Electronic Arts sues Zynga for alleged copyright infringement

It can be a dog-eat-dog world in social games.

Electronic Arts Inc. on Friday filed a copyright infringement suit against Zynga Inc., alleging that the social gaming company’s “The Ville” misappropriated EA’s game “The Sims Social.”

EA’s lawsuit was just the latest in a string of bad news for Zynga. The San Francisco social gaming company was hit Monday with a shareholder lawsuit claiming that Zynga investors and executives — including its chief executive, Mark Pincus — had improperly cashed out $516 million in company stock in April, three months before Zynga posted disappointing earnings that sent its shares plummeting 37% in one day.

In a blog post explaining EA’s lawsuit, Lucy Bradshaw, head of Maxis, the EA-owned studio that created “Sims Social,” outlined why EA contends that Zynga “ripped off” its intellectual property. EA launched its “Sims Social” game on Facebook in August 2011. Zynga released “The Ville” 10 months later.

“When ‘The Ville’ was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of ‘The Sims Social’ was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large,” Bradshaw wrote. “Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from ‘The Sims Social.’ The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable.”

Zynga’s general counsel, Reggie Davis, countered in a statement that his company planned to “defend our rights to the fullest extent possible.”

“It’s unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles,” Davis said. “It’s also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga’s CityVille game.”

Zynga has had to contend with similar lawsuits in the past. The creator of “Mob Wars,” a popular social game on Facebook, sued the company in 2009 claiming that Zynga’s “Mafia Wars” was a knockoff. Zynga settled the lawsuit that same year for an undisclosed amount.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. in May 2011 also sued, contending that Zynga’s “FrontierVille” game was blatantly similar to Houghton’s “Oregon Trail” game franchise.

Zynga itself has gone after game developers it has deemed to be copycats. In June 2011, Zynga filed a lawsuit against Vostu, a Brazilian game developer, alleging that Vostu’s “MegaCity” game was identical to Zynga’s “CityVille.” The parties settled the dispute in December, days before Zynga’s initial public offering on Nasdaq at $10 a share.

After peaking at $14.69 on March 2, Zynga’s shares have plummeted. The stock closed at $2.72 on Friday, up 2 cents.