In Episode 59 of the Super Podcast Action Committee, hosts Andrew Eisen and E. Zachary Knight talk about the latest GamePolitics polls, Don Mattrick jumping from Microsoft to Zynga, a teen jailed for Facebook comments, and a whole lot more. Download Episode 59 now: SuperPAC Episode 59 (1 hour, 2 minutes) 57.2 MB.
In the first filing, Zynga moves to have a bunch of language from EA’s filings stricken as it feels that much of it is “redundant, immaterial, impertinent and/or scandalous.” It feels that a lot of the information presented, such as third party disputes, games and comments that do not pertain to EA’s specific claims of copyright infringement, are simply included to paint Zynga in as negative a light as possible.
Zynga also specifically rejects the idea that The Ville infringes The Sims Social by attempting to show that much of what EA claims to be infringing is either a natural part of a life sim or part of an evolution in design of other Zynga created games. This can be found in the second filing in which Zynga shows successive screen shots of its games YoVille, Cafe World and The Ville. Each with very similar UI elements.
Next, Zynga brings in a comparison of Zynga’s CityVille and EA’s SimCity Social games. It does so to highlight that even EA gives in to tropes and design choices common to the genre it works in. Coming off this, Zynga makes the claim that this lawsuit is nothing more than EA’s response to being unable to compete in the social gaming marketplace.
Finally, we have the third filing in which Zynga makes its most bold claim yet.
Zynga claims that EA CEO John Riccitiello wanted to establish an illegal “no-hire” agreement with Zynga that would prevent the company from hiring employees away from EA. The filing says Riccitiello had grown upset that many EA employees had moved over to Zynga, and had gone “on the war path” to put an end to the talent bleed.
The company also says EA filed its lawsuit in August not because it believes Zynga copied The Sims Social, but because the company wanted to discourage its employees from jumping ship.
If Zynga’s accusation is true, then EA’s attempt at establishing such an agreement is serious business. These types of agreements, in which the companies agree not to hire anyone that applies, if they work for the competing company, and will often report the employee to his/her boss, are generally very bad for workers and quite possibly illegal.
These agreements are so serious that the Department of Justice had been investigating a number of tech companies, including Apple and Google, for this practice back in 2010 with evidence finally surfacing earlier this year.
Of course, EA believes this claim by Zynga is just a smokescreen.
This is a predictable subterfuge aimed at diverting attention from Zynga’s persistent plagiarism of other artists and studios. Zynga would be better served trying to hold onto the shrinking number of employees they’ve got, rather than suing to acquire more.
Regardless of whether these claims are true or not, this shows just how far this legal dispute could go over the coming months. Here we have two powerhouse game companies fighting over something that really in the end will have no bearing on the future of the games industry.
In the end, what do we actually get out of dragging two companies’ reputations through the mud? What will either company get out of winning this lawsuit? If EA wins, it will get to claim that it slayed the big bad cloning monster and Zynga will slink away and only clone the games of much smaller companies. If Zynga wins, the games industry as it is now will continue forward exactly as it had been. Either way, nothing substantial will change. So again, what’s the point?
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.
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.
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.
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.