EA-Zynga Wars Episode II: Zynga Strikes Back
Yes, I know that's not an entirely correct Star Wars reference. I should probably have my head lopped off by some form of lightsaber-bladed guillotine, but let's save that for later. Now, after all, is time to be united by that most beautiful of communal forces: big things fighting. Last month, EA sued Zynga in an effort to "take a stand" against the social titan's alleged copycatting ways, and now - after getting its crops (and I guess probably also legal affairs) in order - Zynga's firing back. With a lawsuit of its own. Because the court system is weird.
Kotaku picked up all of the pertinent documents, but here's a quick rundown straight from Zynga HQ:
"Today we responded to EA's claims which we believe have no merit. We also filed a counterclaim which addresses actions by EA we believe to be anticompetitive and unlawful business practices, including legal threats and demands for no-hire agreements. We look forward to getting back to focusing all our efforts on delighting our players."
Yes, that's right: Zynga is now essentially suing EA for the same things EA's accusing Zynga of. I love it when giant multi-million dollar corporations essentially start shouting, "Nuh-uh! He started it!"
On top of that, Zynga provided screenshots that attempt to depict The Ville - the game EA claims directly infringes upon The Sims Social - as a natural successor to games like Yo Ville (2008) and Cafe World (2009). Further, it argued that similarities between all those games and EA's own can be chalked up to simple commonalities within a genre. Zynga then went on to use the fact that SimCity Social apparently "draws heavily on elements found" in CityVille - which launched before it - as an example.
The big, bad countersuit, meanwhile, largely hinges on this particularly incendiary bit:
"The truth is that despite years of trying to compete, and spending more than a billion dollars on acquisitions, EA has not been able to successfully compete in the social gaming space and was losing talent, particularly to social gaming leader Zynga. Desperate to stem this exodus, EA undertook an anti-competitive and unlawful scheme to stop Zynga from hiring its employees and to restrain the mobility of EA employees in violation of the spirit of the antitrust laws and California public policy. EA sought, by threat of objectively and subjectively baseless sham litigation, what it could never lawfully obtain from Zynga – a no-hire agreement that would bar Zynga’s hiring of EA employees."
Zynga has also, of course, motioned for a trial by jury, so odds are, this one's headed to court in a very loud and shouty way. In the meantime, however, EA's already returned fire with a blistering verbal volley of its own: "This is a predictable subterfuge aimed at diverting attention from Zynga's persistent plagiarism of other artists and studios. Zynga would be better served trying to hold onto the shrinking number of employees they've got, rather than suing to acquire more."
Yikes. Unless someone rescues someone else from a burning building stat, I don't see these two kissing and making up any time soon. (And honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if, in that hypothetical situation, one of them started the fire in the first place.) Regardless of which side you fall on, though, this looks to set a pretty tremendous precedent for the way copyright infringement in games is handled.
And given that - whether or not you believe Zynga's a part of the problem (and let's face it; there's some pretty damning evidence to suggest it hasn't won its social throne purely through honor and chivalry) - social gaming's overrun with legally nebulous instances of copycatting, this is something that needs to happen. After all, where's the line for games, specifically? What's a clone and what's simply "inspired" by another idea or iterating upon it? One way or another, it looks like we're about to find out.