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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 elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:37AM (#38902713)

    Who wants to come up with the next great innovation, when you know damn well that the second you do, some big player with more resources is just going to swoop in and steal it?

    This is the kind of thing that copyright and patent laws were SUPPOSED to protect against. But, in reality, copyrights and patents are just something the big boys use as bludgeons against the little guys (and against each other). You think a little indie developer like Nimblebit has the money to hire even a single lawyer to go up against Zynga's *team* of high-priced lawyers? Good luck with that.

  • by Moheeheeko (1682914) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:43AM (#38902771)
    And Apple.
  • by BondGamer (724662) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:46AM (#38902815) Journal
    Someone should start copying all Zynga mobile titles. They already have done the research and figured out what are the best games to copy. You copy their games, make what you think are the best improvements, and reap all the profits. Call it Dream Tower.
  • by Stormthirst (66538) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:52AM (#38902879)

    The irony here is that:
    a) You'd probably make quite a profit
    b) You'd get sued by Zynga - and they'd win.

  • Re:aaaah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:53AM (#38902903) Homepage

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

  • by Dexter Herbivore (1322345) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:58AM (#38902941) Journal
    Apparently the Zynga mission statement is, "Do Evil".
  • by Riceballsan (816702) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:59AM (#38902957)
    The difference between say windows and macOS, and even macOS and xerox, android and IOS, is still they all had unique features to a much larger degree. Zynga tower, quite litterally is a new skin on tiny tower, as farmville is a new skin on farmtown. There is a big difference between taking a general concept and adding features to it, and taking something and slightly sharpening the graphics.
  • But in what field? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:59AM (#38902963) Homepage

    Zynga's field is 'scummy games for retards'. Does it really matter if innovation in that field is stifled?
    Perhaps the parasite will kill it's hosts.

  • by theangrypeon (1306525) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:06PM (#38903079)

    that's the real problem with copyright. make it extremely strict (so that things like gameplay are included where they are not currently)

    Are you fucking serious? Do you really want Wizards of the Coast suing every RPG that uses random chance to determine the outcomes of events, even if it is *only* for a decade?

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:07PM (#38903099) Journal

    Revoking an abusive corporation's charter and putting its intellectual 'property' into the public domain would be much more effective. That's the kind of death penalty we should rally around.

  • by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:10PM (#38903131) Homepage
    I am not an fan of Apple by any means, but you seem to be grossly misinformed. Microsoft stole from Apple, who had permission from Xerox to use the GUI concept.
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:10PM (#38903139) Homepage Journal

    This is the kind of thing that copyright and patent laws were SUPPOSED to protect against.

    I'm not so sure about that. You can't copyright an idea. For instance, you could write a novel about a detective in a futuristic domed city who's investigating a murder, who hates robots and has a robot partner, without infringing on The Caves of Steel [wikipedia.org]. The novel is copyrighted, the idea is not and cannot be.

  • news? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by residieu (577863) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:10PM (#38903145)

    I assumed management knew what they were doing and approved all the copying. Do we really need leaked memos to prove it?

    This is like "Leaked memo from BizCo CEO: We should make money!"

    Nothing surprising here. Nothing incriminating

  • Re:oooooooh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustSomeProgrammer (1881750) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:15PM (#38903197)
    You lost me. The big boy is copying the little guy. The little guy is the creator and has a game on market that the big boy just blantantly ripped off and marketed better to a wider area and with distribution channels the little guy cannot compete with. Removing the copyright would allow the little guy to... copy the game that the big guy copied from him?

    I could be missing something, but how is the situation better? Are you proposing that every living human on earth (7 billion little guys aka the population of the earth) will band together to take down the big boy when copyright is gone? Or are you saying that 7 billion people innovating separately will create more value than 3000 people teaming together (# of employees at Zynga)? That's of course assuming that people won't copy off of each other when there is no penalty to do so. I honestly don't think that something like the Pyramids, any building bigger than a hut, most games that require a diverse amount of skills to create, would be made without people teaming together. I'm pretty sure even in this case the game wasn't originally created by just one guy but by a small team of people with different skills coming together to make a better product. Some people are better creators than innovators. And innovators aren't always the greatest creators. And I have rarely seen someone with one of those skills being a great marketer.
  • by JustSomeProgrammer (1881750) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:20PM (#38903267)
    Zynga didn't make a more appealing game. They made a better marketed game. You know something the little guy can't compete on since Zynga actually has a budget to do that with.
  • by NatasRevol (731260) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:21PM (#38903273) Journal

    Except that Apple didn't actually say that. They'll tell you that they built the best versions of those things, not the first.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:22PM (#38903297) Homepage Journal

    It troubles me that this was modded insightful and not funny. Do people really believe that advocates who understand the laws are an unnecessary part of the equation? I can't imagine the idea of being sued under a tort I didn't understand, and there being no one who could explain it to me, and help me defend my situation in court.

  • Re:oooooooh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neonKow (1239288) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:24PM (#38903327) Journal

    Absolutely would not help. Copyrights allow little guys to get into a business. Without copyright, this wouldn't be a leaked memo; it'd be a public memo. There would be no reason for Zynga not to copy indie games if not for copyrights, and they would have the resources to market their product far better than most indie producers will.

    Removing patents and copyrights is not the solution to people exploiting a loophole in the patent/copyright system.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:27PM (#38903369) Journal

    We shouldn't allow such complex laws that we need lawyers.

  • Relevent quote (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:38PM (#38903517) Homepage

    Corporation. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility. - Ambrose Bierce

    But in honesty, your ranting about nothing. Corporations are treated as juristic personalities by definition.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:42PM (#38903579)

    The problem is not the mere existence of lawyers, which really is a necessity. The problem is we have too many lawyers, and too many of them are involved in writing laws. The result is massive legal complexity, so that even the simplest laws require lawyers, and often specialized ones at that, merely to understand. This is necessary, in many cases, simply to give the lawyers jobs.

    In some cases, the entire system is designed so that the only ones who really end up profiting are the lawyers. The law is the fundamental problem, but as I said, the law ends up being written by lawyers, who somewhat understandably try to keep themselves as necessary as possible. The result is an expensive mess for anyone who isn't a lawyer.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:43PM (#38903603) Homepage Journal

    This is a more reasonable direction to take, but part of the reason laws are so complex is because not every situation is the same. And you could have laws with a very broad scope with a lot left to judges to decide, that would harm one of the underlying principles of common law many people agree with, the equal protection provision.

    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. This means that laws have to be specific about different cases and their distinctions. Complexity arises naturally from that.

    Basically, I'd need to see any proposed plan of simplification before I could ever agree to it. It's a nice idea though.

  • Re:oooooooh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) * on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:46PM (#38903643)

    Once consequence of there being no copyright law would be that the GPL wouldn't have any legal power. The GPL is a copyright license.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:57PM (#38903821)

    walk into a lawyer's office or entry way. tons and tons of 'impressive' books, right?

    add to case law. add to this and that. no trimming; just adding.

    does this sound like a sensible design? from an engineering POV, does this sound sustainable and efficient? having so much stuff to sort thru to know what is 'right vs wrong' ?

    tons and tons of exceptions. lots of rules, but more and more exceptions. is that not broken, by design??

    I know why we allow it. those in the system who benefit from the system do not want to shake-up the system. its that simple.

    but its still very wrong. just like tax codes; ever-growing lists of things as rules and exceptions. how self-serving! not We The People serving, but so hard that few can file taxes without those dumb software programs we have to *buy* (again, those who benefit do not want the system changed.)

  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @01:06PM (#38903907)

    Life is unfortunately complex enough, and people sufficiently devious, that simple laws like "dont be a dick" dont really cut it. Laws are complex because people look for loopholes, and exploit them, and then everyone clamors for a fix.

  • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @01:24PM (#38904123)
    If it weren't for lawyers writing the laws in such complex terms it REQUIRES another lawyer to interpret there would be no need for lawyers in the first place. Judges..yes. Lawyers...NO.
  • by SirWhoopass (108232) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @01:37PM (#38904303)

    If the law was only concerned with consequences then there would be no difference between manslaughter and first-degree murder. The outcome is the same: someone died. Action (or inaction, in the case of negligence) plus intent are a part of the law.

  • by s73v3r (963317) <s73v3r.gmail@com> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:20PM (#38904913)

    That's quite possibly the stupidest fucking statement I've read today. "How many laws are there?"

    I tell you what, why don't I ask you how many scientific theories there are. Can't answer? Well, I guess that means that science is bad too.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @03:22PM (#38906013)
    Disclaimer: I am an engineer, though I did take a couple legal courses.

    Engineers deal with a fairly static set of rules. The laws of physics do not change from decade to decade. Most of the problems we deal with can be approached and solved (or approximated) by math. Sometimes very complex math, but it's still something you can program into a computer, feed some numbers as input, and get answers as output. So in most cases you can search out the solution space algorithmically to find optimal solutions.

    Law is an attempt to codify a rather amorphous and malleable concept - what society thinks is right and wrong. It's not static, and because it's constantly changing it requires constant updates. The requirements to change the law, from number of legislators' votes, to the President's signatures, to court approval, are there to regulate the rate at and degree to which it can change.

    The reason for a case law system rather than a statutory law system is that, unlike engineering problems, it's often difficult or impossible to algorithmically determine an optimal solution to a social problem. In order to optimize you need to evaluate, and in the social domain every individual has their own valuation for everything. Different valuations means there is no single optimal solution [wikipedia.org] - a solution optimal by one valuation is likely not optimal by a different valuation.

    One of the most effective solutions man has discovered for these types of difficult problems is to just throw a bunch of possible solutions out there and see what sticks. Capitalism basically does this. It's impossible to come up with one algorithm which distills all the different ways to evaluate a product - utility, reliability, aesthetics, trendiness, resale value, etc - into a single measure - a price. So every store is free to set their own price. The ones who set too high never sell, the ones who set too low sell out but don't make much money, and the ones who set it about right make lots of money from sales thus allowing them to buy more inventory to sell more. The "right price" here isn't set by any individual store or shopper. It's set by society overall, which decides what to buy and what not to buy.

    That's what case law does. One judge decides a case one way. Another judge decides a similar case a different way. Both get published, people debate about it. When a third judge gets a similar problem, the lawyers point out the two prior decisions, and present arguments for why the second judge's solution was better. The third judge takes it under advisement and makes his decision, thus adding his reasoning to this type of case. etc.

    It's this body of work which builds consensus and determines law, and allows the law to change with the times. It also harnesses the brainpower of the entire population of lawyers and judges to try to find an amicable solution. Instead of having a handful of lawyers deciding what's the best law and setting it in stone, you have all the lawyers and judges in your system working on figuring out the best law. Is it messy and complex? Yes. But like capitalism, in most cases it arrives more quickly at the most effective solution under multiple valuation systems.

    That said, there are areas where this could be optimized. As you point out, the tax code is a mess (primarily due to lobbyists inserting their paid-for tax breaks). But the types of problems law attempts to solve are very different from the types of problems engineers attempt to solve. With an engineering problem, I prioritize conflicting specifications (e.g. weight vs. strength vs. flexibility vs. price) according to the needs of the client. This allows for a relatively straightforward solution. But in law the order of prioritization itself is always up for debate.

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth

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