Does Zynga, a company with a US$7.3 billion market cap, have any original ideas? It’s a question that’s been asked many times before of the game maker whose games often closely resemble titles already on the market. In 2010, a high profile story by SF Weekly anonymously quoted an ex-senior employee who recalled CEO Mark Pincus once saying, “I don’t fucking want innovation…. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”
Last week, Zynga was publicly accused by indie developer NimbleBit of ripping off the latter’s game, Tiny Tower (Apple’s 2011 iPhone game of the year), with its latest title, Dream Heights. NimbleBit’s open letter, which is a big image with side-by-side screenshots and commentary, quickly went viral on websites like Twitter and Reddit. To say the least, the two games look very similar.
But Zynga now has a defence, which went online today. The company released a previously confidential memo to VentureBeat, which was originally sent to employees following the bad press Zynga was getting thanks to NimbleBit.
“Google didn’t create the first search engine,” Pincus writes in the memo. “Apple didn’t create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn’t create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways….
“As I’ve said, our strategy since the beginning has been to develop the best game…for every category of play,” he continues. “We are rarely first since most categories in games go back decades, but we aim to be the best.”
Despite Pincus’s optimism, the company has faced numerous lawsuits in the past, and not all have ended in Zynga’s favour. For example, Mob Wars creator David Maestri sued Zynga for its nearly identical—and similarly titled—Mafia Wars game. The case was settled out of court, allegedly resulting in a payment to Maestri of an estimated $7 to $9 million.
NimbleBit, however, which is made up of only three employees, has armed itself with sarcasm rather than lawyers.
What do you think? Almost every new video game borrows heavily from games past, but does Dream Heights borrow a little too much? (Click here for NimbleBit’s comparison.)