Update: The memo we saw is now publicly posted here.
EA have announced tonight they're planning to sue Zynga, over the similarities between the recently released The Ville, and Maxis' The Sims Social. It's not the first time that Zynga has released a game that looks astonishingly similar to another company's game, but it's the first time they've met an opponent big enough to fight back. We've seen an internal EA memo that tells staff that while they are pursuing this because they believe they're legally in the right, they're also doing it because they believe it's time to be "taking a stand". It says that even if they were to lose, "we will have made a point."
Earlier today an email was sent around to EA employees explaining the plans to take a stand against this mimicry, emphasising that it was a matter of principle. A fact they repeat in their public statement on the matter. While they believe there's a strong legal case to demonstrate that the Ville, in their words, "copied the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social", they are saying they want to take it on for emotional reasons too. Zynga, however, have responded by saying that The Sims Social bears a great deal of resemblance to their older game, CityVille.
In the email sent to staff, they outlined their motivations.
"This is a case of principle. Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product. But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it. Infringing a developer’s copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development. By calling Zynga out on this illegal practice, we hope to have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don’t have the resources to protect themselves."
Another passage that emphasises this. "I’m certain there will be a response. Some will say The Ville simply iterates; some will tell us to get over it and move on. We are confident in our position, and that we will prevail. But even if we do not, we will have made a point."
The action EA has taken lays out some interesting arguments, including highlighting how many former senior EA staff have recently been employed by Zynga during The Ville's development, and put out some images that starkly demonstrate the visual similarities between the two. (I've played neither game, so absolutely cannot comment on whether these claims are right.)
In EA's complaint, they go through the usual legal process of laying out the ways they believe Zynga's game violates their property, including multiple quotes from the gaming press who observed just how similar they are. But then also goes on to emphasise the point that they believe this is a frequent act by Zynga:
"EA believes and therefore alleges that Zynga did not achieve its success in online social gaming through creative game design and innovation. To the contrary, it is widely reported, and EA believes and therefore alleges, that Zynga explicitly discourages innovation in game design and instead watches successful games, plays and analyzes those games, and then creates its own games that closely follow the games of its competitors. Zynga’s practice is well recognized, and demonstrates that the substantial similarity between The Sims Social and The Ville is not mere coincidence, but is the result of willful, intentional conduct that lies at the heart of Zynga’s business model."
They then list previous alleged incidents, including Mafia Wars and Mob Wars, FarmVille and FarmTown, Cafe World and Restaurant City, FishVille and Happy Aquarium, PetVille and Pet Society, Zynga Bingo and Bingo Blitz, and Tiny Tower and Dream Heights. They also list various times Zynga's CEO Mark Pincus has been alleged to have boasted that his company copies others. The complaint continues with dozens of screenshots demonstrating what, to my eyes, look like extraordinarily similar games. For example:
The email sent to EA staff concludes,
"As a longstanding game developer, I know what it feels like to pour your heart and soul into creating something unique and special for your fans to enjoy. Today, we hope to be taking a stand that helps the industry protect the value of original creative works and those that work tirelessly to create them."
Zynga have issued a statement in response to the filing by EA.
"We are committed to creating the most fun, innovative, social and engaging games in every major genre that our players enjoy. The Ville is the newest game in our 'ville' franchise - it builds on every major innovation from our existing invest-and-express games dating back to YoVille and continuing through CityVille and CastleVille, and introduces a number of new social features and game mechanics not seen in social games today.
It's unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles. It's also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga's CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players."
Clearly this could get ugly, and good grief, RPS is not stupid enough to take sides in an ongoing legal dispute. It is pretty hard to reconcile Zynga's statement with the phenomenal similarity in that screenshot at the top of this post. And comparisons to CityVille seems perhaps a touch bold made against the company who developed not only The Sims, but also Sim City. But we shall see. EA have requested a jury trial, but Zynga has yet to respond in the courts.