Category: Monthly Column

NimbleBit's note to Zynga

Part of NimbleBit's public note to Zynga

I’ve recently wrapped up a week at GDC (or the Game Developers Conference), a one week event attracting thousands of the leading players in console, mobile, social, and indie game development from around the world to San Francisco to learn about the newest technology and ideas in the industry.

This year’s event had a clear underlying theme, mentioned in some way at every single one of the talks I joined: idea theft. Idea theft / inspiration has been a part of innovation in every industry since the dawn of human history; it’s an inescapable part of public creation. In the gaming industry, the topic has recently heated up with the very public display of Zynga’s Dream Heights’ “theftspiration” from NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower, and now the lawsuit between Spry Fox (Triple Town) and 6L (YetiTown).
On the one hand, I am thrilled to see this becoming more publically shamed and pointed out. It’s especially disgusting when a multi-billion dollar company blatantly steals from a smaller indie developer, and we should hold these companies accountable for their actions (regardless of whether it was “accidental). However, many of the GDC speakers now seemed nervous to even mention that they looked at competitors. For example, when one speaker spoke about how she watches competitors’ games and uses the changes she sees as a way of judging what users like and do not, she was quick to say “not that we steal their data directly; we just watch their design choices and incorporate it into our decisions.” Or when another speaker mentioned how he was very inspired by a competitor, he was quick to add that “we were very careful to create a unique experience for our users.” In both cases, the thought that what they were describing might have even been mistaken as theft never crossed my mind. So why were they so nervous about it?
We may be creating a dangerous level of fear within our industry, which has just as much risk of stalling innovation as encouraging theft can: theft and inspiration dance on either side of a very hazy line. While we should continue calling out clear cases of idea theft, let’s not create an atmosphere where developers are afraid to look at existing products, draw inspiration from competition, and/or iterate a better product on one that they’ve found lacking.
Where is the line for you? How far do you think a company can go before an “Inspired by?” becomes a “Stolen from?”  I’m looking forward to sharing more next week on my personal definition of “Theft” vs. “Inspiration”, but I’d love to hear yours.
{Image from a note NimbleBit shared online to Zynga}


The lean movement has clearly taken off in the startup community.  First designed by Toyota in the 1950’s to improve their production cycle and minimize faults, it has gone through multiple rounds of adaptations for small business development, and recently been popularized by Eric Ries and Steve Blank.  But like so many movements (#occupy, the Atkins Diet, and a few religions I can think of), what began with good intentions has become severely overhyped and underdeveloped.  Too often now, companies decide “we’re going lean!” before they understand what it means, how to do it, and whether it’s right for their business model.  The Lean Movement was meant to improve innovation and reduce time, but when applied carelessly it risks doing just the opposite.  This is especially true with the most often mentioned lean concept: the “MVP” or Minimum Viable Product, and its application to game development. Continue reading

With Zynga’s less-than-stellar IPO last fall (going from $10.00 to $9.50 on opening day and down to $9.00 the next), people are seriously considering the lasting value of Facebook games.  Zynga reported stable (rather than growing) DAU in the last few quarters, despite launching a number of successful games (including Castleville and Empires & Allies), suggesting they are predominantly shifting users from one game to another.  This lack of investor confidence seems to be truly just in Facebook games; Japanese social gaming company Nexon was considered to have a very successful IPO this past December, earning $1.2 billion early on.  So what’s wrong with Facebook? Continue reading

What Is A Game?

I’ve recently begun a bi-weekly column at a new tech blog –  I started with this post and will be cross-posting my columns here, for your convenience.

To start this series, it seems apt to cover what I consider makes something a “game” – since it’s a term tossed around pretty loosely nowadays.  I’m inspired largely by the podcast RadioLabs; they host an interesting discussion on the power and purpose of games during this podcast.

I believe games must have two components:

1)  A clear set of rules agreed upon by all parties and unchangeable until all parties once again agree.
2)  Established goal(s) or “winning” situation(s).  A “winning” situation need not indicate an endgame; a new goal can be established during or following a completed one.

To give a game lasting entertainment value, it requires one more variable: Continue reading