, what a shitty game it is. Free game? Even if it's good, one day you close it and you just never open it again. Big deal, you're not going to miss it.

3) There's a percentage of people who will pay for virtual donkeys and the vast majority won't. If they don't, then the developer has to monetize the game through in-game advertising, which immediately turns off a fair number of people. If they don't go the advertising route, they're just giving away the game, because there's this bizarre myth that games should cost 99 cents or $1.99 at the most. And then people bitch and moan when they feel they didn't get their 99 cents worth over the course of the twenty days that they played the game, giving it the lowest rating possible (these are the people who rate everything as either five stars or one star on a five-star scale; I HATE THESE PEOPLE).

4) Everybody's making these games, and they're getting worse and worse, as well as more and more bland. Less original and less sparkle, shall we say. At some point, the incoming money is going to be stretched so thin that there's no money in making casual games anymore, at which point most of the developers get out of the market and people start paying up-front for games again.

5) For anyone who doesn't understand why someone would pay for a virtual donkey, though, it becomes easy to understand if you consider a Street Fighter analogy. Some moves in Street Fighter are a pain in the ass. So, if you're playing Street Fighter against someone at an arcade and you put your dollar or so into the machine, it says, "For just another quarter, I can tie that Special button to the spinning piledriver you can't pull off. Noob." You think anyone's going to throw in that extra quarter? Yep, faster than you can say Shoryuken.

An alternate theory to all of this is that everything will remain status quo and the cream will merely rise to the top. However, my opinion remains that, in the future market of clones of ripoffs of doppelgangers of copies of games, there can be no cream without adequate protection for original material. The whole house of cards will collapse.

Oh EA, you gained some points. Grind Zynga to dust.

This is all a pretty clear cut case, not sure why there's any debate.

EA treats it's customers like cash cows, but we deal with it because they publish good games. It's not that we're supporting EA when we buy these games, it's that we're supporting developers like DICE who have made an awesome game, but unfortunately are tied to a contract with EA.

Zynga, on the other hand, DIRECTLY rips off other people's games, right down to the very specific gameplay elements and mechanics, then gives it a new coat of paint and pawns it off as their own creation, and their owner has even told the developers not to create any original material, just to make cheap knock offs of existing games.

So, while EA is money grubbing and definitely not so great with customer service, Zynga is FAR, FAR worse as far as their ethics go.

I say that, I have a LOT of disrespect for EA.

Thomas Mccluskey:

Mygaffer:

I really despise Zynga and their whole model of stealing their way to the top but I almost think we should let the market sort it out, as it seems to be doing. Zygna is fast losing market and mind share.

Actually, since their quarterly income from games seems to be stable over the last year and their income from in-game advertising is increasing, the only way they're losing market share is from the market getting larger. Their own user-base isn't leaving them.

Financially, if Zynga's doing anything wrong, it's buying companies like Omgpop (the developers of Draw Something) and not recognizing that Omgpop is probably a one-hit wonder that will never monetize the amount that Zynga paid for it. Yes, Draw Something had millions of users a day prior to Zynga's purchase, and that's dropped substantially, but I'd say the reasoning, by and large, has nothing to do with Zynga. It's because users of free games are a capricious lot who will drop one game for another in a heartbeat, because they don't feel the human need to get their money's worth, because there was no money involved in the first place.

That said, the model under which Zynga works is similar to that of a crack dealer, in which you get something for free, but if you want more of it, you're going to have to pay them. It's a flawed analogy, but I'm in a hurry. I once saw a lady in line at a Target buying three Farmville cards, mumbling something along the lines of, "My lettuce is wilting, I need to get home."

My point is, Zynga's got these people locked up. The market isn't going to solve anything. If you let the market solve this issue, Zynga will continue to be a multi-billion dollar company for years to come, because its players really don't care what the company does to make its games; they just want more games.

The numbers I have looked out show a company that overestimated how big their audience was going to be and how long that audience would hang around.

I think we going to start seeing people lose interest in these types of games as time goes on due to the lack of any real reward in playing them.

I think this dispute is quite humorous as in this case both of them as well as cities xl and manym any other games are CLEARLY lifting everything from the original SimCity.

i hope they both waste money on lawyers and go bancrupt. Ofc thats not possible since EA can spawn money out of nothing (how else would you explain them still not going bancrupt?)

TheScientificIssole:

dnazeri:
YES YES YES. As much as I hate EA, I hate Zynga 40 times that amount. All of EA's faults are shitty business practices which treat consumer poorly, and they do me no damage cause I don't buy their games, plus the people who do buy EA games don't seem to mind. But Zynga actively hurts developers I support even though I don't buy their games.

So +1 for EA indeed. This brings their running total to -1546.

Wait, What did EA do? I still don't understand.

Basically, back in the mid 90's to early 2000's, EA bought up several well-loved studios, such as Westwood ("Command & Conquer"), Bullfrog Productions ("Syndicate"), and Origin Systems, Inc. ("Ultima"), and basically ran the companies into the ground, all three of them closing down after sub-standard releases. Gamers never forgave EA, and since then, every misstep EA has taken has been magnified.

Waaghpowa:
Zynga copying someones game? Stop the fucking presses.

Very droll sir, you made me lol.

Sarcasm aside, they held down and ripped off the wrong game. This one is both bigger and meaner and is more than able to crush Zyngha in court by it's sheer financial capability.

You can toss a lot of shit EA's way and fairly so, but at least they play by the rules (most of the time). In D&D terms, this is Lawful Evil (EA) squaring off versus Chaotic Evil (Z). Also feels really odd to root for EA... First time for everything I guess.

antipunt:
Lesser of two evils. Nuff said

>_<

Couldn't say it better myself.

dnazeri:
YES YES YES. As much as I hate EA, I hate Zynga 40 times that amount. All of EA's faults are shitty business practices which treat consumer poorly, and they do me no damage cause I don't buy their games, plus the people who do buy EA games don't seem to mind. But Zynga actively hurts developers I support even though I don't buy their games.

So +1 for EA indeed. This brings their running total to -1546.

Wait, What did EA do? I still don't understand.

Mygaffer:

I really despise Zynga and their whole model of stealing their way to the top but I almost think we should let the market sort it out, as it seems to be doing. Zygna is fast losing market and mind share.

Actually, since their quarterly income from games seems to be stable over the last year and their income from in-game advertising is increasing, the only way they're losing market share is from the market getting larger. Their own user-base isn't leaving them.

Financially, if Zynga's doing anything wrong, it's buying companies like Omgpop (the developers of Draw Something) and not recognizing that Omgpop is probably a one-hit wonder that will never monetize the amount that Zynga paid for it. Yes, Draw Something had millions of users a day prior to Zynga's purchase, and that's dropped substantially, but I'd say the reasoning, by and large, has nothing to do with Zynga. It's because users of free games are a capricious lot who will drop one game for another in a heartbeat, because they don't feel the human need to get their money's worth, because there was no money involved in the first place.

That said, the model under which Zynga works is similar to that of a crack dealer, in which you get something for free, but if you want more of it, you're going to have to pay them. It's a flawed analogy, but I'm in a hurry. I once saw a lady in line at a Target buying three Farmville cards, mumbling something along the lines of, "My lettuce is wilting, I need to get home."

My point is, Zynga's got these people locked up. The market isn't going to solve anything. If you let the market solve this issue, Zynga will continue to be a multi-billion dollar company for years to come, because its players really don't care what the company does to make its games; they just want more games.

Thomas Mccluskey:

Mygaffer:
I hate to say this but Zygna should win this one. As long as they came up with their own art and wrote their own code then it is a clone, something with a rich history in video games.

This is the gist of the case, though, if you'd care to read the complaint filed with the court. The point is, Zynga didn't come up with their own art, not any more than Vanilla Ice came up with the riff that underlies Ice Ice Baby. It's different, but not significantly different enough. It's like trying to change two or three notes over the entirety of Stairway To Heaven, releasing it to millions of dollars in sales and then saying you don't owe Page/Plant a dime. They wouldn't tear you apart in court because they can afford better lawyers, they'd tear you apart in court because you're just legally wrong.

There are games that are knockoffs. There are games that are very similar to one another in mechanics. This is taking Super Mario Bros., then leaving all of the art assets functionally unchanged, but changing Mario's outfit from red to yellow, and then claiming it's an original work just to cash in on something that someone else developed and took the artistic and financial risk to prove was a sellable idea. That would be a clone on the level that Zynga has ripped off with their Sims Social and Tiny Tower knockoffs, and I can't really think of any clones that are as blatant as the ones perpetrated by Zynga.

I really despise Zynga and their whole model of stealing their way to the top but I almost think we should let the market sort it out, as it seems to be doing. Zygna is fast losing market and mind share.

EA has a legitimate claim to be self-righteous? May the gods have mercy on us all.

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