EA Making Friends With Lawsuits

Electronic Arts is trying to foster good will by taking Zynga to court, but the publisher's "principled" stand could push the case to a verdict nobody wants.

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It's a rare feat to improve one's public image through litigation, but Electronic Arts is attempting just that with its recently filed lawsuit against Zynga. However, the actions that have gamers and developers alike toasting the publisher today could come back to hurt us all later on.

Are these too close for copyright? Do we really want to know?

On Friday, EA announced that it was taking Zynga to court, accusing the social gaming upstart of copying EA Maxis' Facebook hit The Sims Social with the recently launched The Ville. While lawsuits in this industry are fairly commonplace, they usually aren't "announced," and when they are, it's more frequently by way of an investor relations site rather than the company's own product-focused news blog.

EA is also trying to parlay this legal dispute into a bit of image rehabilitation for an oft-maligned gaming giant.

The public nature with which EA is going about this lawsuit clearly indicates that the company sees this as an opportunity to do more than just protect its own intellectual property and take a competitor down a few notches. EA is also trying to parlay this legal dispute into a bit of image rehabilitation for an oft-maligned gaming giant. Like the unpopular kid scoring points on the playground by ripping into the least popular kid, EA is betting that the core gaming audience is so thoroughly opposed to Zynga that they will reflexively embrace anyone who tries to curb that particular dog.

In a note announcing the suit, EA Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw called it "a matter of principle," suggesting that this isn't being done for EA's sole benefit. EA is just the company with the resources "to stand up and do something about it," Bradshaw said, implying the publisher has an obligation to go about the distasteful act of litigation in order to defend the little guy.

"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," Bradshaw noted.

In a follow-up post Monday, Bradshaw thanked the industry and gamers alike for supporting EA with their reaction to the suit, adding, "Your kind words and emotional support add strength to my conviction that we’re doing the right thing."

While EA can't be blamed for trying to score some brownie points as long as their interests overlap with those of the gamer audience, this approach could come back to bite the publisher, not to mention gamers, in the future. By portraying this dispute as a matter of principle, EA is painting itself into a corner. After all, pursuing a matter on principle is rarely a practical endeavor; it's something done because it's the right thing to do. It tends to be uncompromising like that. And that suggests a settlement--a compromise by its very nature--should not be a possible outcome here. So let's assume that unlike so many game industry lawsuits, Electronic Arts v. Zynga will actually reach a verdict.

If EA wins, then a strong message is sent to all would-be idea thieves that the legal threshold of what constitutes copyright infringement has shifted in a more inclusive direction. And given the proliferation of creatively bankrupt and shamelessly derivative games on mobile and social platforms, that could precipitate a massive wave of look-alike litigation. While some of that litigation will no doubt have merit, there would also be an uptick in frivolous claims, which in turn would discourage publishers from attempting worthwhile iterations of unique mechanics. Would Epic Games have made Gears of War if there was a chance of Namco suing it for copyright infringement on the at-the-time distinctive cover-based third-person shooter action of Kill.Switch? Would EA have touched Rock Band when something as similar as Guitar Hero was already on the market?

Then again, if Zynga wins, the fallout could be just as dire. If the only copyright protections are on the exact art, sound, and code of a game, then it can be a trivial matter for companies to recreate interfaces and entire gameplay systems with minor adjustments to abide by the letter of the law. While it would still be tough to produce a carbon copy of most AAA games, this would leave the areas of the most innovation in recent years--social, mobile, and indie games--with essentially no protection from theft.

The lack of a distinct line between what is and isn't legal allows for both innovation and iteration.

So if EA wins, we're likely to lose out on the benefits of inspired iteration as cautious publishers steer clear of other people's ideas, no matter how flawed their implementation might have been. And if Zynga wins, then we undermine what little legal protection currently exists for innovation. As frustrating as it might be to deal with the nebulous boundaries of copyright law, the lack of a distinct line between what is and isn't legal allows for both innovation and iteration, even if it tolerates more shameless rip-offs than we might like.

As Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Eric Goldman told GameSpot last week, EA is "playing with fire" here. A settlement seems like the easiest way out, with EA perhaps securing a cash payment and a pledge from Zynga to steer clear of its games in the future, and Zynga being allowed to keep running The Ville without admission of wrongdoing. But such a settlement would be purely practical, and a betrayal of the ideals EA is so prominently touting this week.

Ordinarily, I'd be applauding any principled stand by EA, but given the potentially grim effects of this particular case, I think I'll be a little more relieved if and when the publisher settles on pragmatism over principles.

Discussion

0 comments
roadwish
roadwish

This looks quite similar to the Sims and besides I have never liked those social games for some reason they just seem so repetitive and boring. Maybe EA is trying to get into social games and is making room by trying to reduce the share of zynga.

Arsyad00
Arsyad00

it does look liek ripoff

Tortugueta
Tortugueta

EA? Principles? Come on. EA's principles begin and end in the $$. Lame attempt to restore their reputation, if they ever had one (good reputation I mean).

MrDouglas
MrDouglas

On the other hand SimCity Social is such an obvious clone of CityVille. I just love how in both games you have a pile of "energy" that being used up everytime you click on a building or perform any other action. Then when you run out of "energy", guess what, you have to ask your friend for more, or invite them to work in, or visit your city. Hopefully the case will end up costing both parties lots of money and no actual result will come of it.

IanSider
IanSider

thats why social gaming on a social network is so duhh!

DiverseGamer
DiverseGamer

Well, it DOES look a lot like The Sims...

tgwolf
tgwolf

That's interesting how fewer comments there are on this article as in the case of a 15 year old CoD addict. Of course judging from the comments on the latter article, I can see how the legal and logical content would put the average firebrand gamer into a seizure. Ironic that the stakes are so momentously high for this...Cat got your brains, guys, or did you flush them in some other form of entertainment?

tgwolf
tgwolf

Still there is rampant piracy. Oh, I guess all this only matters if it threatens to take away our games, not, as in the case of piracy, takes games from the developer...Oops. 

jhonel83
jhonel83

All this effort will not help EA one bit. For me, associating yourself with lawyers, disputes over copyright and money is just another reason to hate more, proving they are just bankers and attorneys -not the kind of people a gamer relates to. We strive for freedom of speech, internet and generally just doing whatever the hell we want

Joeguy00
Joeguy00

Well to complicate the matter I thought I'd add some article links that I have read, included with what I thought was the most interesting quote from each.

 

http://www.ingame.msnbc.msn.com/technology/ingame/electronics-arts-sues-zynga-says-it-copied-sims-game-926472

EA alleges Zynga had 'private' information

**As part of its lawsuit, EA alleged that Zynga obtained "private" information about "The Sims Social" development plans after hiring three of EA's top employees shortly before the game's launch. In 2011, Zynga hired EA's chief operating officer, John Schappert, to take on a similar role at Zynga at a time when "'The Sims Social' was in its final stages of development and EA was preparing its rollout," the lawsuit said. It said other EA employees with knowledge of "The Sims Social" that followed Schappert to Zynga included Jeff Karp, now Zynga's top marketer, as well as Barry Cottle, a business development executive. "By early 2012, Zynga had targeted and hired away three of EA's top executives who had access to the most sensitive design, development, and strategic information about 'The Sims Social,'" EA alleged.**

 

http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/ea-sues-zynga-zynga-strikes-back/

**The easiest and most profitable strategy for Zynga in the past has been to just make an exact copy of its competitors’ games. That’s cheaper than acquiring them!. Zynga’s most famous games, FarmVille and Mafia Wars, are mirror images of MyFarm and Mob Wars and they’re responsible for the company’s $2 billion value. In February, a memo to Zynga employees ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/02/01/leaked-zynga-memo-justifies-copycat-strategy/ ) written by CEO Mark Pincus laid bare how the company’s entire mandate is based around copying competitors’ games rather than designing new ones**

 

http://www.theverge.com/gaming/2012/8/3/3218187/ea-lawsuit-alleges-zynga-targeted-ea-executives-to-create-the-ville

http://www.theverge.com/gaming/2012/6/26/3118981/the-ville-is-the-next-game-from-zynga

The Verge is usually pretty unbiased and they have a couple pictures if that is more your thing.

 

http://allthingsd.com/20120626/zynga-taking-on-eas-sims-social-with-its-next-game-called-the-ville/

**After getting a good glance at the game during an embargoed briefing with Skaggs, it looks shockingly similar to Electronic Arts’ The Sims Social, and frankly, at times, it is hard to tell the two apart. When asked about the resemblance between the two games, Skaggs compared it to the company’s first ’Ville game launched four years ago called YoVille. When pressed further about the similarities between it and The Sims Social, he said, “I’m not an expert on that game, but what I tried to do here is to create fun things to do with your friends.”**

Kayweg
Kayweg

Diiference between Zynga and EA ?

Zynga is copy and pasting other people's games, EA is copy and pasting their own games. :P

 

 

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

Can Zynga sue EA for using all thier social facebook game ideas? In the sims when you buy furniture you then need to get friends to send you collectible items to help you build it, or spend coins (which you buy with real money) to finish it just like EVERY zynga game on facebook. In order to add a new room you need to invite multiple friends to help you just like in EVERY zynga game. The fact that you can spend special coins that you buy with real money on special weekly items just like EVERY zynga game.

Griever832
Griever832

I kind of hope EA wins. I don't know why but I've always hated Zynga they just make shi*** games! If it was a small publisher like say Mojang that actually made stuff worth playing It'd be a different story. But this time I hope the little guy gets crushed.

F0RS4K3N
F0RS4K3N

typical of EA, instead of working in making games good, they work in undermining the competitors from making games. SInce lawsuiting seems to be the trend nowadays i say we all should lawsuit them, for ruining good game series. Why you ask? because if EA can, so can we!

Renoo27
Renoo27

That was pretty heavy. Thanks for the article.

paparolo
paparolo

This reeks of Apple vs Samsung all over again.

I pretty much agree with what is being exposed in this article, The Ville is quite an obvious rip-off from the Sims Social, but EA standing on "principle" is only an scapegoat to recover the reputation they themselves worked hard on loosing (i sound biased here but i'm sure i'm not the only one believing this).

Many if not all the forms of entertainment take ideas from what came before them, movies, books, games... sometimes the similarities are too much to tolerate like this case but most of the time this allows to improve on existing ideas and open up to new ones.

Ordained_Killer
Ordained_Killer

There's a reason why EA was voted worst company in America by Forbes, this is just a little more proof that it was the right call.

bakagami
bakagami

IDK, I can't help but notice that EA has been trying to establish a presence in the Facebook/browser game arena of late.  How better to get a leg up than to undermine the competition with a law suit.  IDK about FB games (other than the requests I get every 5 minutes) and I don't really care, but I do know that EA is slimy, anyone that goes against them is instantly in my good books.

lionheartssj1
lionheartssj1

From what I see here and what I've seen in other articles, I would hazard a guess that EA has a strong case.  If they were really interested in improving their image, they could start with recycling less.

macca366
macca366

Zynga's game is obviously a clone, or at best enormously informed by the sims social. But when it comes down to it, I don't know if Zynga illegally used any copyrightable elements from the sims social. Everything, though essentially lifted, is slightly different, in colour, shape, whatever. Is it right? I'm not sure.

 

In truth, I'd rather EA didn't win, or there was a settlement. I mean I wouldn't like to see Nintendo given the green light to sue Braid for its Mario-elements and so forth. I'd rather take the increased iteration and decreased innovation over everyone stagnating development because they're paranoid about being sued

libou
libou

Fine analysis, mister!

Katz
Katz

The Ville looks to more quality of a game, at least the graphics...Maybe that's EA's Grip. I say the judge needs to tell EA to go pound sand.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

It is hard to see EA losing this lawsuit based on the evidence above.  But as far as their image improving that's another matter.  One right doesn't make up for a hundred wrongs that span a length of time.

vg3000
vg3000

If people think video game libraries are small now...

DeltaMike90
DeltaMike90

Most of these loudly trumpeted suits end in quiet settlements. I doubt this will be any different.

Zynga are clearly guilty, but it's hypocritical and crass for EA to claim to be acting on principle.

KingofCabal
KingofCabal

Although I agree with EA (first time ever!) and I hate Zynga. I still hope EA loses since this will only end up damaging an industry based on borrowing and reinventing idea's.

JC_AEK4ever
JC_AEK4ever

Aha! The Ville does not have floating diamonds over their heads... Case closed!

 

Anyway... both games s***. We should sue them both for making them.

Adenosine
Adenosine

In modern game development, it is 99% impossible to have an "original game idea". The reason behind this is that ever since video games became popular in the 80s, almost all sorts of gameplay mechanics have been created already. It's very hard to create something very original when there isn't really much that you can do with games anymore.

 

Let us think for a moment about what types of games there are. There are shooting games, racing games, fighting games, sports games, puzzle/hidden object games and platforming games. These six types of games are the most often created and there's a reason for that. It's because these types of games let the players do what can be done in this world already. It's about what we, as humans, can possibly do. There are millions of games already and no matter what type of character you play as in the game, there's sure to be some sort of action. A game is a game because there is something to do in it, no matter how boring it is. For example, if you've played "Plumbers Don't Wear Ties" on the 3DO, then you'll know that it's just a multiple choice full motion video type of game. It's crappy and boring, but it's still a game.

 

We can't let any game company dictate that game mechanics are supposed to be "unique". It's like claiming the rights to the act of breathing or walking and other humans are not allowed to do those actions even though they're just normal everyday actions. If game mechanics were to be "protected" by law, then we'd be committing video game suicide.

 

Imagine if gameplay mechanics were protected by law. There would be no Super Mario Brothers. There would be no more racing games. There would be no more 3D action-adventure games. Lara Croft won't exist. There would be no Gears of War, Kratos, and other beloved video game characters. There would be no Halo and Master Chief. There wouldn't even be Tetris! These characters and games were loved not because of their originality, but because of what the entire package offered to the player. There are a lot of Mario game clones, but most of them aren't as loved as Mario. There are lots of Street Fighter clones like Eternal Champions, but they never really gained the same popularity. There are lots of first person shooters like Wolfenstein, and yet it seems that Call of Duty is more popular to the younger generation than one of the early fps pioneers.

 

Gameplay mechanics simply cannot be protected if we want to have more games in the future. Just protect the characters and how they relate to the story of the game because that's what really sets a game apart from others. Why should only one company be allowed to use the isometric point of view? Why should only one company be allowed to have a social life simulation game? Why should only one company be allowed to have certain options available to its players? None of it makes sense!

 

What next, sue another game company for making a boxing game that let the players punch? It's ridiculous.

twizzickle
twizzickle

zynga is only doing what quite litter most everyone else in the game industry is doing. you copy another game and change one thing. seriously most games are just that. as long as you do one thing that hasn't been done before you are evolving the industry right? i mean different programmers and art team is gonna make the game different anyways...so is it that bad? i dunno, complex topic.

bakagami
bakagami

 @MrDouglas that would be the best possible outcome but if I had to settle for less I'd just be happy with EA losing a lot of money

bakagami
bakagami

 @tgwolf Even more interesting (not) is how nobody seems to care about your comments...maybe 'cause they aren't relevant to this discussion?

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @Kayweg no EA just takes ideas from other people and changes things around. The Sims is not unique, it just took the ideas behind Little Computer People and changed it and now are trying to claim that gamestyle as wholly their own.

picho86
picho86

 @stan_boyd There is a huge difference between copying mechanics and copying an entire game. The Ville is Essentially Sims Social with slightly different sprites and animations. EA has every right to sue them, and they should. The only problem is with them going public. 

As much as I hate EA, I think it would be good if they won, even if it will deter companies from using similar mechanics. Who knows, maybe it will bring innovation to the industry.

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

 @stan_boyd C'mon stan, let's just...walk away now. You ought to have had enough of Zynga and EA.

bakagami
bakagami

 @Griever832 so that is why you want EA to win?  Because you don't like Zygna's games?  Hmm.

Joeguy00
Joeguy00

 @Ordained_Killer I'd say if this was a Valve game for example, like TF2 and the game was scary similar (and Zynga even hired TF2 devs to help make the game similar) than we would probably like the idea of Valve giving Zynga a bit of a slap tbh. It's just harder to root for a company you don't want any good fortune to fall upon I guess.

tgwolf
tgwolf

 @bakagami ...Which is what the article very plainly stated already.

Tones1989
Tones1989

 @Adenosine Forget mechanics, have you seen how blatantly Zynga copies some whole mechanics, interface, graphics and everything?? I don't agree with suing for petty little things but quite frankly Zynga needs to learn to be innovative but they do just steal ideas, it just happens that for once they picked on a company with the resources to complain. I don't like EA, but the industry NEEDS Zynga to be taken down a notch

tgwolf
tgwolf

 @bakagami What are you talking about? If you don't understand my comments don't bother replying to them. If you can't see past allusions of course you wouldn't think they were relevant, but that is more a statement about your ability to reason than my comments, so I don't know why you bother making an object of yourself.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @picho86 No the Ville has more differences than just the graphics. The Ville has no mandatory moods to keep up like the sims, the ville has no careers or skills like the sims. The sims only one other sim can visit your house at a time in the ville multiple can. In the sims only your character can watch tv or eat food, in the ville you can watch tv with other sims and you can share your food with other sims.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @Henrique2324 I have had enough of both. But I do not want EA to set a precedent where you can sue for using ideas from other games or our game libraries are gonna get really small. While Zynga's game does look similar to EA's there are alot of differences especially in the gameplay. If EA wins this lawsuit they are basically saying that nobody can make a game that features similar ideas. There is a difference between similar and the same.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @Tones1989  @Adenosine But Zynga made their Ville different than EA's Sims. There is no moods, no careers and no skills. The furniture acts in different ways for example in the Sims the tv is for your use only, in The Ville you click on the tv and you have the option to watch it with another toon that is currently in your house. In the sims you can only have 1 other sim in your house with you, in the Ville you can have multiple toons in your house with you. As much as it is similar to EA's game its also different. Also before passing judgement on zynga for copying, go check out Simcity Social vs Cityville. Cityville came out long before simcity social yet simcity social feels even more like Cityville than The Ville feels like The Sims social.

tgwolf
tgwolf

 @bakagami My comments were very much on topic, and you didn't understand, which is evidenced by replying three times despite your overtures of civility. 

bakagami
bakagami

 @tgwolf I understand you perfectly, perhaps you are the one who fails to understand, it was my way of asking you to stay on topic.  I'll try to remember next time that you are subtlety impaired.   I see now that you are just trying to stir up an argument so I won't indulge you any further.

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

 @stan_boyd They must have really rustled your jimmies. Chill down bro. Go juggle some spaghetti.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @Tones1989  @Adenosine I agree they do need to be taken down a notch, but not in this way especially not by EA. If EA wins this they may push things further and try and sue other companies for using similar features in other games. EA does the same thing Zynga does, when EA saw the success of Modern Warfare 1 and 2 and its online play they decided to make their own modern warfare online shooter in the form of the 2010 Medal of Honor game. EA is just as bad as Zynga and if EA can sue over the fact that the games share similaries then we may see more lawsuits for similarities not just from EA but other companies to. Id created the first FPS does that mean they should sue every other company that has made an FPS game? Kill Switch used the cover and fire tactics before Gears of War or Mass Effect did, does that mean Epic and Bioware should be sued? This lawsuit is a slippery slope that could lead to big problems if not handled properly.

Tones1989
Tones1989

 @stan_boyd  @Adenosine I haven't played this game so perhaps in this instance EA are in the wrong, I can accept that. However, Zynga have an undeniable history of copying games, just have a quick look around on the internet and you'll see. My problem is they see a game making a small amount of success, they copy it and because they have a massive user base already immediately dominate it. Hence I'm saying they need to be taken down a notch, because when they do something right without copying it's not bad! Promote more innovation, they have the resources to do it!