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Leaked Zynga Memo Justifies Copycat Strategy 384

Posted by timothy
from the nothing-new-under-the-sun dept.
bonch writes "After taking heat over allegations of copying hit indie game Tiny Tower, Zynga founder Mark Pincus wrote an internal memo justifying the company's strategy of cloning competing titles, citing the Google search engine and Apple iPod as successful products which weren't first in their markets. Pincus infamously told employees: 'I don't want f*cking innovation. You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.'"
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Leaked Zynga Memo Justifies Copycat Strategy

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  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:42AM (#38902765) Homepage Journal

    The premise of your post seems to be that de facto trusts are squashing innovation in the modern era. What resolution to this issue do you imagine is possible? Removing copyright from the equation doesn't seem like it would help. What would?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:48AM (#38902833)

    As I recall Linux is just a rip off of a much better series of OSs. But you know, that's the kind of honesty that gets one modded as a troll around here.

  • oooooooh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unity100 (970058) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:49AM (#38902861) Homepage Journal

    Removing copyright from the equation doesn't seem like it would help

    and why it would not help. the case here is, the big boy easily copying the little guy, but not allowing little guy to copy him through lawyer power thanks to copyrights. remove copyrights, and what would lawyers do ? there. you just liberated the little guy. and 7 billion little guys' innovation > any corporation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:00PM (#38902981)

    The premise of your post seems to be that de facto trusts are squashing innovation in the modern era. What resolution to this issue do you imagine is possible? Removing copyright from the equation doesn't seem like it would help. What would?

    OK, I'll bite.

    How about going back to the anti-trust regime we used to have? You know, where anti-competitive practices were against the law - and the law was actually enforced (sometimes by breaking up big companies into smaller ones).

  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:02PM (#38903017) Homepage Journal

    And if the originators of the game ideas win the case, I strongly recommend that they demand jail time for Pincus seeing as he's clearly documented that this is a POLICY of the company under his leadership, so he can't pin the blame on some middle manager and fire him instead. Jail time would mean losing out on any cash settlement, but by the time there's a victory, no one will probably still want to play that particular style of game, so it won't help with FUTURE revenue for those companies.

    The question is whether the competitors want to PUNISH Zynga's leadership or PILLAGE them for cash. Unfortunately I suspect most of them will settle for cash, and Zynga will therefore just treat it as a cost of doing business and continue ripping off competitor's ideas.

  • Google + iPod (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:03PM (#38903029)

    Of course, Google didn't just come out with a search engine that was a copy of the competition. They created the innovative PageRank algorithm, for which they were awarded a patent and were featured on the cover of Scientific American, which made their search engine much, much better than the competition (AltaVista.) Even today I am constantly surprised by how good Google is at figuring out what I'm searching for.

    The iPod too wasn't just an MP3 player. Competing MP3 players at the time had crap software that made it hard to load them up with music, poor UI, and either bad form factors (Nomad) or almost no storage (flash based devices.) What really made the iPod take off was iTMS.

    Remind me again how Mafia Wars was different from Mob Wars? Maybe some better graphics?

  • by pruss (246395) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:06PM (#38903065) Homepage

    When the Tetris folks try to squash all the Tetris clones, people here think that's bad, and we're right that it's bad to squash Tetris clones. There is no copyright on concepts. But the same applies here. It shouldn't matter too much if it's a big company copying the ideas of a small developer did or a small developer cloning the ideas of a big company. It would, of course, be polite for the big company to offer some sort of thanks, though.

    I looked at the side-by-side screenshots, and while the basic (uncopyrightable) gameplay ideas are very parallel and presumably copied, the graphics (which are copyrightable) are significantly different in style. And looking at coin amounts in the two screenshots, it looks like the rules weren't copied either (not that there would be anything wrong with copying rules, since there is no copyright on game rules, only on their written expression).

    Early in January, I released on Amazon's Appstore a popular app aimed at the Kindle Fire to dim the too-bright screen. About two weeks later, two others appeared. I don't know if there was copying of ideas going on. But even if there was, what's the big deal? The competing apps have somewhat different interfaces, and differ a little bit in feature set, and now consumers have more choice. And inspiration in respect of additional features can go both ways, and as a result all the apps can get better.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:08PM (#38903101) Homepage Journal
    Has anyone actually tried yet? After the story a few days ago about how a photograph violated copyright simply for emulating the style of another photo, it seems like what Zynga's doing should be a lot easier to prove.
  • Re:aaaah (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:22PM (#38903287)

    And that's why there are vast swathes of laws that basically act as a substitute for ethics. Because companies have none.

    Please don't refer to companies as if they were people. Actions taken in the name of those companies violate ethical principles because those in charge, which are the people who ultimately make decisions on how their subordinates act and subsequentially give orders, don't have ethics. Subbordinates act because someone in the organization makes a decision and orders them to enact them. In this case, Zynga employees are working on copying other titles because people like Mark Pincus, according to the report, ordered the company's employees to "[j]ust copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers." This problem isn't caused by the the legal registration of an organization, but by specific people within that organization.

    If we perpetuate this misconception that companies are to blame but not a single company employee has any responsibility on this problem then, in practice, we are giving these sociopaths a free pass on their sociopathic behaviour, and by doing this we are validating their anti-social contribution to society.

  • Re:aaaah (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fish_in_the_c (577259) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:37PM (#38903501)

    that could be easily fixed by requiring that shareholders actually take an interest in the companies they fund making a law requiring that a purchased stock may not be resold for at least 5 years, should just about do it.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:39PM (#38903523)

    Pincus infamously told employees: 'I don't want f*cking innovation. You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.'

    I'll probably get modded down for this, but I think the open-source movement would be well served if more OSS developers took this advice. Of course, it doesn't always apply, but if you're trying to compete with a dominant commercial product, don't think you know better than Microsoft or Adobe or Apple; just copy the damn thing. The GIMP crew thinks they know better than Adobe how to design a UI, and look at how far that has got them – the butt of every joke in the OSS world. People don't want GIMP, they want an open-source copy of Photoshop, so give that to them. Likewise, people don't want all the "innovative" desktop environments Gnome and KDE are coming out with; they want an open-source copy of the Windows UI. Or better yet an open-source version of Windows; it's amazing to me that ReactOS hasn't gotten more love, when it represents the best potential long-term method for open source to take over the desktop. I know it's not as rewarding for the coders, but if you actually care about the market share of OSS software, this is the way forward. Change the graphics as much as needed for copyright reasons, but copy the look and feel. After all, both Microsoft and Apple got their footholds the same way.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @01:25PM (#38904129)

    If person A commits a given action, and person B does the exact same, you don't want the judge to have leeway to execute A and give B a month's probation.

    We already do this. We don't punish actions, we punish consequences. If I'm in a hurry and blow through a stop sign on purpose I get a fine. If I'm distracted by the guy behind me tailgating and blow through a stop sign and kill someone I'm up for manslaughter. My illegal activity, not stopping at the sign, is identical. But the consequences, and therefore the punishment are very different; in fact, they are nearly reversed from what some schools of ethics say they should be.

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