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Businesses Programming The Almighty Buck Games

Copying Trumps Creating For FarmVille Creator Zynga 319

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-least-they're-honest dept.
theodp writes "The good news for Zynga is that it scored the cover of SF Weekly. The bad news is that the FarmVillains cover story starts out by describing the secret to the toast-of-Silicon-Valley company's success thusly: 'Steal someone else's game. Change its name. Make millions. Repeat.' SF Weekly says interviews conducted with several former Zynga workers indicate that the practice of stealing other companies' game ideas — and then using Zynga's market clout to crowd out the games' originators — was business as usual. 'I don't ****ing want innovation,' one ex-employee recalled Pincus saying. 'You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.' Another quipped that 'Zynga's motto is "Do Evil."' Valleywag piles on with an item on the existence of Zynga's underground 'Platinum Purchase Program,' reportedly geared towards making players known as 'whales' part with a minimum of $500 at a time for imaginary credits."
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Copying Trumps Creating For FarmVille Creator Zynga

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:17PM (#33563654)

    But... but... it's not stealing. It's copyright violation. You can't steal from somebody if they still have the original copy. (close captioning for the sarcasm impaired, that was sarcasm.).

    • Re:It's not stealing (Score:5, Informative)

      by Conception (212279) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:26PM (#33563774)

      Actually, it's not even copyright violation. You can't copyright a game, only it's art/text/etc. See Monopoly/Scrabble.

      • Re:It's not stealing (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mike Buddha (10734) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:41PM (#33563962)

        You can patent a game, or get a design patent for the distinctive board design. That's why free Scrabble games don't have a board layout identical to the original game.

        • Patents expire. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tepples (727027)

          You can patent a game, or get a design patent for the distinctive board design.

          Unlike copyright, you have to apply for patent before the infringement. Unlike copyright registration, which costs about $40, patent registration costs a non-trivial sum of money. And unlike copyright, a patent will expire.

          • Exactly, and copyrights don't really even have to be registered.

            I really don't see how this is a big issue. If the other companies innovated there wouldn't be this problem, the problem is -all- companies try to do is make the exact same thing as Zynga and don't innovate past that, so of course Zynga is going to win. Its just like every other video game trend, Space Invaders popular? Make a game and call it Space Intruders or something. Pac-Man popular? Change up the art and the maze designs a bit. Super
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Penguinisto (415985)

        ...and make sure the name is nowhere close to the original's name. See also The game formerly known as Scrabulous [wikipedia.org]

        So far, Zynga has been smart enough to avoid that particular trap, but the odds of coming a bit too close may be enough to gut them financially (not from the small operators, mind, but from one of the big boys, e.g. Mattel and the like).

      • by MaerD (954222) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:43PM (#33563990)
        It all makes sense now, Scrabble stole all of it's ideas from Monopoly! That's why you build hotels on the triple word score tiles!

        On a serious note, not being able to copyright "game concepts" or "rules" won't stop you from being sued. Scrabble has sued several "play alikes", and so have the owners of Tetris.
  • Farm Town (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:19PM (#33563686)
    From what I remember, Farm Town had better features than FarmVille (you could actually chat with other players, you could go to other farms, see people there and help harvest their fields). But it was a flakier game, more prone to crashing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:19PM (#33563688)

    Screw Zynga. People need to immediately stop playing these money-draining pavlovian flash games

  • by powerlord (28156) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:20PM (#33563700) Journal

    Okay, I'm sad to say I've given more of my time then I'd like to Facebook games. I'm also happy to say that I've managed to reform myself. Finally broke myself free (and am in the process of "de-friending" people who I friended just for the player boost).

    This shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone. Lots of games in arcades ripped off competitors. The only difference with Zynga is that its much more visible to people.

    Heck, between the limited game mechanics available, they actually only have one or two games, with LOTS of reskinning between different flavors of them. Hopefully this will encourage more innovation but the sad fact is, that it will only discourage innovation, since if you DO come up with something fun and innovative, there is the concern that someone like Zynga will come along and just rip it off lock/stock/barrel, so why bother?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by blair1q (305137)

      1. Make up a new game for facebook.
      2. Wait for Zynga to rip it off.
      3. ???
      4. Profit!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      But Zynga doesn't -care- about their games and won't move past a certain threshold of "fun". All Zynga cares about is getting hits to its page and getting people to purchase crap. A good version of, say, FarmVille that was basically like Harvest Moon and let you -do- stuff rather than point click, wait an hour, return. Could completely eat up FarmVille's marketshare.

      But it seems like so far no one has really done that. They all just want to try to compete with Zynga by doing the exact same thing they co
  • It's refreshing to hear some honesty in business. Don't pretend your product is revolutionary. Don't try to change the world. Just make money using proven methods. That's good, honest business right there.

    • Re:good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:25PM (#33563762)

      It does lead to an interesting debate regarding what we (the net) consider to be right and acceptable.

      Here we have a story of someone seeing someone else doing something and basically saying, "I can do that." Do we get upset when a new pizza restaurant opens up? Or perhaps another excavation company? What makes this worse than some company saying "Hey, I can do that cheaper."

      I realize there are issues with respect to intellectual property, but this IS an important point of discussion. When is the line crossed?

      • Re:good (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:26PM (#33563786)

        Let's not forget all the FOSS clones of proprietary software too.

        • Re:good (Score:4, Insightful)

          by jedidiah (1196) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:33PM (#33563862) Homepage

          > Let's not forget all the FOSS clones of proprietary software too.

          Nearly all of those proprietary apps are themselves clones.

          • by brian0918 (638904)

            Nearly all of those proprietary apps are themselves clones.

            Two wrongs don't make a right.

            • Re:good (Score:5, Funny)

              by Culture20 (968837) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:46PM (#33564022)

              Nearly all of those proprietary apps are themselves clones.

              Two wrongs don't make a right.

              But three copylefts do.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Hognoxious (631665)

              Not the point at all. If A claims B ripped him off and sues him - and loses - that sets a precedent that can be used when B sues C, C sues D etc.

            • by jedidiah (1196)

              >> Nearly all of those proprietary apps are themselves clones.
              >
              > Two wrongs don't make a right.

              Who said there's anything wrong?

              I am not some Lemming that drones on about "freedom to innovate" and tries to credit Microsoft or Apple with things they didn't really invent.

          • Nearly all of those proprietary apps are themselves clones.

            ...often of what was originally FOSS software. How's that for a vicious circle?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by spikenerd (642677)

              Nearly all of those proprietary apps are themselves clones.

              ...often of what was originally FOSS software. How's that for a vicious circle?

              Further, they often even derived from the same source code ...until the GPL became a popular way to prevent that.

      • Re:good (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ect5150 (700619) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:42PM (#33563978) Journal

        It does lead to an interesting debate regarding what we (the net) consider to be right and acceptable.

        Here we have a story of someone seeing someone else doing something and basically saying, "I can do that." Do we get upset when a new pizza restaurant opens up? Or perhaps another excavation company? What makes this worse than some company saying "Hey, I can do that cheaper."

        I realize there are issues with respect to intellectual property, but this IS an important point of discussion. When is the line crossed?

        I don't see people complaining when the "I can do that cheaper" turns into lower prices for those pizzas, or cars, or processors, or RAM, etc... I thought people liked having AMD to keep Intel's prices in check.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I don't see people complaining when the "I can do that cheaper" turns into lower prices for those pizzas, or cars, or processors, or RAM, etc... I thought people liked having AMD to keep Intel's prices in check.

          The problem comes when someone says "I can do that" and "I can do that cheaper", but not "I can do that better", and certainly not "I have any obligation to keep doing that cheaper after I've used the first two statements to drive my competitors out of business without so much as a tip of my hat to them". Add in "I can't do that better, but I can use my marketing clout to make everyone ignore my better and/or cheaper competitors", and you wind up with stifled innovation. Smaller pizza shops don't want to

      • it's a service in exchange for money.

        When I read the phrase "whales" I was reminded of the movie Boiler Room, about a fraudulent brokerage firm that tried to pump up the value of stock and sell them to suckers and the crossroads of stupid and rich were named, "Whales."

        Is it immoral? Who knows. Is it illegal? that's for the courts to decide. am I going to spend my money there? Hell no.

      • by bcmm (768152)

        Do we get upset when a new pizza restaurant opens up?

        You might if it copied a smaller restaurant's signature dish and used a massive advertising campaign to become much better known.

    • There's nothing honest about this. The quoted narrative is internal to the company - they'll never go on record saying that they've 'borrowed' from their competitors. The software industry is a world of ideas - taking ideas from others and using 'business acumen' to leave the original inventors in the dust is as dishonest as it gets. This is why software companies are forced to spend enormous amounts of money on patents and litigation. And at that point the winners are determined by the quality/price of the

    • It's refreshing to hear some honesty in business.

      How the flying fuck do you get 'honesty' from "SF Weekly says interviews conducted with several former Zynga workers indicate that the practice of stealing other companies' game ideas — and then using Zynga's market clout to crowd out the games' originators — was business as usual."?

      Former employees revealing a company's theft of IP != honesty in business.

  • by Orga (1720130) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:22PM (#33563722)
    I understand them not wanting to go through the hassle of wire transfers for everyone, that's where the ease of credit cards come in. I think it's good of them to offer this fee avoiding method to big time users. They're obviously passing the savings back onto the user in the form of bonus. As for the complaints about wasting money... how much do you pay for cable tv every month? At least these games are social and interactive. I don't play any zynga games myself but do play some free MMO's and pay-to-play MMO's as well and have no problem spending money on things I enjoy. And no.. I do not pay for cable tv, and only use my tv set for netflix and console.
    • by msobkow (48369) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:19PM (#33564452) Homepage Journal

      Hundreds of thousands of people hunched in front of glowing monitors, clicking their mice and banging their keyboards. Not one of them actually talking to each other, just posting game-generated messages about game progress, wishlists, and canned in-game requests.

      Where is the "social" aspect of such games? Even FPS games with voice headsets are more "social" because they allow/encourage the players to yell at each other!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ABA wire transfer fees are comparable to so-called credit card discount rates at this size of transaction. They're only doing it because it can't be charged back once somebody receiving the bill wises up to the scam.

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:23PM (#33563730)
    Zynga sounds like an evil name to me. Darth Zynga, Lord Zynga, Master Zynga all sound like good villain names to me.
  • by alen (225700) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:25PM (#33563760)

    my wife used to buy the scratch off tickets and once in a while i used to take the winning ones to the store to cash them out. i noticed that they scan the bar code to verify a winning ticket. and most of the people i see buying them scratch them off with hope and dreams.

    farmville is not that different than most RPGs except its freemium. most RPG's the game play is very repetitive with minor rewards along the way. farmville is free to start and you pay if you want the rewards faster.

    I think this idea started with Napoleon and his practice of giving soldiers ribbons for bravery in battle. people would risk their lives for a colored piece of cloth

    • by Dyinobal (1427207)
      You're confusing RPG with MMO or the variant of MMORPG
    • RPGs are analogous to books though. In Final Fantasy 9, you had to deal with Queen Brahne and Kuja and the Ilifa Tree and Garland and the mist and another world and everything, with a whole opera played out on this. In Final Fantasy 8, the story was completely different, around military tactics and a really weird piece of magic. In Tales of Symphonia we had to deal with parallel worlds and a sociopathic immortal and some other political shit. The stories are all different.
  • It sure works for them!
  • Whales? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:27PM (#33563794)

    Zynga's underground 'Platinum Purchase Program,' reportedly geared towards making players known as 'whales' part with a minimum of $500 at a time for imaginary credits.

    They sound more like cows to me - prime for the milking.

    • by to_kallon (778547)
      They sound more like cows to me - prime for the milking.

      Not to split hairs but strictly speaking I believe that one could in fact also milk a whale, being mammals.
    • Cows are much more famous in the game world, too: You fight like a dairy farmer!
    • Re:Whales? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:45PM (#33564014)

      Whales as slang is a term referring to high rollers at casinos. You know, those people who are willing to part with large quantities of money in one sitting. I imagine that's why they use it to describe their customers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sohp (22984)

        Makes total sense, as Zynga's 'games' are far more like casino slots and other sorts of gambling than real skill- or puzzle-based games.

    • Re:Whales? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jeng (926980) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:48PM (#33564040)

      Casino's refer to high-rollers as whales, I believe that is where the term comes from.

    • Re:Whales? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Treeluvinhippy (545814) <treeluvinhippy@s ... et minus painter> on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:12PM (#33565188)

      Casinos call high rollers whales.

      I know that others have posted the same thing, but they all got modded up so I'm karma whoring in the same way Zynga steals game ideas.
      Since copying others seems to work so well, I wanted to give it a try.

  • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:29PM (#33563816) Homepage

    I don't understand the people railing against Facebook-based or other games because of the so-called issue of paying real money for in-game credits. People put in real quarters to play a video games at the arcade, they subscribe to World of Warcraft and other MMORGs.

    You're not paying for credits, you're paying for entertainment provided by the game.

    • by Phrogman (80473) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:15PM (#33564398) Homepage

      There is a difference between:

      • Paying a subscription fee to play a game like an MMO - that is paying for entertainment. Everyone has to pay the same fee, and its remarkably good value for money if you enjoy playing the game
      • Paying money to get something that lets you win the game more effectively. That is unbalancing and ensures those with more money to blow get ahead of those who are unable/unwilling/not stupid enough to pay extra money to get the edge on their competition.

      To use an example from a more standard game (which I don't play at all mind you), how much fun would poker be if you got dealt 5 cards, but if you wanted to pay $15 more you could get a 6th card that other players didn't have? It would unbalance the game, and everyone who wanted to compete would be forced to also buy extra cards to keep the balance up. Only the rich would play and the real winner would be the house, selling off the extra cards. That is the model many MMO game companies want us to accept. Sadly there are a lot of players who see the fact that they have cash on hand as justification for their lack of sportsmanship and willingness to get ahead of other players who are better, by buying the edge required.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        But there is no competition in Farmville... Buying credits gives you no "leg up" on your friends.
  • by alen (225700) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:35PM (#33563882)

    this goes back years. Microsoft used to do the same thing. they would visit a company, see a product, decline to buy it and then it would come up in the next version of WIndows. lately i see that Windows has a lot of third party licensed software. Apple is buying up small companies and last week there was news how Apple stopped doing business with a design firm that showed off an ipad lookalike. apple pays others to design products or parts of them.

    big companies with herds of MBA's take years to do anything and then it's so bad no one wants to use it. a few guys in a garage always innovate. look at YouTube, Facebook and all the current big names. AOL had a video service years ago and they used the actor from married with children to advertise it on TV. shockingly it died.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by isaac (2852)

      this goes back years. Microsoft used to do the same thing. they would visit a company, see a product, decline to buy it and then it would come up in the next version of WIndows. lately i see that Windows has a lot of third party licensed software.

      Two reasons why you see a lot of licensed code in Microsoft products:

      1. Other companies got wise and treated Microsoft with the appropriate degree of paranoia.
      2. Microsoft realized it was often cheaper to write a check than get burned See http://en.wikipedia.org/wi [wikipedia.org]

  • Zygna is the worst (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:36PM (#33563892) Homepage Journal
    Zygna's business model, as the article says, is to just copy a game and then add a whole lot of "spam your friends" features. Unfortunatly, like AOL disks before them, this works and they've got the largest base of gamers on Facebook. The absolute worst part is that other companies saw the success of the "spam like hell and don't worry about the consequences" business model and immediately followed suit, so that all games on Facebook feel the need to post 4 or 5 messages a day to your wall/friends wall/friends messages/email/sms/friends email/etc...

    Even big names like EA got into the game. They bought up Playfish earlier and immediately started adding as many "spam your friends" features as they could think of to all of the PF games. Worse, as Facebook adds features to block (automatically or manually) said spam messages, the companies work as fast as possible to get around the blocks. Right now I have half a dozen posts from some damn fugly animal breeding game or something that make it through because they're posted as pictures in the account or something.

    Also, if you want to see what unbridled evil look like, pull up any of those games and check out the "free cash offers", which look like an inbox without a spam filter. "Sign up for an UzbeckBank Credit Card and get 100 fake "real money" coins!". Fill out this fake survey with tons of personal information for 10 coins. etc...
    • People may learn about these games because of their inherent social networking hooks, but they're playing them and spending money on them because they're fun. No amount of advertising is going to make a boring game fun.

      There may be more fun games out there, but if their designers fail to get the word out, then they screwed up. There's nothing stopping the originators from taking a page right out of Zynga's book and adding the social network hooks to their "original" games. They don't, and Zynga drinks their

      • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:06PM (#33564282)

        There's nothing stopping the originators from taking a page right out of Zynga's book and adding the social network hooks to their "original" games.

        You're misunderstanding the situation.

        These are social network games that Zynga's ripping off. FarmVille, for example, is almost (or was at launch) the exact same game as FarmTown. Both were on Facebook etc. Both had very similar social hooks.

        What's different is that Zynga at this point has inertia. When FarmVille launched, people who played any of their games were deluged with advertising and promos encouraging them to try out FarmVille for a month or more.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jandrese (485)
        I dare you to play Mafia Wars and then call it fun. About the most you can say about the gameplay is "it's addictive". In fact try that with any Zygna game, or really almost every game on Facebook. There are some standouts that at least try to be fun. Crazy Planets for instance is a worms clone that does alright, although it's directly in EA's crosshairs to be ruined next. Family Feud is a quick diversion and sometimes humorous (mostly with the "answer detection" anomalies). Most games are "click to s
  • I'm not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@gmCOFFEEail.com minus caffeine> on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:40PM (#33563948) Homepage

    And I know nothing about Zynga, I just saw this pattern on similar "farming" games on the iPhone.

    This is just the natural growth from Mafia wars and Farmville. These games are simplistic games based on a simple mathematical progression formula, and they are designed to make you want to get into the game as often as you can until you can't stand it any more and move on. Then you end up moving onto another game which is similar but then ends up being the exact same game.

    When the iPhone came out, two major companies basically had a formula where they created mafia wars clones, then they decided to clone their own games! They made games based on ninjas, racing, spacefaring, transformers ripoffs, westerns, superheroes, etc, but the game was EXACTLY the same, just different names for the weapons, properties and missions. The business model was simple, offer the games for free, get as many people onto the games, offer them free "points" if they spent money on the game, then have them use those points to make themselves ultra powerful faster than us mere mortals who simply wanted to progress with the game normally. Eventually, script kiddies and low level hackers basically tried to get those points for free, because there was a high incentive to do so and the code was relatively simplistic to hack, and you get major hackers running around in the game killing every honest person and making their life hell so all those people move onto a new game... which was just a version of the old game in a new wrapper. Eventually the rich kiddies would come to dominate that game because they had the money, and the script kiddies would come to "0wn" that game too and ruin it and make everyone move on again.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    These types of games are stupid, and are designed to get large payouts from a few stupid rich people who wipe their asses with $100. The games are not meant to be complex, and are meant to be easily copied by the creators, so it's easy for someone else to copy them as well. So it becomes a mad dash for the next shiny means of distracting people and saying "hey if you want to be L337 maybe you should give me $500 for some power pills!" And in order to keep ahead of script kiddies you have to basically perform a refresh of the business model by releasing a new game every now and then that's exactly like the old game but just looks different. So all of this is entirely unsurprising. No one is trying to inject any quality here or distinguish themselves. Doing so would cost more money and this isn't about investment, it's about quick very short term profits. The spammers have branched out and are happy that placed like Facebook and the iPhone have made it so easy to develop and distribute stupid simple games.

    Far be it from me to stop these evil people from stealing from the rich, but for the rest of us, to paraphrase WOPR, the only way to win these games is by not playing.

  • Settlers get rich. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:41PM (#33563968) Homepage Journal

    Pioneers get killed.
    Univac, IMSA, MITS, Digital Research, Visicorp, DEC, Control Data.....

  • have been playing too much Mafia Wars

  • This has been happening every since Video Games were invented.

    Just take a look at the number of copies of popular games. Pac Man is probably THE most copied game in existence.

    Bootleg games in the Arcade Industry was this exact model, except they went a little further and tried to make the copy of the game as close to the original as possible.

  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:56PM (#33564130) Homepage Journal

    You know there is nothing original in Star Wars, or in Avatar? It's all recycled material lifted from earlier, less rich&famous sources.

    It's the same for inventions, the guy who ends up with the patent isn't necessarily the guy who innovated.

  • Zynga was actually the tipping point for me closing my Facebook account. The privacy issues didn't harm me since I didn't put in any information you couldn't find in a phonebook, but the endless stream of "Alice reamed Bob's mafia in AssWars!" messages killed it for me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      FWIW, it's pretty easy to block all messages from a single app (or user) forever.

      • by vlm (69642)

        FWIW, it's pretty easy to block all messages from a single app (or user) forever.

        I tried that, and by the time I deleted or blocked all the games, psuedo-spammers (I'm going to the bar tonight, look at me world!) I really had nothing valuable left vs the immense time investment required to keep up. Zap, account deleted.

        Most people use facebook like they (used to?) use TV, as a way to fill empty time. If you do a cost-benefit analysis, you rapidly get rid of both.

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