Electronic Arts Inc. v. Zynga Inc.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Case No.3:2012cv04099. Filed On August 3, 2012


Two media giants, Electronic Arts and Zynga, have once again stepped into the legal arena in a battle over The Sims.  In its complaint, Electronic Arts accused Zynga of infringing its copyrights in The Sims Social, a Facebook extension released in August 2011 to Electronic Art’s popular The Sims franchise.  Electronic Arts alleged that Zynga copied its original, creative expression and unique elements through The Ville, a game also released on Facebook in June 2012.  Both games allow users to create virtual people that they are able to control through a virtual world.  Users are able to customize the people through appearance, clothing, and personality traits, and are also able to customize the houses and environments that these people live in.  The people have needs that users can fulfill and users can interact with their friends on Facebook who are also part of the game.  According to Electronic Art’s complaint, reviewers of both games found them to be very similar.  For example, the website Gamezebo commented:

It’s hard to play The Ville without feeling some wholesale deja vu. . . .  [E]very trait that has made The Sims iconic has been rehashed by Zynga. Characters in The Ville communicate via pictographs and a garbled language. Even their bodily gestures are eerily similar to what you find in The Sims.

The reviewers at the website Mashable also found similarities between the two games, stating “at first glance, The Ville bears such a striking resemblance to The Sims we’d be surprised if the average person could tell the difference between the two games.”  Accordingly, Electronic Arts alleged that Zynga could have designed The Ville in a different way as not to infringe upon Electronic Art’s Copyrights.

Before delving into the specific instances of copying in its own game, Electronic Arts boldly outed a criticism held by many about the casual gaming giant: Zynga achieves success through copying other products instead of through creative innovation.  Electronic Arts claimed that this was not the first time Zynga had been accused of copyright infringement.  For example, Zynga was sued in 2009 for copying the game Mob Wars when it released Mafia Wars in 2008.  Zynga was sued again in 2011 by SocialApps for copying the game myFarm (among others) to create the popular game Farmville.  In its complaint, Electronic Arts accuses several other popular Zynga games of being clones of previously existing intellectual property.  Such instances of copying include the “cloning” of Playfish’s Restaurant City to create Cafe World, Crowdstar’s Happy Aquarium to create FishVille, and Nimblebit’s Tiny Tower to create Dream Heights.  Electronic Arts also quoted an article in SF Weekly Magazine that described Zynga’s business model.  The headline of this article allegedly describes the strategy behind Zynga’s success: “Steal Someone else’s game.  Change its name. Make Millions. Repeat.”  In this article, the CEO of Zynga is quoted as saying “I don’t f[***]ing want innovation. . . . You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”  Electronic Arts concluded that Zynga had a history of copying other competitors and believes that Zynga is now engaged in the same business practice with The Sims Social.

In its complaint, Electronic Arts pointed to several areas where Zynga allegedly copied the protectable original expression in “The Sims Social,” “i.e. the game’s animation sequences, visual arrangements, characters’ motions and actions, and other unique audio-visual elements.” The character creator used by “The Ville” is one such element that Electronic Arts believes was copied from its own game.  For example, six out of nine personality types in The Ville, “Jock, Artist, Charmer, Partier, Mogul, and Scoundrel,” can be compared with EA’s “Athlete, Creative, Romantic, Socialite, Tycoon, and Villain” personality types. Electronic Arts further noted that these personality types were not required in a simulation game since the original The Sims used different personality types such as playfulness.  Electronic Arts went even further by accusing Zynga of copying animations used to designate the aforementioned personality types.  For example, the animation associated with a “creative” or “artist” personality type includes the selected character writing on a notepad.  Electronic Arts also found similarities in the ways that users customize their characters’ skin tones and outfits. For example, Electronic Arts alleged that Zynga copied the RGB values to create the same skin tone colors as those found in “The Sims Social.”  Since RGB values can be combined to create “more than 16 million different color combinations,” Electronic Arts concluded that “there is an infinitesimally small chance that the use of the same RGB values for skin tone in The Ville as The Sims Social is mere coincidence.”

Electronic Arts also detailed similarities between houses in The Sims Social and The Ville such as the basic dimensions of the houses, the wall heights, and decorations.  For example, Electronic Arts highlighted how a user could create an almost identical house in The Ville to one he created in The Sims Social.  Electronic Arts also noted that many of the objects and appliances that can be bought in The Ville are similar to those that can be bought in The Sims Social, and that these objects increase the value of the user’s home in the same way.  Since many of the objects found in both games are so similar, Electronic Arts stated that “is apparent that Zynga used the EA art as a reference point.”  The game mechanisms related to the way a user’s house can be viewed were also allegedly copied from Electronic Arts according to the complaint.  For example, The Sims franchise has traditionally included a “walls down” way of looking at a building.  This feature allows users to look at their house without walls showing, giving users a different perspective.  Electronic Arts alleges that Zynga copied this feature almost exactly, even keeping the floating windows and doors visible when in “walls down” mode.

Other elements that were allegedly copied by Zynga include characters’ “bodily needs.”  Electronic Arts believes that Zynga not only copied these bodily needs themselves, but also the way that these are represented in game.  Electronic Arts used the showering sequence used in both games to exemplify this type of copying.  In The Sims Social, a character approaches the shower, takes his clothes off in an animated spin, walks into the shower wearing under garments or a bathing suit, and then proceeds to shower.  After the character walks into the shower, the curtain closes and steam rises from the top of the shower.  Electronic Arts alleges that Zynga copied this “original and unique” animation sequence in The Ville.  

Finally, Electronic Arts alleged that Zynga copied the “unique visual manner and style” of The Sim Social’s social interaction mechanisms.  For example, Electronic Arts claims that its feature of letting players invite others into their own houses is unique in the sphere of social games.  By including this feature in The Ville, Electronic Arts alleges that Zynga copied The Sims Social.  Electronic Arts also alleged that Zynga copied other social interaction mechanisms from The Sims Social, such as the visual separation of romantic interactions from friendly interactions.  The way that characters communicate with one another is also a similarity noted by Electronic Arts.  Characters in The Sims franchise have usually “spoken” to one another using a gibberish language and images in speech bubbles.  Electronic Arts alleges that Zynga “animat[es] in a similar style and show[s] speech and/or thought balloons above them,” also using “garbled language for its characters, remarkably similar to Simlish in The Sims Social.”  Electronic Arts also notes other similar animations for interactions between characters such as dancing or cuddling on a couch.

More information will be released when it becomes available to us.


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