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Subject: Protecting your IP when testing a new game? rss

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Victoria Lamb
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Hi all,
My first post!
Like many people I have a game in developement which to my knowledge uses a unique board and play system. It is at the stage where I need to get it out there testing it and getting feedback. Only problem is, I am a bit worried about the concept getting nicked by someone else, perhaps this is just paranoid, its possibly not even worth nicking. This game is a long way from making money if ever, so forking out $10,000 plus for a patent is currently out of the question.
So I am wondering how amatuer game designers protect their concepts or is patenting, copyright, IP etc. just not worth bothering about at this stage.
Any thoughts greatly appreciated,
Thankyou,
Vic.
 
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Cole Medeiros
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If you're worried, copyright what you have. Its not too costly. Then later if you'd like to actually make it and sell it, look into getting the name trademarked.
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Jim Cote
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There's nothing you can do to protect your game system. You can protect your specific rules, art, and graphics with copyright.
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Eric
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This has been discussed many times, however, a good resource would be the Boardgame designer forum (http://www.bgdf.com)

To me, it runs down to: no need to copyright/patent/etc... if you have a good game, it's less costly to buy a good game than copying one.

Good luck.
 
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Chad Ellis
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I think it's almost never worth much effort to protect your game. Probably the best protection comes from public testing of your prototype and perhaps making an entry for it here on BGG so that anyone can tell it was your creation.

I don't think there are any companies out there trying to poach good game ideas from new designers...that's just not the scarce resource in our industry.
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Victoria Lamb
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Thanks very much for the quick replys and the link. All very helpful,
Cheers,
Vic.
 
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Alfred Das
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
Probably the best protection comes from public testing of your prototype and perhaps making an entry for it here on BGG so that anyone can tell it was your creation.


Indeed, having witnesses and publicly date-connected information about your game will be valuable in case you encounter problems.
 
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Guy Riessen
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ekted wrote:
There's nothing you can do to protect your game system. You can protect your specific rules, art, and graphics with copyright.


Yep, a system is not protected under copyright law, nor even are rules--only the actual text of the rules. That said, no one will nick it. Just go test it, send out copies for playtesting, and when it's ready send copies to game companies so they can evaluate it and hopefully sell it. Good luck with it, maybe we'll all be playing it in a few years!
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You can use an author's (designer's) copyright, aka a self-copyright. It will stand up in court.

On the front page of your manual type "all materials herein are the copyright of [your designers], [date of creation]." On every following page, somewhere in the margins type "Copyright of [name], [date]".

To further protect yourself show it to one to several people you trust. They will be able to testify on your behalf should you need it.

Finally, and most important, document your project. Keep a calendar of when you worked on it and on which parts. Enter them onto a computer, as that will date-stamp them, and them make several backups of those files. These files will keep your idea as safe as possible until you can get a proper copyright.

Hope this helps.
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Martin Stever
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If you're in the feedback stage, everything said about documenting it and claiming it's under copyright are good ideas, but the best defense is to only show it to people you trust. If you're going to send one or two copies out that will be played without you at the table, which is a good idea, then just confirm with those one or two trusted allies that they'll make sure they aren't playing with other pro's and that you need it kept secret and the IP secure.

Don't be too paranoid if it's a hobby game. I've found this industry to be remarkably well behaved over the last 20 years. The early 80's were a little wilder and woolier. If it's a mass market type game, then being paranoid is more important.
 
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Mark C
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You're much more likely to have someone cannibalize one of your mechanics than your whole game. Therefore, if you're serious about publishing, I would suggest you keep the game from any public playtests until you're fairly close to making a run at publishing.

I bring this up because I had this happen to me, where a mechanic (original as far as I know) I'd showed to another designer promptly got into one of his designs. I guess it's something that happens frequently --we all "borrow" to some extent, but if you feel your property needs the best chance in the marketplace, you'll want to put the game out wihtout the chance of a new or original aspect getting used by another designer.
 
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Barak Engel
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ekted wrote:
There's nothing you can do to protect your game system. You can protect your specific rules, art, and graphics with copyright.


*sigh*

Will there ever come a time when this misconception is laid to rest?

Game rules cannot be copyrighted, ever, period.

The specific and particular expression of those rules can. But you cannot, in any way, shape or form, copyright game rules or mechanics. At least not in the US. The same holds true for the idea/concept for the game, and its name and title.

I miss most of these threads but those that do occasionally find out about always get the benefit of the following link:

http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html
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J. Green
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If you try to market a game that has not been playtested by people you do not know, or if it has not been blind playtested, you will not get the kind of feedback you need to develop it into a marketable product. No matter how cool it seems to you, you need that feedback.

If you are worried about someone stealing your idea, just make sure everyone who playstests your game signs a basic Non-Disclosure Agreement or NDA. You can probably find generic forms on the web and customize to your specifications.

Although I'm not that familiar with copyright law, from everything I've read you really don't need to worry about it much. When you get ready to look for a publisher, don't take it to Hasbro and hope they publish it; instead, build the nicest prototype you can and wait for a big game convention like GenCon or Essen or maybe a smaller game gathering with people who make and play games a lot, and this is after you have playtested it a lot already, and let them try it. When you are confident you can produce say 50 really nice copies, make 10 and send them through the mail to the various reviewers who write for BGG and Boardgamenews. Get their feedback since they play lots of games and since a good review of a near-production prototype will generate the kind of interest you need to either self-publish or approach a small hobby publisher. It will also give you the kind of feedback you need in looking for which publisher to approach.

Remember that blind playtesting is essential, and you need to be able to send your game to people who have not played it or seen it, and you can't explain it; they have to be able to play it just from reading your rules. This is invaluable since it will help you identify ambiguities and get the kind of feedback you need to develop your game.
 
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Ben .
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Quote:
I don't think there are any companies out there trying to poach good game ideas from new designers...that's just not the scarce resource in our industry.


Excellent, as I've got this great idea for a chess-like game using lasers!

ninja sauron ninja
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Martin Stever
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lightnng wrote:
ekted wrote:
There's nothing you can do to protect your game system. You can protect your specific rules, art, and graphics with copyright.


*sigh*

Will there ever come a time when this misconception is laid to rest?

Game rules cannot be copyrighted, ever, period.



*sigh*

When will people stop posting misleading half-truths about IP protection on the geek? Game mechanics are not protected by copyright, it's true. However a game mechanic can be patented. The rules, as a written work, can be protected by a copyright. So if someone wanted to rip off your game, they'd need to rewrite the rules. The art is protected by copyright, as is the box. The game title can be protected by a trademark, which can even be registered. If you have any clever mechanics with new names, you could trademark them as well. Even the "trade dress" of your game has protection, so if someone tries to make a game like yours with rewritten rules and new art, but they make it look and feel like your game in order to cause confusion and "trade on your mark," you can go after them.

But the short answer is that we don't see knock offs in the game world that we do in toys because of these interlocking protections and because it would be very difficult to publish a game and dump it into the market without leaving tracks. Distributors and retailers don't want to handle products when the IP is in question.

Based on past behavior, we expect lightnng will shoot back with another ammo load of half truths, carefully parsing his words to cause confusion between game mechanics and game rules as a written work while ignoring patents and trademarks, as well as the fact he doesn't have nor has had any skin in the game.

And to answer my own question, never.
 
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Barak Engel
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MartinStever wrote:
lightnng wrote:

Will there ever come a time when this misconception is laid to rest?

Game rules cannot be copyrighted, ever, period.


*sigh*

When will people stop posting misleading half-truths about IP protection on the geek? Game mechanics are not protected by copyright, it's true.


Thank you, case closed. You know, this WAS the SPECIFIC post (by ekted) I was replying to. I'm glad we're at least in agreement about content.

Quote:
However a game mechanic can be patented.


Essay question #1 for the mentally challenged: Have I ever said otherwise? prove it.

Quote:
The rules, as a written work, can be protected by a copyright.


Essay question #2 for the mentally challenged: Have I ever said otherwise? prove it.

Quote:
So if someone wanted to rip off your game, they'd need to rewrite the rules.


But they can use the same rules.

Essay question #3 for the mentally challenged: will you suddenly make yet another about-turn and claim otherwise?

Quote:
The art is protected by copyright, as is the box.


Essay question #4 for the mentally challenged: have I ever said otherwise? prove it.

Quote:
The game title can be protected by a trademark, which can even be registered.


Essay question #5 for the mentally challenged: have I ever said... you know the drill.

Quote:
But the short answer is that we don't see knock offs in the game world that we do in toys because of these interlocking protections and because it would be very difficult to publish a game and dump it into the market without leaving tracks. Distributors and retailers don't want to handle products when the IP is in question.


I call BS on this one. The main reason you're not seeing knock-offs is that in general, the market niche for euro games is too small.

Quote:
Based on past behavior, we expect lightnng will shoot back with another ammo load of half truths,


Prove it.

Quote:
carefully parsing his words to cause confusion between game mechanics and game rules as a written work while ignoring patents and trademarks,


Now you're just being silly. There IS a MAJOR distinction between copyrights, patents, and trademarks, as any IP lawyer will tell you. The fact that you continually fail to grasp those differences does not make them go away.

Beyond that, I am constantly amused by your claim that my careful dissertations on this topic - about which you admit I am always highly accurate (you know, that's what happens when someone is careful) - amount to "half truths" and "confusion"...

Quote:
as well as the fact he doesn't have nor has had any skin in the game.


... and by the consistency with which you always end up summarizing with this particular, completely irrelevant, populistic ad-hominem attack.

But hey, at least you admit I'm right content-wise.

That you don't like me personally I couldn't care less about. Interestingly, other than that you are an endless source of amusement for me - certainly a positive - I have no other feelings towards you at all.
 
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Martin Stever
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MartinStever wrote:
The rules, as a written work, can be protected by a copyright.


lightnng wrote:
Essay question #2 for the mentally challenged: Have I ever said otherwise? prove it.


lightnng wrote:
Game rules cannot be copyrighted, ever, period.


MartinStever wrote:
But the short answer is that we don't see knock offs in the game world that we do in toys because of these interlocking protections and because it would be very difficult to publish a game and dump it into the market without leaving tracks. Distributors and retailers don't want to handle products when the IP is in question.


lightnng wrote:
I call BS on this one. The main reason you're not seeing knock-offs is that in general, the market niche for euro games is too small.


I've seen keychains ripped off that have a market of under $25K/year. I've seen toy ideas knocked off before they've even gotten a P.O. from a buyer. So clearly market size is not the determining factor. With a knock off in the U.S. games business you simply could not get distribution. The retailers and distributors in this business are good guys and simply would stand for a direct knock off. That should help the original poster rest easy.

Quote:
Based on past behavior, we expect lightnng will shoot back with another ammo load of half truths,


lightnng wrote:
Prove it.

I think you've covered it without my help.

lightnng wrote:
Now you're just being silly. There IS a MAJOR distinction between copyrights, patents, and trademarks, as any IP lawyer will tell you. The fact that you continually fail to grasp those differences does not make them go away.

I think that any reasonable person will read my posts on IP and see that they are, as a rule, explanatory in nature and don't gloss over those differences. I point out that where one IP protection might not do the job, there's another way to get the desired result. So it's weird that you'd suggest that I fail to grasp the differences. Oh yeah, while I'm no lawyer, I did study intellecutal property law at the University of Chicago law school while I was getting my MBA across the street. IP in general and its application to games has been an area of particular interest to me ever since I first got into the game business.

MartinStever wrote:
as well as the fact he doesn't have nor has had any skin in the game.


lightnng wrote:
... and by the consistency with which you always end up summarizing with this particular, completely irrelevant, populistic ad-hominem attack.


It's not an attack. Yes, it is relevant. No, I don't always end up summarizing with it. I've thought about and paid for advice on the topic because it was critical to the business from which I made my living, and I'm happy to share what I've learned. At the same time, I find your posts on the topic to be confusing, not grounded in how the business actually works, and not really helpful in any way.

But look, for $5K you could do a nice first printing of Settlers of Battan and prove me wrong.
 
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Jonathan "Gorno" Fashena
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As stated by others, a copyright gives you no protection for your ideas or mechanics. A copyright only protects the original, creative arrangement of the words themselves, not the ideas they express or the game play that follows from them. And plagarism is not against the law: only actual, significant copying of original phrases constitutes a copyright violation. As a point of comparison, you can't copyright a cooking recipe: the text is seldom original enough to merit creative protection.

So, yes, they'd have to rewrite the phrasing of the rules, but that isn't much of a barrier. Even if they did steal your exact phraseology, it might be hard to win a copyright infringment case involving a boardgame because the rules are instructions: the text isn't intended to be original or creative, but clear, simple, and concise. You might be hard pressed to find a boardgame that *didn't* share phrases found in another, e.g., "play procedes clockwise around the table" -- a poacher could point to the million other games that share overlapping phrases, and to the fact that your game itself probably reproduces plenty of them. And the size of the damages you could claim per copy they sold would only be the small (tiny?) fraction of the game's cover price attributable to the value of the text.

Gorno
 
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Jonathan "Gorno" Fashena
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As an aside on "self-copyrighting," I think it's prudent to have your story (or whatever) notarized: that gives you legal proof of date and authorship (computer file dates are editable so mean nothing), and it's cheaper ($5-$15) and much easier than legally registering the copyright ($40?), especially for a draft. You could also email copies to several friends as proof of date and authorship.

Gorno
 
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MartinStever wrote:
However a game mechanic can be patented.

Unlikely in light of Comiskey.

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/10/02/is-the-golden-age-of-pat...
http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2007/09/ineligible-subj.html

 
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Barak Engel
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johngorno wrote:
Even if they did steal your exact phraseology, it might be hard to win a copyright infringment case involving a boardgame because the rules are instructions: the text isn't intended to be original or creative, but clear, simple, and concise.


This is more true than you imagine. See Allen vs. Academic Games:

http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/copyright/academic.html

Most important is the following quote:

"Here, Allen has not shown that it is possible to distinguish the expression of the rules of his game manuals from the idea of the rules themselves. Thus, the doctrine of merger applies and although Allen may be entitled to copyright protection for the physical form of his games, he is not afforded protection for the premises or ideas underlying those games."
 
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Barak Engel
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MartinStever wrote:
The retailers and distributors in this business are good guys and simply would stand for a direct knock off. That should help the original poster rest easy.


Actually, oddly enough you are validating my argument. The distribution and sales channels in this hobby are extremely limited (due to its niche-ness), unlike, for example, keychains. It all plays together to be a pretty strong force against knock-offs.

The extension of this argument cannot be tested yet, unfortunately; I would suggest that if eurogames become popular to the degree that they are regularly sold and given significant shelf space in places like Walmart, you will begin seeing knock offs of the most successful ones. However, this is purely an opinion.

Quote:
At the same time, I find your posts on the topic to be confusing, not grounded in how the business actually works, and not really helpful in any way.


This is what I don't get. How are they not helpful? because they are true and that's irritating to you?

Quote:
But look, for $5K you could do a nice first printing of Settlers of Battan and prove me wrong.


Why on EARTH would I want to do that, though? what is my motivation? give me a good one, one worth the time, effort and resources, and I'll do it. Otherwise I really don't see the relevancy of this argument, as it completely subjective. And no, "proving you wrong" is not a strong motivation or even a weak one. You and your opinions really are not that important to me, Martin.
 
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Paul Sauberer
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MartinStever wrote:

But the short answer is that we don't see knock offs in the game world that we do in toys because of these interlocking protections and because it would be very difficult to publish a game and dump it into the market without leaving tracks. Distributors and retailers don't want to handle products when the IP is in question.


The Jenga knockoffs on the shelf at my local Wal Mart say, "Hi."

And, no, Jenga is not a public domain game, in case you were going to try and use that inaccuracy.

As has been stated in this thread already, euros are not knocked off because there is no money in it, not because of anything to do with IP.

If there was money to be made in knocking off Settlers of Catan, then there would be knock offs of Settlers of Catan. There isn't, so there aren't.
 
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Jonathan "Gorno" Fashena
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So, to summarize (and perhaps illuminate a miscommunication that led to the earlier spat): you can copyright the rulebook to a boardgame, often referred to as "the rules," but you cannot copyright the procedures it describes, *also* referred to as "the rules."

A "game" (here, the physical box and its contents) can (often) be patented as "a novel or improved device for entertainment" (or similar verbiage), which protects the invention, originality, and uniqueness of the "game," and may protect specific, truly unprecedented procedures and game components within it. I recall that Wizards of the Coast established in court that their patent on "Magic: The Gathering" gave them the patent on the concept of the CCG (collectable card game): they had devised and patented this novel use of trading cards, so others could not employ it without a license from them.

So, in short, there isn't any protection for a game mechanic, but you can apply for a patent on a game as a whole, protecting it from substantial duplication of its novel procedures, and, if it invents a whole new physical category of game, that concept as well.

Gorno
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Aljovin wrote:
This has been discussed many times, however, a good resource would be the Boardgame designer forum (http://www.bgdf.com)


Agreed, this does pop up quite a bit.

A question to the general public, are there cases when playtesters have stolen IP (and then retired to the Bahamas on their ill-gotten gains)?
 
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