Zynga is probably the only game developer out there that most gamers despise more than Electronic Arts, which makes it a surprising set of news that everyone’s favorite Farmville publisher is being taken to court by none other than EA. And funnily enough, they’re doing it on the behalf of all those independent developers that have been slighted by the Facebook giant.
“Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product, but we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it. Infringing a developer’s copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development. By calling Zynga out on this illegal practice, we hope to have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don’t have the resources to protect themselves”, reports Maxis Manager, Lucy Bradshaw.
Now, as cynical as we all like to be about EA, I can’t help but feel a certain amount of, well, resonance with this. Because she’s right. Forbes put together a great photo retrospective of all the games Zynga has copied over its short tenure, and I can’t help but notice that every other game on that list is not in any kind of position to take Zynga to court. Is EA to be lauded for their actions?
In short, yes.
The data we have in front of us actually seems to spell out a different story than the conventional wisdom. Take a look at EA’s stock performance over the past year. That’s a pretty downward trend. Now, let’s take a look at when that trend started. October 2011. That was the height of EA’s performance (25.2 dollars per share). After that, the EA stock fell to around 20 for a while, before tanking into the high teens, and settling down at around 13 dollars per share as of this writing. The important part of this trend comes from analyzing some additional data, too. See, that October date was the last time that EA’s books and reports reflected the numbers predicted by analysts. Every quarter thereafter has seen EA performing below what the best economic analysts predict. Why have these analysts been so off base?
Because they’re not gamers. See, EA has been suffering flak for its aggressive and untrustworthy business practices for a long time, but starting in October, we as the community have started to have our voices be heard. Origin was released against a powerful, fan-loved giant (Steam) with subpar interface and support, so people dropped it. Star Wars: The Old Republic can’t compete against World of Warcraft (shocker), and because MMO’s tend to built on the massively multiplayer, people dropped it. Mass Effect 3’s ending was terrible so they didn’t buy it. These things hurt EA in just the right spot; its wallet.
And now, what have we seen come out since then? Well, a few things. For one, Mass Effect 3’s DLC has all been free, including the specially developed Extended Cut DLC. And whether or not you love the multiplayer or the Extended Cut, you can’t say EA didn’t try. And they didn’t even try maliciously. They made zero dollars off of that content (well, that’s not entirely true, but it didn’t cost the fans anything, really). When users complain about the excessive DRM on Origin, EA removes it for a one time activation registration (which has been standard in gaming for, well, a very long time.) When users react strongly against EA’s support of SOPA, they drop it. Have they completely become saints? Of course not. But they have responded to the community’s negative impact and, not without issue, they’ve generally reacted extremely positively.
But here’s the thing that worries me. We’re so used to being jaded and cynical that we might kill this company. Now, I know plenty of you saying “Oh, that can’t happen.” Well, actually, with game publishers? It can. It can happen pretty easily. And it happens with stuff just like this. EA’s stock has already lost half its value over the past six months. Actually more than that because, contrary to popular belief, the economy has been recovering from the crash in 2008. So, while the market rises about 10% in general, EA loses about 50%. That’s really bad for them.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should pretend EA is the new Valve; they’re not. They have a long way to go. But I do see them making steps in the right direction. And I’m worried that if we don’t recognize them for their accomplishments (just like we punish them for their failures) that we might lose a gaming giant. And as much as we all hate the AAA industry and its companies, there is definately a place for big budget publishers funding big budget games. Those can equal growth and innovation just as much as they signal stagnation and the hipster-bred mainstream hate.
I remember an EA that funded projects like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space, when everyone else was cloning Guitar Hero and Call of Duty. I remember an EA that took the bland shoot ‘em up of CoD and brought it to a different, dynamic level with Battlefield 2. I remember an EA that took a game like Mass Effect and said “I think we have the resources to make this game something special.” Or looking at World of Warcraft and saying “Wouldn’t it be great if those quest givers spoke to you?” Those thoughts haven’t always worked out, but I’d much rather have that kind of experimental nature, that drive to push things to the next level than, well, Zynga. And, just for solidarity’s sake, here are Zynga’s numbers. They’ve been hit even harder. And if EA’s lawsuit hits them where it hurts? We could be looking at the death of the biggest threat to gaming ever: financial proof that plagiarism works.
So, EA, if you can kill these guys, more power to you.
Post contributed by Buddy Sola. Questions for the author? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.