Another day, another dollar, and another major lawsuit has been filed against Zynga, the world’s largest and most successful social gaming company. That “successful” part might be up for contention soon, as heavy-hitter publisher EA has stepped into the ring with Zynga and filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco-based developer for copyright infringement.
What’s the game in particular that’s getting the courtroom treatment from EA’s legal team?
It’s none other than The ‘Ville, the social MMO announced at the “Zynga Unleashed” event last June.
EA subsidiary Maxis—founded by Will Wright and responsible for the original Sims game—is spearheading the lawsuit, claiming that The ‘Ville stole the concept, design, and various other elements of The Sims Social. Maxis’ title was released in August 2011, and as general manager Lucy Bradshaw states in a press release, the infringement is pretty blatant:
As outlined in our complaint, when The Ville was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of The Sims Social was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large. The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social. The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable. Scores of media and bloggers commented on the blatant mimicry.
If Zynga had problems before with insider trading lawsuits, crashing revenue streams, and a potential split with Facebook’s gaming division, this could be an even bigger problem for the social gaming developer. As Bradshaw notes, none of the independent mobile developers Zynga’s allegedly copied had the resources to take them to court, but EA is more than willing.
Fighting off a lawsuit from EA could put an additionally devastatingly serious financial burden on Zynga, and one that could sink the company. According to recent financial data and stock trends, EA is assuredly worth at least three times more than Zynga is right now, and Bradshaw hopes this move will help protect other gaming studios from copyright infringement in the future:
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.
Truly, this is a legal battle that Zynga can’t afford to lose right now. If they do, the resulting fallout could signal the beginning of the company’s sudden and karmic end.