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Idea ownership issues

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Although this is my first post, I have been visiting this site for a while and decided to join just yesterday. Anyway, I have a question: How is it that you discuss ideas about game designs so openly? Someone might grab your ideas and create a game, or you might contribute your ideas and comments to a member and suddenly this helps his game to be successful...And submiting games so other people look at them. I haven't seen any "Non disclosure agreements around" How does it work. Just curious.

(Probably this goes in the General Forum, but I didn't see many posts there, and is about Game Design, anyway)

Idea ownership issues


Ideas are a DIME A DOZEN.

They've been done before.

For the most part, people are honest and sincere... and there are some of us, like myself, who do this for the sheer joy of doing it. I don't have dreams of being the next Reiner Knizia or Sid Sackson...... or even the next Tom Jolly.

I like games.
I like to be creative.
I like to play my games.

If someone wants to steal one and publish it... GREAT! At least they considered my idea to be so much better than theirs that they needed to publish MY game.

Ideas are simply that... Ideas.
Games are a MASSIVE bringing together of MANY ideas.

I'll talk Ideas all day long. Ask me to post an entire Game here.... that's a different story.

Just my thoughts.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Idea ownership issues

Random_Person wrote:
I'll talk Ideas all day long. Ask me to post an entire Game here.... that's a different story.

My thoughts exactly!

Ideas are worthless, I have dozens of ideas for games and mechanics every week. I do not have trouble coming up with ideas. Making them work and fine-tuning them, making a prototype and testing, that is where the real challenge is.

Also, posting ideas on this site is a bit a risk-reward thing. Sure, someone else might pick up a good idea from you, but I think the feedback you get on ideas is often so valuable that it far outweighs the risk of someone else "stealing" the ideas.

- Rene Wiersma

Joined: 12/31/1969
Idea ownership issues

That's an excellent question.

It's funny and it seems unlikely until you'd been designing for a while, but it's true, ideas are incredibly cheap. I could quite literally sit down with a pen and paper and come up with 10 solid game concepts, with themes and basic mechanics, in one hour. These would be games that have probably never been done before. In fact, here's a fun site to sharpen your design skills: Game Design Challenge.

Of some value are Incredibly Original Ideas. These are much less common, though are still awfully cheap.

The only thing of actual potential value are fully fleshed-out games, games that have been designed and then developed and then playtested and then redeveloped (and if necessary redesigned) and then replaytested and then... you get the idea.

And even those aren't worth all that much, unfortunately.

Knowing that ideas are cheap, then, means that we can freely share ideas with each other. Maybe we don't share our Incredibly Original Ideas all that often, and rarely share fully fleshed-out games, but ideas are there for sharing.

The Game Design Workshop is, I think, particularly interesting in this regard. There we are presenting semi-fleshed-out ideas and are discussing them with each other in depth. These are much closer to real games of potential value, but even there the real value is in making the game work and finishing it (and playtesting it and re-finishing it and...). In the GDW everyone is helping you along that path. Could someone "steal" the idea and present the game to a publisher? Sure, but games are put into the workshop because they're not ready for prime time.

And if you see a fully fleshed-out and fully tested game here, that still doesn't mean that the designer is interested in trying to have it published. From my experience in several careers it's very common to do all kinds of "early" work that, while not bad, certainly isn't something you'd want to try to put forth professionally. It's like that first "complex" woodworking project you do: while it's neat and all, that recipe card box isn't really worth anything, and as the creator you can see all of the flaws and the many ways it could be so much better. Your next one will be better if you work at it, and the one after that will be even better, until one day you reach a point where you actually have something valuable. That you probably don't want to post publicly. :)

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
Idea ownership issues

Indeed, one of the minor advantages of a forum like this is that people know who posted the ideas and who made what sort of contributions.
Even when full rulesets are posted on the GDW (which is a development forum anyway) we can all see whose original material it was. Indeed, it can act as a little bit of copyright protection (but only a little bit!)

I look on this forum as being a perfect place to talk about mechanics, interactions and what I suppose you would call alpha- or beta- playtest documents (i.e. before they go in front of any "real" players*)

*well, I know you're all just figments of my imagination... :)

Idea ownership issues

If you are constantly worrying that someone will steal your ideas, then you'll never let your ideas out, and probably never follow up on them. Sure someone can steal your ideas, but in my experience with this forum as well as writer's forums where authors submit manuscripts for critiques, is that nearly everyone is honest about the process. In fact, its that honesty that makes these sites a great tool to help flesh out and improve your idea. I know that if I submit a game idea that the other forum members will tell me honesty what they think of the idea. I may not like their comments and suggestions, but I know they mean well and are honest comments.

- Geoff

sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
Idea ownership issues

Everyone is basically saying the same thing here- that ideas are easy to come by and by themselves don't mean that much.

The only thing I disagree with is the notion that it's dangerous to post a fully fleshed out game. I mean sure, it's dangerous... someone might theoretically be combing the internet looking for just that kind of thing, ready to invest a lot of money into publishing a stolen idea. It's not unheard of, probably. My point is not only that it's very unlikely to happen, but that in most cases it doesn't even matter.

Nobody likes the idea of their ideas being stolen. From what I can tell, people on this site aren't worried about a whole design being stolen (indeed, few of us have full designs that are ready to be published). Though they may tell you differently, I think most people here are adverse to seeing their ideas pop up in other people's game designs right here on the site. For example, if I really like a particular auction mechanic that I haven't seen before, and I discuss it here, and then a game pops up in the GDW with that auction mechanic in it... will I be upset? Well, no, but that's the kind of thing many people wouldn't like to see happen.

The 2 things to remember are this: #1) nobody wants to steal your idea, and #2) Even if they do it's not that big a deal. In order for this idea theft to really, truely matter, not only do you have to have a fully fleshed out game, not only does that game need to be refined and tested enough to know that it's ready for a public audience, not only would all this testing and readiness need to be reported in the public forum, but also the 'owner' of the idea would have to really intend to publish it himself. If the owner of the idea has no intention of publishing and someone else runs with their idea, then it's like Random_Person said... "GREAT!"

However even Random_Person ended his post with a near-complete reversal...

Random_Person wrote:
I'll talk Ideas all day long. Ask me to post an entire Game here.... that's a different story.

Personally I don't see any reason why not. I think the people who keep things secret are doing themselves a huge disservice. Many heads are better than one, no matter how you're counting. If your idea is good, then sharing it will only make it better. If it's bad enough that you're willing to share it (or not good enough to keep it a secret- depending on how you look at it), then you're bringing down the overall quality of the community... imagine if everyone kept the best ideas to themselves, and only shared mediocre ones. What would be the point of this forum? Would it be a treatise in what not to do?

Ok, I'm getting off my soapbox now. Sorry about that little rant, it's just a pet peeve of mine.

- Seth

Joined: 08/11/2008
Idea ownership issues

I also tend to agree with the discussion that's been going on here. Ideas are cheap. Implementing those ideas are truly expensive, at a minimum several thousand dollars.

I don't know if the lot of you are like me, but I seem to get a new idea for a game every month or two -- much faster than I have the money to publish or others really have a chance to publish. I'm sure, not every idea I have is worth publishing, nor do I do have a rich wife like James Ernest that I can afford to publish every idea I get. :wink: I do have a very understanding wife who let me publish one on a trial basis to see how it goes. :)

If someone steals an idea of mine, I would be out a few weeks of work at most. If someone steals a full-fledged ready-for-presses prototype, then I would be a little more upset, but I would tend to keep that a little closer to home. So, as a general rule, I only show what I wouldn't mind losing.

Idea ownership issues


Agreed... mostly, that I don't care if someone looks at a whole game of mine....

BUT... to be greedy and buisness-minded... if I post an entire game, I am in essence giving it away. That's a few less likely sales that I can expect to lose since I gave the game off.... and since self publishers are dealing with 500-2000 sales for succes, even 2 lost sales hurts.

Now... to completely contradict myself: :P

I AM working on a project right now in which I WILL give one of my games away. 100% free. No cost, tax, handling, shipping... anything. BUT... this will NOT be an electronic transfer. I will NOT give my game away in PDF or whatever format. I will be giving PRINTED copies, rules and all.

Why? To raise interest of course! A LOT of people aren't willing to spend $15 or $20 on the next new startup company. It's a struggle. But who's opposed to simply emailing me an address to send a FREE game too? Not many I assume. What is going to be an easier way to get my game in front of more people?

I dunno.
I've now completely contradicted my statement that I'm not in the hobby to have my games publish.
Damn... I just confused myself. :P


Joined: 08/03/2008
Idea ownership issues

Well, everyone else is chiming in here, why not me as well?

My personal feeling is that the transparency you see here is a reflection of the community mindset that we all have. I for one don't really think about the "silent majority" of people who are viewing my posts, but think more about this being the place where I come to talk to Matthew, Seth, David, Rene, etc.

That said, I think how much or how little you disclose is completely up to you, and should be in proportion to how comfortable you feel with the audience. The reality is that to make your game a success, you're going to need to tell someone at some point. But, that need not be a community of people you've only just met.

So, in that sense, I agree and disagree with Seth. Sure, I will need to share my ideas before getting them "out there", but it need not be with this group. Perhaps my own playtesting group can be the "sounding board" instead. And I think the quality of the games that are discussed here proves pretty compellingly that this isn't a "what not to do" board.

Yet, at the same time, we are, in some sense, in competition with each other -- we're competing for a limited market, we're competing for accolades in the Hippodice contest, etc. It would be naive to deny that we're in competition with each other at some level. That doesn't mean we don't want each other to do well, so much as that a little secrecy need not be construed as anything more than trying to maintain what little bit of an edge we may have discovered (a clever mechanic, for instance).

At the same time, I view this more as a scientist than as a business. I think that these games exist so that people can have fun, and sharing the ideas is an important ingredient in people being able to enjoy them. However, I don't want to share anything before it's ready to be shared -- why let someone else take an idea that I had and run with it before I've gotten it to the point that I want to get it to? But, when it's ready, I'm happy to let others know about it, and if they use it, cool. As evidence of this, consider that many people have posted the rules to their games that they've entered into contests, yet they did this AFTER they entered.

That said, what I also like about this community is that we are good enough at coming up with ideas or mechanics that when someone says "hey, I need a mechanic to do X", it's no big deal for us to come up with "throwaway" mechanics for that goal. A good example is the recent "term paper" discussion. I'm sure that those who contributed wouldn't feel that their great ideas had been "stolen" if Matt chooses to appropriate some of them for his game. But if he said "hey, I'm going to take the best bits of Everest, 8/7c, and WarZone and make a game out of that", I think some of us would be more annoyed by that.

So, to my mind, yes, you're going to need to talk to people to make your game great, but when you do that and whom you choose to do that with has to be based on who you trust. For the most part, I think there is enough mutual trust here that you'll see a lot of transparency about game design. But I don't want or expect other members to tell me every detail of every one of their games. I appreciate it when they're willing to share anything with me/the rest of the group, because that suggests that I/we have earned their trust. If people want to hold things back, how could I fault them for that?


doho123's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
Idea ownership issues

There's quite a few reasons for not being too worried about getting your game stolen.

A) There's a very very very very high probability that there's truly nothing BRAND SPANKING NEW!!!!! about it. The theme has most likely been done before, the mechanics have been done before, etc. So even though all the combined elements might make a 'new' game, there's probably very little to protect it.

B) Putting up a finished, polished game here will most likely not lead to whatever potential future sales a product may have in it's future. People like to pay for finished stuff, as opposed to having to download and cut and paste and cut and paste. While Cheapass Games may have hit a market niche buy producing games where you have to collect misc. parts, they are still giving you finished stuff (of course cheaply made) that are required for the game. Just as an example, how games that HAVE been posted in this group do you think that other members have downloaded, and peiced together and played. I'd wager, not that many; and these are the people who are interested in some respects in build-it-yourself games since the finished product is generally not important at this stage.

C) Game companies have plenty of other things to be working on than to be trolling the internet for new products. They are spending to much time dealing with game brought to them, testing their own games before production, etc. Odds are if a BIY game did gain some sort of following, they would be more than happy to obtain a license than to outright steal it, As the last thing you want to do is to get a core group of interested people who already follow a product upset, since this is the core group who will be your base purchasers.

Anyway, I'm sure that there are more. The other aspect of this group is that you have a great many people who are just generally interested in games, and the way they work. Posting game ideas helps people understand why somethings work and others don't.

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