Issue #3 - Copycat and Competition

These days, our industry has seen multiple accusations – especially against Zynga. What was somewhat known to large parts of the gaming community already, has now been said by the companies affected. Zynga’s response? These types of games have to look and feel familiar and Zynga merely enhances their social features.
With that said, this week we will get some things straight about Zynga’s copycat tactics and the competition they pretend to present. Yes, this issue is directed to the industry rather than the gaming community and we’re going slightly off-topic regarding the intention of this blog.
So, you said copycat … Sounds biased.
Of course it is biased, with the blatantly obvious comparisons we have now. We all knew about it in one way or another before these accusations popped up. But now we’ve hit the point at which we do have the evidence – no doubts involved anymore.
But Zynga is only one case of such copycat tactics in our industry. It often strikes us … A game looking similar, familiar … somewhat like something we hardly remember, but we know it was somewhat the same. Will we be able to be more wary on such things in the future? Most likely not. Will we be less surprised than now when we see it? Definitely.
These incidents have already done a great deal of damage to the industry and the consumer’s perception – and expectation. But there is another threat: They might cover it up as „competition“ or even „innovation“.
While many articles and blog posts these days discuss this topic, we will focus on the market aspects rather than development. The flood of posts about how Zynga focus their „development“ on the social features and either are lazy when it comes to anything else, or innovative in their own way … Well, there is enough of that already.
What does this do to the market? Can we call it „competition“?
It certainly is a similar product with some changes to it, and it is thrown out onto the market to compete with the other such products. With that said, it is definitely some kind of competition.
Whether it is fair, legal and what kind of impact is has, though, is an entirely different topic here.
Let’s get some facts straight first of all: Zynga are a large company, they are established on huge social platforms – most notably Facebook, who even defend them these days. They attempted to buy some companies, or at least buy the IPs for some of their games. When those offers were refused, they copied the games. Small companies were forced to decide whether they take the money and lose their game and drop dead, or don’t take the money, lose their game to a larger company and then drop dead.
While this may be how capitalist pioneers believed the free market would work out – Darwinism hooray – it is definitely not how it should work out in the market we have nowadays. We had this issue with piracy already, and it pops up every now and then: Our market does not support the tactics that are used – at least not in a morally acceptable way.
What should we do to Zynga then? Pitchforks out?
Definitely not. Zynga needs to be taken to court, present their “innovations” to the law and hope for them to survive.
But the question isn’t what we should do to Zynga. The question is: What can we do to improve the situation for those smaller companies. The solution is simple: When a game reminds you of one you already saw, do some research. If you come to the conclusion that you can’t find the other game, or it is different in enough aspects for you to believe they didn’t just blatantly copy: Fine, go ahead and keep on playing.
Else: Tell those companies, throw up some threads on gaming forums. Ask for others to help. Get your assumption out there and get it judged by the hive mind of the internet.
It is up to us to decide where the line is drawn, but we need to draw it clearly.

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