Zynga: Improving others' innovations is fair game

Zynga: Improving others' innovations is fair game

By Rob Crossley

February 1st 2012 at 3:27PM

Facebook games group denies culture of kleptomania

Brian Reynolds, design director at social games giant Zynga, has attempted to justify his employer’s controversial development practices that some define as plagiarism.

Days after Zynga was accused of cloning both NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower, as well as Buffalo Studios’ Bingo Blitz, Reynolds insisted that the company’s policies were fair and creative.

In a four-page interview with Gamasutra, however, he never outright denied that Zynga was closely copying game concepts from other studios.

“I’ve been making games for nearly 21 years,” he said, “so when I put it in perspective, with having been around the game industry a long time, I’m not exactly sure why [plagiarism] is considered such a big deal right now, or why someone thinks there’s anything really surprising going on.

“I was there in the '90s when Doom came out and then everybody made a shooter, and I was there when Warcraft and Command & Conquer came out in 1997, and then like 50 different [real-time strategy] games launched, and it was the year of the RTS.”

He said Zynga has “lots innovation going on”, but the ultimate aim was to create the best version of games.

“Games build off of each other, and you see what others are doing and you get inspired and you build and innovate in the space. So I think you kind of have both, and it works. You’re the most successful when both are working really well.

“When there’s a new genre or a new thing, then every [other games studio] gets their game in. And the main thing for us, our goal is to have the highest-quality thing. Obviously it’s competitive, and we may not always end up being the one to have the best thing in every space, but we certainly try to.”

Reynolds appeared to suggest that the key reason why triple-A games studios are not plagiarising each other is down to development budgets and schedules.

“It's gotten more expensive now to make an RPG, so nobody’s going to be rushing out with their Skyrim game,” he said.

Zynga, one of the first social games studios to be publicly traded, is in a persistent battle to acquire customers with its free-to-play games. Its founding concept is to make games compelling enough to keep its audience hooked and, hopefully, pay for virtual items.

With its IPO nearly halving the company’s valuation from peak estimates made last year, Zynga’s latest hope was a Facebook game – called Dream Heights – that appears to be a reskin of Nimblebit’s successful iOS game Tiny Tower.

In the interview with Gamasutra, Zynga PR is said to have blocked discussion on Dream Heights specifically.