When Zynga came knocking, looking to acquire NimbleBits, they were probably hoping to add Tiny Tower, rated the iPhone game of the year by Apple, to their portfolio of games. Nimblebits turned them down, but the end result appears to be that Tiny Tower is coming to Zynga anyway, under a new name: Dream Heights. But, there’s a twist. Zynga didn’t pay for the game, license it in anyway, or even get permission to create a clone. Instead, they just went out and ripped it off.
Yesterday, NimbleBit employees were reaching out to the public via social networks, like Twitter, to provide comical and facetious comments on the events as they were unfolding. It’s pretty pathetic that a company with Zynga’s resources would stoop this low to make a buck.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about developers outright copying and stealing games, and rebranding them a little to sell them as new titles on the App Store. Most recently, Atari put pressure on Apple to remove “copycat” games from the App Store. In that case Apple removed Vector Tanks, a game that was an obvious rip off of Atari’s Battlezone game.
The sad thing is that this is hardly a new problem, but it is a major problem. There are a number of companies who have successful game titles on the App Store that have an eerie familiarity about them. Zygna isn’t the first to do it, and they certainly won’t be the last. The question, however, is whether or not Apple will protect Indie developers’ interests as much as they have a major company like Atari.
As it stands currently, Dream Heights is still available on the App Store (in Canada), and there has been no official word on if, or when, Zygna will have its game removed from the store.
There’s obviously a question to be considered. Where does game evolution and mechanic adoption begin and end? As an example, in some cases control schemes are borrowed or implemented across a variety of titles. The most obvious example is the original Gears of War control scheme. It didn’t take long for other developers to embrace the amazing control mechanics in their own projects. Figuring out where that kind of behavior is acceptable may be Apple’s next frontier in the App Store. Before long, the iOS App Store is going to turn into the Crap Store, as second rate ripoff apps continue to find ways into Apple’s playground. Heck, it’s not just games. Last week a Camera+ ripoff was approved and found its way into the App Store.
Note: The header image is only a portion of a huge graphic illustrating the similarities between the two games. Check this link for the entire thing.