Dan Porter, former CEO of OMGPOP and current VP of mobile at Zynga, has taken to the company blog to defend a previous comment about Zynga's penchant for imitation and adaptation. Late last week, Porter was quoted by Quartz as saying that "Zynga is often accused of copying games, which is mostly true." Now, in a letter sent to employees and later posted online, he says that the quote was taken out of context — and that "the debate about originality in games is vastly overblown."
"All games are derived from other games."
Porter's original comments at a panel discussion were meant to drive home the idea that running games as a service is often more important than coming up with a unique concept. "What I actually said was that all games are derived from other games," he writes, "that this has been happening long before Zynga, and that the debate about originality in games is vastly overblown and misses the mark. Before making Draw Something we ran OMGPOP for four years and made lots of games that were inspired by games we loved and we emulated the mechanics from games with great UI. This is no great revelation."
This debate is obviously neither new nor unique to games: after all, good artists copy, great artists steal. But it's a particularly sore spot for Zynga. The company has faced multiple copyright lawsuits from competitors, and it recently settled a case in which EA accused Zynga title The Ville of copying The Sims Social. More informally, it's been dogged by claims that it actively looks for titles to copy instead of trying to develop its own: a 2010 SF Weekly article described it as "repackaging, and then furiously peddling, the ideas of others."
While it's not controversial for genres of games to share basic mechanics, or for modern developers to recreate much older board or parlor games, critics of Zynga likely took Porter's offhand statement as more of an admission of guilt than he intended. "I am sorry that my actions have reflected negatively and generated negative press for the company," he says. "I’m also sorry if anyone on the game creation side felt that my comments were somehow a discredit to their work."