Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
September 2, 2014
arrowPress Releases
September 2, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Zynga accused of cloning hit indie iPhone game  Tiny Tower
Zynga accused of cloning hit indie iPhone game Tiny Tower
January 25, 2012 | By Kris Graft

January 25, 2012 | By Kris Graft
Comments
    48 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Business/Marketing



San Diego, CA-based independent iPhone game developer Nimblebit is accusing social games giant Zynga of ripping off its popular mobile title Tiny Tower.

Zynga last week launched on the Canadian App Store Dream Heights, a free-to-download tower-building game with in-app purchases that has clear similarities to summer 2011's Tiny Tower, which received Apple's 2011 iPhone Game of the Year.

"Clones" of games are a common occurrence on mobile platforms, but the Tiny Tower versus Dream Heights conflict has gained quick notoriety on the web due to the David and Goliath scenario of a massive public company allegedly copying the ideas of a three-person team.

Nimblebit's Ian Marsh got word out about the similarities between Dream Heights and Tiny Tower with an image that's still making the Twitter rounds. The image is made up of screenshots showing how Dream Heights' interface and gameplay mechanics appear strikingly similar to Tiny Tower's.

"We noticed you are about to launch a new iPhone game called Dream Heights! Congratulations!" reads the image, which was addressed to "all 2,789" of Zynga's employees. "We wanted to thank all of you guys for being such big fans of our iPhone game of the year, Tiny Tower!"

The sarcastic statement continues, "Good luck with your game, we are looking forward to inspiring you with our future games! Sincerely, (all 3 of us) -- Nimblebit."

Marsh also said on Twitter that Zynga "did try to go the honest route and try to acquire us first." He added that inside Dream Heights' app binary, the Zynga project "is named 'TowerVille' and its inhabitants are named zitizens" -- Tiny Tower's are called "bitizens."

Nimblebit and Zynga did not immediately reply to Gamasutra's requests for further comment.


Related Jobs

Amazon
Amazon — Seattle, Washington, United States
[09.02.14]

Senior Marketing Manager, Game Services
Shiver Entertainment
Shiver Entertainment — South Miami, Florida, United States
[09.02.14]

Senior Technical Director/Artist
Shiver Entertainment
Shiver Entertainment — Miami, Florida, United States
[09.02.14]

Gameplay Programmer/Engineer - All Levels
Bluepoint Games, Inc.
Bluepoint Games, Inc. — Austin, Texas, United States
[09.02.14]

Environment Artist










Comments


E McNeill
profile image
I wish there were some way to quantify how much revenue Tiny Tower loses directly due to the copied elements of Dream Heights.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
Here let me help:



Estimated lost revenue due to competition in the market place: $0



How was that?

E McNeill
profile image
I don't quite believe that. But I'm also not sure about the size of the effect, and so I'm not sure how to weight the possible discouragement of small developers against the value of natural evolution of a design in a public marketplace.



Edit: Not that I'd have any good solution, if I were to determine that this was harmful. But at least I'd feel better about disdaining Zynga.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
While a lot of people are freaking out about this all over the web, what I find most interesting is the blatant hypocrisy of Zynga. They just got done suing another company for making clones of their games (although I still didn't have a problem with what that company did) and here they are making clones of other companies' games. Not that this behavior is anything new for Zynga, I just find the sequence of events to be rather funny.



However, what Zynga actually did was not something I find to be wrong. They wanted a tower sim. They tried to buy a company that makes a tower sim. When that failed, they made one of their own. I don't see anything wrong with that.



For more information on my position, you can read this blog post: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/EZacharyKnight/20110816/8207/Copyi
ng_Mechanics_is_Not_Theft_Nor_is_it_Infringement.php

Michael Nicolayeff
profile image
But they didn't make one of their own! They made a thinly veiled knock-off using a different color paint. No major changes. No innovation.



Even if they're legally safe, that doesn't mean they aren't game-copying scum.



McDonalds is doing well. I think I'm going to start up a restaurant chain called MacDonnels, use a mime as a mascot, sell Big Mik hamburgers, and use a double golden acute angle as my logo. Totally original idea, right?

E Zachary Knight
profile image
I looked at the side by side comparisons and the art direction is miles apart. Now the game play is probably strikingly similar (I don't know as I never played either one and only played Sim Tower for a couple hours many years ago) but I don't think that copying game mechanics is anything to be upset about.

Michael Nicolayeff
profile image
Alright, let me ask you this: Is an HD remake of an existing game still the same game? (For instance, The Secret of Monkey Island)



Copying some mechanics in a game of the same genre? Definitely not something to get upset about. Making a carbon copy of ALL mechanics and sticking on a new skin? Sounds pretty shady to me.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
"Making a carbon copy of ALL mechanics" happens all the time in game development. Why throw a big fit about it now? It has happened for pretty much every popular game. Sure most game developers are wise enough to try to toss in their own "spin" on the mechanics, but there are still plenty that just plain copy.



As for the HD remake, that is something completely different from this. Not sure how you are connecting the two processes.

Michael Nicolayeff
profile image
HD-Remake: Same game with different graphics.

Knock-off: Same game with different graphics, plus the use of a thesaurus.



It doesn't matter whether it's common or not. Actions being common and being ethical are two very different things.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
The HD remake is nothing like this situation. Primarily because it is a game created by the original game's IP holder. In order to make a game that appeals to the fans of the original game, they are pretty much forced to use the same or mostly the same mechanics.



However, in this case it is a business decision to copy the mechanics. They do this to appeals to the fan base of the competitor's game. If the mechanics were not similar enough, the fans of the other game won't play it. If they are not different enough, the fans of the other game will not play it. So they have to balance it. It is that proper balance of similar/dissimilar that determines if a clone will be successful (unless of course you manage to do some very heavy and successful marketing). None of this is wrong as is part of a healthy industry.



My greater point lies in that game mechanics are much like ideas, they cannot be copyrighted. Just because someone creates a similar game to you does not mean they ripped off your idea. It just means they saw a market they wanted to be in and went for it. That is not unethical.

Darcy Nelson
profile image
Maybe it's not "wrong" in a black and white ethical sense, but it's kind of crummy to see the hard work of three people copied, then resold with the help of an enormous marketing department for profit. Maybe there won't be some messy IP lawsuit, but either way it will certainly leave a lingering feeling of bitterness on behalf of the "little guy". What the ultimate result of so much bitterness coming from these morally questionable-at-best moves is anyone's guess.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
Well Darcy, if the company being copied lets the bitterness eat them up, then the problem is not being copied. If the copied developer really cared about their fan base, they won't get caught up in complaining about copiers and will instead focus their time and effort on innovating and pleasing their fans.

Fraser Long
profile image
It's interesting how you interpret it as "They wanted a tower sim."

Instead of 'they wanted a top of the market game'



As if they would have thought such a game had any real market appeal without tiny tower.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
Fraser,



That type of thinking isn't anything new in the games industry. For decades now marketing companies at game developers have look at what was popular and then make those kinds of games. Some companies simply clone those games. Others buy the companies that make those games. This is how the games industry and to a large extent creativity work. Why deride one company for doing what the games industry has been doing since the 70s?

Javier San Juan
profile image
So we can expect to see one from Vostu soon?

Joel Bartley
profile image
You don't have to say "allegedly copying the ideas". The ideas were clearly copied.

Steven An
profile image
"Zitizens" haha...yes, tiny pixelated acne-ridden people coming into your tower.



This is in bad taste, for sure, but at the end of the day I have no real issue with this. Tiny Tower has already made a load of money.

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
@Anthony,



"Is there a limit on how much money someone can make before people are allowed to copy their idea (if that is what they did)?"



No, no limit, because you should be allowed - legally - to do it at any point. Raw ideas are not protectable, and should not be protectable. What Zynga did was rude and in poor taste, and reflects poorly on them as a company particularly within the group they need to hire/acquire from. But being stupid and rude and tasteless is not illegal, and probably shouldn't be.



Rather I think Steven's point is that things are working as intended. Tiny Tower made a lot of money on a small investment. Dream Heights? Probably not going to make as much money, and probably a much larger investment.

E McNeill
profile image
@Joe: What do you think of rules for cover songs? I.e. no permission required, but a royalty (10%ish) has to be paid. In an ideal world where copying is clear and obvious, and this sort of thing would be enforceable, would you support a similar royalty system for game designs?

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
Only if non-reverse-engineered game designs become as clearly formalizable (and therefore comparable) as song lyrics or musical structure. We're a decade from that, at least. And frankly I'm not sure any real attempt at that would call this copying.



And when we're talking timeframes that long, my guess/hope is that either SOPA 3.0 has passed or we're on the road to a much more reasonable world where people realize both execution and ideas matter and innovation is rightly rewarded without copyright crackdowns from any side. (Like I said, I think we're halfway there already - Zynga's not coming out on top of this one.)



I think mechanical licensing for other games' source would be a really interesting idea but I don't think most people would agree to it.

Herb Gilliland
profile image
@Joe Wreschnig



Go listen to "When Patents Attack!" by This American Life. It ain't that easy when the patent office lets anything get by.

Dan MacDonald
profile image
As the budgets increase and revenue declines studios without core values that exalt creativity and the joy of creating new experience will have little to press back with when the pressure to make every game a hit skyrockets.



There becomes a point in the costs vs. revenue equation where any level of creativity seems like too much to risk.

Darcy Nelson
profile image
Ha ha, for a second I thought you were talking about the film industry.



... oh, man.



*Suddenly depressed*

Glenn Storm
profile image
Well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of ... nah, that just sux.

Ben Lewis
profile image
Not sure why "accused" is in the headline. Is there really any question here?

Keith Patch
profile image
I have pretty mixed feelings about this. Taking an existing concept and making it into something new is totally reasonable (SimTower -> Tiny Tower). Dream Heights just looks like a re-skinned version of Tiny Tower, but that's just speculation on my part. Maybe the games will play differently, I really don't know.



If Dream Heights really is a re-skinned copy of Tiny Tower then I'd be a bit irked. Zynga recently got done suing Vostu over similar issues (granted, Vostu was an even more blatant copy).

Sean Currie
profile image
You know, the last time I went to GDC I heard nothing but social games developers bemoaning the fact that no one else in the industry takes them seriously. So, if those same social games developers (many of whom were from Zynga) are reading this, you now know why. If you, as a company, can't show compassion for hard working indie developers and avoid copying them then at the very least show some self-respect.

Christopher Aschenbrand
profile image
... It's Zynga

Justin Kwok
profile image
Indeed... I seem to remember their CEO saying that they're business model is to "copy them until you do their numbers"

Zach Grant
profile image
Popcap stole/borrowed ideas for most of their games from other companies. Happens all the time in the casual space.



On another note... how many FPS games are basically the same? How many RTS's are the same with different units. Game developers borrow ideas for almost every game made.

Sean Coll
profile image
There's a difference between using mechanics from other games and completely copying a game while only changing the art style. It's totally unethical and cutthroat, and with Zynga's marketing and legal team they'll get away with it. It's what they do. Unless a boycott of Dream Heights happens, I'm willing to bet Tiny Tower will see a huge drop-off in purchases, once again depriving a creative studio of desperately needed operating funds.



Zynga: where creativity goes to die.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
A wise man once said, 'Don't keep all your eggs in one basket." So if having a single game copied and out marketed kills the revenue stream, you are doing something wrong.

Michael Nicolayeff
profile image
What are they supposed to do? Put them out faster than Zynga can clone them?

Sean Coll
profile image
I'm not quite sure if you get how game development works. Making a game with a three man team takes months if not years of development. Throughout that development you go through creative R&D, some ideas are great, some suck hard. Sure Tiny Tower is a hit, but what if NimbleBit's next game isn't? They need the profit from Tiny Tower to carry them through the down times, to be able to make creative mistakes, to give them some buffer from going bust.



Zynga's enormous wealth means they can have several games in the pipeline at the same time so that one bomb won't shut the studio down. They cut their losses even more by eliminating the need for creative R&D; they take successful games, slap some new art on it, and call it their own. They have several hundred times the marketing resources that NimbleBit has, "out-marketed" doesn't even begin to describe it.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
Michael,



No. They are supposed to service their fans with the games their fans expect from them.



Sean,



Yes, Zynga does have vast resources at its disposal. But it is lacking something that NimbleBit has in droves, humanity. Zynga can churn out clone after clone all they want, but real fans are made when the developers are honest and open with the community.



For a small developer it is hard to build up the multi-basket approach, but it is not impossible. It requires a lot more work, but if you focus more on your fans, you can succeed. It comes down to a difference in approach to success.



With Zynga, success is pushing out a game and making more money than it cost to develop and market the game. For a small developer success should be in building up a fan base that sticks with you through thick and thin. Those are the eggs of a small developer.

Alternate Procellous
profile image
If you are operating in a market that has an 800 pound gorilla like Zynga, you should anticipate their reaction to your product. If the 800 pound gorilla doesn't already have a similar bunch of bananas, he is going to want yours. If you are lucky enough to receive a polite offer for your bananas from the 800 pound gorilla and you refuse the offer, what should you expect? The 800 pound gorilla is going to beat you near to death and take your bananas. Expecting anything different in this situation is just ridiculous.

Michael Joseph
profile image
Yarr. th' seven seas 'o capitalism be full 'o monsters. Best stay in th' laddie pool ye spineless worms!



500 year old sea monster map

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carta_Marina

John Smith
profile image
Did anyone bother to play the games? or is everyone just commenting because they think Zynga is evil and they blatantly did something wrong?



From what I can see Zynga took tiny tower, which is a great game and added onto it. Tiny tower has minimal social features where as Dream Heights actually has quite a few things going for it with the skybridge.



"As you build your tower, you'll be given a Skybridge automatically (Floor 6), bringing in one of the only truly new features to the game. While Tiny Tower allows you to visit and view your friends' towers, here you'll be able to sign in with Facebook Connect or use individual Tower Codes to add friends. You can't view your friends' towers, as of this writing, but you can "shop" at them, earning Hearts and collectibles, which is another original feature. You'll earn items at random, and can then turn those in for large amounts of cash, giving your tower the chance to grow even faster (of course, floors become more expensive as you go along)." - http://blog.games.com/2012/01/24/zyngas-dream-heights-iphone-prev
iew/

Jose Resines
profile image
Ohhhhhhhh, Facebook and microtransactions!!!. Everything is forgiven!!!!!.



Funny that Zynga managed to copy all the good and add the turds that most of us hate in these kinds of games.

Ujn Hunter
profile image
Does E Zachary Knight work for Zynga? That can be the only reasonable explanation.



As for Zynga, if their lawsuits against other studios "infringing" on their games were won, I hope that Nimblebits uses the same practice and sues the pants off of Zynga. That's pretty despicable if you ask me.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
Ad homs are all that you can say in response to what I have posted?

Alternate Procellous
profile image
So you hope Nimblebits keeps ripping off other games too?



This Kotaku post from last night kindly reminded me that (as game developers) we borrow a lot from the games we've played before:

http://kotaku.com/5879441/tiny-tower-rips-off-a-flash-gameand-sim
tower



Some people are making a big deal out of nothing here. What is truly despicable is how those people get carried away with it.

James Russell
profile image
sO YOU HOPE nIMBLEBITS KEEPS RIPPING OFF OTHER GAMES TOO?



tHIS kOTAKU POST FROM LAST NIGHT KINDLY REMINDED ME THAT (AS GAME DEVELOPERS) WE BORROW A LOT FROM THE GAMES WE'VE PLAYED BEFORE:

http://kotaku.com/5879441/tiny-tower-rips-off-a-flash-gameand-sim
towe r

(blatant copying and changing the look = wrong)

. . . . . . . . .

I do agree that we borrow alot of mechanics from the games that we have played before, as Alternate Procellous pointed out with the article:

http://kotaku.com/5879441/tiny-tower-rips-off-a-flash-gameand-sim
towe r.

(reusing the same material in a different way = acceptable)

Alternate Procellous
profile image
People are suggesting that Zynga took the Tiny Tower binary and simply replaced the art assets. That is, I would hope, incorrect. Zynga's engineers had to recreate those mechanics from scratch. No doubt they copied what they liked, but John Smith points out above that they did more than just copy. This is really no different than Nimblebit's development process.

Fred Marcoux
profile image
what i find interesting is how 2000+ people can't come up with an original idea like 3 people did in their basement

James Russell
profile image
Alternate Procellous like Zynga I too had to recreate your sentence from scratch. I had to retype it completely but with reversed caps. So my copied sentence was created no differently from your (thought process and then implementation of it). John Smith was right too. I also did more than copy. I didn't put your last sentence. I put in . . . .and ( ).

Alternate Procellous
profile image
Your analogy suggests Zynga took Tiny Tower source code and changed the variable names.



Look, I don't disagree that it would suck to be an indie with Zynga as a direct competitor. They have a very clear advantage in terms of the resources available to them. My point is that there is really very little or nothing at all about Zynga's behavior that is questionable in a legal sense at this time. We can all sit here and cry about it or learn to compete against what I think is pretty predictable behavior. If you can anticipate an opponent's next move, you can plan a response or avoid the situation that leads to that move in the first place.

Michael Marceau
profile image
What's really ironic here is that Tiny Tower uses an open source library called cocos2d which Zynga heavily contributed to in 2010. So Tiny Tower was built on software Zynga helped build. What's even more ironic is Zynga offered to purchase Tiny Tower but was rejected so Zynga then used cocos2d to build their own.



Now to build a game like this still takes a lot of work even with cocos2d but I do find it a little funny that Zynga indirectly built part of Tiny Tower.


none
 
Comment: