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EA sues Zynga, claims  The Ville  is a copy of  The Sims Social
EA sues Zynga, claims The Ville is a copy of The Sims Social
August 3, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

August 3, 2012 | By Eric Caoili
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    57 comments
More: Social/Online, Business/Marketing



Electronic Arts thinks Zynga went too far copying the design of its popular Sims series for Facebook game The Ville, and has filed a copyright infringement suit against the social game giant.

Many have accused Zynga of cloning hit games in the past, but EA says it's taking a stand now to not only protect its own rights, but also defend the rights of smaller studios who might not have the resources to fight the company.

"This is a case of principle," says EA Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw. "Maxis isn't the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product. But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it. Infringing a developer's copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development."

In its complaint, EA argues that Zynga willfully and intentionally copied ideas from The Sims Social, the Facebook edition of the EA/Maxis franchise that released in August 2011. When Zynga released The Ville last June, consumers and the press immediately pointed out that the title resembled The Sims more than a little.

Bradshaw says the similarities go well beyond the superficial, venturing into "blatant mimicry." She alleges The Ville's design choices, animations, visual arrangements, and character motions and actions were directly lifted from The Sims Social. The executive goes on to claims the two games seem largely indistinguishable to most observers.

The Ville is currently the most popular game on Facebook with 40.3 million monthly active users, most of whom started playing in just the past couple of weeks. The Sims Social once had even more players than that, but its audience has since shrunk to now 16.5 million users, according to AppData.

Update: Zynga general counsel Reggie Davis has provided the following statement to Gamasutra in response:
"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."
Gamasutra has obtained the original court filing, which can be read below:

EA v Zynga Complaint Final

Additionally, here is the video evidence EA has filed, showing the similarities between the games:



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Comments


Jeff Lydell
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If EA wins this we could see more smaller developers find the legal resources. Legal teams might be more willing to take this on if there is a precedent set.

Justin Sawchuk
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Lets hope so, Zynga is a POS company and deserve everything bad thats coming there way.

Dave Ingram
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It's mind-blowing to see the similarities in the screenshots. I had no idea Zynga was making near-identical copies of other houses' IP. Even though the Zynga screenshots look more visually appealing than the originals, I would expect Zynga to at least start from scratch when designing a genre copycat. I'm going to keep an eye on this case.

Duong Nguyen
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Unfortunately this is Zyngas modus operandi.. that and also suing other companies for doing what they do.

John Tynes
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They're not suing over stolen game design. They're suing over stolen expression of that game design. There's a difference.

Joel McCoy
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(removed - will respond to Daniel in his own thread)

Kale Menges
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Aaaaand in this corner....

Mike Murray
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I wonder if EA would have bothered if the Ville didn't have those kinds of numbers?

[User Banned]
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Frank Cifaldi
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Thanks for the update, Dave.

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John Gordon
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I don't know how this court will rule, but I believe the precendent is usually no copywrite infringement between two similar games.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_East_USA,_Inc._v._Epyx,_Inc.

Joel McCoy
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For a long time, alleging a clone of copyright infringement was a losing battle. Recently, The Tetris Company succeeded in their case against XIO interactive. This EA v Zynga may shed some light on whether that ruling was an aberration or a new precedent.

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2012/06/defining-tetris-how-courts-
judge-gaming-clones/
http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-06/20/tetris-clone-rulin
g

Rodolfo Camarena
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I don't think EA has much of a case. If you have played YoVille, it is very similar to TheVille. They are both Zynga games, but TheVille seems like an updated YoVille. If anything, it would be settled our of court. SimCity Social is similar to CityVille, so that could be used to help Zynga win out or force EA to settle outside the courtroom.

It'll interesting indeed.

Matt Robb
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Oh come now, they're nothing alike. The heads on the Zynga characters are way bigger. That's enough, right?

David Phan
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I'm betting that this all gets settled out of court with Zynga paying out to EA.

Bob Charone
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"Zynga is almost certainly boned. "

more like domesticated!

Aaron Fowler
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Thanks EA for taking a stand and stepping up where the smaller guys (and gals) can't, simply due to resources. I understand that EA is doing this primarily to protect themselves, which they should, but it's still nice to have the uncontested, contested.

Zach Grant
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EA owns Popcap. Several of Popcaps games are clones of other games. This stuff happens all the time.

A good number of casual games wouldn't exist if it wasn't for cloning. This is a much different space that hardcore games.

Greg Findlay
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I wonder if the exec reshuffling at Zynga has any relation to this.

Jeremy Reaban
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As blatant a copy as this is (especially if you see that part about the skin tones having the same exact RGB values), is bringing the phone wars to games really a good thing in the long run for anyone?

Let the market decide. If some company builds a better clone, well, so be it. As long as they aren't directly ripping assets or code.

That's what starts a genre. I mean, look at the original Warcraft. It was a clone of Dune II with graphics heavily inspired by Warhammer. Not the least bit original, but it propelled Blizzard into a giant company and turned what was just a one off game, into a genre (RTS) once other companies got into the act.

The same could be said for MMORPGs. While they get called WoW clones, in reality, Everquest is what most games are copying.

Jacob Germany
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Why should the market decide? As is not the case with EA, but as is the case with smaller developers, Zynga has the funds to clone games and do significantly better in the market not because they're "better" but because of the power they hold to push their own games through advertising budgets, advertising through their other games, etc.

Practicing business unethically should never be overlooked simply because "they did really well".

Jerry Hall
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Wow, screenshots in the court complaint. I didn't know you could do that.

Ole Berg Leren
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You got the best picture on Gamasutra. Fact.

Kevin Reilly
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Zynga settled its copyright suit against Vostu last year: http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/16/war-zynga-sues-the-hell-out-of-b
razilian-clone-vostu/

Jeffrey Marshall
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From what I understand, you cannot copyright an idea, but you can copyright the expression of an idea. That's why games that invent new genres can have their gameplay structure copied. The problem here is that the finer details were copied along with the gameplay and the law is unclear as to how far is too far.

Greg Lastowka
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Well, The Ville and Sims Social are not exactly the same, but the Complaint does a great job of highlighting many of the extreme similarities (and there are certainly others). Re the relevance of the Tetris case, it was decided in New Jersey, which follows the Third Circuit (Whelan + abstract/filtration) substantial similarity jurisprudence. The Ninth Circuit test, which controls in this lawsuit, is about "total concept and feel," which is a different standard, but I think that difference will probably benefit EA more than Zynga. The Ninth Circuit also supports the concept of "fragmented literal similarity," and the Complaint certainly seems targeted at establishing that as well. While I don't think it's a slam dunk, I think the Complaint is very good and EA has a strong case.

Kevin Reilly
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Zynga pursued similar complaint against Vostu last year: http://www.scribd.com/doc/58022477/Vostu-US-Complaint-FINAL

I believe the case settled before any rulings were issued and has no bearing on this case, however EA seems to be making similar arguments and will certainly prove a more formidable (and well funded) opponent.

Will be interesting case to follow.

Tadhg Kelly
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The Vostu case was more clear-cut though, as Vostu's city game literally copied every single facet of CityVille (even many of its bugs).

Kevin Reilly
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@ Tadhg: I agree that Vostu's clones were near duplicates and they certainly used similar marks to ride Zynga's coat tails, however Zynga has been accused of pushing the same legal envelope when it comes to cloning by other parties prior to EA's complaint. It will be interesting to see whether any of these elements are protected by copyright (or if they are too common place to warrant protection) and what constitutes taking too much for purposes of infringement. It will be interesting to see if the court goes beyond protecting mere artistic expression to include protection of arguable non-creative elements that impact game balance such as building/unit types, item values and effects.

I am not arguing for any particular result here, but any decision against Zynga could potentially impact how game developers design similar resource management games in the future and limit their ability to implement common features.

Greg Lastowka
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Well, you never know, but I don't think there a serious risk of an opinion saying that resource management systems as game mechanics are protected under copyright law. Section 102 says: " In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work." The tough question that a court will have to address is how far above the particularized expression of a game copyright protection extends. It's pretty clear in the doctrine, for instance, that you can't copy the plot of another author's novel exactly, even if you do change the exact sentences and the names of characters. Has Zynga done something analogous to that here? That seems to be what EA is claiming. The Complaint argues that Zynga intentionally copied Sims Social at a level one step short of verbatim.

Jason Hendrick
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I find this a bit disturbing. I try and only condone originality, but I do find allot of hypocrisy here. I could find allot of duplicates in the FPS, RPG, MMO or any casual game market. Some games only differ in slight cosmetics. But the funny thing is, people still crave it. Tell me, how many developers did not create a game because they loved another they played and wanted to create one just like it, but with a tint of your style. What if you wanted to create a company that made bookshelves? How original can you get creating a bookshelf? The logic is, Zynga created a game like Sims and millions liked it enough to play it, even though Sims is available. What if only a few thousand played it. Would they still sue?

Maria Jayne
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I like how they are wearing the same outfits, obviously someone from EA played Zyngas game enough to match the character appearences. Time well spent because it is visualy striking.

Tadhg Kelly
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The counterpoint about Sim City Social and CityVille is also worth paying attention to. SCS is nothing at all like actual Sim City and very much like CityVille. The loops are the same, the collection mechanisms the same, the click-building, economy and so on likewise.

Close enough to warrant a countersuit? I don't know, but there are strong elements of pots and kettles calling each other names here.

Bruno Patatas
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Exactly! It will be fun to see how all this is going to evolve...

josh salmon
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On page 32 of the PDF (31 of the complaint) you can see where even EAs lawyers couldn't tell the difference, getting the lower screenshots mixed up.

Michael Joseph
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haha. brillant like a fox?

Stephen Chow
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What is wrong by copy the design? I feel it's innovation backward if EA wins.
There is nothing wrong with cloning. Think about human civilization history.

EA is too stupid, they should focus their own social product...Will they sue CSR Racing copy NFS? If they really good at product design and operation, planning some feature are different...nothing exactly works by copy.

All the metrics are different, penetration rate, CPU, traffic, Cohort ARPU, RPDAU are so different, it can't be copy. I even doubt do EA know how to operating games by using metrics.

Really want EA fail this drama.

Megan Quinn
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This is like if Nissan cloned Ford Mustangs and called them Happy Horses. The complaint will succeed as a Judge doesn't even need to know what a game is to apply his/her experience of dealing with manufactured products.

Jacob Germany
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@Stephen So, if I'm understanding your post correctly, Zynga is obviously not copying/cloning EA because they handle player metrics better? That's how you judge innovation? Metrics?

Do you work for Zynga? I'm seriously asking, because from everything I know, that's how the company measures success/genius/innovation/everything.

Alex Maggio
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I'm glad this happens. I sincerly wish EA wins this. Zynga's culture of copying everything needs to stop. Luckly they messed with a big company that can (and already did) retaliate. I already said once, Karma is a b***h, dont you think zynga?

David Serrano
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This is like Darth Vader suing Adolf Hitler for evil master plan copyright infringement lmao.

Nathaniel Grundy
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Pfffahahaha, you mean Zynga actually cloned the game of somebody with MONEY? Oh, this is rich.

Nathaniel Grundy
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Gotta love the timing, though. After all Zynga's been going through, this is like (and pardon the crudity) shitting on a corpse.

Eva Roberts
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Wow! They might have gone too far with that one. I'm new to this industry and have just started my degree (only been in it for the past year and a half) but I've made albums and play music forever and have seen this before. I think Zynga crossed the line with this one. It is one thing taking an idea and expanding on it. I do it with Bach all the time, but to call it your own is way differnt.

Megan Quinn
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You won't need a degree if all your asked to do is copy and paste.

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Evan Combs
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I don't think this is as cut and dry as many of you are making it out to be. Yes they are the same genre, and have similar art styles, but nothing I saw was an exact copy. You cannot copyright style anymore than you can copyright mechanics.

Brandon Van Every
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I haven't played the games in question, but I bet EA didn't put anything in their filing to show how the games are different. Stealing unprotectable ideas, doing your own code and art assets, and adding a few gratuitously different game mechanics is a tried and true formula for competing in the game industry. It's not illegal.

Jacob Germany
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It's far more than "similar art styles". Did you read the pdf? There are numerous examples of not simply "similar style" but direct cloning of animations, options, and even color values (yes, really).

The intention, as with many of Zynga's games, is to mimic the competition to such a degree that they are certain to capture the consumer desire.

Evan Combs
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Again options(mechanics), most of which are not unique to The Sims or even video games, and colors (style) are not copyrightable. There might be some validity to the animations, but this isn't as cut and dry as most of you are making it out to be. I get the feeling that people are letting their dislike for Zynga and a document from only one side of the argument affect their rationalization skills here. It isn't difficult to go through the pdf and point out the differences between them, or to show how many of the options are common tropes that have existed far longer than video games have.

I'm not saying it isn't copyright infringement, I'm only saying that this isn't as clear cut as many want to believe.

Jacob Germany
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The list of personalities, for example, are options that are not strict mechanics and are not "common tropes". The color values are not "copying a style" so much as definitive proof that Zynga directly played Sims Social with every intention of copying even minute details. The animations and visual quirks, like the actions when choosing a personality, are mixed with the overall similar character creation environment, and even angle of the character in the creation room.

Any one small detail can be dismissed as "not cut and dry". The overall implication of exact mimicry is far more cut and dry.

Jacob Germany
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In short, you could create a very "Sims-like game" with every intention on following Sims/Sims Social as an inspiration, and naturally come up with very different games. The similarities are just blatantly obviously not mere coincidences.

Nuttachai Tipprasert
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Checks the page 19th and 31st of the pdf file attached with this article and confirms by yourself if the claimed from EA legit or not. Especially when you have 16 billion of combinations of color for character skin tone but all the tones from Zynga game used the same RGB value from Sim Social, this is unlikely the mere coincident for me.

Marc-Andre Caron
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I had high hopes when I started reading the comments on this item. Gamastura usually yields some meaningful discussions.

Turns out the level of the debate is generally appalling. Major disappointment.

Tim Zhou
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you know, there is a company called "Tencent" in china. if you produce a game which are copied by this company some soon, that means, your game is great!

Christian Sumido
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Yeah... And this marks the beginning of the end for Zynga. It was good while it lasted... LOL, Who are we kidding? They were bound to get sued by some big company sooner or later.


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