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Subject: having people not steal my game during testing? rss

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Zigmund Gosck
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im currently developing a war game which is just about at the testing phase. question is, what steps can i take to prevent a less than scrupulous tester from running off with my rules and whatnot? (other than being paranoid and only testing with people i know, who might not give very honest feedback)
 
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Barry Figgins
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Get a lawyer to write you an NDA, or just get an NDA from another game company and copy their legalese.

If you're playtesting with people in person, then just keep your eyes open. If you're sending out playtest materials, then the NDA is your only recourse.

Third is to just not worry. Your game is good, I'm sure, but it's not The Big New Thing In Gaming. 95% of gamers are honest enough that they're not going to run off with an incomplete, no-art, xeroxed copy of a game, just because they can.
 
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Brian Morris
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If you want some peace of mind you might make yourself a couple extra copies of the rules, seal them in an envelope and mail them to yourself and maybe someone else. You'll have a copy of your rules dated with a post mark on the envelope showing when you had them. Just an idea.

The reason that comes to mind is in the 1950s during the quiz show scandels one contestant who was being helped to cheat did this. He mailed himself copies of the answers the show was feeding to him. He did it because if it ever came out that the show was rigged it would be his word against the show's on what happened. With the envelopes he had dated proof that they were feeding him the answers beforehand.
 
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Mike zebrowski
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Dr. Wolfensteinula wrote:
im currently developing a war game which is just about at the testing phase. question is, what steps can i take to prevent a less than scrupulous tester from running off with my rules and whatnot?


If you are worried, get an NDA for people to sign. There are plenty of examples on the internet.

However, you are being way too paranoid.

Games cost a bundle of money to publish. The odds that Random Joe Gamer is A) unscrupulous, B) wants to publish a war game, C) has the funds to do so, and D) is willing to put the time and effort into starting a game company are extremely low.

It is also difficult to get established companies to publish games from unknown designers. The odds that Random Joe Gamer is A) unscrupulous, B) willing to finish your design, and C) can find a game company to publish it are even lower than self-publishing.

Mike Z
 
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John Stroh
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The best advice I can give you is relax. Think about how much time it has taken you to get to the testing phase. Nobody is going to be able to start a game from scratch and beat you to the market. Just ask your potential playtesters if they are game designers. If they are and that bothers you, don't play with them.

The only legal protections available are, you can trademark the name, copyright the board and copyright the rules. Anything you create has a copyright on it whether you register it or not. If you want to register, I think it costs $80. BTW, a postmark on an envelope won't prove anything because the mark isn't on the actual document.

You might just want to record the names of your playtesters along with the dates played. You could even go so far as to have a sign-in sheet. If anyone would steal your game, you would have that recorded along with the names of witnesses who saw your rules.

That being said, I wouldn't worry about it too much. I have playtested several games for one of the larger designer game companies and I have never been asked to sign an NDA.

If you haven't already been there, you can find some good legal advice for board game inventors at

http://www.discovergames.com/
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Scott A. Reed
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I'd suggest you buy a copy of the book, The Game Inventor's Guidebook, and then ask yourself the questions they pose.

Will game companies 'be sorry' if they don't print my design?

and such...
 
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Russell Jones
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I've heard of people posting evidence of their original creative design to their lawyer as well.

This doesn't just rely on a postmarked envelope, as they will record, stamp and verify recipt of any documents sent.

It's unlikely to be quite as solid as actually registering a copyright (®), but I imagine it's cheaper.
 
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Paul Szilagyi
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Even cheaper than that, go to a Notary Public, to have a copy of your rules notarize, with the date & etc.

I like the Lawyer idea, but not everyone has access to one. If a Notary Public's seal is good enough to validate legal documents etc. why not your rules?

Just a thought (because I am one)

-ZZ
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Mike zebrowski
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Registering with the US Copyright office is $30. It is hard to imagine a better record for a better price.

http://www.copyright.gov/register/visual.html

Mike Z
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Chris B
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I would think a notarized copy of the rules would accomplish the same mission.
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Bobb Beauchamp
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SybotCB wrote:
I would think a notarized copy of the rules would accomplish the same mission.


All a notary does is put a reliable date stamp on the item. Anyone can do that. It just shows that the item/paper existed on the date it's stamped. Very little else.

Copyrights are inherant. You don't need to register them, but doing so helps you prove that you are in fact the owner of copyrighted material. Again, it's about getting an objective date stamp on something. You don't have to do much to claim copyright when you register.

Sending yourself a copy of the rules through registered mail is a cheap way to prove that you're the creator of something. Here's the key: Only open the envelope in front of a judicial officer. You have to leave the envelope sealed in order for the date stamp on the envelope to mean anything.

If you're worried about a potential playtestor, don't use them. Use your gaming friends. If you want to be really official about it, have everyone sign a NDA. Even more important, don't let anyone walk away from the table with a copy of the rules, pieces, take pictures, etc. Collect all notes made by players at the end of every session. If you do plan to take these steps, make sure you explain them to everyone beforehand.

arrrh
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Nick Witchey
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One can also patent a game or a game system; however, patenting is a long, expensive process for a game designer.

A provisional patent application provides for establishing a priority date (an indication of when the system was invented) and is much less expensive than a patent application. However, the provisional application is valid for only one year. Within the year, the applicant has to convert the provisional application to a full utility application or loose the priority date.

You can file the rules and other documentation as it exists as the provisional application through a patent attorney or patent agent. The cost is going to be at least $200 for filing fees. You also have to pay the costs of the attorney or agent.

One should note that companies do patent their games, game systems, or components, but that doesn't mean it makes them money.

As everyone else stated, this is overkill for what you are trying to accomplish.
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James Nelson
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I have been in the game industry for the past 20+ years and rarely have I ever come across or experienced personally a theft of a game design. To say it never happens or ever happened in the past is wishful thinking, but it does not happen often.

Most companies don't want to put their companies at risk of being sued even if they could win the suit. They don't want their companies names dragged through the mud and being labeled a theft. It would cost them more if they chose to steal a design, then just to license it.

I agree with the others regarding your worry about individual game testers heisting your design. It is very expensive to start a game company and takes plenty of time filing business licenses, setting up production, distribution, marketing, advertising and all of the other things that you must do to become successful in this industry. In other words, if you don't have the desire, money and resources, then starting a game company will ultimately sink your boat.

Even if you file a copyright, trademark or a patent - it doesn't mean that your totally protected from theft. There are many companies located in Asia, India and Twain that would be more than eager to copy a successful product. It happens all of the time to companies in the tech, movie and music industries and it also happens in the toy industry as well.

However, games are another story altogther. There are only a handful of games that have been infringed upon such as: Monopoly, Life and some electronic handheld games. Card games and war games are not as likily to be stolen, because there isn't enough money to be made with them. It may even would cost more to produce these types of games, then actual profits.

One thing that most people don't realize is that your patents, copyrights and trademarks are only as strong as your company's resolve to fight any and all infringements. What this means is that you must be willing and able to fight infringers in court for your legal rights to the items in question. Again, this can be very expensive weather you win or lose. But, your company's willingness to fight for what is rightfully yours to begin with is what makes all of the protection that you paid for worth anything at all.

If you file for copyrights, patents or trademarks and choose not to fight, then you will be sending a message to all of the other companies of the world that they could do the same and get away with it. In the tech industry, just look how many times competing tech companies have produced a product very similar to another already being sold or flat out lifted a design and produced under their own brand. Also, look how many companies that you have seen in recent years suing each other on news reports for this very reason.

In other-words, if someone or some company really is hell-bent on stealing your ideas, then they will and then the burden will be placed on you to prove that the product(s) are yours legally. Once you have provided the courts your patents, trademarks and copyrights filings, then the court will shift the burden of proof upon the infringing company. If the proof is heavily in your favor, then an out-of-court settlement most likily will be reach before the court has ruled.

Most companies will not patent their game designs due to the cost and the lenght that a patent will provide protection. Life Board Game was originally patented, but now the patent has expired and has been placed in public domain. This means that any company can now produce their version of the game without paying a royalty or obtaining permission to make this game. However, your company will have to change the name, because the name is still protected with copyrights and trademarks.

I think that a patent will legally expire after 19 or 21 years that it was originally filed and approved. After this time, your company cannot file a new patent for the same product. Ask a patent lawyer to be sure about this issue. Oh, if you should want to file a patent use a patent laywer and not a patent agent. They both can file a patent on your behalf, but only a patent laywer can represent you in court in the case that the patent has been infringe upon.

I have conducted a playtest several months ago here on the BGG and was very please with the level of feedback from the testers. They all were very professional with their feedback and communications. As far as I know my game/puzzle has not been stolen and I don't expect that it will be in the future. I find BGG to be very honest people who just enjoys the hobby and being part of something that may be produced in the future.

Just my two cents.....

James (nventit)
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Alan R. Moon
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im currently developing a war game which is just about at the testing phase. question is, what steps can i take to prevent a less than scrupulous tester from running off with my rules and whatnot? (other than being paranoid and only testing with people i know, who might not give very honest feedback)



I've never found patents or copyrights to be necessary. Your best protection is actually to join SAZ (the Game Designers' Guild). SAZ supports and protects its members and their rights. Check out http://www.s-a-z.de/ for more info. You might also want to check out these sites: bgdf.com (boardgame designers forum) and discovergames.com. Both of these sites have lots of helpful information for aspiring game designers.

Alan R. Moon
 
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Zigmund Gosck
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ok, well the reason i seem somewhat paranoid is because the game is intended to be produced and sold for very little, it was originaly designed to be a free figure based war game which turned out too limiting. but theres more important things to wory about so i guess i'll just mail it to myself and hope for the best.

thanks for the advice
 
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Mike zebrowski
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If you are really worried, just spend the $30 and register with the Copyright Office. Mailing stuff to yourself has no basis in law (http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#poorman)

A good lawyer can easily argue that your "proof" could have been faked. After all, you could have easily mailed yourself an empty, unsealed envelope and put your "proof" in later.
 
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Morgan Dontanville
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This doesn't work. There's a whole Schroedinger's Cat thing going on here. In order to submit a piece as evidence you must show how it is valid, to do that you must open the letter, thereby destroying the very proof that it exists. by opening it you tamper with the evidence making it inadmissable.

mrbeankc wrote:
If you want some peace of mind you might make yourself a couple extra copies of the rules, seal them in an envelope and mail them to yourself and maybe someone else. You'll have a copy of your rules dated with a post mark on the envelope showing when you had them. Just an idea.

The reason that comes to mind is in the 1950s during the quiz show scandels one contestant who was being helped to cheat did this. He mailed himself copies of the answers the show was feeding to him. He did it because if it ever came out that the show was rigged it would be his word against the show's on what happened. With the envelopes he had dated proof that they were feeding him the answers beforehand.
 
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Morgan Dontanville
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It takes more work to sell games to publishers than it does to create them. I don't think anyone would steal a game and then spend months/years building up relationships, enduring the waiting/feedback period that it takes for a game to be approved, then negotiate a contract, and then hope the company stays in business long enough to get paid a nominal amount.

If you were a top named designer the process is easier, but Richard Borg and his wife love to talk about their attic full of white box prototypes. I would be amazed if there were a top named designer out there that didn't have games that they've been pushing on different companies for YEARS.

So, don't sweat it. Chances are the system is being shopped right now by someone that has never even seen your game.

Play it, fine tune it, get it to where you love it, then see if you can find others who feel the same way.

Good luck.
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Brett Myers
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There's a great article at O'Reilly from Marc Hedlund. He's posted his list of Entreprenurial Proverbs from his talk "Entrepreneuring for Geeks."

Not all are readily applicable to game design, but there are a few gems, such as this one..

If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you -- entrepreneurs too often worry about keeping their brilliant secrets locked away; we should all worry much more about springing a surprise on a disinterested market (anyone remember the Segway?). To quote Howard Aiken: "Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats."

or this one..

Test everything with real people -- it's unbelievable how helpful this is. Go find civilians, real people who use computers because they have to and not because they love to. Find them in Starbucks, or at the library, or in a college computer lab. Give them $20 for 20 minutes, and you'll be paid back a hundred times over.

http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/03/entrepreneurial_pr...

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Mark Rollings
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I think the idea of posting yourself something to prove it existed on a particular date, as postmarked, is flawed.

I can easily send myself an empty unsealed envelope, and then several years in the future, place a document in it, seal it and say I had that document since March 06.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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To be honest, it looks to me as if the biggest risk of having your intellectual property being stolen in the gaming industry occurs only after you've got your game published - not before...
 
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James Nelson
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I agree with Darrell, but honestly it would cost so much to knockoff a game and would not make much sense to do it in the first place. Simply put - a company must intend to make more profit than what it has invested in the game. Most games will only sell 10K to 100K units, before the next big idea comes along.

Now there are the exceptions to this rule such as Monopoly, Uno, Risk, Battleship, Magic and Poki-Mon. You must realize that all of these products have one common factor - they are all produce, promoted (heavily) and marketed by multi-billion dollar companies with the resources to do things right. Just as important these companies have established worldwide distribution channels and the manpower to get out there and sell their products.

As with most smaller companies that don't have all of these resources established - the expectations are much lower than their corporate counterparts. Most small game companies will face closure before within their first 3 years. I have personally witnessed investors and game designers lose everything in the pursuit of that one golden idea.

As far as mailing yourself and a friend an idea goes - it does not work! I was told to do this very same thing about 18 years ago and I did exactly what I was instructed. After I met with a company in regards to licensing the product I realized 2 year later that the company ran off with my design and marketing material.

Now they did sign a NDA and it was witnessed and my marketing material (tv commercial) was copyrighted with the Library of Congress. So, I sued to protect my rights. When the case went to court I had to provide proof that the item was legally mine, so I produced among other things the seal envelope with the dated postmark. The judge would not allow it, because it was not a legal document. And, he told me that this type of item could be altered to benefit the suing party.

The only thing that I had any legal rights to was the tv commercial which I had copyrighted. I won that part of the lawsuit, but lost my rights to my design, because I did not have any other legal document proving that I had designed the item.

The item which I have been refering to was a talking teddy bear which I had designed in 1984. The design at the time was totally original and unique for the times. There was nothing even close to it on the market anywhere in the world. The company which I had sued had produced sales records that recorded $250 million in units sold around the world. However, according to the courts I had no legal claims to any of that, because I had not taken the correct steps to protect my rights.

The very same company (before I had known about them taking my design) had also ripped off 6 other products that I personally had designed. None of which sold nearly as many units as the first, but still sold millions of dollars worth of units.

Now I still am fighting them in court over two of the products, because they had been patented, trademarked and copyrighted. But, fighting a multi-million dollar company is easier said than done, because these companies has the resources to file appeals and hire the very best legal teams. No matter how long they resist in owning up to their greedy nature - I have built a overwhelming case against them. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is the patents, trademarks and copyrights that I is on file with the government. Its just a matter of time before this case comes to a end.

The company that I am speaking of will remain nameless due to the fact that I have a lawsuit still pending. The company hasn't really produced new products in quiet some time and I don't really expect things will change for them any time soon.

I would suggest consulting with a patent, trademark and copyright lawyer to have things done right.

James (nventit)
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Just a Bill
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It seems every aspiring game designer has this same worry. We're all very protective of our ideas, but this can actually interfere with our success. I like the way Stephen Glenn said it: don't worry about your design getting stolen; just concentrate on creating something that's actually worth stealing.
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Robert Washington
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sisteray wrote:
This doesn't work. There's a whole Schroedinger's Cat thing going on here. In order to submit a piece as evidence you must show how it is valid, to do that you must open the letter, thereby destroying the very proof that it exists. by opening it you tamper with the evidence making it inadmissable.


Actually, it used to be perfectly valid and was once recommended in many pro se offerings as the "Poor Man's Copyright". You don't have to open the letter to submit it as evidence, just note what's inside and how it's relevant.

The big issue is proving the contents were properly sealed inside at the time of mailing (and dating), and thus showing it to be conclusive dating.

I presume the person who tried this and had it ruled inadmissible wasn't using registered mail, the contents and state of which can be attested to by the mailing clerk.

Also - a simple date stamp (such as a notary's seal) actually should be fine for most copyright establishment purposes - date of creation tends to be the overriding factor. The problem is the large large number of instances where similar ideas were in development at similar times by seperate entities - in such a case, it then becomes about proving who was or wasn't aware of which concept and to what extent.

However,

nventit wrote:
I would suggest consulting with a patent, trademark and copyright lawyer to have things done right.


is the best advice anyone can give - really, the second anyone can make a dime on it is the second no one can be trusted - take it from someone who can only claim to have co-created a Minor But Still in Circulation Cartoon Character because he thought his best friend of over 20 years could be trusted when he said "these contracts will cover you and if they don't, I will"...soblue

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I am not sure how this applies but according to the U.S. Copyright Office. US copyright law does not protect games. See www.copyright.gov/register/tx-games.html. They say

"The idea for a game is not protected by copyright. The name or title given to the game and the methods for playing it are not protected by copyright.

Some parts of a game may be subject to copyright if they contain a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, you may be able to register the text describing the rules of the game or the graphic art appearing on the gameboard or container.

Form TX can be used to register all copyrightable parts of the game, including any pictorial elements. When the copyrightable elements of the game consist predominantly of pictorial matter, Form VA should be used."

Of course I remember something about Richard Garfield suing companies for using "tapping" a card in other games beside Magic, so I am not sure how this works.

 
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