Some of Zynga's fun and games are over, at least for now. Electronic Arts has filed a lawsuit against Zynga for allegedly infringing copyrights to its Facebook game The Sims Social.
EA filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday, claiming Zynga's recently released Facebook game, The Ville, has willfully and intentionally "copied and misappropriated the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a violation of U.S. copyright laws."
Launched in August 2011, The Sims Social brought the distinctive universe of EA's franchise, The Sims, to the social gaming audience on Facebook. It was an instant hit, and grew to host tens of millions of users. According to EA, The Sims Social has several million active players on Facebook.
Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of EA's Maxis Label, called The Ville, which was introduced in June 2012, an "unmistakable" infringement of The Sims Social. As she sees it, 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," Bradshaw said. "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."
Bradshaw called the lawsuit a case of principle. Maxis isn't the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product, she argued, but it is the studio that has a parent with 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," she said. "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.
"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."
Zynga did not respond to requests for comment, but Reggie Davis, the company's general counsel, did issue a statement.
"We are committed to creating the most fun, innovative, social and engaging games in every major genre that our players enjoy," Davis said. "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."