Companies, usually American it has to be said, are reaching for their lawyers almost as frequently as they reach for their next decaf latte and are suing rivals for ludicrous reasons. The latest is Zynga of the US, which taking Kobojo of France to court (in the land of the free and vexatiously litigious, natch) to stop it using the word "ville". Martyn Warwick reports.
"Ville", is and has for many centuries past been French for "town" and there are tens of thousands of settlements ending in "ville" across the world (including North America) and yet Zynga, a San-Francisco-headquartered "social games" provider reckons a French company can be prevented from using the word as a suffix in a game called "Pyramidville", which was released on Facebook in early 2011. Not only that Zynga wants Kobojo to pay it "damages" of three times the amount of profit it accrues from sales of the game.
Zynga's FarmVille is a farming simulation social network game that the company developed and released in 2009. It is similar to other simulation games such Happy Farm and Farm Town, and players immerse themselves in most of fun and frolics of farm management (such as ploughing, planting, growing and harvesting crops, raising livestock and so on) but without the risk of nasty accidents with heavy machinery or being gored by a sexually frustrated bull. Everyone to their own...
The point is that Zynga does not own the rights to the word "ville" nor can it trademark it - although it is trying to do just that. Nonetheless it claims Kobojo is in infringement of its trademark because it calls one of its games "Pyramidville. The substance of Zynga's complaint is that, "Facebook users are likely to believe, erroneously, that Pyramidville is a member of Zynga's 'Ville" Family of Games’.”
This, apparently, will, "confuse players". Well. it certainly will confuse people who don't speak French. On accessing the Pyramidville site a visitor sees this, "Jouez à PyramidVille et installez-vous dans le désert pour y fonder une cité antique!" This translates roughly as, "Play Pyramidville and set yourself up (the reference here being to a computer and a network connection) in the desert to found an ancient city."
So, is Zynga going to law simply to prevent its users being confused by a French game set in the time of Cleopatra, or could it be that it has more mercenary reasons? Zynga went to IPO in December 2011 and although it raised US$1 billion, the launch was a tame affair and went with more a of a whimper than a bang.
After the IPO, Zynga said the number of daily active users of its service was 60 million.
Since then it has declined to 54 million and there's no sign at the moment that more are joining even though the company has updated many of its games and also invested significantly in versions available on mobile devices. This stagnation is worrying industry analysts and investors alike and Zynga's share price is now half of what it was at the time the company floated.
Meanwhile, Kobojo has been pretty successful and Pyramidville is becoming very popular, not least because the company has pushed the game on to mobile devices in Arabic-speaking countries.
Zynga relies very heavily indeed on Facebook (with whom it has had a fragile and fractious relationship in the past) as a platform for but does not provide Arabic language versions of its games there. Furthermore, there is, of course, absolutely no guarantee that Facebook will continue to maintain its current relationship with Zynga and it is doubtful that the company would be able to stand alone without the social networking capabilities that Facebook provides its users.
In the meantime, Zynga is persisting with efforts to trademark the word "Ville" (it is doing the same thing with "With Friends") but to little effect. The US Patent and Trademark Office says progress is "limited".
So, Zynga seems to be stalling on more than one front. It's the same old story: rapid expansion and take-up by faddish users who will switch from one trend to another at the drop of a hat, early saturation, declining numbers of players and unproved business models. (Zynga is very dependent on the sale of virtual artefacts like "trees', and "farm implements and vehicles" which are, of course, paid for with real money). Thus it's actions seem to be driven more by desperation and worry than anything else.
Who knows exactly how many places around the world end with the "ville" suffix? Obviously there are a great many in France and other French-speaking counties and former French colonies. There are also many in the UK and Canada - especially Quebec. And of course there are a lot in the US - Nashville, Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky, Huntsville, Alabama and Jacksonville, Florida come quickly to mind. There are also 11 Pleasnatville's in the US and 2 in Canada.
And then of course there's Smallville, (believed to be somewhere in Kansas) which is, of course, Superman''s boyhood home. You don't want to mess with that.
please sign in to rate this article