Tiny Game Developer NimbleBit Slams Zynga For Absolutely Shameless Ripoff

Last year, the trio of developers at NimbleBit released their iOS game, Tiny Tower. The game puts players in charge of a building and the diminutive residents, dubbed "bitizens" who reside there. The game was a smash hit on both iOS and Android, was downloaded more than nine million times, and earned Apple's Game of the Year 2011.

Enter Zynga. The company has been heavily criticized for copying virtually... well, everything. It settled with the creators of Mob Wars for $7-9 million, released a near-identical copy of Playfish's Restaurant City, and spawned FarmVille -- itself a ripoff of the title Farm Town Now, Zynga has set its sights on NimbleBit's Tiny Tower with a game called Dream Heights.

NB sent the developer a faux "congratulations" via Twitter; the full version of which can be seen here. We've included a few of the representative screen shots to demonstrate the similarities. Tiny Tower is on the left in both cases.

There's no arguing that the Zynga version looks better, but that's not particularly surprising given the drastic disparity in resources between the two companies. It is, perhaps, a backhanded compliment to the game's actual developers, that Zynga
doesn't seem to have been able to improve on the gameplay. According to those who've spent time with both titles, they play nearly identically. Apparently having an extra 2,786 employees doesn't grant the sort of competitive advantage one might imagine.

Given Zynga's history, the company's behavior is scarcely a surprise, but this is precisely the sort of copying that destroys indie developers and leaves us gamers suffering for a lack of quality titles in the long term. Some have pointed out that Tiny
bears some similarities to Sim Tower, released in 1994, but the comparison is invalid for two reasons. First, there's a difference between being inspired by a similar title and copying someone else's work wholesale. Second—as a person who played Sim Tower when it was new—we elder gamers must face the painful fact that a person born in 1994 turns 17 this year. Other notable games released in 1994 include Tie Fighter, System Shock, Doom II, Warcraft, Kings Quest VII, Marathon, Wing Commander III, and Master of Magic.. Young gamers, meaning those under the age of 25, probably haven't played any of these, and they were all far, far more important than Sim Tower.

Even by 1991, the entire "Sim" gaming line had gotten a bit long in the tooth. Screenshot from Space Quest IV, provided for nostalgic purposes

If you're interested in this sort of game, give Tiny Tower a try. It's not a game I sampled for our report on the state of tablet gaming late last year, but it's indicative of the kind of thought and energy that developers are putting into the new form factor.