Zynga CEO Mark Pincus has dismissed accusations that his company cloned Tiny Tower, saying Nimblebit's iOS game can hardly lay claim to the tower sim genre and that Zynga will continue to "evolve genres" for its players in future.
In an internal email passed to VentureBeat, Pincus writes: "As Zynga grows by further innovating on best of breed social mechanics, we should expect the industry to sit up and take notice of our growing portfolio. I'm proud of the mobile team's hard work and the industry has taken notice.
"Google didn't create the first search engine. Apple didn't create the first mp3 player or tablet. And Facebook didn't create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways.
"We don't need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. 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."
Pincus goes on to dismiss Nimblebit's allegations out of hand. "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 popularised in China with Tower Of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs.
"On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games and mechanics have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30-year body of work has inspired us too."
In an interview with VentureBeat, Pincus elaborates: "You should be careful not to throw stones when you live in glass towers. When you peel the lens back, you saw that their tower game looked similar to five other tower games going all the way back to SimTower in the early 1990s."
So there you go: three-man indie studio Nimblebit has no grounds for complaint, Pincus reckons, because other videogames have also featured towers. Speaking to Touch Arcade, Nimblebit's Ian Marsh wasn't having any of it.
"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," he said. "Unfortunately sharing a name or setting does not a genre make. The games Pincus mentions couldn't be more different.
"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 have."
Marsh goes on to point out elements of Dream Heights that are not just visually similar to Tiny Tower, but are mechanically identical: five business types, five residents per apartment, with businesses employing three people and selling three items. "Even the tutorials at the beginning of the game follow the exact same steps," he said. "All of these are hidden underneath an uninspired veneer which has become Zynga's trademark." Marsh also hit out at Glu Mobile on Twitter, claiming two of its games – Lil' Dungeon and Small Street – are also clones of Nimblebit's work.
Pincus' failure to deny that Tiny Tower was a source of inspiration for Dream Heights – indeed, he seems to think it's good practice as long as the resulting work reaches a bigger audience – goes a long way to explaining Zynga's history. As we reported last week, the company has spent much of its time in business making games based rather too closely on other people's ideas.
He does, however, deny claims we reported yesterday, of another indie studio who claimed Zynga had ripped it off. Buffalo Studios followed Nimblebit's lead in pointing out the similarities between Bingo Blitz and Zynga Bingo, but Pincus says Bingo Blitz ripped off Zynga's Poker Blitz in the first place.
"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 can see the striking similarities in those pictures.
"There is a massive body of work in the videogame industry that is going to be reimagined for decades to come in a way that is free, accessible, and social. That's what we're doing. I don't think anyone should be surprised when they see us coming out with games they've seen before, a decade or more ago."