A few weeks ago, NimbleBit posted an image that accused Zynga of copycatting Tiny Tower with the creation of Dream Heights. The comparisons are evident, snarky and a little upsetting.
Now, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus has come out and responded to a bit of the accusations being flung his company’s way. According to Pincus, in a nutshell, Zynga is not guilty of copying game formulas; instead, they are a studio that aims to refine pre-existing genres.
Pincus even went so far as to accuse NimbleBit of copying other games with Tiny Tower:
“You should be careful not to throw stones when you live in glass towers…When you pull the lens back, you saw that their tower game looked similar to five other tower games going all the way back to SimTower in the early 1990s.”
According to Zynga, they didn’t copy Tiny Tower‘s game design. Instead, they merely improved upon a pre-existing genre. This is a small piece of the internal memo Zynga sent to its employees (you should read the full thing on GamesBeat, linked below):
Google didn’t create the first search engine. Apple didn’t create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn’t create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world…
…With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it’s important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularized in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs. On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.
Ian Marsh, head of NimbleBit, has already responded to Pincus’ comments. He did so with TouchArcade. Here’s a bit of that:
It is a smart idea for Mark Pincus and Zynga to try and lump all games with the name Tower together as an actual genre whose games borrow from each other. Unfortunately sharing a name or setting does not a genre make. The games Pincus mentions couldn’t be more different. Sim Tower is a true “sim” with macroscopic management and fine tuning of a buildings facilities. Tower Bloxx is a timing based high score game.
If you take a quick look before “pulling the lens back” as Pincus suggests, you’ll find an innumerable number of details in the game that were painstakingly crafted to be identical to Tiny Tower. These are core gameplay mechanics and rules, not similar settings or themes that games in the same genre might share.
You’ve seen the original and response frustration shared by NimbleBit, the studio behind Tiny Tower, and now you’ve seen a small portion of Zynga’s position. Where do you stand? Is Zynga a copycat company, or are they the type that improves upon pre-existing genres?
For what it’s worth, and let it serve as a conversation starter, I personally feel that Zynga is guilty of essentially reskinning already successful games and aiming to release them on a wider scale. Are they the only company doing it? No. But, they are doing it, at least as far as I can tell. In fact, I tend to wholeheartedly agree with Marsh’s perspective written out above.
The GamesBeat piece linked below is lengthy and provides a ton of insight from Zynga’s side. Check it out.