Skip

"I don't fucking want innovation."
September 10, 2010 4:07 PM   Subscribe

FarmVillains: Steal someone else's game. Change its name. Make millions. Repeat.
posted by brundlefly (51 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I don't fucking want innovation," the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. "You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers."

The former employee, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about his experience at Zynga, said this wasn't just bluster. Indeed, interviews conducted by SF Weekly with several former Zynga workers indicate that the practice of stealing other companies' game ideas — and then using Zynga's market clout to crowd out the games' originators — was business as usual.


Pretty normal product development and business practices. There are lots of people with great ideas out there, but there are not a lot of people who can execute great ideas and then achieve commercial success. Case in point: it's not as though SFWeekly invented the alternative weekly concept.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:16 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was really hoping this was going to be a game called FarmVillains. I didn't delete my facebook account because of the privacy stuff but because all I was getting was fucking farmville updates. I'd love some payback.

Also, these guys sound like jerks, which doesn't surprise me.
posted by Elmore at 4:16 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, basically, the big popular Facebook game kind of copied the tactics of the developer of Facebook?
posted by hippybear at 4:18 PM on September 10, 2010


the practice of stealing other companies' game ideas — and then using Zynga's market clout to crowd out the games' originators — was business as usual

That is normal though. Fifty different companies didn't all invent mobile phones simultaneously and the one that makes the clunky, user unfriendly first one isn't always the one that makes money on it.
posted by shinybaum at 4:27 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And if that FarmVillain game just automatically replied to every Farmville update with: Eggyweggs, I would smash 'em. Then I would be happy.
posted by Elmore at 4:28 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't delete my facebook account because of the privacy stuff but because all I was getting was fucking farmville updates.

All you had to do was hover over an update, click the x button, and instruct it to hide FarmVille. You can do that with any app, or with any person's or page's updates.
posted by Nattie at 4:29 PM on September 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


I can't believe people spend more than 5 minutes playing this crap.
posted by WhitenoisE at 4:31 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oddly enough, these "social" games have no real social aspects beyond asking friends for virtual goods or spamming them with images of fish and eggplants.

This!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:32 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I was really hoping this was going to be a game called FarmVillains."

Yeah, I would play that just so I could steal my wife's farm and burn it to the ground. Then maybe, just maybe, she would quit playing that fsmforsaken game.

Nah, she probably wouldn't.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:33 PM on September 10, 2010


Yeah, I play MafiaWars with more than a little shame. But I've been doing it since before it was on Facebook, and I'm pretty damn careful not to send any messages to folks who aren't actively playing it.
posted by klangklangston at 4:34 PM on September 10, 2010


I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I've run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach.

Say it ain't so, Joe!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:35 PM on September 10, 2010


There's a long history of game designers stealing from each other. Many of Zynga's apps are particularly egregious examples of liberal borrowing, but then again they've executed them very well.

The uglier story in my mind is how Zynga makes money, particularly in the early days with misleading and predatory online offers. They've cleaned up their act some, but they're still incredibly aggressive at selling Zynga coins to people. It's one thing to have an addictive game and charge people a flat $15/month to play it; it's another to have an addictive game and let people pay as much as they want to play it more on any given day.
posted by Nelson at 4:35 PM on September 10, 2010


Also to head off the comments early: if your entire analysis of Farmville and Mafia Wars is "these are dumb games I'm going to move on", you're missing something important and interesting in game design. Yes, they are dumb games, particularly by the standards of computer gaming. They're also wildly successful for interesting reasons.
posted by Nelson at 4:36 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Case in point: it's not as though SFWeekly invented the alternative weekly concept.

I am not familiar with the history of the SFWeekly, but did they steal the idea of the alt. weekly concept from someone in SF and then become wildly successful at the expense of the originator? If so, that's an apt comparison. If not, that seems like a weird defense of what is plainly an unethical business practice.

But then again I guess "ethical business practice" is one of the most egregious oxymorons out there, so...carry on.
posted by m0nm0n at 4:40 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, yeah, the SFWeekly has become wildly successful at the expense of the originator. With illegal predatory ad pricing trying to drive even-more-insufferably-alternative Bay Guardian out of business. Which newspaper came first is a more complex question because of the chain of owernship, but SFWeekly now belongs to Village Voice Media.

All that said, SFWeekly comes up with a good investigative piece like this one about once every three weeks. When they do journalism it's usually pretty good. Plus there's hookers in the back pages!
posted by Nelson at 4:43 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, but they did not steal the idea, yes? Or dominate the industry that it is difficult for customers to name competitors?

In any case thanks for the link to the article; battles between rival newspapers are a fascinating and dwindling phenomenon.
posted by m0nm0n at 4:49 PM on September 10, 2010


I am not familiar with the history of the SFWeekly, but did they steal the idea of the alt. weekly concept from someone in SF and then become wildly successful at the expense of the originator? If so, that's an apt comparison. If not, that seems like a weird defense of what is plainly an unethical business practice.

But then again I guess "ethical business practice" is one of the most egregious oxymorons out there, so...carry on.


Far be it for me to leap to the defense of the creators of Farmville, but the only reason why this is considered unethical is because someone said it is unethical. Business is competitive. Innovation is often incremental. People "borrow" ideas. But, like I said, there are a lot of ideas out there. What really matters is often the relationship you have with your customers, and Farmville was able to cultivate a better relationship with a huge audience base. Very broadly speaking (once again, far be it for me to come to the defense of this company), crushing your competitors is the name of the game. It is also important for one team to win in basketball or football, I might add, by crushing their competitors.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:50 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, yeah, the SFWeekly has become wildly successful at the expense of the originator.

I had no idea when I made the comparison.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:51 PM on September 10, 2010


There actually are a couple of jokey Facebook gizmos called FarmVillain, but I don't think anyone has developed them into full-fledged games, sadly.
posted by Gator at 4:52 PM on September 10, 2010


I don't know how to tell these people, but there's a whole series of farm games called Harvest Moon that are quite fantastic, adorable, and which you only pay *once* for...
posted by disillusioned at 5:01 PM on September 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


People "borrow" ideas steal other peoples' intellectual property and use it for profit. FTFY. Hey, happens all the time - I've done it myself.
posted by sneebler at 5:44 PM on September 10, 2010


I can't believe people spend more than 5 minutes playing this crap.

There's a woman at my gym who plays it for HOURS, which I didn't even think was possible. She'll be playing when I get there at 6am and is still standing at the free computers when I leave 2 hours later. I feel like telling her that for the insane amounts of money the gym charges, she can just buy her own computer and play from the comfort of her own home, where no one will mock her in the locker room.
posted by elizardbits at 5:47 PM on September 10, 2010


there's a whole series of farm games called Harvest Moon

When I first heard of the Farmville phenomenon, I assumed it was like Harvest Moon. I thought, "Oh. That makes sense. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I can see how this can be popular." Instead, it's something much, much different and much, much worse. When I'm describing it to people who have never seen Farmville, I usually say: "Remember that computer in the hatch in Lost? The one where you have to type the numbers every 108 minutes. Yeah, it's exactly like that."
posted by mhum at 5:50 PM on September 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


So Zynga is Eric Bauman?
posted by maxwelton at 5:51 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's kind of fitting that Zynga operates out of a potato chip factory, no?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:06 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know how to tell these people, but there's a whole series of farm games called Harvest Moongardens that are quite fantastic, adorable, and which you only pay *once* for plus you can actually eat the "points" you earn...
posted by DU at 6:37 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's not the idea, it's the execution. Making a game that's similar to someone else's game isn't stealing.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 PM on September 10, 2010


Farmville may suck, but it's still a step up from a poker machine in game design terms, and those things make billions of dollars.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:48 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


FarmVillain actually is a Facebook app. Pro:It doesn't require you sign up to send any info or anything, so there's no risk in joining. Con: The humor is hit or miss at best, and borderline offensive at worst.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2010


I don't know how to tell these people, but there's a whole series of farm games called gardens grow-ops that are quite fantastic, adorable, and which you only pay *once* for plus you can actually eat deal the "points" you earn...

I bet it violates like a billion Facebook and ESRB rules, but I would actually like a FarmVille style game that was based on the underground marijuana growing industry. Black markets alone are an interesting concept, and grow-ops give you full control of the CO2, light levels, water, nutrients, and so on. And you get the compulsion loop of upgrading your setup, growing more product and getting more yeild, and then upgrading your setup again. Plus, it's highly illegal to grow in most industrialized nations, so you need to consider security, camouflage, who to hire, who to deal with, etc. It'd be like Uplink meets Harvest Moon.

What could be really sinister is that if you get busted, you have to buy Facebook credits to "bribe" the officer to give you back your property, or start over.

And it'd be educational. People would learn about how much money there is to be made from flaunting the prohibition, and they could see the prices and profits rise more and more as the risk increases, both due to the scale of the grow-op and the increasing illegality of the product (or the opposite effect, if the server tries to decriminalize). And hydroponics, which is a great technology for growing tomatoes and basil.

And maybe if Zynga made a game about selling drugs, 7-11 would stop carrying products "from FarmVille." Which annoys me for no real reason, even though I never even go to 7-11.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:02 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to look down on farmville and the people that played it. Then I got an ipad. When it first came out there weren't many free games so I downloaded we rule since I am into wizards and shit because I hate having sex with women. I started playing it and I would think to myself "this isn't very fun" but I kept playing it! I would wake up at certain times and come home at certain times to harvest and plant my crops. Like if I woke up a little early I could be around for two harvest cycles of the magic cauliflower a day. It basically became this new chore that I assigned myself.

I'm pretty much over it now. i built like a dragons lair and even though there are still goals to hit I wised up. But it took a good month or so of playing for what really was only a few minutes a day.

It's a powerful thing knowing, with certainty, that you will accomplish something and be rewarded for it instantly. And it is amazing how tedious the thing can be. And how meaning less the award can be. If it happens definitely and right away.
posted by I Foody at 7:40 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


People "borrow" ideas steal other peoples' intellectual property and use it for profit.

It's only stealing if the judge decides it's stealing. In fact, the danger of IP infringement (generally speaking, in the eyes of the law if your competitor can modify 20% of your patented concept, it's his/hers to own and is not stealing; if you don't patent your concept it was never yours to begin with, so it's a Catch-22) is a prime reason why some people do not expose their idea and themselves to the world by filing a patent.

Besides, it's not ideas, it's execution that counts.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 PM on September 10, 2010


So a blatant disregard for originality and honest business practices is okay if you're not caught, especially if it makes you millions of dollars? Alright.
posted by hellojed at 8:34 PM on September 10, 2010


So a blatant disregard for originality and honest business practices is okay if you're not caught, especially if it makes you millions of dollars? Alright.
No, but blatant disregard for originality actually is fine. Some of the other stuff, not so much.
posted by delmoi at 8:38 PM on September 10, 2010


As someone who enjoys independent games and (casual, armchair analysis of) the craft of game design I find this pretty abhorrent. It's like finding out that boy band you hate because they produce generic Top 40 schlock are actually paid shills for the tobacco industry or something. I'm torn between "Ha, I was right all along!" and "OH MY GOD THE EVIL IT BURNS".

(And yeah, I played FarmVille for a while. It was something to do at work, and people walking by my desk couldn't see that the spreadsheet I had open was actually tracking crop profitability. Nice way to avoid real work.)
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 8:40 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


generally speaking, in the eyes of the law if your competitor can modify 20% of your patented concept, it's his/hers to own and is not stealing

generally speaking, this is a load of horse puckey
posted by exogenous at 9:00 PM on September 10, 2010


Around the early part of the noughties, I worked for a video game company that sold products in China and Korea. Virtually none of the games were pre-pay or boxed: almost all of them were initially "free" but funded by in-game purchases (mainly through stored value tokens sold at kiosks and via mobile phones). Pimp your avatar, that kind of thing. All the virtual goods stuff and skinner box loops that Zynga does, the Koreans were there ten years ago. Anyway, one day a visiting exec was telling a story about a gamer who had lost his magic sword that he had paid a bundle of cash for on a trading site. The sword had been created due to a technique exploit and when a standard economy audit found the exploit, it retroactively deleted all the objects obviously associated with the oversight. This gamer was a young man, and quite upset because he could get neither his magic sword nor his money returned despite repeated calls to the company's support lines. So he turned up in the lobby, doused with a combustible liquid, and set himself on fire. Many people in the office were understandably horrified by this. The exec, however, proclaimed themselves "delighted". We finally had a product that was so addictive that people were literally killing themselves to continue playing it. I imagine that this exec and Mr Pincus would have a lot in common were they to sit down and chat.
posted by meehawl at 10:02 PM on September 10, 2010 [14 favorites]


I thought it was well-known that many of Zynga's games were stolen.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:25 PM on September 10, 2010


It's not the idea, it's the execution. Making a game that's similar to someone else's game isn't stealing.

C'mon now. They didn't just make a farm-sim for FaceBook -- they copied the art style, the UI, the camera perspective, everything. That ain't just "similar."
posted by Amanojaku at 10:45 PM on September 10, 2010


but I would actually like a FarmVille style game that was based on the underground marijuana growing industry.

Ask and they're waaayy ahead of you.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:39 PM on September 10, 2010


Pot farm is actually fun.
posted by Solomon at 5:09 AM on September 11, 2010


The art style is one thing, and many cheap game UIs are similar, but camera perspective? There's first person, third person from above, and fake isometric. Nothing else works too well.

I, too, was a reluctant Zynga addict. I played the cafe one, timing events around mynwork schedule, even managing the accounts for a few folks who were busy with better things (which should have made me realize that they knew something I didn't). I quit when it was less fun and more of a chore. But then I started another game, and fell into the same pattern of fitting it into my schedule at regular intervals. This time, the game was updated with new features and options often enough to keep me hooked on the idea it might get more enjoyable with the next update.

Basic tasks with flashy prizes and the social elements of trading with friends and bragging about accomplishments make for simple addiction. More interactive than gambling and free (with the option for one-time payments to speed up "progress") makes easy money. No need to water and wait for crops to produce, no need to buy a console or install software, it's anywhere you can access facebook, and actual gardening and Harvest Moon are not such threatening alternatives.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:50 AM on September 11, 2010


KokuRyu: "It's only stealing if the judge decides it's stealing."

This is kind of my issue, because if everyone chooses do do what they can get away with, and justifies it by saying "It's only stealing if the judge decides it's stealing," then a lot of the values we've used to build society go out the window. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but I tend to think of this kind of thing as Corruption.
posted by sneebler at 7:39 AM on September 11, 2010


But, isn't, "It's only stealing if the judge decides it's stealing," in fact the society our values have built?

When we say the judge "decides," we mean that the judge "interprets and applies the law." If the law, as it exists, allows the judge to interpret it in such a way that justice is not done, it seems we need to change the law.

Otherwise aren't we only left to cluck our tongues? Or to find justice outside the law?
posted by Trochanter at 10:32 AM on September 11, 2010


Greetings, Steambadger! Welcome to Generic Game!

Events have transpired, and you find yourself caught up in them in some way.

Your attribute is 1.

Click HERE to share this in your profile.

[click]

STEAMBADGER is reading descriptions, performing actions and responding to events in
GENERIC GAME, the most popular game of that title on Facebook! Play now!


You have received 10 Arbitrary Units.

You are faced with a small, humorous obstacle. Click HERE to contend with it.

[click]

You have overcome a small, humorous obstacle!

Your attribute is 2!

You receive 25 Arbitrary Units!

You receive a device of some sort!

Events unfold further!

Click HERE to investigate a vaguely menacing situation and/or explore an unknown location!

[click]

You have uncovered an unsatisfying plot element!

A moderately daunting threat or slightly perplexing puzzle presents itself!

Your attribute is not high enough to confront this threat and/or solve this dilemma! Click HERE to invite your friends to help you!

[click]

STEAMBADGER needs your help in overcoming a menace, defeating an opponent, or investigating
a mystery in GENERIC GAME, the most popular game on Facebook among people who like that sort of thing!
Join NOW to help, and receive an incentive!


Five friends have joined your group, team or collective!

You have resolved the situation in some way!

Your attribute is three!

You have been rewarded in some fashion!

Click HERE continue clicking!

[click]

Generic Game is currently down for maintenance! Please try again later!
posted by steambadger at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


For the last couple weeks, there's been a guy who comes into my public library at 9 am every morning and plays Farmville and Cafe World until around 5 or 6 (well, he takes the occasional break to chat with women on Facebook).

His wife calls the library sometimes, and asks us to let him know when she's coming to pick him up. We're all pretty confident he's telling her he's looking for work.
posted by box at 2:05 PM on September 11, 2010


He says the pat dismissal of social games as simplistic reveals "an elitist point of view."

Translation: "People are half-bright chumps, and we're making money hand over fist. Please don't queer the deal by letting them know there's something better available."
posted by steambadger at 2:28 PM on September 11, 2010




All you had to do was hover over an update, click the x button, and instruct it to hide FarmVille. You can do that with any app, or with any person's or page's updates.

Yeah, I once thought about Farmville for a few minutes. "What is this nonsense?" I use Facebook occasionally, and I haven't thought of it in years. It has been very easy to pretend it doesn't exist. EXCEPT FOR YOU GUYS.

I bet it violates like a billion Facebook and ESRB rules, but I would actually like a FarmVille style game that was based on the underground marijuana growing industry.

I haven't played them, but I figured all of the Mafia Wars/Farmville crap was based on the original grinder, Dope Wars, which also is a Facebook app. (There are actually a couple versions on Facebook. I have not tried any.)

Also: Cow Clicker. Tagline: "I'm clicking a cow!"
posted by mrgrimm at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2010


So true! Farmville, farmfun, farmlearn, farmfarm
posted by biggles76 at 1:24 PM on September 13, 2010


steambadger: "Greetings, Steambadger! Welcome to Generic Game!"

I would probably play this.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:40 AM on September 18, 2010


« Older being a conscious and ongoing victim of yourself...   |   This Is About Power, Not Security Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post