Is Zynga responsible for “stealing” ideas from other game companies simply to make a buck (or a few million)? If you ask Tiny Tower’s creator’s Nimblebit, the answer is yes. It’s not unheard for game developers to take a game model that previously existed and make something new of it. Take Capcom’s Devil May Cry for example, a game that was unique, but then God of War came along, which for all intensive purposes, was basically the same game, but there were enough differences in the game’s story, artwork, setting and even subtle differences in the gameplay for people to accept that it was a different game. In the case of Zynga and their games, that hasn’t happened. The now massive game company simply takes a game that has done very well, copies it, almost verbatim, puts their cute little polish on it and calls it their own. We’ve seen it with Mafia Wars (copied Mafia Life), Farmville (copied Farmtown), Zynga Bingo (copied Bingo Blitz) and even Words with Friends is a direct rip off of Scrabble, to the point where the board, scoring and gameplay is identical. Then there are games like Scramble with Friends, a rip off of Boogle.
NimbleBits’s Tiny Tower (left) and Zynga’s Dream Heights (right).
So after all the heat Zynga got from the press after Nimblebits complained that Dream Heights ripped off their game, Tiny Towers (which won game of the year from Apple via the App Store), Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus drafted up a letter to employees defending the company’s stance on innovation and game creation. Here’s the letter:
“Everyone,There’s press today about one of our mobile games, Dream Heights, that just launched in Canada and worldwide soon. As we become the Zynga of Mobile and more broadly, as Zynga grows by further innovating on best of breed social mechanics, we should expect the industry to sit up and take notice of our growing portfolio.I’m proud of the mobile team’s hard work and the industry has taken notice.For the first time, according to App Data, Words with Friends is the #1 game on Facebook. Scramble with Friends, within 2 weeks of launching, has topped the App Store rankings in multiply categories including top free, top paid and top grossing. Last week, Apple recognized the team’s work by featuring Zynga’s games on the front of the App Store.The mobile team is gearing up to launch more play across more genres and platforms. I want to congratulate them for working hard to bring great experiences to players around the world.Google didn’t create the first search engine. Apple didn’t create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn’t create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world.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. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.
With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it’s important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularized in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs. On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.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. Our teams continue to build and improve these games every week which has been an important part of our success model. We run our games as a live service and we continue to iterate, innovate and improve on them to give our players the best possible experience.
As I’ve said, our strategy since the beginning has been to develop the best game – most fun and most social – for every category of play. We are rarely first since most categories in games go back decades, but we aim to be the best.
A few of you have asked how our approach to genres relates to the situation we faced with Vostu. 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. In the case of Vostu, you can see for yourself that Vostu crossed the line and chose to use our copyrighted IP and artwork. That’s different than competing to build the best product or out-innovate us in the City category.Play in the form of social and mobile gaming has become a mainstream activity, but it has the potential to be so much more. It can be one of the primary ways we connect with other people. It can surpass TV as the most popular and engaging medium of the 21st century. In order to make this vision real, we need to work as a company and an industry to continue innovating, improving and hopefully revolutionizing every major genre of games for social play. Every successful game from developers big and small has pioneered some important new facet of this experience. We are proud of the mechanics we have pioneered that are now industry standards.Part of what makes our industry cool and dynamic is the idea that small teams can build successful games. But at Zynga we will continue to innovate and expand our possibility space in order to delight our player base too.Finally, I want to thank everyone who emailed me on this topic. Part of what makes our company special is the open transparent dialog we can all have, and it’s your passion that is shaping our future.
It’s a very well thought out letter, which after reading, may convince a few of you that what he is saying is right, that people and companies having been coping or re-invent games for a long time. But what Mark and Zynga are doing is not just taking a simple idea and giving it a new spin and creating something new with it. No, they are simply taking a game that already exists and duplicating exactly as is, without adding content to it or changing it, they are simply slapping their Zynga branded look (cuteness) on it and presenting it as their own. That would be like Stephen King taking a copy of Harry Potter, putting a scarier image on the front along with his name and calling it his own book about a Wizard. That sort of plagiarism wouldn’t stand in the book world, so why this form of coping being allowed in the game industry?
Let me say this, I find Zynga’s games fun, addicting and for the most part enjoyable (at least some of them), but that still doesn’t give them the right to rip off talented studios like NimbleBits and others without paying the price.
What are you thoughts on Zynga’s development strategies? Are they simply stealing ideas or are they justified because they are creating a unique version?
Photo Source: Forbes