"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery," the saying goes but not, it seems, when it's related to two online games that look remarkably similar.
I think we'll all agree that in the video game industry there is a certain amount of "idea crossover" that goes on, with many development companies looking to other games in the same genre for inspiration.
I mean, there are only so many original game play ideas that a first-person shooter can have, right, but when does imitation become copying? About now, it seems, as giant game publisher EA is suing online game publisher Zynga, accusing the social gaming company of copying key elements of EA's The Sims Social game for Zynga's The Ville.
According to the story on Stuff, Zynga, which is the dominant game publisher on social networking site Facebook, is accused of mimicking in The Ville content that appears in EA's game The Sim Social, such as conversing and dancing.
"In one instance, EA claimed The Ville characters included eight personality types, ranging from athlete to villain, that mirrored The Sims' own jock-to-scoundrel lineup. EA also accused Zynga of using eight identical colours for its characters' skin-tone palette," the article says.
"Zynga's design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social," Lucy Bradshaw, head of EA's Maxis label, said in a statement. "The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable."
Looking at the images accompanying the article, which I've included here, it's hard not to notice the liberties that Zynga has taken with The Ville, but, playing devil's advocate here for a moment, aren't Sim-style games going to unavoidably have similarities due to the very nature of their gameplay and style?
However, Zynga is no stranger to claims of copyright infringement: in 2011, the company settled with developer Digital Chocolate over a dispute about one of its early hits, Mafia Wars, while that same year, The Learning Channel, maker of educational game Oregon Trail, slapped Zynga with a lawsuit over the name of a FrontierVille release also named Oregon Trail.
But in this industry, where it seems remarkably similar ideas pop up in numerous games in the same genre (especially in the mobile development sphere), there seems a fine line between inspiration and homage and outright theft of another developer's ideas. This will be an important case for the industry and I'm sure developers and publishing companies will be watching it closely.
Is what's happening between EA and Zynga a sad indication that true innovation has fallen by the wayside in the gaming industry? Maybe, or it could just be one publisher blatantly ripping off the ideas from another publisher and hoping it'll get away with it. What is your take on the EA vs Zynga situation?
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