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Design theft?

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theraje
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Howdy! This is my first post at BGDF. I was referred here by Matt Worden (Brykovian) after I decided to turn my focus from computer game programming to creating a board game. Hello to everyone, and I hope all is well with you. :D

So, this is my first question here. I have drafted a design for a board game and am currently building the prototype. A couple of family members have warned me about someone stealing the design of the game and selling it as their own.

Imagine the following scenario: I send my game design and prototype to a board game publisher. After review of the game, they say "no thanks," and that's all I hear from them. A year or so down the line, I go to the local store and find *my* game on the shelf, and I'm not getting credit for it nor money.

Truth be told, this isn't a *huge* concern to me... I'm not really in it for the money. But do my family members have a point? Or are they just being cynical? What is the likelihood of a game publisher ripping me off like that?

I realize that I could get a patent for the game, but I'm po'folk. I can hardly afford a patent attorney and the innumerable fees both the patent and the attorney entail. Should I just save up, or is this risk of getting screwed-over negligible?

I look forward to hearing your comments on this matter. Thank you! :D

Anonymous
Design theft?

Christian Peterson (head of Fantasy Flight Games) had some interesting comments on this, which I've heard mirrored by other publishers.. This is an excerpt from a recent interview Christian had with Tom Vasel:

http://www.gamefest.com/news/feature_detail/2773_0_3_0_C/

(begin Chris' quote)

As a publisher, I think that new designers need to know that "ideas" do not sell, but that the execution of those ideas do. Many designers think that a publisher will buy just an idea, or fund an idea. We get many letters and calls asking us to buy concepts or ideas, and that just doesn't fly with any publisher that I know.

In order for a publisher -- speaking from FFG's perspective -- to consider a game, the design needs to be completely done and presented in an attractive proto-type with clear rules. Also, designers typically need to fill out some important legal paper work before the game is submitted, otherwise we (publishers) simply cannot look at the prototype, and it will be returned without being looked at.

Many designers refuse to sign typical publisher "release forms", as they are afraid that their game, or ideas from such, could be "stolen" by the publisher. In fact, many designers want *publishers* to sign release forms, which is completely unacceptable. This is a common, but unhealthy paranoia among inventors. Good publishers need good designers, and are not in the business of stealing ideas. Publishers, however, need to protect themselves and their established designers. A publisher's worst nightmare is to be working and applying resources on a new title, but then receive an unsolicited submission which is similar to what is currently being worked on. This creates a situation where the publisher may suddenly be faced with litigation because the submitting designer thinks that his idea was "stolen", when if fact the similar idea was developed independently by another designer and/or the company.

If a designer is really concerned about an idea being stolen, then that designer should go ahead and self-publish the game (this involves financial risk on the designer, of course). Self-published games are a good way to promote publication to the next level and be picked up by a larger company. You did, after all, place a serious financial commitment on the game yourself, and that is a sign that you really believe in the game and its financial prospects. Self publishing is a double-edged sword, however. If you are successful in selling too many of your own games into the market -- then a degree of market saturation will already have happened for that game, and the larger publisher will not be able to receive those important "new product" sales (which usually make or break the profitability for a product). In this scenario, the designer is suddenly stuck in the business of being a publisher of a successful game (for all the good and the bad that may bring).

DSfan
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Design theft?

Welcome,

Usually, publishers would be nice and not steal your design... completely ;)

If you were to see your design on the shelf after they have said no thanks to you, it would have probably would have went through some overalls with the mechanics and/or theme. They probably wouldn't have took all your ideas, if they just said no thanks.

Most game designs are tracks for another similar or even different game. So if your ideas are in another game, just go with it. Like you said your not in it for the money. I don't know if copyrighting your game would do anything to stop stealing from happening.

Now, take my words with a grain of salt though. I've never dealed with a publisher before.

-Justin

theraje
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Design theft?

Thanks guys, your comments are very helpful! I think I'll save my money for stuff like food and the materials needed to make the game sets. :P

Your input is very appreciated!

Anonymous
Design theft?

You might also consider joining SAZ if you are serious about getting published. Not only will they come to your aid if a company does steal your design, but they also offer other member benefits, such as suggesting contact people at different publishers and looking over contracts to make sure everything's in order.

Unfortunately I can't offer more by way of info, not yet being a member myself.

-MMM

theraje
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Design theft?

Thank you for the suggestion, Octavian! In case I can't find out what SAZ is though, what does it stand for? I'm assuming it's not "Standards Association of Zimbabwe"... :)

FastLearner
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Design theft?

It stands for Spiele Autoren Zunft, or Game Authors Guild. Their website is at http://www.spieleautorenzunft.de/ and an associated US Yahoo Group is at http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/saz/

The material I've received over the last year and a half as a member has been well worth the price of admission.

-- Matthew

Anonymous
Design theft?

The SAZ site looks pretty cool and they have some good links (though no links to BGDF). I was excited to see that they had a link to a game designer wiki, but the link was "nicht gefunden." Have you seen the wiki that they linked to?

FastLearner
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Design theft?

I saw the wiki about a year ago, bu tthe English language content was extremely limited.

I plan to submit some more content to our own soon, with the goal of getting it public so that other people can submit content and really get it flying.

-- Matthew

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