As we reported last week, Zynga was accused of straight up stealing the ideas in Tiny Tower for their new game Dream Heights. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus wrote an internal memo defending their style of game development. That memo has now leaked online via Forbes.
The memo starts out nice enough with Pincus congratulating his mobile team for making some of the most popular games on Facebook and iOS. He also details plans for the mobile team to launch more titles across more platforms in the near future.
Then he gets into the accusations that the company steals ideas from other companies:
Google didn’t create the first search engine. Apple didn’t create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn’t create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world.
We don’t need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. There are genres that we’re going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.
With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it’s important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularized in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs. On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.
He admits that none of their games were the first to market, but they made them “the most fun and social, and the most popular.”
Pincus goes on to say that he believes in the potential of social gaming to overtake television as the “most engaging medium of the 21st century.” He then details what he hopes Zynga can achieve in the gaming market:
In order to make this vision real, we need to work as a company and an industry to continue innovating, improving and hopefully revolutionizing every major genre of games for social play. Every successful game from developers big and small has pioneered some important new facet of this experience. We are proud of the mechanics we have pioneered that are now industry standards.
Part of what makes our industry cool and dynamic is the idea that small teams can build successful games. But at Zynga we will continue to innovate and expand our possibility space in order to delight our player base too.
This response seems somewhat subdued considering that Pincus is more famously known for saying, “I don’t want fucking innovation. You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”
As much as Pincus defends his company, the point still stands that they have made a living off of taking other developer’s ideas. While it’s common in the game industry to be inspired by other games like Darksiders being inspired by The Legend of Zelda and God of War, Zynga games feel like they just lift the code and replace the art.
In the end, however, it’s up to the gamer to decide who to support. Zynga has the marketing muscle behind their games, but indie developers can make a strong case for their original games by making a stink like NimbleBit did last week.