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Zynga Accused of Cloning Hit Indie iPhone Game Tiny Tower 245

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-did-it-first dept.
FrankPoole writes "Indie iPhone game developer Nimblebit is accusing social games giant Zynga of ripping off its popular mobile title Tiny Tower. Nimblebit's Ian Marsh got word out about the similarities between Dream Heights and Tiny Tower with an image that's still making the Twitter rounds. The image is made up of screenshots showing how Dream Heights' interface and gameplay mechanics appear strikingly similar to Tiny Tower's."
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Zynga Accused of Cloning Hit Indie iPhone Game Tiny Tower

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  • marketing.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ardiri (245358) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:37AM (#38826769) Homepage

    Nimblebit just got a tonne of marketing over this - who cares about the ripoff? marketing 101 => success!

    • Re:marketing.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jones_supa (887896) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:22AM (#38826987)
      It's so often how these days the winner is the one who has the biggest muscle to shove the product down the people's throats.
      • Re:marketing.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@ g m a i l.com> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @08:59AM (#38827371) Journal
        Yeah but it is kinda sad a guy can bust his ass making something unique only to have some scumbum company like Zynga bold face copy the thing. it looks like they only gave it a little graphical polish and called it a day, pretty obvious ripoff IMHO. hopefully the guy can get a good lawyer that will rip Zynga a new one.
        • Thompson and Ritchie (Score:4, Interesting)

          by tepples (727027) <tepples@gm a i l . com> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @09:03AM (#38827387) Homepage Journal

          Yeah but it is kinda sad a guy can bust his ass making something unique only to have some scumbum company like Zynga bold face copy the thing.

          Likewise it's kinda sad that Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie can bust their asses making something unique only to have some scumbum company like FSF bold face copy the thing. Or are you trying to say cloning the functionality of a computer program is OK as long as the publisher of the clone is one of Slashdot's darling companies?

          • by hairyfeet (841228)
            Uhhh...are you stoned? Seriously...are you? Linux was an x86 version of MINIX not unix, they used some of the POSIX conventions but that's all, as SCO found out. And having similar functionality is NOT the same as copying all the levels of a program and just sticking a new picture on it, a better example would be me just copypasta-ing all the levels in BioShock and calling it BioSmack. This isn't "similar" its a level for level, page for page, feature for feature bold faced ripoff. And you CAN shut down blo
            • by mypalmike (454265) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @10:17AM (#38828043) Homepage

              I can't stand it any more! Three posts in a row! I must say something!

              It's "bald faced", not "bold faced"!

              OK, I feel a little better.

            • by tepples (727027)

              Linux was an x86 version of MINIX not unix

              And what is MINIX other than a clone of UNIX?

              they used some of the POSIX conventions

              Why aren't the POSIX conventions copyrightable? Because they're a method of operation.

              or MSFT shutting down Lindows

              For one thing, that's trademark. For another, you appear to have got that one backward: Microsoft ended up settling out of court and paying Lindows Inc. for the right to the "Lindows" trademark because Microsoft risked a ruling that "windows" was too generic.

        • It's a shame, yet what's the alternative? Software patents or something similar that'd cover look and feel, or even game concerts. To go down that route would be like allowing authors to have a monopoly on the murder mystery in which the the ostensibly bumbling detective unmasks the criminal through a gradual process incessant badgering and questioning. Sure, if code or other copyrightable assets are being swiped, then yes, get the lawyers in. Other than that I see more problems created than would be solved

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ganjadude (952775)
        pretty much. I was working for the game dopewars, which was bought out by zynga and reskinned as mafia wars and other clones, pushed to the side, i never even got paid for any of my work (granted i was admin/maintenance not programming but it was for a good 2 years)

        long story short, zynga is a parasite, its a bad company that does shady business practices and we can only hope it will be gone in the not so distant future
    • by Svippy (876087)

      Nimblebit just got a tonne of marketing over this - who cares about the ripoff? marketing 101 => success!

      Yes, but Zynga just gave it to them. People listen because it is a good story (David vs Goliath). Since the games are practically the same, users have a choice. And most are likely to go with the one by the people who (understandably) feel cheated. In essence, Zynga brought this upon themselves. All they could have hoped for would have been Nimblebit A) saying nothing or B) being complete dicks about it.

      I am not saying Zynga is going to be losing any sleep over this, but they did hand over free marketi

      • Re:marketing?! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:44AM (#38827071) Journal

        Can we pair stories and see what happens?

        X stories down we just had "Your photo infringes on his photo because it contained similar design elements". Now we have "Zynga accused of infringing on Nimblebit's version because it contains similar design bits"? Yet our reactions are *different*?

        Why aren't that first photographer happy that the second one "handed over free marketing"?

        I think we just stumbled on a new flaw in copyright besides the other famous ones: That there are *different classes* of works, but only one copyight law! So we have the same law handling Red Buses In Photos and Nimblebit Games and Twilight Movies. So the judges are handing down rulings that almost make sense for one class of works, and lead to frightening results in the other classes, with lawyers eating it all for dinner.

        • by ildon (413912)

          One is about the government passing judgement on the issue. One is just about a dick company continuing to be a dick.

      • Re:marketing.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by leonardluen (211265) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @10:27AM (#38828177)

        I am not saying Zynga is going to be losing any sleep over this

        oh i very well doubt Zynga will lose any sleep over this...

        ex staffer says [gameinformer.com] "zynga's motto is 'do evil'". also "the source said that staffers were, and are still, instructed to blatantly steal the idea of competitors. He recalls a time when founder Mark Pincus spoke on the subject, allegedly saying “I don’t f**king want innovation. You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.” "

    • right. while zynga would have no reason to rip off, since there is no money in that.

  • by Kirth (183) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:39AM (#38826781) Homepage
    • by Lumpio- (986581) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:46AM (#38826821)
      Perhaps not, but then again nobody is suing them either. This is more about moral rules than the law.
      • by DrXym (126579) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:33AM (#38827031)

        Perhaps not, but then again nobody is suing them either. This is more about moral rules than the law.

        Zynga has no morals.

        • by gman003 (1693318)

          Businesses have no morals.

          ftfy

        • by FooAtWFU (699187)
          I was riding Caltrain the week that the whole "we're clawing back your RSUs or you're fired" thing went down, and met some Zynga employees. The good news is that it didn't damage morale too much; the bad news is that it's because said employees had a rather mercenary holding-out-for-the-big-bucks attitude of "as long as it doesn't happen to me". Sounds like they were a perfect fit.
      • GNU/Cloning (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tepples (727027) <tepples@gm a i l . com> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:36AM (#38827039) Homepage Journal

        This is more about moral rules than the law.

        So should Linus Torvalds and the GNU project "morally" not have cloned UNIX when making GNU/Linux?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, they should have, because they did morally copy it and then gave it away for all of us to share and benefit. This is not what Zynga is doing. Zynga does not care about the community and society, they only care about their own coffers.

      • by kiwimate (458274)

        This is more about moral rules than the law.

        Whose morals? My morals happen to include "it's wrong to infringe copyright by illegally downloading music/software". I'm clearly outnumbered here on Slashdot by people who, even if they agree it's technically wrong, nevertheless believe it's morally justified because of the evilness of the MPAA/RIAA.

        I don't bring this up to get into an argument about copyright and piracy, but to point out that adhering to "moral rules" first requires you define whose moral rules you are using as your measure.

  • So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:39AM (#38826785)

    Making similar games is perfectly fine. If the basic idea is good, why not have multiple games implement it? Nobody is claiming that every single shooter is a Doom ripoff or that every single strategy game is a Dune ripoff.
    Ideas have to be free so they can be used by everyone for everyones benefit.

    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MDillenbeck (1739920) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:52AM (#38827099)

      This may be a good time to use the low-tech equivalent to check the validity of the arguments. I don't know anything about the two apps in question, but ask yourself this: at what point would a variant of the board game Monopoly be different enough to ensure Parker Brothers couldn't sue you? Would be keeping the same rules, same basic board layout, and same "props" (player tokens, money, property cards, dice, and two decks of event cards) while changing the color, name, and art style of those keep you from being sues? For example, could I make the tokens space ships, the properties different star systems, the money "space credits" that use plastic coins instead of paper bills, and use public domain images of the star systems and call is "Stellar Baron" and not get sued?

      Now back to the user interface. If this was the user interface of an operating system, would the original OS UI maker have a court case? What if it was a general application interface? What about making a knock-off of Farmville in the same manner... or replicating its mechanics with a new graphical interface and naming convention - would the developer of the game get sued, and would it be successful?

      Finally, if there is a lawyer in the house, what court cases have set precedent in these areas? Honestly, I do not know the answer to these as law is not my field of study. However, I do know I need to know the history of how courts have ruled before I can say whether this is a legal violation or not. (My personal bias: I believe large companies have successfully sued, while small independent game developers of boardgames often have not - but this is based only on a one week investigation into the board game developer career.)

      • by ehlo (578765)

        I couldn't find a case concerning Monopoly in general but here is one by Hasbro on copyright infringement for Play-Doh that is good law (precedent), on which the facts seem similar enough to apply.

        Status: Positive or Neutral Judicial Treatment Positive or Neutral Judicial Treatment
        *474 Hasbro Inc, Hasbro SA and Hasbro UK Ltd v 123 Nahrmittel GmbH and Marketing & Promotional Services Ltd

        High Court of Justice, Chancery Division (England and Wales)

        11 February 2011
        [2011] EWHC 199 (Ch)
        [2011] E.T.M.R. 25

        Floyd

      • by Rolgar (556636)

        Aren't all RTS games alike? Aren't all FPS games alike? Aren't all boardgames alike? Similarity is just a matter of degree.

        • by Hydian (904114)

          Aren't all boardgames alike?

          I think you either got a little too excited or have no clue what a boardgame is. That's like asking if all videogames are alike or if all mammals are alike.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:40AM (#38826787)

    http://i.imgur.com/ajaYt.jpg

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      drumscowski admits within that he hasn't even played tiny tower - if he had he'd realise it's not a vague 'influence' that nimblebit is pissed off about - such as he took from similar games - it's essentially a direct clone with a new skin on top of it.

    • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:19AM (#38826977) Homepage

      Don't make a judgment until you have actually played all the games. I haven't, but at least from what one can read on the Internet from people who have: SimTown plays quite different, TinyTower and Zyngas game almost identical and it's not like this is the first time Zynga has done something like this, see FarmTown vs FarmVille.

  • OK it does look like they cloned the game but you can't copyright the ideas behind a game only the artwork and the like. Though there are people who would like to extend copyright in this way and are to a certain extant succeeding.

    See the thread a few hours ago on Similar, but not copied, image found to breach copyright.

    • OK it does look like they cloned the game but you can't copyright the ideas behind a game only the artwork and the like. Though there are people who would like to extend copyright in this way and are to a certain extant succeeding.

      See the thread a few hours ago on Similar, but not copied, image found to breach copyright.

      I don't even think it's immoral. And the comparison image by Nimblebit isn't accusing them of being immoral either, it's accusing the of being unimaginative, which is hard to argue against.

      All in all, it's not something to be outraged about, and it was a very good response from Nimblebit. "You have 2700 employees and can't come up with a better idea than what our 3 guys came up with. This is why we rock, and we're looking forward to continue to be ahead of you creating new ideas that will inspire your ne

      • by residieu (577863)

        I don't even think it's immoral. And the comparison image by Nimblebit isn't accusing them of being immoral either, it's accusing the of being unimaginative, which is hard to argue against.

        It's hardly newsworthy, though. Zynga has been doing this for a long time.

  • Sim Tower (Score:5, Informative)

    by Voxol (32200) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:46AM (#38826825)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SimTower

    Or as they say, 'everything is a remix'.

    • Re:Sim Tower (Score:5, Informative)

      by duk242 (1412949) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:31AM (#38827015) Homepage
      I found TinyTower whilst looking for something similar to SimTower for my iPhone. It's quite obvious that TinyTower is inspired by SimTower, however it's not really all that much like what SimTower was. Zynga's version however is a direct copy of everything from TinyTower.
    • Re:Sim Tower (Score:5, Informative)

      by MachineShedFred (621896) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @08:18AM (#38827201) Journal

      I've played both SimTower and Tiny Tower. They can only be described as a "remix" if you go to a high enough level that all you can see is that both games have commercial tower construction involved.

      In Tiny Tower, you manage all of the people in the building, as well as what each floor is doing - what the stores stock, who works where, who lives where, etc.

      In SimTower, you just put in the "zoned" space, and people move in and pay you rent. You manage the building from a facilities perspective, screwing about with elevator timings and where the box stays in the shaft when no one's in it. You manage traffic flow within your building so you don't end up with pissed off people that just want to get out of your building at the end of the day.

      They are quite different games. In fact, after finding Tiny Tower, it inspired me to fire up DOSBox with Windows 3.1 and play some SimTower.

      • by FooAtWFU (699187)
        Tiny Tower is in the class of games which I personally think of as "real-time impatience machines". There are a couple of iffy mechanics at work, but the most insidious is the dual-currency model. One currency (coins) you get by playing normally. The other (Towerbucks), which makes useful things happen faster, you only get occasionally or at random, but they can be bought with real money. So the point of the game is essentially to addict you and then make you impatient enough to spend real money.

        I hate th

    • SimTower is an elevator simulator and Tiny Tower is a video game. Having the word Tower in their name doesn't make them similar.

  • by ledow (319597)

    Sorry but "that" screenshot just destroys their case for them. The Zynga version has more options, extremely different options, totally different graphics, different UI, everything.

    I don't think they have a case here, and it's NOT like their game was new and building a genre of its own (I hereby give you SimTower / Yoot Tower, which lets you upgrade elevators and put shops on the floors too - from fecking 1994).

    You expect me to get all riled about Zygna ripping off your game, but actually I'm more riled th

    • I remember simtower and the condo bug. If you pause a game, find an unsold condo, drop the price as low as you can, raise it back up again and unpause, it'll immediatly sell for full price. A way to cheat your way out of the dreaded Condo Price Crash.
      • I remember something similar for championship manager. Another team would approach you to buy your player at some low price you have set. You clicked "I will consider it", then went onto the players options and set their sell price to 50 million. A few minutes later they would ask again to buy even at the inflated price. Fun times.
    • by jonnythan (79727)

      What different options? I've played Tiny Tower, and looking at the Dream Heights screenshots is like looking at Tiny Tower with different graphics. All the gameplay elements are 100% identical. I see absolutely nothing whatsoever in Dream Heights that isn't in Tiny Tower.

      • All the gameplay elements are 100% identical.

        But would you agree that gameplay elements are the "methods of operation" of a game?

        I see absolutely nothing whatsoever in Dream Heights that isn't in Tiny Tower.

        And I see nothing in Free games like KBlocks [kde.org] that isn't in Tetris.

        • by jonnythan (79727)

          Whoever owns the copyright on Tetris could probably sue whoever made KBlocks without much issue. However, KBlocks is not developed by a massive corporation making fistfuls of money on the game.

          If Zynga released KBlocks as a Facebook game then the Tetris people would sue them and win.

          • However, KBlocks is not developed by a massive corporation making fistfuls of money on the game.

            Yet the Fedora project funded by Red Hat distributes both KBlocks and Quadrapassel.

            If Zynga released KBlocks as a Facebook game then the Tetris people would sue them and win.

            As far as I know, every case brought by The Tetris Company has settled out of court. But how are the similarities between Tetris and KBlocks not a consequence of their common method of operation?

  • by slasho81 (455509) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:06AM (#38826929)

    If you copy a big company, the big company will sue you out of existence.

    If you copy a small company, the small company will complain so hard you better watch out!

  • Just a few stories below is the story about a judge claiming that a similar composition is copyright infringement, while clearly insane, how would this ruling apply to these two games? Well BOTH are first and foremost SimTower ripoffs. And that just asumes that SimTower was not based on something else.

    Every idea is based on another idea. Where do you stop with copyright infringement when somebody copies an idea? Where would /. be if the idea of a forum was granted copyright?

    As bad as it may be to swallow, f

    • by Talderas (1212466)

      Tiny Tower, while inspired by SimTower, definitely expands upon SimTower by adding in people management. SimTower was strictly a tower building sim. If Dream Height is identical to Tiny Tower in features and UI with the only difference being a difference in graphics this would be very much like the photo case from earlier. The question is whether the different graphics is sufficient enough to make it a true derivative work rather than creating a clone of the original work or basically does it satisfy the or

  • SimTower (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rbpOne (2184720)

    Both games pretty much look like SimTower to me.

  • by tnerb123 (609955) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @08:17AM (#38827193)
    They have been ripping off other games forever! Farmville was a rip off of FarmTown. Mafia wars was a rip off of MobWars! This company is only a copy cat company that can not create its own games!
  • I remember very well. In the remote year of 2011 [techcrunch.com] Zynga [wikipedia.org] was accusing Vostu [wikipedia.org] of cloning some of their game.

    Also in 2009 [techcrunch.com] Zynga was sued for Copyright infringement, this time the settlement was filled by Psycho Monkey, due to the game Mafia Wars.

    It seems that there is something very supicious happening with Zynga.

    • It seems that there is something very supicious happening with Zynga.

      Well? Spit it out then - your post gives very little indication of what it is you actually suspect.

      • There's nothing suspicious. Zynga is fairly straightforward about what they do: take existing popular games and clone them. Zynga has the R&D muscle to polish up the graphics and get them out the door in a fairly expeditious fashion. Now, at times, they will simply buy out these games. They tried to buy Tiny Tower before cloning it. Frankly, there's no shortage of earlier games that Tiny Tower is imitating either. All this is right now, is free publicity for both Tiny Tower and Dream Heights. As

  • When they hear about this.

  • This is pretty much business as usual for Zynga.

  • So what if one company's software got "ripped off" by another company? That's a good thing; it promotes competition between the two companies to create a better version of the game.
  • I thought it was well understood that this was Zynga's business model:

    (1) look for and coming mobile games
    (2) quickly copy found game and throw a big stack of servers at the back end so that its online play will scale
    (3) profit!

    Oh yeah, and there was something in there about flogging your workers in a very typical game industry sweat shop. All the stories I've heard coming out of Zynga was that it truly is crunch mode 100% of the time there.

    "Yeah, I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday, mkay? Oh yea

  • Zynga has a well storied and much written history of taking other people's games, cloning them and then making a bundle of cash. Basically every *ville game they make is a virtual ripoff of someone else's initial idea.

    This does not surprise me, not one bit.

    Somewhere, a lawyer is filling his fountain pen and getting a hungry gleam in his eye... a hunger for suing that is...
  • by geekoid (135745)

    because Tiny Tower is so original.

  • How can this be true?

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