“Let’s be clear – it is one thing to be inspired by Zynga games, but it is entirely different to copy all of our key product features, product strategy, branding, mission statement and employee benefits lock, stock and barrel. We welcome Vostu into the arena of social games, but blatant infringement of our creative works is not an acceptable business strategy—it is a violation of the law.” -Reggie Davis, General Counsel
That’s Zynga’s statement about a lawsuit they just filed against a well funded Brazilian startup – Vostu – for copyright infringement. Vostu has raised $45.9 million from Intel Capital, General Catalyst, Accel and others.
What did Vostu do? According to the lawsuit, they exist almost solely to copy Zynga games. Not just the idea, but nearly every game mechanic, virtual item, and storyline. From the complaint filed today in the Northern District of California federal court: “Vostu has brazenly appropriated the copyright-protected aspects of Zynga’s games(as well as almost every other aspect of Zynga’s business) – with scant effort to mask their strategy– and then offered games virtually identical to Zynga’s games to prospective players in the United States and elsewhere.”
Zynga even included a side by side video comparison of a number of the games in the lawsuit as an exhibit:
The copying is so pervasive, says Zynga in the lawsuit, that Vostu even copied the errors contained in Zynga games (like the fact that government buildings in CityVille don’t have to connect to roads: “Remarkably, Vostu’s copying includes “mistakes” in Zynga’s games. For example, in CityVille, the Zynga developers forgot to add the requirement that Community Buildings be connected to a road in order to function within the game – a requirement for all other buildings in the game. The game was released without that requirement, and the bug was never fixed in Zynga’s game. Vostu’s MegaCity replicated this “mistake.”
Zynga’s walking a fine line here, as they’ve been accused of stealing game ideas in multple lawsuits (all settled). See, for example, this 2009 lawsuit from the original creator of the Mob Wars game. The difference here, Zynga seems to be arguing (see the first statement at top of this post) is that “inspiration” is fine, but copying every detail of a game crosses a line.
And wherever that line is, Vostu clearly crosses it. The complaint, embedded below, also contains numerous screenshots of the games side by side, with almost identical game play. The top image in this post is one example, but there are many others.
This should be entertaining. Also, I’m looking forward to seeing Vostu’s ripoff version of Empires & Allies. Hopefully this lawsuit won’t shut that project down.
Update: Vostu responds.