Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Those Zynga Bastards and Other General Copycats

This is alarming. But it's everywhere these days, especially in mobile and browser gaming. I noticed a lot of posts last week about this topic and thought I'd throw in my thoughts as well, especially because the story above really irked me the most. Above is the top of an infographic that NimbleBit (a team of three, who produced the 2011 iPhone Game of the Year Tiny Tower) released upon seeing some interesting tidbits about Zynga's new game, Dream Heights. You can see the whole image here, which I suggest you do, because it's absolutely disgusting.

Zynga is by no means the only company guilty of this, but I'm going to focus on them now. It is blatantly obvious that they copied Tiny Tower. They cannot, in any way, say they were just "inspired" by it. It is a blatant copy. Why? Because Tiny Tower was successful. And it was free. So not only was it successful and well-made and unbelievably fun, but it was one of the few great free games on the App Store that wasn't some sort of "Pet Shop Zoo Cafe Story" clone. And Zynga wanted some of that.

What I really do not understand is how this is allowed to happen at all. I'm well aware that I do not know much at all about copyrights and intellectual property and whatnot, but I simply do not get it. Zynga started with one or two original games, which everyone else copied. Like I said, they are not the only bad guys here. So they had an original idea (FarmVille), clones were made (like Barn Buddy, who the hell thought that was a good name?) and all of it just sort of happened. Then Zynga started copying games. In fact, they even started copying themselves, which they are obviously allowed to do, but still confuses the hell out of me. Please, stop making the "With Friends" games. Keep the ones you have, maybe axe Scramble with Friends because it's total crap, and just improve on Words and Hanging. And come on. The ad-free versions of these games are $2.99! They aren't even close to being worth that much. I could buy a block of cheese for $2.99 and get far more enjoyment out of it.

The only game that Zynga made that's good is called Drop7. That's it on the left. Nobody has even heard about it. It lurks in the shadowy corners of the iTunes App Store like an illegitimate child that Zynga wants to keep a secret.  Granted, there's also a $2.99 ad-free version that I refuse to buy, but the game is still great and the ads aren't even noticeable. It has nice music and sound effects and is a really fun way to work your brain. I stumbled upon it because the icon had that damn Zynga dog in the corner, and it was clearly something I'd never heard of. If I hadn't been surfing the App Store looking for new ways to waste my time, I never would have known the game even existed. And strangely enough, it doesn't seem to be a clone except for basic gameplay principles. If Zynga made more self-contained games like this, perhaps they wouldn't be seen as a big money-sucking bully. But then again something tells me they don't really care how anybody views them, as long as money is pouring in.

Anyway, my point is that I'd really like to know how all of these games can get copied over and over and nothing is done about it except for a snarky infographic that kinda-sorta calls them out. Is there some sort of legal thing somewhere that says anybody can copy your stuff in such-and-such a case and so forth? I mean, the similarities I see between Zynga's Dream Heights and NimbleBit's Tiny Tower are amazing. I'd even liken it to almost word-for-word plagiarism. And I'm pretty sure plagiarism isn't allowed in published works. They just kind of Zynga-fied the graphics and called it theirs. Nevertheless, there's one good thing I've seen in the midst of all of this. A week or so ago there was a whole host of horrific clones in the App Store. Temple Jump (after Temple Run), Plant vs. Zombies (after Plants vs. Zombies), and a few more were fooling poor idiots everywhere into spending $.99 when they were nowhere close to the real games. But happily, Apple took all of the clones down. It makes me wonder what would happen if the name of Zynga's game was much more similar to NimbleBit's. What if the name was Little Skyscraper or something? Would things be different? Something tells me that yes...they would. And that is a little horrifying.

But honestly now, if anybody can explain this to me, please do so. Because it literally blows my mind. I know there's a fine line between copying and just being inspired by something...I don't know, maybe I'm just being ridiculous because the offense in this case seems so blatant. So please, comment away!

Update 2/19/12: Shameful Tiny Tower Clone is Shameful; Zynga not Ashamed

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