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.
"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.