Game design doc releases

I'm just wondering, what more people's opinions are about the legalaities of designing a game which is "like but X but with Y". On the thread [url="http://www.sumea.com.au/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=238"]Next Years Game - Requires Artists[/url] there was a mini-discussion about if you were to give out your design doc to the public, and they were to point out that it resembles game X, then you could be in for legal hassles.

Personally, I don't see the legalities of it. For sure, the design may resemble alot of other games - but is that relevant? For starters, you wouldn't use any intellectual property from another game - except perhaps as a tribute, but no one is going to sue over that. So none of the content of your game would be a direct derivative of another game or use a name from another game. Secondly, there is no way that it is going to be marketed explicitly as "Like game X!" and hence there is no way the relation could affect sales on any level. So I don't see how it's a violation of intellectual property or how you could possibly get sued by it?

What comparisons the public/lawyers draw from one game to another doesn't make it at all a copy or an infringement of copyrights...as far as I can reasonably assume. But the legal system is not usually reasonable.

What are people's thoughts?
Should a game design be kept secret for legal purposes or not?

And on top of that, do people think that it's a potential threat in terms of getting ideas "stolen" and what kind of effect that can have?


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Blitz's picture

Its not the likeness of one game to another that i was referring to.
It's like this:
Say i release a design document on a game, and someone says "Hey i've got a really good idea for that game ...(explains idea)" If you then incorporate that idea into the game, wether it was or was not due to that person suggesting it, that person could sue for stealing their idea's. It may not be so prevalent in the comptuer games industry, i don't know. But in other industries (such as card games, p&p rpg's etc.) You have to fill out a legal form releasing any rights to idea's you suggest to the company relating to a gaming product, and if you make the suggestion without filling out the legal disclaimer or whatever it's called, you can almost guarantee you'll never see that idea come to fruition in the game.
CYer, Blitz

Maitrek's picture

So what makes that such a deterrent to leaving a design doc open to public scrutiny?!

Why not just ask them to use the idea and/or credit them in the game. It hardly seems like such a huge hurdle.
Plus also, by the time a game design doc is released it should probably be solid enough that the basic game mechanic won't change, maybe the content will, but that's about it.


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Grif's picture

Check out:

http://www.gamasutra.com/gdc2002/features/rubin/rubin_01.htm

...for a bit of a read as to how such things can be viewed in terms of copyright, trademarks, etc. Mind you, I didn't have much luck coming up with much of a "why" for the generally accepted NDA policy - the vague reasons for it are clear, but the specific examples of how "breaching a copyright" could occur through putting in a feature someone else had told you about were a bit thin on the ground.

What I'm interested in would be the burden of proof required for someone to actually be able to take you on over that sort of thing (in terms of gameplay design, at least). How does something being on a public forum affect its copyright? Does anything written in here become a solid copyright to the author once submitted? Moreover, would anyone here really be that vindictive as to launch into a lawsuit over gameplay ideas shared in a friendly manner over an on-line forum designed (in part) for the discussion of such things? Does the purpose of the forum itself have an effect on copyright (the "designed for sharing of gameplay ideas with others" bent somewhat implying consent for others to use the ideas?). It turns into a bit of a paranoid loop, to my mind - if you're going to worry that every semi-decent idea you ever had is going to be stolen by someone else, then you're not going to wind up saying much of anything. =)

Here's an interesting aside regarding on-line forums of an actual game developer - going through the conditions of the forums (Irrational's, in this case) you get the following:

"You remain solely responsible for the content of your messages, and you agree to indemnify and hold harmless this BB with respect to any claim based upon transmission of your message(s)."

...and then...

"We at this BB also reserve the right to reveal your identity (or whatever information we know about you) in the event of a complaint or legal action arising from any message posted by you."

Now, here's the interesting bit: there's no note of copyright being implied by the author submitting a post anywhere in these conditions. There's also no implication of the submitted content being owned by Irrational, however. So in order for an idea to be protected by copyright in those forums, would you need to specifically note it was copyrighted while posting? Or is copyright simply implied through the authoring? Is that the loophole that lets a company operate an on-line forum where suggestions are encouraged - it's okay because the ideas aren't copyrighted unless noted, and without a developer's reply to aknowledge such a reply was even read, would there be any proof they even read it, much less took it on board? Or are these forums a potential legal nightmare?

Here's something for everyone to think about: at what point would you, personally, actually WANT to sue someone for breach of copyright when it comes to gameplay mechanics or implimentation of a feature that you had personally suggested to them? I have to admit that the fact this is even being discussed has me a little uneasy... I don't want to have to start spekaing in pure hypotheticals all the time because of all the sinister folks with lawyers hanging about in the wings. ;) I'm also curious as to how this applies to a game company's own on-line forum, as mentioned above (as well as Sumea's, of course) - can anyone dig up some sort of clarification on this sort of thing in terms of how it applies to a public forum?

One final thing to add - I don't think I've once yet encountered a situation in true game development (or software development, or even writing in general, for that matter) where this has been a real issue. In fact, open sharing of design ideas, philosophies, and solutions with others is really a big part of what makes developing a game enjoyable - a lot of ideas (and, in some cases I've known of, whole design docs) get shared simply so you can have someone else making sure you're not overlooking a better solution. Hopefully that's at least a little reassuring in the face of all this "potential lawsuit" legal crapola - there's still some heart and a bit of honour left in there somewhere! =)

- Grif

Maitrek's picture

quote:


In fact, open sharing of design ideas, philosophies, and solutions with others is really a big part of what makes developing a game enjoyable - a lot of ideas (and, in some cases I've known of, whole design docs) get shared simply so you can have someone else making sure you're not overlooking a better solution. Hopefully that's at least a little reassuring in the face of all this "potential lawsuit" legal crapola - there's still some heart and a bit of honour left in there somewhere! =)

Grif : That's pretty much what I think about the whole situation. I don't see any point in any copyright being associated with good game ideas, it's totally beneficial for the industry to have these ideas being shared around etc etc so that as a whole the industry learns and gets better. Plus imitation is supposed to be the highest form of flattery, whatever happened to people having pride in the fact that they pioneered an idea and it grew and other people took notice?

Plus I have to say, if someone suggests something on a public forum and then expects that idea to be copyrighted/intellectual property then there is no point in having public forums at all. It totally nullifies the idea of having a open public discussion about a specific game's development. Any ideas I come up with are totally free for anyone to use. I remember back in the days of gamedev.net I came up with a few ideas on the design forum that other people were all too keen to use or modify to suit, and I didn't mind, I'd rather see more good ideas in many games than people getting all possessive over them.


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Daemin's picture

My main concern is that I'll be releasing the full design document of the game that we are planning to make, therefore there's a possibility that:
a) We could be accused of ripping off some other game that's currently in development
b) Someone could just take the document and write a competing game, which would dilute our project

Sure some game design documents have been released, but always way after the game has been completed. The other thing is that the design document is rather large, and will only get larger as we progress, therefore I am still hesitant at public realising it.

Maitrek's picture

Just to be argumentative about things in response to Daemin's post

a) Assume you hadn't released your document, and neither had this other game developers design team, then you'd both have made a similar game, and had no idea, and ended up with a diluted product anyway.

b) Let's say someone did take your ideas, and made a better game from it, then you'd lose out due to product quality, which is better for the industry in general and the gamer/consumer. Or let's say they made a crappola game then people won't choose that game because it's crap, but your game could be well executed and hence will do well regardless.

It's not about the design to a very large extent, the execution of the design is very important too, and this is where alot of designs fall over themselves. If you release a design doc that you think is pretty whizz-bang, and is a brilliant idea (worth enough to 'protect'), then obviously you are very confident in your game making crafts, which means that other people shouldn't be able to make an as-fulfilling experience as you could, which means your game will always do well.

If the design doc has such great scope, and is very revolutionary, why would someone else tackle the idea if it's so much work, especially when someone else has got a head start, and a total understanding of everything that went behind the idea and a better idea of how it really works?

There's no price war on the market, gamer's already pay the same price for just about any top of the line product, hence it's the reviews and the talk back from their friends that make them buy the game, ie the quality of the product, not who came up with the idea.

I do agree that copying a game design is dumb, and any game developer doing so should go hire an *actual* game designer, but the idea of letting ideas out into the game's making community sonner rather than later has too many "pro"s and too few non-greed driven "con"s.


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bloody footy's picture

quote:


Let's say someone did take your ideas, and made a better game from it, then you'd lose out due to product quality, which is better for the industry in general and the gamer/consumer.

Lets go from the other way around; what if you make a game and a major software house tweaks it and releases it. With their marketing budget, of a lot more than you, they wipe your game out of the market.
Copyright should be looked after too a certain degree; it's funny how people want all the information to be 'free and flowing' until they themselves get stuff stolen from under them. It happens everyday and is one of the reasons that law courts are so full.

Blitz's picture

Even if they steal your game idea/design from a product you've created once it's been released, there is still the amount of production time required for them to develop a similar game and the required assets. This gives your game a 3-6-9-12 whatever month head start on the shelf, which is generally plenty of time to sell.
By the time the competition puts their game out, you should be about to release the sequel (if the original game was so good that someone else stole it) :)
On a related note, you may, or may not have heard that Sega are currently suing the developers of Simpsons Hit&Run for "stealing" their patented (yes they patented a game design) design for Crazy Taxi. It's not actually stealing, but the patent law is such that you cannot market a competing product that uses the same ideas/methodology as the patent until the patent expires (this sort of patent usually has about a 5 or so year lifecycle). Such is my meager understanding.
CYer, Blitz

unknownuser2's picture

thats unbelievable - especially for the industry that we are in.

I wonder what the clauses actually state regarding the matter that deems simpsons hit and run as a COPYCAT of crazy taxi - i mean sure the ideas are similar but so are so many other titles to each other. thats kind of a killer to the market dont you think ?

bloody footy's picture

it basically works like this - 'if a customer could mistake your game for a competitors then you are in trouble'. This also works for cover art and game name; ie 'Vietnam Battlefields' would be a no-no as people could mistake it for 'Battlefeld: Vietnam', note the use of the word 'could' not 'would'.

Blitz's picture

It should be remembered that this sega thing is specifically because they patented the game design, it isn't exactly to do with copyright...
As far as game names go, i'm not sure about your example. I'm sure DICE (or whoever) have trademarked the name "Battlefield Vietnam", but "Battlefield" and "Vietnam" by themselves would be too general to be trademarked i believe. Marketing a game as "Vietnam Battlefields" could possibly be construed as misleading, and they could take them to court over it, but afaik it would not actually be a breach of copyright or law...??
CYer, Blitz

spageto's picture

As someone who practised infotech /intellectual property law until a couple of months ago, maybe I can help clarify a few things. I'm going to talk in terms of your legal rights (as the person releasing the design document) and then other people's rights (e.g. the makers of a game that may be like the one you're planning).

Firstly, let's get this clear: there is no copyright in ideas, there is only copyright in the depiction of those ideas - whether it's a body of text, graphics, code, music, film, etc (not including 3D objects - I mean physical objects).

That basically means that your design document is owned by you and cannot be copied without your permission. It doesn't mean that someone else can't read the document and steal your ideas.

In general, to prove that they breached your copyright you would have to prove that they replicated your document without your permission. If your document describes a game about say, a group of space travellers who crash into a distant planet who have to fight off various alien beings in order to find the resources they need to fuel their ship and return to Earth or whatever... and I read your document and think "hmmm, that's a cool idea" and then I use that IDEA to create my own game, then too bad, I'm just taking your idea. BUT if I take your spec document and copy it and distribute it among my team and build my game based on it, then there will probably be a breach of copyright.

Note though, that the breach of copyright strictly occurs in my use of the document without your permission (the copying, distribution, etc) - the game I end up creating is not necessarily what breaches your copyright. To understand the distinction, consider the difference between source code and object code. If you write some source code and release it to the public, but you haven't built your game yet, and I take that code and build the game, then it's my use of your source code that breaches your copyright. The game that I create is the PROOF that I breached your copyright, not the thing that breaches your copyright. However, if you release a fully fledged game and I create an exact replica, then I've breached your copyright in the object code. If I reverse engineer your game then arguably I've breached your copyright in both the object code and the source code.

Now, if you release your design document, and someone jumps up and down and says "that's just like game X" - big deal. Unless the makers of game X can show that your design document is a copy of their design document (or any part of it), then you haven't breached anyone's copyright. If, of course, you create a replica of game X, then, yes, there may be a breach of copyright (see above about source code and object code).

As for copyright in the messages we post... If, for example, the terms and conditions of becoming a member of the Sumea forums, include a term about permitting Souri to reproduce or otherwise use, what we post, then Souri, at least, may have certain rights to use our posts. If there is no such term (I can't remember) then there could still be an argument that we impliedly give Souri certain permissions to reproduce, copy, delete our posts. Whether we impliedly give permission to everyone else... I reckon there's a good argument that we do... but it's arguable about the extent of the rights we give... This is actually a complex area of law.

Best thing to do if you're worried about disclosing your ideas would be to issue the document with NDA-type conditions (note: an NDA covers a different area of law, the law of trade secrets - it is not about protecting copyright). Problem with doing that is that no one will want to read it, for fear that they've been working on a similar idea!

So if you want feedback and ideas, then release your design document for public discussion. Yes, someone could steal your ideas. No, you're unlikely to be sued for copyright infringement (unless you have copied stuff from somewhere else). Hope this helps.

bloody footy's picture

quote:


Marketing a game as "Vietnam Battlefields" could possibly be construed as misleading, and they could take them to court over it, but afaik it would not actually be a breach of copyright or law...??

Looking back on this I agree I used a bad example [:(] . I'll just agree with spageto [;)]

Just a note on marketing -

quote:


If the Curtiss Candy Company did indeed appropriate Babe Ruth's name without permission, they would have had a motive for developing a fabricated yet believable explanation in case a challenge arose over the candy bar's name. Curtiss did indeed have to fight off at least one challenge to their name, when a competitor (with the full approval of Babe Ruth) attempted to market a candy named the "Babe Ruth Home Run Bar". Curtiss, claiming that their candy bar was named for Ruth Cleveland, was successful in forcing the competing candy bar off the market because its name too closely resembled that of their own product.

This is from [url]http://www.snopes.com/business/names/babyruth.asp[/url]

I did a year at QANTM doing a games design course, in the course fine print was the fact that QANTM could use any of your work for their own advertising purposes; this not only included work you submitted during the course but any work that was done on their computers.