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EA sues Zynga over Sims Social copyright infringement

EA accuses Zynga's The Ville of being a complete clone of Sims Social

Electronic Arts has filed a lawsuit against Zynga for infringing on copyrights related to The Sims Social. In EA's complaint filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the publisher has accused Zynga's The Ville of standing as willful copyright infringement. The Sims Social launched in August of 2011, while The Ville launched in June of 2012.

In the complaint, EA alleges that Zynga gained access to confidential information on The Sims Social by hiring high-level EA executives for key Zynga positions. This includes former EA chief operating officer John Schappert, who recently left a position as Zynga COO; former EA Play excutive vice president Jeff Karp, who is Zynga's chief marketing officer; and former EA Interactive senior vice president Barry Cottle, who is currently Zynga's executive vice president of corporate and business development.

"Thus, by early 2012, Zynga had target and hired away three of EA's top executive who had access to the most sensitive design, development, and strategic information about the Sims Social," reads the complaint.

A comparison from EA's complaint.

A comparison from EA's complaint.

"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," said EA Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw in a blog post that has since been removed.

"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."

Zynga has responded to a number of outlets with a boilerplate statement of intent.

"We are committed to creating the most fun, innovative, social and engaging games in every major genre that our players enjoy. The Ville is the newest game in our 'ville' franchise - it builds on every major innovation from our existing invest-and-express games dating back to YoVille and continuing through CityVille and CastleVille, and introduces a number of new social features and game mechanics not seen in social games today," said Zynga's statement.

"It's unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles. It's also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga's CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players."

This is going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight between the two companies. GamesIndustry International will keep you posted on how it goes and who wins when the smoke clears.

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Latest comments (18)

David Phan Producer, Relic Entertainment8 years ago
My bet is that this lawsuit will end up being settled out of court with Zynga paying out to EA.
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz8 years ago
You could be right David. A lot of potentially big lawsuits get settled. Look at Activision and West/Zampella.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 8 years ago
Hah yeah another +1 to David. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.
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Show all comments (18)
David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers8 years ago
Generally, if both parties have any sense they try and get things settled before they go to court - you never know what will happen in front of a judge and/or jury.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd8 years ago
"It's also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga's CityVille game."

Stay classy, Zynga.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Joy, another big firm with too many lawyers sueing a big firm with too many lawyers over something the public couldn't care a toss about.

This'll be big news until tomorrow when the next one gets filed. It's about time apple/microsoft/google sued apple/microsoft/google for something isn't it.

Please DON'T keep us posted. Next!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 4th August 2012 12:05am

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
I'm not likely to play either game, so I can't form a rounded opinion on this, but those shots definitely look highly derivative. Whether this can be seen all though the game, or whether they had to look deep to get such close pictures would be interesting to know, if it is the first then I am surprised that Zynga thought they could use these tactics on such a big player, rather than with a game like Tiny Tower where there was little chance of funding a legal challenge.
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The question one needs to look at is what level of differences and game design define game A vs Game B.

Let us look at tower defence games for example. There are a whole host of them and variants of tower defence.mwhat is really nice there is some effort to be that slightly different from one another.

As such, if Zynga can expand a bit of effort to have a unique gameplay, look and visuals, it will run into less legal issues even though it has been known to clone elements of best selling games to be repackaged in all it's titles to date

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dr. Chee Ming Wong on 4th August 2012 10:03am

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend8 years ago
Good, Zynga had it coming to them. Not to say EA are angels, but at least they don’t put out clones and then sue the original creators.

I think David is correct though, Zynga will settle as they are on thin ice.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
One thing is copying the genre; like Gearbox's CEO said "Everyone steals from everyone in the industry" and is some way that is how you make a genre evolve.
Another very different thing is copying assets, artwork and specific stuff from a game. That is just too far from being ethic.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd8 years ago
If EA is acting on behalf of other creators as they state, then they should not settle out of court.
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Paolo Giunti Localisation Project Manager, GlobaLoc GmbH8 years ago
Totally agree with Tameem here.

However, we all know that big companies will just do what is most convenient for them. All the nice words don't really carry much weight.
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Popcorn ? Anyone ?
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Benjamin Crause Supervisor Central Support, Nintendo of Europe8 years ago
Well, I must admit when I looked at the Ville to try it out the similarity to Sims Social was my first impression. For me this looks like what you call a rip-off if not actual infringement.
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com8 years ago
Must have been fun to be the EA person who got to carefully furnish the house and dress the people to make screenshots look as much alike as possible.
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You cant copyright a genre as much as they'd like to and the pics are similar looking but no single object is identical nor frankly is more than a glance at ea's own evidence does it look like users should have problems telling them apart, so there's no case here on copyright grounds, it shouldn't really even reach court, and simcity social looks just like zyga's cityville or whatever they call it title, so if similar looking pics and a same genre and the i'm here first is according to EA all thats needed for copyright infringement zynga should counter sue on simcity social as by ea's own admission they should win that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 10th August 2012 6:02pm

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Andrzej Wroblewski Localization Generalist, Albion Localisations8 years ago
If you take a closer look, you'll notice that all the elements shown in the screenshots above are based on Real Life objects -- which in legal terms takes precedence over any copyright infringement accusations. This along with the fact that the screenshots only present player-created content (layouts) IMHO should stand as a valid argument on Zynga's favor. Case dismissed?
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