Gamer's Notebook

Nerd wars: Cross Buy, Zynga and copyright infringement in the virtual world

By Chris O'Neal 09/06/2012

Remember books? Those simple things that smelled of moth’s wings and made walls seem less empty. Before the Nook or the Kindle, books were the text-based role playing games enjoyed by countless centuries of readers the world over. Now they are relegated to keeping your dining room table from wobbling. The good news is that there is still a slow, yet dying market for books — and if you’re a collector (hoarder) like myself, owning a physical copy and a digital copy means having the best of both worlds.


Unlike Miley Cyrus, though, most book sellers haven’t quite discovered the pleasure of purchasing one item and receiving the other for free. With few exceptions, it’s either the book or the e-book; never the two shall meet. It’s only a recent invention that they come bundled together, and only with certain titles. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if games did the same? Wouldn’t it be obvious of me to now reveal that Sony has begun doing exactly that — bundling Playstation 3 (PS3) games with a digital copy for the handheld device, the Playstation Vita.


Cross Buy would allow a gamer to purchase select titles — such as Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force or Playstation All-Stars — and then also have a copy on a Vita device. The games themselves already utilize the PS3/Vita connection in-game (through the use of minigames, etc.), so making the transition wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.


Here’s hoping you like at least one of those three titles, though; so far, they’re your only option using Cross Buy.


So what if you want more options? Will Cross Buy lead to a world in which digital copies are bundled with physical copies as a standard? Maybe, but if you’d like to get a copy of your favorite game now, right now, without having to deal with any of that, why not check out Zynga’s vast catalog?


In a move seen as a long time coming, publisher Electronic Arts has filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement by Zynga, the publisher that has given us Farmville and Mafia Wars, also known as the games whose requests on Facebook you ignore.


The problem is that these games already existed long before Zynga released them. Farmville looks and plays in a fashion similar to Farm Town, a title released by developer SlashKey in 2009. From the way the fields are plowed to the sprites used to represent your pointless life, Farmville is an eerie rendition, except Zynga has the marketing budget to inundate you and your friends for years to come.


It isn’t just Farmville, either. Most Zynga games have counterparts released long before these versions. Mafia Wars twin brother is developer David Maestri’s Mob Wars; Dream Heights is developer NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower.


The lawsuit alleges that Zynga’s The Ville, a social simulator much in the stylings of The Sims, takes intellectual property from The Sims Social. In a side-by-side comparison, my Sim looks nothing like me.


With the recent ruling in the Apple v. Samsung case (spoiler: Samsung lost), copyrights are being scrutinized seriously for the first time in, well, for at least as long as I can remember. Did Samsung’s Galaxy look like Apple’s iPhone? According to the jury, yes. Will EA stop Zynga from scavenging not just their titles, but others, as well? Only a jury of your parents and grandparents can decide.


Sometimes it takes a corporation to stop a corporation — or at least someone with money — which is why today’s Gamer’s Notebook is dedicated to actor Bruce Willis, who, after reading the EULA (end user licensing agreement) for iTunes, sued Apple over who owns the music in his iTunes library.


According to Apple, we’re merely borrowing the songs we’ve purchased. Not so, says Willis. Apple may have messed with the wrong man. As Mr. Willis crawls through the air ducts at Apple HQ, I can only offer these words of encouragement: Yipee-ki-yay, sir. Yipee-ki-yay.

Chris O’Neal is hitting the road in search of old  In Search Of . . . episodes featuring Leonard Nimoy. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.

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