Just a day after our coverage of how social networking games like Zynga's Mafia Wars are raking in tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year, news broke that Zynga was headed to court. The unlucky defendant? Playdom, author of the eerily familiar-looking Mobsters. Looks like there's some *ahem* bad blood between the families.
Zynga filed another suit claiming
that Playdom had hired away four Zynga employees who had helped the
company steal Zynga’s secrets, including a crucial document called the
The Zynga Playbook is literally the recipe book that contains Zynga’s
“secret sauce,” and its contents would be invaluable to a competitor
The Zynga Playbook constitutes a collection in one
document of many of the most material non-public commercially valuable
concepts, techniques, know-how and best practices for developing
successful and distinctive social games.
So Zynga argues Playdom allegedly pilfered their "secret sauce" by hiring away employees and pumping them for info. As we mentioned yesterday, Zynga has a lot to fight for – its playbook brought in $50 million in revenue at last count, and a recent expansion of their Texas Hold'em app to the iPhone costs anywhere from nothing (for the lite version) to $34.99.
That said, 'Mobsters' does play like 'Mafia Wars,' but I struggle to find a social networking game that doesn't play similarly to every other social networking game. The real trouble here is the litigation. If big developers like Zynga can sue for a game that resembles its own in theme or mechanics, despite the fact that small producers have only limited mechanics to work with, this could create a chilling effect on small game production.
We've repeatedly seen through iPhone Apps and do-it-yourself Facebook coding that small developers can create products that resonate. The appetite for both graphics and non-graphical virtual worlds is growing, especially for worlds like Mafia Wars that can be played without demanding graphics capabilities. These are the virtual worlds for casual gamers, and casual gaming is a lucrative market, willing to drop hundreds through microtransactions and customization features.
It would be a disservice to the emerging social networking game genre if litigious power players scared small developers away from the platform. There's definitely growth potential there.