Hearing someone call Zynga a copycat is old news. Whether or not Zynga “draws inspiration” or “flat-out rips off” from other popular titles has been a debate for years. For the first time, however, Zynga appears to have an opponent with the financial capital to challenge the social games giant in a court of law. That opponent goes by the name of EA, and they’ve officially sued Zynga and The Ville for copyright infringement.
“The core legal issue is our belief that Zynga infringed copyrights to our game, The Sims Social. 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,” stated Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw. The legal document itself, however, doesn’t use such kind terms.
“The Ville was not an attempt to innovate on a game concept — it was an intentional effort to copy EA’s creative work,” claims EA. The 36-page document is full of shot-for-shot comparisons between The Ville and The Sims Social. We’ve pictured just a small sample of the dozens of available examples, but the proposed evidence is fairly overwhelming. Skin color selection, animations, activities, and even pixel-for-pixel door heights are among several accusations of copyright infringement.
This isn’t the first time that there’s been tension between Zynga and EA, either. Zynga has been recruiting notable EA employees as for back as 2010, which followed up with acquisitions of EA Sports’ Mark Turmell and COO John Schappert. A year after that, EA delivered a huge blow to Zynga by outbidding them for PopCap.
Recently, EA’s “More CITY, less ‘ville” video promoting SimCity Social takes a clear shot at Zynga’s CityVille franchise. On a near-daily basis, I see Facebook adds for The Ville inviting me to join if The Sims has gotten boring for me. They’ve been at each other’s throats for years, and the lawsuit seems to be a culmination of all the build up.
When contacted for a response, Zynga provided us the following statement from Reggie Davis, their General Counsel;
“We are committed to creating the most fun, innovative, social and engaging games in every major genre that our players enjoy. 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.”
Plagiarism has been far and away one of the biggest controversial issues in social and mobile gaming over the past half-decade, but never have two billion dollar companies as large as EA and Zynga ever attempted to settle things in the court of law. When things shape up, this will likely be the largest financial videogames-related legal battle that this industry has ever seen.
One way or another, this case could have huge legal implications for the future of imitation-based game design. Whether it’s okay or not, game developers have been looking for a clear-cut legal answer on the subject for years. We’ll be sure to keep our eye on this sticky situation as it develops in the coming months.