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Would it be good for Indies if EA wins against Zynga?

By on August 7, 2012
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The big news of last week was that EA had sued Zynga for copyright infringement in The Ville, alleging it had substantially copied The Sims Social.

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EA has positioned this as standing up for the little guy, in the same way it fought (and beat) the trademark troll Tim Langdell of the use of the word Edge in a video game.

Gamasutra has a good analysis of EA’s legal case, and its article ends:

"a decisive EA victory could create the precedent that indies would need in order to be safe from having their games cloned by big companies they can’t afford to fight."

That would be great, sure. But you have to have a successful game to be cloned. What about the indies who launch a game but are immediately shut down by a lawsuit claiming that they are copying some big corporate game? They could fight it, but without the resources of a big company, maybe they should just settle. Is it possible that if EA wins, the world actually becomes more dangerous for indies, not less?

I instinctively want EA to win. It seems likely it is a better outcome, but sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Perhaps it would be better to have success cloned than allow companies with teams of lawyers to shut down potential competitors quickly and cheaply.

Which do you think is the less of the two evils?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
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  • Aw Guo

    I am afraid it has nothing to do with indies… The only change is those indies can have some free chat jokes for this “story”. No real thing is gonna changed.

  • Joel

    I think some time ago, a meeting was held at EA that went something along the lines of “indies are hot right now, so let’s pretend to be indie friendly.” They then engage their marketing power to make it so.

  • I am not an expert on IP law and I don’t know how big a deal precedents count for, but even if EA wins, Zynga (or EA for that matter) will still be able to steamroll any indie dev that can hardly afford a legal team. It’s not like a ruling in favor of EA will magically materialize lawyers for everyone.

  • dataferret

    If EA wins, it would have to be because it could prove that the people Zynga brought over from EA actually took copyrighted design material and re-implemented it.  It’s less about the idea of “The Sims” and more about technicalities of copyright.  Dan Rogers gives a pretty decent explanation of it at http://dlr-law.com/3/post/2012/08/zynga-slammed-again.html

    As to how it affects indies, probably not much.  Zynga’s past targets have primarily been trademark and brand confusion, not copyright.  That’s a different legal ballgame and I expect them to continue it regardless of this outcome.  A decision on the copyright merits of this case stuff doesn’t affect most indies unless you just left a big company and decided to make a clone of their games – a pretty dumb move even before this lawsuit.

  • I think this precedent would be very dangerous to the evolution of the games industry.  Almost every game title out there is an iteration of something before it, with some of the best games throwing in innovative tricks and, yes, new game mechanics to differentiate it from their competitors.  How would this precedent then impact studios like these?  

  •  It’s a good point that big companies can always sue even without a valid case. It’s what makes patent trolling a viable living too.

  • Sik

    Considering that big companies can easily just sue without even needing a valid case and still get what they want because the smaller ones can’t afford the costs for the lawsuit, I doubt this would make any difference.

    Also honestly Zynga is kind of screwed here. They didn’t just clone the game, they went as far as copying details. I mean, the skin tones one is ridiculous (out of 16777216 colors they had to choose the exact same 8, and taking into account those colors seem arbitrary rather than being based on some pattern?), and also using the same wall height, and it seems it’s possible to use the same exact clothes. While many of the accusations from EA can be seen as a stretch, it’s pretty obvious Zynga was trying to copy as much as possible.

    Another thing is that if it wasn’t because faces in Zynga games seem to have a particular kind of art style (do they use the same artist for all their games?) I’d have been unable to tell which game was which unless explicitly told. Though that seems more of trademark infringement than copyright.