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Zynga on hotseat for copying iOS hit ‘Tiny Tower’

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Facebook kingpin Zynga has long been accused of liberally borrowing ideas for its games, but now a tiny development studio is putting the company in an embarrassing spotlight.

NimbleBit, the three-person development team responsible for the breakout iOS hit Tiny Tower, has pointed out the many similarities between their hit and Zynga's upcoming Dream Heights game in a manner that's as entertaining as it is cutting.

In an open letter, which has since gone viral on Twitter, NimbleBit points out the numerous similarities in the games, offering eight screen shots that show virtually identical features with only slight graphical differences.

[Related: Zynga needs mobile to move away from Facebook]

"We noticed you are about to launch a new iPhone game called Dream Heights! Congratulations!" says the note, which is addressed to "all 2,789" of Zynga's employees. "We wanted to thank all of you guys for being such big fans of our iPhone game of the year, Tiny Tower!"

Companies that feel the social games maker had stolen their idea have sued Zynga in the past. The maker of Mob Wars, for instance, took the company to court when Mafia Wars became a hit. (The suit was eventually settled out of court.) And Playfish's Restaurant City and Zynga's Café World are virtually indistinguishable.

NimbleBit, however, seems to be approaching things with a sarcastic sense of humor.

"Good luck with your game," they write. "We are looking forward to inspiring you with our future games! Sincerely, (all 3 of us)."

NimbleBit's Ian Marsh tweeted that Zynga actually attempted to purchase the studio at one point, but was rejected. That, apparently, is when work began on Dream Heights.

"Even when you refuse to go work for Zynga, sometimes you end up doing work for Zynga anyway," tweeted fellow Tiny Tower developer, David Marsh.

Zynga did not respond to a request for comment about the similarities between the games. Company founder Mark Pincus has previously addressed the criticism, though, noting that games have always had similar titles from competing companies.

Still, the company is often criticized for its perceived lack of original ideas. That was spotlighted two years ago in a SF Weekly story that spoke with former employees of the company.

"I don't <expletive> want innovation," the ex-employee recalled Pincus saying. "You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers."

Looks like Tiny Tower has yours, Zynga.

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