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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Zynga, Vostu, SocialApps: Are Legal Squabbles Signs of the Social Gaming Apocalypse?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Drought years ahead?
  • Drought years ahead?

Zynga has always been the target of various allegations of pirating other companies' ideas, but in the last week, tech-world buzz on the twin topics of Zynga and copyright infringement has risen to a deafening level.

Last Thursday, Zynga filed a lawsuit against Brazilian game company Vostu alleging wholesale copying of its games. Vostu fired back, asserting in a response to Zynga's complaint that
"Zynga has been accused of copying so many games that they've sadly lost the ability to recognize games like ours that are chockfull of original content and have been independently created." Yesterday, to top off this slapfest, Los Angeles game developer SocialApps accused Zynga in a lawsuit of stealing the idea for Zynga's blockbuster FarmVille game.

Where, oh where, does it end?

Tough to say, but we can probably expect more legal sallies as the companies that have been printing money with inane and extremely copyable social games fight over limited real estate. Former Zynga employees who spoke to SF Weekly for a 2010 cover story about the company's predatory business practices said Zynga was built on a "no-innovation" ethos that emphasized the bottom line. Its success has been based on every imaginable variation on the "compulsion-loop" mechanics of FarmVille.

"These games, it's like pouring water into a bucket with holes in it. You can get a lot of people, but they don't stick around," early Zynga investor and former lead engineer Tom Bollich told SF Weekly last year.

With no brilliant new products to offer its consumers -- FrontierVille and Empires and Allies, two of the newer Zynga titles that were touted for more sophisticated gameplay, are really just further variations on a theme -- and waning interest in the stupid 'Ville suite of games, it's no surprise that Zynga would be wary of another company eating into its customer base.

None of this will stop Zynga from a bonanza of an IPO in the near future. But as the social-gaming world convulses with accusations and cross-accusations, you have to wonder: How much longer will this particular gravy train -- remarkable, even in the annals of American capitalism, for generating so much profit, in so little time, attached to so little real value -- stay on the rails?

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Peter Jamison


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