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Zynga boss addresses cloning accusations

"We don't need to be first to market. We need to be the best."

It's not about being the first to market, it's about being the best when you do finally get there - that's Zynga boss Mark Pincus' response to accusations that the social gaming giant has been cloning other developers' games.

Following a public complaint from independent developer Nimblebit last week that Zynga's Dream Heights appears to be a straight lift of its popular Tiny Tower game, Pincus sent out a company wide email detailing the company's stance.

That email has since found its way to VentureBeat.

In it, Pincus explained that while it might not always be the first developer to use a particular gameplay idea, it earns its spot in the marketplace by innovating on that core concept.

"We don't need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market," it read.

"There are genres that we're going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality."

He went on to claim that Tiny Tower itself was not a new idea and was just as guilty of borrowing ideas from other developers.

"With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it's important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularized in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs," he wrote.

"On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.

"And, this has always been the case for our company and the rest of the industry. Zynga Poker, FarmVille, CityVille and Words with Friends, none of these games were the first to market in their category but we made them the most fun and social, and the most popular.

"Our teams continue to build and improve these games every week which has been an important part of our success model. We run our games as a live service and we continue to iterate, innovate and improve on them to give our players the best possible experience."

Nimblebit's Ian Marsh has subsequently fired back a response of his own, rejecting Pincus' insistence that Tiny Tower is just a new take on an old idea.

"It is a smart idea for Mark Pincus and Zynga to try and lump all games with the name Tower together as an actual genre whose games borrow from each other," Marsh told Touch Arcade.

"Unfortunately sharing a name or setting does not a genre make. The games Pincus mentions couldn't be more different. Sim Tower is a true 'sim' with macroscopic management and fine tuning of a buildings facilities. Tower Bloxx is a timing based high score game."

Marsh then pointed a number of uncanny similarities between Nimblebit's game and Dream Heights.

"If you take a quick look before 'pulling the lens back' as Pincus suggests, you'll find an innumerable number of details in the game that were painstakingly crafted to be identical to Tiny Tower. These are core gameplay mechanics and rules, not similar settings or themes that games in the same genre might share.

"Why are there five different business types like Tiny Tower? Why do five people fit in an apartment instead of four or six? Why are there VIP elevator riders that perform the same functions as Tiny Tower? Why do businesses employ exactly three workers and produce exactly three products that are stocked in exactly the same way as Tiny Tower. Even the tutorials at the beginning of the game follow the exact same steps.

"All of these things are poorly hidden underneath an uninspired veneer which has become Zynga's trademark."

Nimblebit isn't alone in accusing Zynga of pillaging others' work. Yesterday, Buffalo Studios played spot the difference between the social gaming behemoth's new bingo game and its one-year-old Bingo Blitz effort.

Speaking in a follow-up interview with VentureBeat, Pincus countered that if anyone is guilty of plagiarism, it's Buffalo, not Zynga.

"It was a little ironic to look at Bingo Blitz," he said.

"Pull that lens back. Look at our game Poker Blitz, and then Bingo Blitz, you see striking similarities in those pictures."