I hope NimbleBit believes in the saying "There's no such thing as bad publicity," because they've certainly been the target of a boat-load of industry drama lately with not one but three individual TinyTower [Free] knock-off "betas" landing on the Canadian App Store in the last week. First there was Zynga's Dream Heights [Free], then Glu's Small Street [Free], and this morning we discovered another clone by Glu, Lil' Dungeon [Free]. The main innovation of Lil' Dungeon seems to be that you're building down instead of up. Aside from some new graphics, just like the other clones, all of the gameplay elements are identical.

What's more interesting than Glu mashing the green button on their copy machines is that Zynga actually has responded to the recent controversy. VentureBeat not only scored a interview with Mark Pincus, Zynga's chief executive of social games, they also managed to snag a copy of a confidential memo he sent around. The takeaway from the interview is this:

In essence, Pincus is not saying that it’s OK to copy someone else’s game. Rather, he is saying that a company can make a contribution to the canon of gaming if it takes an existing game and improves it. That company can reimagine the game and remove all the barriers that stand between the game reaching a billion people.

“You should be careful not to throw stones when you live in glass towers,” Pincus said. “When you pull 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.” …Read More

In light of this news, I got in contact with NimbleBit's Ian Marsh for a rebuttal to Pincus' claims:

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. 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.

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 5 different business types like Tiny Tower? Why do 5 people fit in an apartment instead of 4 or 6? Why are there VIP elevator riders that perform the same functions as Tiny Tower? Why do businesses employ exactly 3 workers and produce exactly 3 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.

It's hard to disagree with the NimbleBit guys on this one, and it's equally difficult to find the "improvement" Zynga claims to have packed into Dream Tower. From where we're sitting, it seems that the main "improvement" that they're seeing is the Zynga dog in the top left corner of the Dream Tower app icon.

  • Anonymous

    Dirty, manipulative liars.

    I have a lot more to say on the matter, but I don't think I could sum it up much better than those three words.

  • Anonymous

    In other words, Pincus would have had a point if he wasn't too busy being an intellectually dishonest slimeball.

    Yes, games are iterative. Some people say Angry Birds rips on Crush the Castle, but they fail to appreciate the work Rovio put into polishing the physics and gameplay and adding a liberal dose of unique charm. It's a refinement, not a clone.

    Dream Heights is just a clone.

    • Adams Immersive

      Agreed. I give Crush the Castle credit where due, and I feel slightly bad for them when people often describe similar games as following in Angry Birds’ footsteps, when really they all follow Crush the Castle! However, I don’t boycott Angry Birds or other CtC knock-offs, because they are all different, and add something to the concept.

      THESE on the other hand, are something different and worse, and I will boycott Glu and Zynga as a result.

      I hope Tiny Tower sees lots of publicity and sales as a result of all this!

  • http://twitter.com/makitango Dominic Bergmann

    Big publishers are more and more ruining the iOS gaming world. I haven't seen one single EA, Zynga or Gameloft game I'd loved, except for Tetr... oh wait.

    Luckily, we've got these shiny indie dev's with actual ideas. Love you, guys!

  • http://twitter.com/AlexEvangelou AlexEvangelou

    What's particularly sad to me is when you look at lil'Dungeon there's clearly a lot of effort put into the art assets for the game. It wouldn't take much to make the game one of the same genre instead of an exactly clone. Twist the game mechanics more fitting to a dungeon instead of just putting a mask on the exact Tiny Tower mechanics. That's what is really disappointing to me.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      That's what I thought when I saw it too! My first impressions amounted to, "Now this actually looks like it could be a neat take on Tiny Tower." ...Then I discovered it's identical, only digging instead of building. So disappointing.

      A Dungeon Keeper style game would make a fantastic little free to play time sink. 🙂

      • http://RolePlayFTW.com Huy Ngo

        Dungeon Keeper was the bomb!  I kept hoping that "HOLY INVASION OF PRIVACY, BADMAN!" for the PSP would come out for iOS.  Perhaps it still can.  Either way, any game where we get to play the dungeon boss would be welcome in my arms!

    • http://twitter.com/artfoundry David Markowitz

      I tried looking up Lil' Dungeon - it showed up in itunes but not on appshopper or my iphone's itunes.  What gives?

  • http://about.me/kcnobody TinyTechnician

    I think it's pretty obvious that Mark Pincus's dream job is to work at a Kinko's and just copy things.

    Great write-up and summary, btw

  • Anonymous

    I'm pleased people are taking this more seriously compared to when the first story broke.
    There needs to be a firm guideline here, DON'T COPY OTHER PEOPLE'S WORK !!
    Can you imagine where this will lead to if not addressed, heck there could be a clone of Touch Arcade, heavens knows what'll happen then !!

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Well, there are actually a lot of Google spam web sites out there that steal all of our content. I'm not going to link to any of them, but you can usually find them by copying a random obscure sentence out of a review and searching for it. 😉

      • Anonymous

        I hate it when I'm researching an app and half of the Google hits are spam sites. There are apps that aren't games. We all know how to research those.

  • Anonymous

    "Re-imagining" is not copy paste Mr Pincus.

    Nothing but a manipulative liar.

    • wizard96

      Either this was incredibly clever and funny, or you pressed the button twice. I choose to believe it's the former.

  • Anonymous

    "Re-imagining" is not copy paste Mr Pincus.

    Nothing but a manipulative liar.

  • Anonymous

    You've got to back NimbleBit on this one, but It's hard to feel TOO sorry for a small house that sits near the top of the top grossing chart. That's especially true when they defend their IP so well (and so humorously.)

    The money quote from Zynga is: "a company can make a contribution to the canon of gaming if it takes an existing game and improves it." That sounds like an admission of NO CONTRIBUTION to me.

  • Graysmith

    Assuming this Dream Heights game is free to download, I would suggest that everyone here download it, rate it a 1 and write a review explaining what a lousy clone it is and send people to check out Tiny Tower instead. Bury these assholes in bad reviews.

    • Briker Ed

      Unfortunately, people like the said chief executive from Zynga is the type of person who will not respond to facts, or admit to them, ever. Ev-errr! People like that always have a 'logical' explanation or a plausible excuse, no matter what you might have that contradicts them to the core. 

      The only way they could be proven wrong is by legal means, but that can be too messy and expensive for a small company who wants to take on a much bigger one. Either that, or Apple gets really bad rep from all of this and decides to sanction Zynga in some way, which is unlikely since Zynga does attract a lot of people to the App market after all. 

      It sucks, big time, but I think that NimbleBit will eventually have to suck it up and let it go. Injustice happens. All the community can do is boycott Zynga games, petition, give bad reviews etc. but I doubt neither will make a big dent with Zynge or any other big company out there.

      • Graysmith

        I don't think these knock-off games are going to hurt NimbleBit or Tiny Tower in any significant way just like all the Angry Birds clones never made much of a dent in that game's profits. Most people will seek out the original game they've heard about, and with a price tag of $0 there's no reason for anyone to not download it if they've heard about it.

        That said, I still think it's worth showing Zynga our displeasure with their way of doing business. Even if it has no real effect (like them pulling the game and apologizing), it could at least help get people to go check out the original game rather than their cash-grab knock-off. I think it'd be worth doing just on principle, just to let Zynga know what we think.

      • Anonymous

        I disagree that most people will seek out the original games. It might happen occasionally, but more often than not they'll just stick with the hugely popular and easy-to-access version. Zynga being on Facebook give them a much larger audience than Nimblebit has and besides, not all of the games Zynga have cloned were huge successes anyway. How many people know which game they ripped off to create FarmVille? or Zynga Poker? Very few. You'd have to have a deeper interest in gaming or plagarism to bother doing the research.

      • Graysmith

        Maybe "original games" was a poor choice of words, but I'm really talking about those games that hit it big and are seen as the "original" game. What I'm trying to say is that I think people will seek out Angry Birds, Tiny Tower and those buzzed-about games even if there are 50 clones of each vying for their attention. Even if Zynga, Glu and a multitude of other companies try cloning Tiny Tower, I don't think it will have a huge impact on Tiny Tower's popularity/success because at the end of the day Tiny Tower is the one everyone's raving about, not Dream Heights.

      • Anonymous

        Angry Birds is essentially a clone too- it just has different art. Kind of a bad comparison there.

      • Graysmith

        I'm not suggesting that Angry Birds was wholly unique, my comparison is to the fact that it's the big popular game of its kind, and as such its the one that people have been cloning to try and cash in on Angry Birds' popularity. It's the same with Tiny Tower. It's surely not the first game to do something like this, but it's become hugely popular and now people are cloning it to try and cash in on its popularity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/luckydonut Chris Newman

      Also, buy some in-app currency and then tell Apple you never did.  You'll get your money back and it'll cost Zynga their 30% twice...

  • Anonymous

    Loser Glu!

  • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

    Saw this link earlier and I couldn't believe it at first... apparently Glu hasn't made a profit since 2005.  They "expect to" make a profit in 2013.  Maybe due to having twenty Tiny Tower clones by that point?


  • Anonymous

    Is there a reason all of these copies are available in Canada but not the US store? Is Tiny Tower available in the Canadian store?

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      A lot of studios "beta test" their free-to-play or online games on the Canadian store. It gives them a chance to tweak anything they need to tweak before it hits prime time.

      They'll all be out in the US store soon enough, I'm sure.

  • phuong vo

    Why are these games not available in the U.S.  I want to give them a try.

  • Anonymous

    Screw Zynga and screw Glu. Don't give these thieves any of your money. Insanity. The arrogance of these copycats.

  • http://twitter.com/electricfoo ELECTRICFOO

    Right Glu and Zynga are two Publishers im never gonna buy from again. :/ Liked The Lord of the Rings – Middle-Earth Defence, gonna delete that ...

  • Anonymous

    Imagine what they could Create if not copying the works of others. I'd like some Innovation for 100 Alec.

  • Anonymous

    I'd be shocked if a Zynga game that wasn't a clone got a good review anyway.

    "Why are there 5 different business types like Tiny Tower? Why do 5 people fit in an apartment instead of 4 or 6? Why are there VIP elevator riders that perform the same functions as Tiny Tower? Why do businesses employ exactly 3 workers and produce exactly 3 products that are stocked in exactly the same way as Tiny Tower"

    I seriously doubt that if changes were made to these things they'd be off the hook with you guys. I guess Tiny Tower is just a special snowflake that no one should even try to improve on.

    • Garrett Granger


      ... That's the point. They didn't even *change* anything, let alone attempt to improve it.

      • Anonymous

        And my point is that even if they did change things, like having 7 people in an apartment instead of 5, having 5 items in the shop instead of 3, no one would care. They'd still be labeled as a copycat, so it becomes unclear to me how much has to be changed to not get that label?

        And at least in the case of Lil' Dungeon, the art assets are completely different (and pretty good, IMO), and so is the world that the game takes place in.  The mechanics may be the same, but how exactly do you propose they do it differently?  As I mentioned before, making small changes most likely wouldn't be enough to avoid the vitriol that they're bound to receive.

      • http://www.mastercko.com Chieze Okoye

        I'm sorry but that is a completely pointless point. The reality is that they didn't change anything. I can make a million different "what ifs," too, but it doesn't make a difference. The entire point of this article and the "vitriol" they're receiving is the the fact that they didn't change anything material. At all.

        Also, if you think changing the art is the only way that game makers can take an idea and actually materially improve on it, you are clearly not in the game business (or even a gamer, I think).

      • Anonymous

        Don't put words in my mouth.  I never said that was the only way they can improve on it, but if you're just going to dismiss it as irrelevant, then I think my point remains quite valid.  You won't give them any points for the areas they didn't just completely rip off Tiny Tower, so it seems to me they can do no right in your eyes.

        And if you don't think art assets are significant, then I don't think you're a gamer either.  Just another fanboy.

      • http://www.mastercko.com Chieze Okoye

        "Don't put words in my mouth.  I never said that was the only way they can improve on it, but if you're just going to dismiss it as irrelevant, then I think my point remains quite valid.  You won't give them any points for the areas they didn't just completely rip off Tiny Tower, so it seems to me they can do no right in your eyes."

        That's why I said "material." "Well, hey this guy has blue eyes, not green" is not a material change, nor is "This building is yellow, not grey." It is an intellectually dishonest (or at least misguided) point that you are making. Honestly. In most other cases, it is a point that applies to a discussion on who copied who, etc (say if someone were to strike up a Virtua Fighter vs. Tekken comparo). But here, it is absolutely not applicable. The games are materially identical. That is the entire point of this.

        "And if you don't think art assets are significant, then I don't think you're a gamer either.  Just another fanboy."

        Nice try, but I have been working in the games industry for a while now (trust me, I definitely know what a difference art can make) and have played games for basically all my life. As have all of my coworkers. None of us dismiss art as insignificant, but we all believe that if one is going to take the "well everyone is allowed to take an idea and improve on it" high road, that one should actually live by those words and not just trot them out like a fortune cookie. And every single one of us, to a person, agrees that Zynga ripped off Nimblebit.

      • Anonymous

        I agree entirely that they ripped them off.  The discussion I was trying to start was at what point does it stop being a copycat and start being an improvement on the original.

        It's become apparent very quickly that this isn't the place for such a discussion to happen.

      • http://www.mastercko.com Chieze Okoye

        OK, I see where you're going. Yes, I think that it is not quite the right place for it (nor do I think you approached the topic with an appropriate strategy for starting a discussion -- it is very accusatory). Though, the discussion of where does "copying" end and "innovating/improving upon" begin is, in general, an interesting one.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CHDWKQQ4ITPKHH5D3IH3XXZG7Q Slick

        im pretty sure he addressed it the only way it can be addressed in this context. the writer articulates the various things that make the game a copy. such as those game mechanics he mentions altering. after altering them, would everyone still consider it a clone? yes. of course we would. his discourse is simply put: it doesn't matter that the writer mentioned those similarities because some people will still call it a clone regardless of if those mechanics were different. so... where exactly are we drawing the line on what constitutes "clone" and "improvement". I thought he made that point clear, and i agree. dont get me wrong, i know from my own experience companies like zynga and gameloft shamelessly rip off games and implement them into their own wretched freemium model. but be realistic, a game is a game because of the mechanics. the game mechanics of solitaire make it solitaire. suddenly art assets seem like a very important aspect, right?

      • http://www.mastercko.com Chieze Okoye

        I agree with the basic point and with the fact that it is an interesting question (though it is tangential at best to this main discussion). My main problem is with his tone.

        "I seriously doubt that if changes were made to these things they'd be off the hook with you guys. I guess Tiny Tower is just a special snowflake that no one should even try to improve on." is very accusatory (if that sounds like a rational actor engaging in a good faith discussion to you, then we must run in different circles). He then, after my response to him, calls me a fanboy. Again, not the best way to have an actual discussion. Great way to get people to argue with you, though.

      • http://www.mastercko.com Chieze Okoye

        "but be realistic, a game is a game because of the mechanics. the game mechanics of solitaire make it solitaire."

        BTW, that is exactly what I was trying to get at with my "they aren't materially different" point.

      • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

        Art assets aren't significant.  Not in a discussion about Zynga ripping off another game's GAMEPLAY MECHANICS.

  • Anonymous

    Really the best way around this mess is to vote with your wallets.

    In fact the whole fermium craze as a whole is doing nothing but encouraging shovelware  code prisons like Zynga.

    freemium can go straight to hell - imo. If a game is good - the developer should charge for it and we - as consumers - should buy it and reward them for their work. 

    ...Just like consumers did with Chair and Infinity Blade.

    • Anonymous

      Tiny Tower is also freemium.  And I know people that have played it for 20+ hours and haven't given them a dime.  I also know people that would look down on those people for not supporting the devs, even though there is nothing saying they have to (including the devs themselves).

      I agree with you, freemium can suck it.  Make a good product, make a COMPLETE product, and price it accordingly.  That's how I'd prefer to get my games, just like you.

  • Anonymous

    What a joke! After mentioning the word innovate about 6 times in his memo you'd think he would actually know what the meaning of the word is: "a NEW method, idea, product, etc". How is dream heights in anyway NEW?

  • http://www.facebook.com/elllteee Ell Tee

    So far, the more big company, the less creative peoples

  • http://codamon.com Kiven

    Saw this comment on Lil Dungeon which has not come out on the US app store yet 

    by Ino90I'm stuck at level 47 and they won't let me add more dwellings so I have no workers!!!!!! Please fix this ASAP!!!!"

  • http://www.facebook.com/parisotbenjamin Benjamin Parisot

    What about the law about copy? How come can they do that freely? It's just disgusting.
    Seriously, in what world is it ethically allowed to copy the game that stupidly? They should have their games taken down and pay a fine. This is a fracking disgrace!

  • Anonymous

    @hodapp:disqus  I just googled using a paragraph of a review game and I just laughed as there were so many sites that had exactly the same feed !! How bad is that !! 

  • Anonymous

    Looking at Glu games, you can tell how much effort went into creating all those new art. Even with all their Gun Bros clones; they all have the same formula but totally different art styles (steampunk, futuristic, fantasy, etc.). If only they put as much effort into creating new or at least slightly fresh ideas for their games, then I bet they would still be a respected and admired company. Oh the things freemium can do to devs.

  • Anonymous

    When's the Gameloft clone coming out?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7Q7SRTVVTMQXC7ZB3DX2GBL26A Billy

    I'm not sure. Am i the only person who have not slept last 3 years or so? Stealin & re-skinning is the zynga modus operandi from its foundation.

    Mob Wars -> copycatted -> Mafia Wars
    Happy Pets -> copycatted -> PetVille
    Restaraunt City -> copycatted -> Cafe World

    et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

    The last one: Gardens of Time -> copycatted -> Hidden Chronicles

    all those rat racing started at FBook.

    Same on iOS:

    Pokerist -> copycatted -> Zynga Poker (it's really hard to add something new into poker game of course but those 'developers' stole even game buttons 😀 )

    Tap Zoo  -> copycatted -> Dream Zoo

    Scrabble -> copycatted -> Scramble With Friends

    Look at itunes top 100 grossing apps list and you'll find more stuff like this.

    But. If you look at itunes top grossing section once again you should see that zynga is not the first and only terrific copycat monster, but at least 80% of developers are.

    For example the famous 'Backflip Studio' starts their iphone game dev business by copycat indie flash game without changing absolutely anything in game mechanics graphics and even levels. It was 'Ragdoll Blaster' you should know.

    Welcome to the real world. As long as games from proven genres earn outsized returns compared to ones from unproven categories and the cost of losing or settling lawsuits remains low, developers will keep doing copycat games.

  • Isabella Brooks

    I personally think lil kingdom is less of a copy. I play both tiny tower and lil kingdom and while there is the similarities with the setup lil kingdom does have many unique elements . It's not a copy paste, but it does build on the tiny tower concept.