Electronic Arts, the owner of Sims creator Maxis, is suing social gaming titan Zynga over The Ville’s alleged similarity to EA’s The Sims Social. This case has the potential to set a precedent in a relatively untested area of the law—defining the difference between outright copying of video games and simply drawing inspiration from other games. By necessity, games developers must look to other games to remain relevant and build upon them, but the line between outright copying and gaining inspiration from others’ ideas is a difficult one to draw.
This is not the first time Zynga has been accused of copying other studios’ creative products, and EA hopes to position itself as the defender of smaller studios to win a public relations coup. EA’s press release argues that “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.” For its part, Zynga countered that The Ville is simply a natural evolution in their ongoing ‘Ville’ franchise, building on innovations from its past games YoVille, CityVille, and CastleVille. To see some of the alleged similarities yourself, check out this breakdown over on Arstechnica.
Regardless of how this case turns out, it could help to define some criteria that will be useful to video game studios looking to protect their own creative work and to gather inspiration from the creative work of others.