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Ethics of using mechanics from other games

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Luke Cecelon
Joined: 01/24/2021

I'm curious about the communities view on how to make specific game mechanic choices to accomplish a play style or environmental effect on a game that may already exist in other games.

Let's say you want to make a farming game with a resource mechanic. There are lots of existing farm type games with different methods for gathering resources. As the creator of a game you want it to reflect a feeling like farming and decide the perfect mechanic for gathering resources is rolling dice and gaining these resources. That's not exactly how Catan works but for the sake of argument let's say the Catan resource approach is the exact feeling you want to have for your game. Do you use it for your own game?

If another game has already figured out the ideal way to deliver the mechanic is it ethical for you as a new creator to use 'their' mechanic for your game? Or should you create your own mechanic even if it isn't as good as this known approach? I'm trying to sort out the value of creating your own elements that may be weaker than taking a successfully executed idea? Is it fair to the existing board game to use a piece of their work? Is it fair to your board game to not use the best mechanics that achieve the tone and style you want to feel when playing?

Joined: 01/27/2017
Hi Luke!

Hi Luke, welcome to BGDF!

Legally, you can't copyright or trademark a game mechanic, and you have limited scope to attempt to patent one if it uses some unique bit of technology (broadly defined). Generally speaking, mechanics are fair game for others to use in their games.

If this is a "core" mechanic in your game that's copying the "core" mechanic of some other game, it's going to come across as derivative. Not "my lawyer will call you in the morning" derivative, but more "no reviewer takes you seriously" derivative.

That said, a unique spin on a known mechanic is perfectly fine, as is a creative mix of mechanics even if all of them have been seen before. It's actually difficult to come up with a completely new mechanic.

One option is to bounce ideas off of some people who know boardgames, and see if they think it feels to close to what's already on the market. We happen to have a bunch of those folks here at BGDF :)

Best of luck!

wowikon's picture
Joined: 02/19/2020
difficult ethical question

I think using existing Game mechanic of other published games for new Deisgner is a good starting point.

First you see why other Designers did it that way they did.

Then after some playtesting of your own game, you can adjust the existing game mechanic for you own game. And maybe you´re lucky enough to create a new, reasonable mechanic.

For me it´s important not to use an already well designed game mechanic.
I always try to modify it playtest after playtest to fit to my Game theme.
I mean for example looking at some deckbuilders, they overall using the complete same game mechanic. Just some little aspects get customized.
And deckbuilders are still spreading out yearly...

So summerized:
using a existing mechanic to start an early design: YES
copy a mechanic without modifying it a little bit: NO GO for me

Jay103's picture
Joined: 01/23/2018
If it's so close a copy that

If it's so close a copy that people who play your game are guaranteed to say, "Hey, that's exactly how Catan does it!" then you probably want to avoid it, just because you don't want people saying that.

If people say, "Hey, that reminds me of how Catan does it!" then you're probably in good shape, because it means those people will have an easy grasp of your mechanic.

Meanwhile, avoid rolling dice at all, because, y'know, Monopoly.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Ethics of Game Mechanics

Often when I "present" my game to the PUBLIC (via Facebook for example), I first explain all the mechanics present and which GAME primarily USES that mechanic. Like "TradeWorlds" (TW) has a primary "Deck Building" mechanic which can be found in "Dominion".

Now I don't say it's the SAME mechanic. ...Because it isn't. It's just that "Dominion" is a well-known "Deck Building" game. Or I'll say "Role Selection" like in "San Juan" again TW is very different from "San Juan" however the idea is similar: IF you LIKE "San Juan" and Role Selection, this may mean that you like TW for this game "mechanic".

So I TRY to present my OWN game using mechanics found in OTHER games.

Of course you initial premise was "copying" and there might be an issue that you may have not considered. Usually mechanics are "tightly" associated with the game in question. In some WAY, the DESIGN is complete with ALL it's parts (including the various mechanics). You may be able to borrow a mechanic ... But I doubt you could COPY the "experience".

The "exact-feeling" is pretty much UNIQUE to each game IMHO.

That is why Catan is different from all of the clones: the complete package is a unique experience in itself.

You'll find just COPYING a "mechanic" will not make for a REAL COPY. You may also find that the copy doesn't play as well as say, "Catan" does... Again this is because GAME DESIGNS are COHESIVE entities. They are more than just a sum of their parts.

Give it a TRY and you'll probably find out that pieces don't make a whole.

Best of luck(!?) with your game! Cheers.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
WEB of mechanics

The interaction between mechanics of a game is responsable for said game experience that Kristopher mentioned.

Rolling a die is a game mechanic. But the meaning of the die is another mechanic that is linked to rolling a die.

The more links are similar to another game, the more the mechanics will feel like that other game. It is a big grey area.

Just use any mechanic you see fit. But of course you want a more unique game than just copying another game, right?

Luke Cecelon
Joined: 01/24/2021
These are helpful

These are helpful perspectives to take on the matter. I like the idea of how other people thinking about it, the reminding them of how other games use it (and making it easier for them to understand how to operate it). This way your design lowers the level of entry for player familiar with other games.

I think about zombie games and how most of them have some sort of spawn mechanic and how making any spawn mechanic of your own will be similar to some of them.

This has been helpful to move forward with ideas and how to build them into something more unique. Thank you.


Joined: 08/02/2015
Hi, first thing I don`t see a


first thing I don`t see a problem in using other games mechanics, if you are not making a copy of a game.

Let’s say you don’t know Catan, but you come up with an identical game with identical mechanics, that would be the same as borrowing the mechanics from Catan for anyone else, wouldn´t it?

So, for me it is the combination of mechanics, theme and new ideas that make a game unique. If you just copycat, you will not have good answer to the most important question:

"What makes your game stand out of all the others?"

Make your game and use others games mechanics in your way but also make your research so that you do not make a "Catan game" without knowing it ;)

Joined: 09/10/2020
Polish it!

I come from the world of custom jewellery design originally, and we have something of a rule there;

If you're going to use a store bought part in your work, at least have the decency to polish it!

This holds true across many creative disciplines that I have worked in. If you are going to use something that someone else created, you always need to add your own work to it. There is nothing new under the sun, and anyone with enough knowledge of design or history can probably liken what you made to something else that has been made before. In my experience, all creative disciplines share a few key rules:

- Know where your inspiration comes from. Acknowledge the work and traditions that come before you. You don't always have to credit them directly, but if anyone asks, it's good to know.
- Contribute something that is uniquely you. Even if it is the combination of other's work, your contribution should have its own voice.
- Push you design until it feels resolved. You may start by borrowing an idea, but if you push the final product, it may end up looking completely different. If it feels like you're stealing, you probably are.

Lastly, have confidence in your own ideas. You may think your game is very similar to ones you have played, but sometimes that's just your opinion. Others may play it and think they are nothing alike. This is another reason why play-testing and discussing your ideas are important.

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