Friday, August 3, 2012

Players Cannot Win In the EA vs Zynga Lawsuit

As Scott Jennings notes, the stakes are high in the lawsuit between Electronic Arts and Zynga.  Relatively few MMORPG players are likely to find sympathy for the defendant given their reputation.  As the lawsuit notes, has previously been accused of grand theft intellectual property by smaller studios who could not stand toe to toe with the studio in a fight.  I haven't gone anywhere near either game, but Tobold called this coming two weeks out - given his prominence in the page rankings, I'm half surprised that his post is not exhibit A for the plaintiffs.

That said, consider for a minute the consequences.  User interfaces in the MMO world are not known for their originality - if you've played one hotbar-based MMO, you will find that the competition has intentionally designed their systems to reduce your learning curve when you take their product for a test drive.  All talk of "WoW clones" aside, is this really a bad thing for players?  These interfaces survive not just because they are familiar, but also because they work. 

In that context, I'm concerned about a massive company with massive numbers of lawyers establishing a precedent for killing games based on their similarity to a competing product.  The US system of permitting patents on abstract concepts has created an environment where companies can no longer create new devices without paying someone - either a competitor or someone who never intends to market a product - for broad patents on the concepts behind their inventions.   Small and independent developers face enough challenges without the potentially prohibitive costs of licensing concepts from the EA's, Activisions, and - yes - Zyngas of the world who can afford to litigate.

I realize that the iterative evolution of MMO's, the conduct that Zynga stands accused of, and the state of the rest of the US Intellectual Property system are potentially three distinct points.  I'd just like them to stay that way. 


  1. I disagree with you on this. Did you read the lawsuit? Copying things down to the RGB Values in the exact same order is theft and I believe they deserve to be sued in this case.

    Just as I believe that 6Waves were absolutely in the wrong when they cloned Triple Town down to the code. Derivative is one thing. Same genre and theme is one thing. But copying things blatantly should be punishable in all mediums.

  2. They aren't suing because the UI is sort of similar. They are suing because everything, from visuals and animations down to the entire game design and very specific features is lifted straight from their game. And it's not like Zynga denies it, there are many choice quotes by their employees who pretty much gloat over this. The lawsuit is pretty well written and I'd suggest a read.

    It certainly feels strange to be on the EA side of the fence though. Their new "champion of the indies" stance is pretty ironic given their history.

  3. One way in which players might win is that we may see different methodology being used by professional game developers. I was rather shocked to see on the Gamasutra article about this one indignant designer asking (essentially) "how the hell do I do my job if I'm not allowed to plagiarise?"

    It would be a better industry without people like that making games.


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