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Subject: Moving to the publishing phase, several doubts. rss

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Pablo Mansanet
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Hello BoardGameGeek forums!

Ever since I met an experimental board game design team at the European Juggling Convention, I've been in love with the perspective of designing my own board game. I have thankfully been blessed with a (often excessive) sense of self-criticism and thus ruled out hundreds of terrible, terrible ideas.

Fortunately though, I hit jackpot some months ago with the game I'm currently designing. Of course it had its flaws, but after constant playtesting and thanks to the input of many people, I am confident to say I'm onto something. The game is fun and addictive, to the point I'm starting to bend a little under the peer pressure: everyone wants me to publish it and make it known, under the naive illusion it will make me a millionaire.

I know better than to have such delusions of grandeur, and I know how daunting the road ahead is, but I think the game deserves a chance at being published.

It's a strategy game halfway between abstract and thematic. I understand what little point there is in "bragging" here specially without exposing the game mechanics, but I must say it works exceptionally well. I've taken it to board game associations at a handful of universities in Madrid, and it has been a total success, with participants often mailing me days later about strategies and tactics they had thought. The earlier iterations of the game did have some flaws I got constructive criticism on, which got tweaked, and for the latest month, the 20 last people that tried it could find no issues to highlight. I made sure to find playtesters that have no emotional bonds to me, to get honest feedback.

So now that I think it's ready, my problem is that I have absolutely no experience on the publishing side. I've read through the resource stickies and the information has been extremely useful, but some unanswered doubts remain.

First, I have some doubts regarding copyright and patent aspects. My problem is as follows: the entire point of my game lies in a single mechanic. There is little comparative worth in the thematic setting, art or specific choices such as board size, pieces, etc. The cornerstone of the idea is a single specific rule mechanic that supports everything else, and which to the best of my knowledge doesn't exist in any other game of similar characteristics. This makes me fear that copyright protection would be completely ineffective. Were I to publish the game rules, anyone with more experience that wanted to use that idea could simply extract the core principle and apply it under whatever setting, leaving me without any chance to innovate.

Please forgive me if I'm being naive. I'm new to the publishing side of things, and I may sound arrogant or just foolish by pretending anyone is going to care about my design to the point of wanting to steal it. But please get into my shoes and understand the entire merit of my work is that idea, and I want to make sure it's at least slightly guaranteed to be exclusive until the game has been considered by potential publishers. So my question is... What should I do for that protection? Under European law (where I reside) is it possible to patent a board game mechanic, provided it can be concisely singled out and explained? (which it definitely can). If it isn't, what are the chances someone will really want to steal the idea? (if it is in fact novel and I'm not deluded) Am I safe to discuss it here for the feedback, and for the chance of you guys to playtest it? (professional advice would be invaluable)

Another issue: I've been reading it's extremely important to contact publishers by phone, rather than email. I don't have an issue with that, as long as they speak my language (Spanish), but despite the care I put into writing correctly in English, I don't feel as comfortable speaking it, specially when the sound quality is poor or the accent I have to deal with is undecipherable. I wouldn't like to hurt my chances with a publisher sounding like an idiot. Is it really so bad to contact them by email?

Last: Which way and through which media do you prefer to approach the publisher? I was thinking of a detailed PDF covering rules, background and artwork, as well as a printable prototype, with a couple videos offering a spoken rule introduction and a sample match. Physical prototypes by mail would be offered too. Is there anything I am missing?

Thank you in advance for your help. Any tips are definitely welcome.
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Alex Weldon
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Copyright won't do you any good for protection, and while patents theoretically protect you, they're expensive, plus there's no point having one if you then wouldn't have the money for legal fees to actually pursue someone. Pretty much, you just have to trust people in this field.

As far as using the phone, rather than email, I've never heard that suggested, but I can only assume most publishers get a constant deluge of emails with people's crappy game ideas, so I guess an unsolicited phone call could either get you more attention, or else annoy them, depending on their preference. I know some publishers (like Rio Grande) prefer that you actually come see them in person at a convention, as it both shows that you're serious and gives you a chance to show them your prototype along with the pitch.

If a publisher did prefer voice calls, you could prepare a sell sheet, call them up, give them the 30-second explanation of the game and ask if you can email them a sell sheet with more details.
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David Cole
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Hi Pablo,

I'm at a similar stage myself and I've been doing some research into copyright, intellectual property and patenting. I wrote a blog post about my findings. It's biased towards the United Kingdom rather than Europe, but perhaps you'll find it useful:

http://grinningcatgames.tumblr.com/ (scroll down the page a bit till you get to the part on copyright)

In Britain at least it's not possible to patent a game rule or mechanism (I think the US might be different in this regard) and it might be too expensive to do this anyway, and copyright won't protect this aspect of things. Anyone who has a new idea and is worried about it being stolen will face the same issues, so you're definitely not alone.

Actually, I think this is the way it should be with game rules and mechanics, as so many games share similar mechanics. In this way I think creativity is encouraged and inspired instead of being squashed. Imagine not being allowed to sell a painting because your style is clearly influenced by Van Gough, or not being allowed to publish a song because it has a chord progression that has some similarities to another song; we'd have no new art or music and I think this is the same for board games.
 
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Drew Dallas
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/777646/creating-a-board-...

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/493249/mythbusting-game-...

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/771906/shhhh-can-we-trul...

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/759740/to-patent-or-not-...


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Alex Weldon
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In the states, game design patents are mostly taken out by the bigger companies (e.g. Wizards of the Coast) for whom the cost is small and for whom it's less relevant whether a court would actually find in their favor as simply that having the patent lets them throw their legal weight around.

So, their patent for Magic: the Gathering includes the idea of turning cards 90 degrees to indicate that their powers have been expended ("tapping"), for instance. I have doubts about whether it would actually hold up in court (assuming the word "tap" wasn't used, nor a symbol that looked too much like theirs, and only the idea of turning things 90 degrees to denote a game state was used), but that doesn't matter, as no one wants to get in a courtroom with their legal team. Instead, if they served you a Cease & Desist, you'd just switch to flipping your cards upside down or marking them with counters or some such alternative.
 
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Pablo Mansanet
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Thanks everyone for your input on copyright.

To be honest, I'm a bit more personally relaxed about the copyright and thievery issues than what the opening post might show. My problem is that everyone around me seems to be completely terrified about the possibility of the idea being stolen, and merely suggesting I want to discuss it here has everyone calling me a fool (my friends and family, that is)

I guess it's a common mistake for people not accustomed to this specific market to think secrecy is important.

Now that we've got that out of the way, what about the prototype / letter issue? Also, is Kickstarter a good idea? If I prepare an awesome, high quality video and I present my project very, very well, Is there a chance to really get it funded? I've never been sure about how much of the money changing hands at Kickstarter comes from complete strangers compared to family/friend inversion.
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AJ Quinn
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@Alex. It is my understanding that other companies have used the idea of tapping (referred to as a claim in a patent) and just called it something else. It is also my understanding that Wizards doesn't try to enforce the patent because it is likely they will lose and they prefer the looming threat. The point of all that is that even a big company like Hasbro (who owns Wizards) can't really patent a game mechanic and for good reason. The industry would be a worse place if someone could patent the idea of 'an 8x8 grid of alternating colors used to provide a visual plain for placement of tokens in a game.'
 
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B C Z
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Look at the ton of ideas being shared on these boards.

Are you sure your mechanic isn't some derivative of something someone else already did, hypothesized or otherwise thought of?
 
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Pablo Mansanet
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byronczimmer wrote:
Look at the ton of ideas being shared on these boards.

Are you sure your mechanic isn't some derivative of something someone else already did, hypothesized or otherwise thought of?


Absolutely not. I hinted at the OP that I may be deluded. Who knows?. But I did some research, and I have found nothing like it.

What I know for sure is that my mechanic isn't derivative of anything. If someone else had a similar idea at some point, the world is just too big for me to say =). But I hope for the small chance that I actually thought of something nobody thought before.

I guess the ultimate way of knowing will be sharing it.
 
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Alex Weldon
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Runeward wrote:
@Alex. It is my understanding that other companies have used the idea of tapping (referred to as a claim in a patent) and just called it something else. It is also my understanding that Wizards doesn't try to enforce the patent because it is likely they will lose and they prefer the looming threat. The point of all that is that even a big company like Hasbro (who owns Wizards) can't really patent a game mechanic and for good reason. The industry would be a worse place if someone could patent the idea of 'an 8x8 grid of alternating colors used to provide a visual plain for placement of tokens in a game.'


Right... they're not going to go after every single person who turns a card sideways in a game that isn't Magic. It'd be bad PR and it wouldn't hold up anyway. But as you say, the point is that they want that looming threat, whether it's to bully someone who competes with them a little too directly, or just the passive benefit of everyone trying hard not to step on their toes out of fear, even if they never say anything directly.

The basic point is still that the patent would be of no value if they didn't also have the muscle to make a lawsuit a credible threat.

If the situation were reversed, and you had a patent on something, and Hasbro copied it and you threatened to sue, they'd shrug you off.
 
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Alex Weldon
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Falcord wrote:

To be honest, I'm a bit more personally relaxed about the copyright and thievery issues than what the opening post might show. My problem is that everyone around me seems to be completely terrified about the possibility of the idea being stolen, and merely suggesting I want to discuss it here has everyone calling me a fool.


No one's calling you a fool. Or, if they are, they can take a hike, because literally every single one of us had the same worry when we started (or had the same worry planted in our heads by our own entourage of clueless but well-meaning friends and family).

People are just a little eyerolling about these questions because there's a sticky thread answering exactly this at the top of the forum, and yet there are still two new threads per week asking the same question.
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Pablo Mansanet
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xopods wrote:
Falcord wrote:

To be honest, I'm a bit more personally relaxed about the copyright and thievery issues than what the opening post might show. My problem is that everyone around me seems to be completely terrified about the possibility of the idea being stolen, and merely suggesting I want to discuss it here has everyone calling me a fool.


No one's calling you a fool. Or, if they are, they can take a hike, because literally every single one of us had the same worry when we started (or had the same worry planted in our heads by our own entourage of clueless but well-meaning friends and family).

People are just a little eyerolling about these questions because there's a sticky thread answering exactly this at the top of the forum, and yet there are still two new threads per week asking the same question.


No no don't get me wrong, I wasn't complaining about people here calling me a fool. All of you have been very nice! I have a thick skin, believe me.


What I meant is that my personal IRL circle is NUTS over "protecting" the idea. They just can't believe I want to post it here, and they're the ones calling me a fool. But your opinions have done a lot to ease my worries.

Sorry about beating a dead horse, by the way. I would like if we could deviate this thread into discussing the best course of action. After reading your input, I'm thinking offering a printable version of the game in this very forum and ask for playtesters would be a good idea. If the game holds up to what my IRL community think it is worth, I might try to start a Kickstarter or contact publishers. What do you think?
 
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Brook Gentlestream
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I think your next step should be either

1). If your serious about publication, start researching game publishers websites and email them for submission guidelines. I don't think you should pursue kickstarter or self-publishing.

2) If you just want to "put your game out there" for your friends and such, then consider working with The Game Crafter. At almost no cost, they will manufacture your game and sell it on their website, sharing any profit with you. It doesn't have the prestige or income of professional publication, but you get a real version of your game manufactured and sent to interested buyers.

At your level, I think these are your best options and don't require too much effort on your part beyond what you've already done.
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Pablo Mansanet
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lordrahvin wrote:
I think your next step should be either

1). If your serious about publication, start researching game publishers websites and email them for submission guidelines. I don't think you should pursue kickstarter or self-publishing.

2) If you just want to "put your game out there" for your friends and such, then consider working with The Game Crafter. At almost no cost, they will manufacture your game and sell it on their website, sharing any profit with you. It doesn't have the prestige or income of professional publication, but you get a real version of your game manufactured and sent to interested buyers.

At your level, I think these are your best options and don't require too much effort on your part beyond what you've already done.


That sounds good. I guess showing it here for playtesting would be a good idea anyway, am I right? Just to make sure the idea is indeed novel and that I'm not wasting my time.
 
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Alex Weldon
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Falcord wrote:

What I meant is that my personal IRL circle is NUTS over "protecting" the idea. They just can't believe I want to post it here, and they're the ones calling me a fool. But your opinions have done a lot to ease my worries.


Tell them that in a weird way, posting here is actually a form of protection. Since no legal protection is possible, the backlash a publisher would suffer from putting out something that clearly ripped off ideas posted in a public forum is the best defense you've got.

But overall, your friends' delusions about you getting "rich" off your game idea go hand in hand with their fears of it being stolen. Royalties for game designers are generally pretty tiny (since there are way, way more aspiring designers than publishers), and saving a few grand is not worth the risk of PR disaster for an entire publishing company.
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Brook Gentlestream
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You should do what makes you comfortable. If you're hesitant to post your game to the BBG public, then don't. Hold off for awhile. Maybe you can get a couple of volunteers to check out the rules and provide feedback. Meanwhile, participate in the community here and help others. If all that goes well, maybe then you'll be more confident about whether of not you are comfortable posting your game.

Also, remember that when you do post to a forum, you will get both positive and negative feedback, and not everyone has the same idea of what kinds of criticism is constructive. People's feedback often sounds very negative, because we're used to a mentality that criticism and argument is more productive than praise. In short, some of the responses may sound brutally mean, but almost everyone here is here because we are trying to help.
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Drew Dallas
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Couldn't hurt. Few will care if the idea is truly new or original or not. Just focus on creating the most fun game you can.
 
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Scott Nelson
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Know your audience. If you have a party game, sending it to GMT is not a good idea. Same goes for a wargame sending to Out of the Box, would be a miss. If the game requires a specialty component, that might also discourage publishers; some welcome it. Read their website. Is there a game like yours they publish? I so, better chance they would do another of the same caliber.
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Gregorio Morales
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I wouldn't go kickstarter or self-publishing. Almost avery publisher has some submission guidelines in their websites, or a contact e-mail to ask for them.

More or less, they first want to read the rules and maybe some pictures. And if they are interested they will ask for a playable working proto.

However, you can go to the "I'll show you the game" route. Visiting Fairs and Conventions and so on, arranging meetings with the publishers...

Good luck!
 
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Philip Migas
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http://inspirationtopublication.wordpress.com/ click on the “Steps”

Do not cold call publishers. Send them an email asking if they are looking for submissions first. Or look on their website. Then ask for their specific process. You should do research on what game company might be interested in your particular game.
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Julian Ortega
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So, I shouldn't have to worry about copyrighting my art and rules before sending it out to publishers? What would be the first step to protect your game? Would posting images of my game components on BGG suffice?
 
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Alex Weldon
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ONSLAUGHT77 wrote:
So, I shouldn't have to worry about copyrighting my art and rules before sending it out to publishers? What would be the first step to protect your game? Would posting images of my game components on BGG suffice?


Copyright applies to text and art as soon as you've made it. You don't have to do anything to receive what little protection that provides (mainly that if someone uses your exact text or your exact art without permission, you get to ask them to stop).

That said, being able to prove that you were indeed the original creator helps, so yeah, getting it out in public, with a date on it, helps establish that (though of course, putting images online vastly increases the chances that someone's going to use it for something, somewhere, without your permission, just not necessarily printing a game).
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Julian Ortega
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Thank you, Alex,

Although for many, art protection is a big deal, I'm not too concern about people wanting to use my art. My main concern is the rules. I'd love for people to check it out, and get some feedback, but what would be the best route to protect my rulebook?
 
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Filip W.
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It sounds like you're ready to show it to some publishers. Would you be able to attend Essen (the Spiel gaming convention)? Most larger publishers are represented there. Email them now and ask if you could book 30 minutes to show them your game. Target publishers that have games similar in scope to your own (i.e. if you've got a massive block wargame don't target Fantasy Flight, go with Columbia Games) and tell them how your game might fit in their line.

If you don't get a response in the next two months (Essen's in October so you've got time) then try calling. If you get a "sorry, we don't have time" answer then ask if they'll have any time that they'll be in their booth (and you can approach them) or if they'd be willing to meet you after hours.

If you can meet them in person you'll get an instant review of your game and a way around the slush pile. If there's something wrong then you get instant feedback, or if it's wrong for them you can get recommendations for whom to approach.

If you can't make it to Essen then look for large game conventions in Spain. There are several Spanish game publishers that I've heard of, maybe one of them has a lineup that would fit your game. Or you could call them up and ask if you could come by and show the game at their office (might work, who knows).

As for protecting the game, patents and such are pretty much worthless - a patent costs more than your game is liable to make (count the number of truly money making games you know about - I know two: Magic and HeroScape). Also a patent doesn't protect you, it only gives you a starting point if you'd want to sue someone and that takes a LOT of money. And you'd have to monitor all games being published in all nations, which takes even more money.

Good luck and hope to see your game in print soon!
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Gregorio Morales
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ONSLAUGHT77 wrote:
So, I shouldn't have to worry about copyrighting my art and rules before sending it out to publishers? What would be the first step to protect your game? Would posting images of my game components on BGG suffice?


Is it me, or this post has been suddenly hi-jacked?
 
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