SimLawsuit
August 3, 2012 3:32 PM   Subscribe

EA, the publisher behind The Sims and Facebook game The Sims Social, is suing Zynga over copyright infringement found in Zynga's Facebook game The Ville.

Some comparative images from EA's claims can be found at Joystiq and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Zynga replied by saying that, "It's also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga's CityVille game."
posted by thecjm (57 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is some kind of hideous moral dilemma for me, who to root for when I despise both parties? Can they somehow take each other down in flames (while somehow preserving the livelihoods of innocent, non-managerial staff)?
posted by Joh at 3:34 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't decide which company is more shady: EA who treats customers like shit, or Zynga who rips off everyone.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:34 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is some kind of hideous moral dilemma for me

Funny, my first thought was "win-win situation".
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:35 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's a moral dilemma because, if they take each other down in flames, a bunch of IP lawyers will profit from it.
posted by Phssthpok at 3:38 PM on August 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


OK, seriously though, I think I'm going to side with EA, mainly because I feel for the developers, and it is pretty blatant. I think the timing is interesting, now that Zynga is looking decidedly shaky and weak, EA just happens to file?
posted by Joh at 3:39 PM on August 3, 2012


I hate Zynga even more than EA, but really, if EA's suit succeeds it might be a bad precedent. You can't copyright gameplay, and that's a good thing.
posted by JHarris at 3:39 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is a joke. EA has been stealing videogame concepts wholesale for decades longer than Zynga has, because, much of the time, that is how the industry works. Truly innovative games are rare. Even great games usually build incrementally on their predecessors.

Just because Zynga is a little more blatant than everyone else doesn't mean they're breaking the law. Software patents are bad enough; we don't need this new IP protection stifling innovation even further.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:40 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


They are copying more than gameplay. If you read the Joystiq article, in one of many examples, the Zynga game uses exactly the same set of RGB values for its skin tones. This is practically plagiarism in my view.
posted by dhalgren at 3:42 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Now that I'm not in the post, I can editorialize a little. One of the examples EA cited is that Zynga copied the 8 skin tone options from The Sims Social, down to the RGB values. That's pretty blatant.

EA's letter to their employees said that they're doing it for all the other developers who can't afford do. Whether this is disingenuous or not, if the end result is that Zynga stops ripping off developers big and small, then it's worthwhile.
posted by thecjm at 3:43 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can I play the role of 1st World State Sponsored Arms Dealer to these guys?

Sell them both weapons to annihilate each other with and take the spoils from their burnt, bullet riddled corpses?
posted by The Power Nap at 3:43 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can I play the role of 1st World State Sponsored Arms Dealer to these guys?
So you want to go to law school?
posted by b1tr0t at 3:45 PM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


EA have requested a jury trial, but Zynga has yet to respond in the courts.

I'm hoping for a jury trial where all the jurors and the judge are totally clueless about video games and all it becomes fodder for an episode plot of The Good Wife
posted by Bwithh at 3:48 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


So I'm a big nerd about city-sim games, so when sim city social showed up I was super excited for all of the three minutes it took to figure out that it wasn't a city-sim game but instead a "try not to click on the things that will spam all your Facebook friends" game. And a really hard one, at that.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:52 PM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


See also Maxis and Electronic Arts sue Zynga over The Ville, including representative pictures.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:54 PM on August 3, 2012


Just wait til these assholes find out I have a patent on isometric projection.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:56 PM on August 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's a good time to sue them, as I assume their regular lawyers are going to be pretty busy with the insider trading lawsuit.
posted by Gary at 4:01 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


These lawsuits are free. It's the DLC that pushes them to the top of the Top Grossing Apps list.
posted by chavenet at 4:02 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's like Dracula vs Racist Van Helsing.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:03 PM on August 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


IP Law has it exactly backwards, execution is harder than originality. (I stole this comment, but I posted it here.)
posted by ifandonlyif at 4:06 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is EA trying to hasten the demise of Zynga? I mean, they're already having financial woes (Previous FPP from a few days ago)
posted by astapasta24 at 4:11 PM on August 3, 2012


Right, specific RGB values. Specific wall heights. Specific size ratios. It is pretty blatant they set out to clone it.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:12 PM on August 3, 2012


" if the end result is that Zynga stops ripping off developers big and small, then it's worthwhile."

So, what you're trying to say then is that this is clearly a pointless lawsuit, right?!
posted by markkraft at 4:12 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm no expert, but as long as they notified the SEC of the sales by filing a Form 4 they are in the clear with the SEC. The lawsuit is my minority shareholders who were in lockout periods and thus were unable to dump their own shares. It isn't like they are going to jail.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:16 PM on August 3, 2012


if EA's suit succeeds it might be a bad precedent. You can't copyright gameplay, and that's a good thing.

You can't copyright gameplay, in theory. But you can make it very painful to copy gameplay.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:16 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Similar issue from a few weeks ago, possibly even more blatant: Chinese developer accused of asset theft by Torchlight boss.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:19 PM on August 3, 2012



Well my nephew who is nine invited me to play "The Ville". It's a cute game and we have a fun time 'visiting' each others houses and farting at each other. After ten minutes of playing the thing I thought, that it wouldn't surprise me if the SIms people get upset over this. Not only does it look the same it plays pretty much the same with the exception of needing 'neighbors' to build things, energy and incentives to speed up game play by playing real money. I'm not sure how it couldn't be a rip-off. It's like they studied The Sims.

I don't really care though. I'm not even sure where my Sims games are and I'll play the Ville until my nephew gets tired of it which will not likely be more then a couple of weeks.
posted by Jalliah at 4:20 PM on August 3, 2012


Also, Zynga's defense should include these screenshots from EA's The Bard's Tale and Sir-Tech's Wizardry.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:20 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


JHarris is right, this could set a dangerous precedent. It's a good thing for game makers and players that gameplay is generally excluded from copyright. It's a similar situation to software patents, except in this case precedent is not on the side of IP maximalism.

Zynga's a sleazy company that makes lousy rip-off games, but I don't think they directly infringe copyright. EA seems to be making the argument that actual copyrighted assets were taken: art, animations, etc. That's a point of fact that should be settlable in court without getting into the murky world of patenting game mechanics.
posted by Nelson at 4:25 PM on August 3, 2012


Gameplay is perhaps excluded from copyright, but it's patentable. In any case, they are suing over art, it seems.
posted by empath at 4:33 PM on August 3, 2012


The screen similarities at Rock Paper Shotgun aren't enough to convince me, because the example house has obviously been setup to look alike (unless that house is some kind of prefab).

But the skintones is kind of damning, since that's really unlike to have happened by chance-- it's a cut and paste of specific numeric values rather than having arrived at a similar solution to a design problem.

And it seems pervasive enough that it wouldn't surprise me if during discovery there was some email that said "just do what The Sims did only change it a bit."
posted by justkevin at 4:37 PM on August 3, 2012


without getting into the murky world of patenting game mechanics.

If business processes have been deemed patentable (in the US), why shouldn't game mechanics? /devilsadvocate
posted by inigo2 at 4:44 PM on August 3, 2012


I'd guess they're aiming to show reproduction an unlicensed derivative work, focusing on expressive elements rather than game mechanics. A shooter set on mars expresses different things from a shooter set in 1944, even when the mechanics are identical.

It's pretty grey where the line should be drawn (and it should be a soft, blurry line), because it's cool that creators can take someone's game and iterate on it. At the same time, what Zynga has done is... not cool.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:49 PM on August 3, 2012


Please enable IAP to continue this story. 500 coins/simoleons only $29.99!!!!!
posted by PapaLobo at 4:51 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Right, specific RGB values. Specific wall heights. Specific size ratios. It is pretty blatant they set out to clone it.

But cloning isn't illegal. It's cheap and derivative, but that usually doesn't mean you're automatically more successful than the first mover, especially when that mover is Electronic Fucking Arts. To argue that no one should be able to clone EA is effectively to argue in favor of software patents.

They copied the RGB skin tones? Sheesh why the hell not, but it's actually possible they both got their skin tone from some other source, something like PANTONE. Wall heights and size ratios? I'm sure that EA has some magic formula that makes their stupid social game thingy playable and "catchy" and "sticky" and "clicky" (and "sucky"). (Actually, both EA and Zynga might believe that's true. There is a certain kind of wrongness that only millions of dollars can buy.)

In practice, when people clone good and innovative games they usually get it wrong in some fundamental way. It's mostly two kinds of games can be cloned so closely without outright stealing code or assets: those that have been out so long that their workings are extensively studied (see Breakout, Asteroids, Tetris, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble, Puzz Loop/Magnetica, etc.), or they are terrible and derivative themselves.
posted by JHarris at 4:58 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


If business processes have been deemed patentable (in the US), why shouldn't game mechanics? /devilsadvocate

Because business processes shouldn't be patentable. That was easy!
posted by JHarris at 5:01 PM on August 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, Zynga's defense should include these screenshots from EA's The Bard's Tale and Sir-Tech's Wizardry.

Wizardry itself steals a lot of things, including spell names, from dungeon crawl games for the PLATO system. If it weren't for that cloning, we wouldn't have an entire category of computer games, which have gone on to advance the genre far, far beyond those simple wireframe mazes.
posted by JHarris at 5:04 PM on August 3, 2012


I think this would be a disastrous precedent. I could see a future like the current situation with Google, Apple, & Microsoft's software patents.

EA & Activision would allow each other their Call of Duty & Battlefield games but a smaller company like Bohemia Interactive would get sued out of existence for Arma 2. How many indie platform games could get sued out of existence by Nintendo if this precedent is set?
posted by straight at 5:15 PM on August 3, 2012


EA have requested a jury trial, but Zynga has yet to respond in the courts.

*builds courtroom*
*furnishes with three-sided witness stand*
*herds EA and Zynga into witness stand*
*closes fourth wall*
posted by dhartung at 5:18 PM on August 3, 2012 [16 favorites]


I think this would be a disastrous precedent. I could see a future like the current situation with Google, Apple, & Microsoft's software patents.

Would it really set a precedent of companies owning an entire class of games (say, simulation games or combat games)? From what I gather, EA's claim is a much narrower one, not that they own the genre of Sims-like games, but that Zynga ripped off The Sims lock, stock and barrel, down to RGB colour values, character personality types, the mapping from said personality types to character styles and animations, non-obvious game mechanics (such as photographing wildlife to get rid of it) and the look and feel of specific decorative objects (such as the yoga mat). It's a pretty blatant attempt at coat-tail riding. This is like someone opening a hamburger restaurant, calling it McDonnie's and giving it a logo with two yellow arches on a deep orange background.
posted by acb at 5:23 PM on August 3, 2012


Wizardry itself steals a lot of things, including spell names, from dungeon crawl games for the PLATO system.

And Asteroids stole the entire control scheme, including the hyperspace button, from the PDP-1 game Spacewar. No one argues that Asteroids isn't innovative, but half of it is prior art.

I do think gaming benefits from copying. But I think we need to have a more serious conversation about cloning, and part of this is admitting that everyone does it to some extent. But when it is ok and when is it deplorable? Does Rovio have the moral high ground because Angry Birds has a better control scheme and cuter graphics than Crush The Castle? Is it just a manner of degrees? Of intent? If it innovates a little bit, is it ok?

Zynga seems to have dirty hands here (especially having hired away EA execs) but I also don't want to see indie developers choked out by bigger players using the same legal tools.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:27 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The screen similarities at Rock Paper Shotgun aren't enough to convince me, because the example house has obviously been setup to look alike (unless that house is some kind of prefab).

The house is prefab. It's the starter house provided to you, furnished, when you begin the game.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:29 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Tetris Company already aggressively goes after clones. Zynga sued Vostu for ripping off one of their games but they settled out of court.

I think either way indie game makers lose. If EA wins, then they will continued to get pushed around by the threat of lawsuit. If Zynga wins, then there's nothing stopping big game companies from just blatantly copying successful indie games instead of buying/licensing them.
posted by Gary at 5:42 PM on August 3, 2012


acb: "This is like someone opening a hamburger restaurant, calling it McDonnie's and giving it a logo with two yellow arches on a deep orange background."

The golden arcs.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:47 PM on August 3, 2012


They copied the RGB skin tones? Sheesh why the hell not, but it's actually possible they both got their skin tone from some other source, something like PANTONE.

If 20 teams of programmers were sent away to develop independent character creation systems including skin tone, there would be a variety of systems implemented. Perhaps some would use a full colour space or gradients permitting essentially any colour, although that would probably be hard to implement in this sort of game. Probably most or all would have the whole character be the same colour, although there's nothing requiring that - characters could show natural variation, or be farmer tanned or even tiger striped. Some may use fully prebuilt characters with a variety of skin tones rather than permitting skin colour to be changed independently.

Okay, so most would use a single colour paintbox approach. There's no specific limit on how many go in the paint box; perhaps as few as three representing a pale Caucasian, a darker African and something in between. You could have dozens. To pick three examples, Eve Online uses 14 colours. Something called Tera has 36. Old Deus Ex had five. The colour range could go from lighter than Tilda Swinton to darker than Seal, or it could cover less territory. You could have more cartoony representations; pinks, whites, greys. You could have fantastic colours, like Avatar blue, or C-3PO gold.

Both games have chosen to use a paintbox approach. The paintboxes have eight colours. They are the same eight skintones; a superpale white, light and dark cartoony pinks, and five colours similar to actual humans, running the range from Beverly Crusher to Geordi LaForge. The colour values are exactly the same. This is not an accident, nor is it convergent evolution.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:49 PM on August 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


House of Zynga: We Do Not Sow
posted by stifford at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Zynga seems to have dirty hands here (especially having hired away EA execs) but I also don't want to see indie developers choked out by bigger players using the same legal tools.

I'm all for seeing indie developers (or anyone) choked out of blatantly copying something and trying to sell it as their own. In this case, the “indie developers” being choked would be fly-by-night con artists, the kinds of people who spam mobile app platforms with 5,000 fart pianos and “100 Top Angry Birds tips” apps.

Or, in other words, if you're already writing a game because you care about the gameplay and experience, you're not going to have any problems making it original. A precedent making it illegal to slavishly clone someone else's game can only improve the quality of games on offer.
posted by acb at 6:15 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


> It's a cute game and we have a fun time 'visiting' each other's houses and farting ...

Truly, we have passed the gaming event horizon.
posted by scruss at 6:22 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


For what it is worth, this scenario has played out in the past at least twice.

First, Data East sued a company called Epyx on the ground that Epyx created a game by the name of International Karate which supposedly copied Karate Champ. The result was that while the games were very similar and played very much alike, the elements involved were simply part of what a game about karate was likely to encompass. The games did look quite distinct from each other, but to say Epyx was not guilty of "inspiration" would be a laugh.

Years later, Capcom sues Data East over Fighter's History being too much like Street Fighter 2. Data East argued that Karate Champ was the originator of the genre, but the result was that the courts found in favor of Data East not because they had any claim over the genre, but because the genre demanded the elements which were again, very obviously "inspired" yet not lifted resource for resource.

This? Zynga is doing exactly what Epyx and later Data East were doing. They're making an "inspired" game in the genre which obviously lifts heavily. I'm no practitioner of law, nor have I seen enough to make a truly informed opinion on this matter. However, it appears to me that if EA wants to make a case, they will do so on minute technical points which either require Zynga to redesign the game extensively enough that they lose market share early on and thus a significant chunk of what would be easy profits, or settle out of court for royalties, ensuring EA profits even if The Ville takes the largest share of the market.

Half-assed clones are annoying, but the truth is that you can't clone the subtle "betterness" of an original. There's a reason Fighter's History is an also-ran that relatively few people know about while Street Fighter 2 is one of the most well known games in the genre. Let precedent stand, let Zynga have their clone. If they stole specific resources provably, nail them for that and that alone. Just please make it obvious whether in court or in settlement so corporate lawyers don't have a field day with trying to hair-split genre games.
posted by Saydur at 6:22 PM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pot calling the kettle #000 but the thing is that pots and kettles ARE black because that's how the industry works, standing on the shoes of giants. Sometime's you're taller but often you're shorter.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:28 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


@Gary

now you're getting it!
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:36 PM on August 3, 2012


So, yeah, the talk of gameplay cloning is a smokescreen. It's there to reinforce the notion that the portions of the game that can actually be legally protected were wantonly copied. The documents are full of quotes to the effect of "Everybody says Zynga makes all their money by copying other games ideas." Copying ideas is legal, but copying the specific expression of an idea is not. There's no danger that Nintendo will be able to sue anyone who ever put a jump button in their game.

What's especially interesting here is the fact that, as mentioned in the documents, Zynga hired away a couple of high level EA social folks, who would have had knowledge of protected information about Sims Social months before it was released. Zynga's been poaching talent from EA (and Lucas Arts and Activision) more or less constantly since 2009, so I could understand if EA was looking for an opportunity to kick Zynga while it was hurting.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 7:08 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just hope they keep kicking.
posted by Malor at 8:29 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pity they can't both lose.

Oh wait. It's a lawsuit! They can!

Teehee.
posted by ocschwar at 8:41 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Page 31 of the complaint. The "break up" image. The one labeled The Ville seems to have text that refers to its characters as "sims". Someone with better eyes than mine, confirm what that says please? Maybe the pictures are just mislabeled?
posted by Night_owl at 8:51 PM on August 3, 2012


Mislabeled. Well. That's, uh, interesting. EA should have paid their lawyers more?
posted by Night_owl at 8:53 PM on August 3, 2012


It's all fun and games until lawyers and money get involved...

I wonder if Gameloft may be facing similar litigation in the future?
posted by samsara at 6:36 AM on August 4, 2012


This? Zynga is doing exactly what Epyx and later Data East were doing. They're making an "inspired" game in the genre which obviously lifts heavily. ... nor have I seen enough to make a truly informed opinion on this matter.

So you don't know enough to make an informed opinion but you can write a lengthy post proclaiming "exactly" what Zynga is doing (which incidentally, is not what they're being sued for).
posted by Candleman at 7:33 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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