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Subject: Laws on "borrowing" concepts rss

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Nik G
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I'm thinking about designing a dice and card game, set in a known fantasy world, but borrowing heavily from Fantasy Flight's Elder Sign, Warhammer Quest card game and their Lord of the Rings LCG. My question is how far can someone go in adopting same concepts before it's outright plagiarism?
 
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Hedyn Brand
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The only way to find out is to release and get sued

How close are you getting? See Dominion vs. Ascension for a couple of games with close mechanical similarities, but no current war between the publishers (that I've seen). They're pretty close, except for Ascension making it simpler by just having one common deck for all players, instead of the piles of selectable cards.

If you steal the shadow card mechanic from LotR you'll probably have to twist it a little to mask it, just to be safe. Or perhaps have a Bad Omens deck for those.

You may get away with using the word "exhaust" for the act of turning a card 90 degrees to indicate it has acted, or you may use the face-down position to indicate it.

How close you can get with the setting of a game I dunno though. LotR is the very mold all generic fantasy settings are inspired by, and much of the Cthulhu mythos is free for all

Show us a demo. It can be a little subjective when it comes to games. One designer's plagiarism is another's tribute.
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Jonatan Rullman
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Will you give it back afterwards?

I think that it would be quite possible that the amount of similarities you can get away with is dependent on how much money you have got. It's not fun to sue someone who can put up a serious defense.

I also can't make heads or tails if you are talking about mechanics or theme. You can get away with a lot more mechanics than other things. Especially if you are careful about wording those mechanics.
You will be entirely safe in using a mechanic where card positions are altered to show their status. Call it tapping and you're in for big trouble.

Theme is generally free for whatever use you wish. No one is going to sue you for having ancient monsters or elves. But don't be too specific. Even thinking of setting a game in Lovecraft's world or Middle Earth is going to get you sued. The ground in between can be somewhat gray. GW has sent cease and desist because of the use of "space marine" in texts. That they don't have a leg to stand on with their claim doesn't matter the slightest bit unless you have a few million to blow on the legal case.

Cheers
 
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Jeff Warrender
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It also depends quite a bit on what you plan to do with the game. If you design a game set in a known world that heavily borrows from existing games, that sounds to me like you intend to create a piece of, essentially, "game fan fiction". If you play it with your friends and family and it never goes beyond that, then questions of plagiarism won't really matter and you can probably play the game to your heart's content with no legal consequences.

If, on the other hand, your eventual intent is to profit from the design, sure, you will likely run into legal issues, unless you can manage to get FFG to sign the game -- but my understanding is that they generally don't accept unsolicited designs. It's hard to answer your question specifically because the answer will inevitably depend on the details of what specifically you plan to borrow. It's also worth noting that what is legal and what the game-buying public will accept without crying "foul!" are not necessarily the same thing. I once read a review of Game X that described it as "Basically, Game Y with the serial numbers filed off". And Game Y is very popular. Yet, Game X is well-regarded and reasonably popular. Whereas, in a different situation, a designer created Game P as an homage to Game Q, but the designer and publisher of Game Q indicated that Game P was not authorized by them, and Game P's reputation suffered as a result.

So if you borrow from popular FFG games, will buyers stay away from the game because of its overt similarities to those games, or will people not really care? It seems to be a case by case thing.

Rather than ask "how far can one go" in borrowing ideas, my personal design approach is to see how far I can get with original ideas, and then sprinkle in concepts from other games to solve design issues as they arise. It's certainly a topic for debate as to whether this approach is better than one that relies on making modifications to existing source material, but it certainly has the advantage of avoiding concerns over legality!
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Nik G
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Well, obviously FFG will be so impressed they'll pay me millions for it.

Seriously though, it's a card and dice game based on Robert E Howard's Conan. I'm just sketching out how it could work, I have some ideas which would make it different from the aforementioned games but it would still have some similar themes. All I have are scribbles but hopefully I can collate it into something.
 
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M M
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Concepts or characters? There's no restriction on concepts. So if you want to use Elder Sign's roll and lock mechanic, there's nothing that will stop you.

Also, FFG doesn't own the Cthulhu mark. They're taking it from the public domain and Lovecraft.
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    Anybody can sue you for anything. Doesn't mean they'll be successful, but they can run up a bill on you and that sort of intimidation occurs in business.

    I know somebody who has worked with FFG on legal issues like that and said they were the height of professionalism, so that likely wouldn't be a problem unless they have a legitimate patent on something. (And yes, you can patent a game mechanic. You can patent a tuna sandwich in the U.S. right now.) A search on patents.google.com will likely let you know the answer to that pretty quickly.

    I'm a little more concerned that Robert E Howard's copyrights may still be in-force. That might be your bigger obstacle.

             S.

 
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Hedyn Brand
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Here's a comprehensive list of public domain works by Robert E. Howard:
http://www.robert-e-howard.org/AnotherThought4rerevised.html

That revision of the article is nearly a decade old, but it still applies.
 
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Tyler Kilgore
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Just like MM said, intellectual property is different from game mechanics. IP is protected but game mechanics can't be protected.

Here's a fun example:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laboratory/shadows-of-a...

This is an update from the Kickstarter campaign for this game: Shadow of the Elder Gods

It was originally called Shadows of Arkham until they were asked to rename it.

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K S
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PROTIP: Don't rely on rando BGGs for legal advice.
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Sagrilarus wrote:

    Anybody can sue you for anything. Doesn't mean they'll be successful, but they can run up a bill on you and that sort of intimidation occurs in business.

    I know somebody who has worked with FFG on legal issues like that and said they were the height of professionalism, so that likely wouldn't be a problem unless they have a legitimate patent on something. (And yes, you can patent a game mechanic. You can patent a tuna sandwich in the U.S. right now.) A search on patents.google.com will likely let you know the answer to that pretty quickly.

    I'm a little more concerned that Robert E Howard's copyrights may still be in-force. That might be your bigger obstacle.

             S.

The normal joke is ham sandwich. And that's a linguistic diversion. Yes. The joke is that if you submit a patent, the patent office will accept it. But if you go to enforce it, different story. You cannot enforce a patent on a game mechanic.
 
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wamsp wrote:
PROTIP: Don't rely on rando BGGs for legal advice.

Could make it into a web series on copyright and IP infringements. Rando Runs Through It?
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Nik G
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Thanks for all the replies. I'm aware that Paradox owns the rights to RE Howard's works. My main thing was the mechanical side of things. This is just a castle in the air at the moment. I have ideas and rather than go to someone like FFG, although I do realise they don't want unsolicited games, and say "Hey, make a Conan game," I'd actually say "Hey, I've made a Conan game if you want to see it." Probably pure fantasy on my part, and I didn't expect many replies to this.
 
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Madison
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If you don't have rights to the property (ie Conan), I wouldn't base my entire design around that property, because when they tell you to pound sand (which they most likely will), your entire project won't fall apart.

Best perfect the mechanic, ID the properties that could fit into that mechanic, and then shop around the idea to the various property owners.

Remember, that everyone and their sister are "game designers" and publishers have tons and tons of games to publish, so keep the correct perspective on this. I guess that is another point on why you don't want to limit your design to a single property, because your already thin chances at success and selling the design just got much thinner by placing the success in one company's (right's owner) hands.

Good luck.
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sam newman

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You can pretty much 'copy' all the game mechanics from another game if you wihed. But the thing about boardgames is there is generally very little money to be made and a small indie developer isnt likely to be able to sell his game cheaper than a large studio.Making your own eldritch horror for example would likely result in you selling very little copies of your medlrich borrower
 
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Mat628 wrote:

The normal joke is ham sandwich. And that's a linguistic diversion. Yes. The joke is that if you submit a patent, the patent office will accept it. But if you go to enforce it, different story. You cannot enforce a patent on a game mechanic.


Fair enough, I'm more than willing to let you take on the legal expense of that principle instead of me.
 
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Dimitri Sirenko
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Sagrilarus wrote:
Mat628 wrote:

The normal joke is ham sandwich. And that's a linguistic diversion. Yes. The joke is that if you submit a patent, the patent office will accept it. But if you go to enforce it, different story. You cannot enforce a patent on a game mechanic.


Fair enough, I'm more than willing to let you take on the legal expense of that principle instead of me.


i like how these days people assume that if you go to court you absolutely have to hire a crazy expensive lawyer..
 
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3CreativeMinds wrote:
Sagrilarus wrote:
Mat628 wrote:

The normal joke is ham sandwich. And that's a linguistic diversion. Yes. The joke is that if you submit a patent, the patent office will accept it. But if you go to enforce it, different story. You cannot enforce a patent on a game mechanic.


Fair enough, I'm more than willing to let you take on the legal expense of that principle instead of me.


i like how these days people assume that if you go to court you absolutely have to hire a crazy expensive lawyer..


I get paid by the hour, there's a cost if I show up alone.
 
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Gláucio Reis
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FWIW, Elder Sign itself borrowed its core mechanic from Knizia's Risk Express/Age of War. Actually, Richard Launius seems to get away with quite a bit of borrowing (Defenders of the Realm, for another example).
 
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Gavin Kenny
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Borrowing mechanics is usually not an issue since in all probability they are not patented. I know of very few such patents ... the major one being the Magic the Gathering patents which they successfully enforced against Hex (though I believe that they came to an out of court settlement).

However the majority of mechanics are fair game to any designer. If you whole scale rip off the original game, then that might be a different story.
 
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John
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NikToo wrote:
Probably pure fantasy on my part

Almost certainly. What's you motivation currently? If it's to make this game idea you've had then I'd say just make the game you want and don't worry that it's almost certain you won't get it published. You'll learn stuff whilst making it, hopefully have fun playing it, and you'll probably be more motivated than if you change it. Maybe you'll be inspired to make more games afterwards and they'll probably be better.

Alternatively if you want to make something like this game idea and have it published then drop any theme that'll reduce your chance of success because of what Richard says:

darthhugo wrote:
your already thin chances at success and selling the design just got much thinner


(Disclaimer - I'm not a game designer (though I do think about game designs) & have no legal expertise)
 
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Filip W.
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NikToo wrote:
I'm thinking about designing a dice and card game, set in a known fantasy world, but borrowing heavily from Fantasy Flight's Elder Sign, Warhammer Quest card game and their Lord of the Rings LCG. My question is how far can someone go in adopting same concepts before it's outright plagiarism?


First off: there is no crime called plagiarism, as that's a word used in academia when using ideas or solutions first thought up by someone else without attributing them to the correct source. It's got no legal basis.

What you're looking at is IP (intellectual property) law: copyright, trademarks and, to a very small extent, patents.

Copyrights basically says "you can't use the same wordings or imagery". Trademarks basically says "you can't use the same names or logos". Patents say "you can't use the same mechanics", but since A) most mechanics aren't patented and even B) if they are, like WotC's patenting "tapping" in Magic, they are more or less undefendable.

So what I'm saying is "use new names, use new words and artwork and you can copy a game outright". Of course, you might get a C&D out of it (that's a Cease and Desist letter, basically a legal way to threaten someone).

For a longer, in depth discussion see my "IP Law for Dummies and Game Designers": http://www.wiltgren.com/2014/11/10/ip-law-dummies-game-desig...
 
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Dimitri Sirenko
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NikToo wrote:
I'm thinking about designing a dice and card game, set in a known fantasy world, but borrowing heavily from Fantasy Flight's Elder Sign, Warhammer Quest card game and their Lord of the Rings LCG. My question is how far can someone go in adopting same concepts before it's outright plagiarism?



While mechanics may not be patented I would advice to either combine different mechanics from other games and rebalance them or straight up come up with something unique to your game. Firstly, that way you can avoid all the uncertainty about legal actions, and second, why would you want to create a game that you will try to put out on the market knowing that most of the design is not even done by you? Wouldn't that make you feel unsatisfied with your own design abilities? If you are going to try to copy another game blatantly, do so just for your own research purposes or for internal family and friends game nights but don't try to put it out on the market. You want to be proud of your work and you want to be proud of the fact that you didnt resort to being a frankenstein of board game design. Be creative!
 
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wamsp wrote:
PROTIP: Don't rely on rando BGGs for legal advice.

That's an important point - soliciting legal advice from non-professionals is foolish.

The other thing to consider is that should it ever come to a lawsuit, you (the O.P.) are doing a wonderful job of providing evidence for the other side. They could ask for nothing better than a public declaration that you intended from the outset to base your design on their intellectual property.

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