Archive for August 6th, 2012
If you follow social games at all, you’ve probably seen that Electronic Arts’ Maxis division is suing Zynga over their game The Ville. I’m going to put aside legal considerations as to what constitutes copying a game. And I’ll even put aside ethical considerations (is it okay to copy someone else’s game?).
Zynga’s business model for a long time has relied on finding successful games that other companies came up with, copying them, improving on the user experience, virality, and/or monetization, and generally doing better with those games than the originals. Farmville was a copy of an existing game, as was Mafia Wars. Nimblebit called Zynga out for Zynga’s Dream Tower, which was a graphically different, substantially similar version of hit mobile game Tiny Tower. There have been quotes leaked to the press from Mark Pincus, Zynga’s CEO, stating that he didn’t care about innovation, just successful games, and suggesting Zynga copy those who came first.
Oddly, Zynga’s biggest success, at least in terms of total users, has been with Cityville, which is arguably an original game. Sure, it’s a citybuilding invest-express game, and there are familiar elements from a handful of games that came before (decorations from Wooga’s Millionaire City, the basic concept and layout from Playdom’s Social City, trains from A Bit Lucky’s Lucky Train, etc.). But Zynga combined those elements and added in several others to make something that really pushed the genre forward. And players really responded, making it still the biggest social game of all time.
Is The Ville a copy of the Sims Social? Well, if you look at the court filing, with the pictures side by side, they’re pretty darn similar. The basic mechanics, the look and feel of the game, and even how the Sims interact with one another, and the fact that you can do “nice” or “mean” things to your friends all feel cribbed from The Sims Social. Perhaps most incriminatingly, the characters in The Ville talk to each other in something very closely approximating Simlish, the Sims-specific cutesy baby talk/gibberish language that’s been a hallmark of the Sims franchise from its very beginning.
That also seems like an odd choice for Zynga, as it’s rather apparent that they didn’t come up with that concept; and there’s really no reason to put it in your game other than aesthetics (and trying to make the game as identical as possible to the Sims).
Users seem to be fleeing Zynga games lately, particularly on desktop. Some have posited that this is because the social game craze is ending, or because users as a whole are growing tired of microtransactions. I don’t buy either argument. Over half the people on Facebook have played a social game, and hundreds of millions still play titles like Farmville, Cityville, the various poker games, Bejewled Blitz, Family Feud, etc.
Zynga hasn’t really had an original game out in a while. They’ve had sequels, and they’ve had copies. But they haven’t put a big, new game that pushed the genre forward since Empires & Allies (which, by the way, was a smart, innovative title that layered some more complex PvE and PvP combat onto the familiar citybuilding genre). I think that’s what users are responding to. They want new games, and they’re having to go to other companies to get them.