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the sims socialThe grudge match between Electronic Arts and Zynga just got fiercer.

Electronic Arts, one of the world’s biggest console game companies, has filed a lawsuit against Zynga, the largest social gamemaker. EA charged that Zynga’s The Ville is a blatant copycat of its own The Sims Social. As the overall game industry’s growth slows down, this kind of dispute is to be expected, as big players try to elbow each other out of the way. For Zynga, it’s been a particularly tough month, its stock crashing after a very weak earnings report. The company has also been hit with shareholder lawsuits because of an additional drop after that report.

In a blog post, EA’s Maxis chief Lucy Bradshaw wrote, “The core legal issue is our belief that Zynga infringed copyrights to our game, The Sims Social. In legal terms, our claim is that Zynga copied the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a clear violation of the U.S. copyright laws.”

Bradshaw added, “The legal reasons are solid. But for creative teams who feel that their hard work and imaginations have been ripped off, there’s obviously an emotional element, too.”

EA launched The Sims Social in August, 2011, as a spin-off of its long-running franchise, The Sims. Players create their own characters, build a home, establish a family, and interact with their friends. The game got tens of millions of users but fell off rapidly in audience size this year. Zynga introduced The Ville, which former game designer Mark Skaggs (pictured below) and his team designed, in June.

Other companies have lobbed the charge of copycat at Zynga for its various Facebook simulation games in its “ville” series. But EA’s lawsuit is perhaps the biggest complaint to date, and it won’t be something that Zynga can shake off lightly.

Zynga’s Reggie Davis, general counsel, said, “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. 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.”

Bradshaw added, “The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. 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.”

“This is a case of principle,” she said. “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.”

In closing, Bradshaw said, “As a longstanding game developer, I know what it feels like to pour your heart and soul into creating something unique and special for your fans to enjoy. Today, we hope to be taking a stand that helps the industry protect the value of original creative works and those that work tirelessly to create them.”

the ville

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