The Motley Fool Previous Page

EA Calls Out Zynga for Stealing in More Ways Than One

Evan Niu
August 6, 2012

Social game titan Zynga (Nasdaq: ZNGA  ) has a problem: its ability to internally come up with creative and innovative content is highly questionable. If you look through the history of its most popular games, you’ll find that many, if not all, of them were either developed by someone else and then acquired, or developed by someone else and then copied.

If you can’t beat ‘em, copy ‘em
Most of the time, Zynga’s targets are small-time players that may not have as much recourse against the larger company. For example, when Zynga ripped off NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower, which even won Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes Rewind iPhone Game of the Year award in January with Dream Heights, it was hard to imagine the three-person company starting a drawn-out and expensive legal battle.

Source: NimbleBit co-founder Ian Marsh's Twitter feed in January.

NimbleBit had spurned an acquisition offer from Zynga, leading Zynga to blatantly copy its popular game instead. There’s no shortage of examples of this behavior. Here’s one of Zynga’s most popular games, FarmVille, and its "inspiration," Farm Town.

Source: SF Weekly.

The list goes on.

Zynga game Precursor
FishVille TallTree Games’ Fish World
Café World PlayFish’s Restaurant City
PetVille PlayFish’s Pet Society
Word Twist GameHouse’s TextTwist
Zynga Bingo Buffalo Studios’ Bingo Blitz
Mafia Wars Psycho Monkey’s Mob Wars
Bubble Safari Taito Corporation’s Puzzle Bobble (known as Bust-a-Move in the U.S.)
Ruby Blast PopCap Games’ Bejeweled

In fact, most of these companies don’t opt to sue Zynga but, sometimes, Zynga lands in hot legal waters, like when Psycho Monkey sued Zynga years ago over Mafia Wars.

Messing with the big wigs
Now, Zynga has chosen to rip off a heavyweight that isn’t taking too kindly to the company’s ways. One that is willing to duke it out in copyright court: Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: EA  ) , who, incidentally, owns PopCap Games.

One of EA’s most popular game franchises is The Sims, dating as far back as 2000, with the newest addition to the family being The Sims Social on Facebook’s (Nasdaq: FB  ) platform. Zynga followed up with The Ville, which was just released, and is a clear knockoff of the game. EA has responded by filing a copyright infringement suit against Zynga. This time, EA is even taking it one step further than mere copying, alleging that the social gaming slumlord poached high-level execs, who had internal knowledge of The Sims Social for the specific goal of ripping it off.