Zynga’s Formerly Secret Defence Against Copycat Accusations

Zynga’s Formerly Secret Defence Against Copycat Accusations

Last week, while game developers were howling that Zynga — creators of FarmVille — were the makers of a game called Dream Heights that maybe ripped off another hit game, Zynga didn’t want to talk about it.

Not publicly.

Not even after another group popped up to say that, hey, if Zynga ripped off Tiny Tower, Tiny Tower ripped off us.

Today, Zynga’s making the rounds, offering up company boss Mark Pincus and design chief Brian Reynolds to answer all these copycat claims.

They didn’t bother talking to us, even though we did politely ask them for comment last week. Instead, they’re talking to gaming business press, clearly targeting readerships who fund or make games.

That’s fine. Let’s just look at the formerly-confidential memo Pincus sent his employees when the Tiny Tower flap was happening. The memo was originally provided to VentureBeat by Zynga:



There’s press today about one of our mobile games, Dream Heights, that just launched in Canada and worldwide soon. As we become the Zynga of Mobile and more broadly, as Zynga grows by further innovating on best of breed social mechanics, we should expect the industry to sit up and take notice of our growing portfolio.

I’m proud of the mobile team’s hard work and the industry has taken notice.

For the first time, according to App Data, Words with Friends is the #1 game on Facebook. Scramble with Friends, within 2 weeks of launching, has topped the App Store rankings in multiply categories including top free, top paid and top grossing. Last week, Apple recognised the team’s work by featuring Zynga’s games on the front of the App Store.

The mobile team is gearing up to launch more play across more genres and platforms. I want to congratulate them for working hard to bring great experiences to players around the world.

Google didn’t create the first search engine. 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. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world.

We don’t need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. There are genres that we’re going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.

With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it’s important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularised in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs. On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.

And, this has always been the case for our company and the rest of the industry. Zynga Poker, FarmVille, CityVille and Words with Friends, none of these games were the first to market in their category but we made them the most fun and social, and the most popular. Our teams continue to build and improve these games every week which has been an important part of our success model. We run our games as a live service and we continue to iterate, innovate and improve on them to give our players the best possible experience.

As I’ve said, our strategy since the beginning has been to develop the best game — most fun and most social — for every category of play. We are rarely first since most categories in games go back decades, but we aim to be the best.

A few of you have asked how our approach to genres relates to the situation we faced with Vostu. There are rules of engagement in our industry. Companies have to respect each other’s legal and IP ownership rights in the form of copyrights and trademarks. In the case of Vostu, you can see for yourself that Vostu crossed the line and chose to use our copyrighted IP and artwork. That’s different than competing to build the best product or out-innovate us in the City category.

Play in the form of social and mobile gaming has become a mainstream activity, but it has the potential to be so much more. It can be one of the primary ways we connect with other people. It can surpass TV as the most popular and engaging medium of the 21st century. In order to make this vision real, we need to work as a company and an industry to continue innovating, improving and hopefully revolutionizing every major genre of games for social play. Every successful game from developers big and small has pioneered some important new facet of this experience. We are proud of the mechanics we have pioneered that are now industry standards.

Part of what makes our industry cool and dynamic is the idea that small teams can build successful games. But at Zynga we will continue to innovate and expand our possibility space in order to delight our player base too.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who emailed me on this topic. Part of what makes our company special is the open transparent dialog we can all have, and its your passion that is shaping our future.




  • To wrap up the above.

    “Its alright for us to rip people off, but someone wants to rip us off? HOW DARE THEY!”

    • So wait, in other words, what you’re implying is that, for example, Battlefield ripped off Modern Warfare, or Command and conquer ripped off Warcraft, or World of Warcraft ripped off Ultima Online.

      Its one thing to take an existing genre and give your own perspective on it, and its another to say “hey guys, I want you to make this exact game, same artwork, interface and all, and change the name around a bit.”

      I just watched this video that was linked to the article, which I’m guessing you may have missed prior to commenting. Frankly this is a bigger rip of than the Asian version of Team Fortress 2…

        • Lol thanks for the correction Steve,it was more of a figure of speech 🙂

          though technically, and im not going to bother googling this so i could be mistaken, but wasnt the original CoD out before the original BF? 🙂

        • I’m 90% sure Command & Conquer came out before Warcraft, but that not relevant.

          Westwood who released Command & Conquer also had previously made Dune 2, which while using the Dune License pretty much set the tone for RTS design. Much like Doom kinda set the tone for FPS. Wolfenstein was good, but Doom was just so much more.

    • i’m not sure you really read the article. there is a difference between taking inspiration from, and stealing assets from. he doesn’t care if other companies out-innovate them, he does care if they steal assests his team makes. try some reading comprehension next time.

  • Huh. Significantly less dead babies than I was expecting. They must be ill.

    Seriously though, they might stay this side of the line, but we all know they’re using a stick to pull things over to themselves. The spirit of the law, not the word, matters and they beat that thing with it’s own grandmother on a daily basis.

  • its pretty typical of current society. Its not really about who made it first, but about who had the funding to legally bind the IP and the money to defend it.

    So when they are “inspired” from an indie game…they don’t care, when another company is “inspired” from them, they sue. Its the same with Apple, and before that microsoft and IBM and probably alot more companies before and sicne them

  • Frankly I’m shocked by that video! People actually play this crap?

    The world is going down the toilet even faster than I thought it was.

  • This got me thinking (scary thing, thinking.) and thought about the recent issue of SOPA and PIPA. If PIPA was worded in a way that meant we wouldn’t have had to protest it out of existence, wouldn’t this be a case point of IP theft? Sure, we would have companies going up against each other over minute cases, but what Zynga are, and have always been doing, is blatant copying.
    What I’m trying to say is, if PIPA actually passed would we have these kinds of problems all the time?

  • So, games now = “genres”? Dude, I sure hope they choose not to get into the genre of “Italian Fat Plumbers Saving Princesses from Dragon Turtles.”

    On the other hand, that’s a genre they’ll perhaps won’t touch because Nintendo is a big, powerful company that can easily destroy them to protect their [s]game[/s] monopoly on the genre.

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