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How to create a new game that uses licensed content

15 replies [Last post]
Joined: 11/08/2016

Hi Everyone!

I'm not sure if this is the best forum to ask about my idea because it's actually for a card game. If anyone has any other forum suggestions to discuss card game creation, please let me know! In the meantime, here's my question..

I have an idea for a card game that I am quite sure would be popular and profitable. It's based on game concepts that exist and work well today, so rules and play-ability aren't too concerning. What my problem is, is that my game uses licensed content.

I've come up with two ways to go about this, and I'd really like your thoughts on next steps or other suggestions that I haven't come up with yet.

1. Work with licensing company and figure out how to get the rights to create and market this game. Not my preference since this would most likely take a good amount of money and potential lawyers to write/negotiate contracts and terms. Ugh.

2. There is another card game company out there already that works with a lot of similar licensed material. I believe it would be able to run with this game idea very effectively. My drawback here is, if I pitch the game to the existing card game company and they work with the licensing company to get the rights to use the content, how can I profit from my original idea?

Sure I'd love to play this game that I've come up with, but I'd also like to profit off it's success, if made. I say with certainty that it would successful since the content is already popular, but I'm having a tough time figuring out how to take my conceptual idea to an actual development stage.

I have the rules, concepts, story, and card style already written out. I even have ideas for several expansion sets! I'm just lacking the knowledge about how to sell the concept.

Any advise or feedback would be very appreciated. Thanks everyone!

Joined: 05/11/2010
You can always make it an

You can always make it an unlicensed rip-off and pitch that. (How many star wars but not star wars space games are there? How many D+D but not D+D games are there?)

When you pitch it to companies that either have the license or might be able to get it, you can say that it would work really well with said license. When you pitch it elsewhere, you have the freedom to just pitch it as-is.

There's a lot that can go wrong with licensing, so being able to stay flexible may be a good idea.

In your example number 2... aren't you profiting from it by selling the game to the publisher and having your name on the box? I'm not sure I see where you lose out in that case. You probably aren't going to make any money either way, but developing an indie game carries far more risk for you. Especially when you involve licenses.

I Will Never Gr...
I Will Never Grow Up Gaming's picture
Joined: 04/23/2015
Quick response as I head out ..

Welcome Zanoske. Yes, card games are part of the board game family, so more than welcomed here!

My first question to you is why does your game require licensed intellectual property?

My second question (or rather series of questions) would be regarding your comment about selling the concept.
-Do you have a fully finished, tested, ready-to-publish game? Or is this just a concept that you have done a bit of work on?
-Do you have a prototype made?
-Has it been playtested?
-Have you played it without using that IP (as in, have you tried giving it a new theme)?

I would first and foremost suggest you read everything at this link :

Once you've done that, consider your options.

-You could self publish. This is a LOT of work in itself.
- If you insist on using someone elses IP, you will need to get permission and this will cost loads of money, and depending on the IP it may be more than you will ever make off the game.
- You could pitch your (tested, finished) game to publishers who may be interested. This leaves all the work of legal issues, publishing, selling, distribution, etc to the publisher and you receive a royalty on sales (typically in the 3-9% of wholesale sales), but you still need to have a (nearly) completed game, and even then the publisher may (or likely will) make changes.

SO, as I said, read everything at that link above. It should help you get from concept to development. Once you've developed and tested the game thoroughly, THEN you worry about everything else.

Joined: 11/08/2016
Thanks so much for your


Thanks so much for your reply!

I thought about creating the game using rip-off-ish type characters, and think that would work, but having the "name" to bolster marketing would be so much more successful. I'll definitely keep the rip-off version (for lack of a better term) in mind though!

Regarding #2 yes, I would profit if I sold the game rights to the publisher, but my concern is how do I stop the publisher from ripping me off? My game isn't patented or copyrighted so how do I protect my idea?

I'm most concerned with pitching the game, them loving it, and then stealing it. OR what if I pitch the game, they edit 1 thing, like a rule or something, and then call it their own original idea? How would I protect the fact that I was the creator?

I Will Never Gr...
I Will Never Grow Up Gaming's picture
Joined: 04/23/2015
It doesn't happen

Zanoske wrote:

Regarding #2 yes, I would profit if I sold the game rights to the publisher, but my concern is how do I stop the publisher from ripping me off? My game isn't patented or copyrighted so how do I protect my idea?

I'm most concerned with pitching the game, them loving it, and then stealing it. OR what if I pitch the game, they edit 1 thing, like a rule or something, and then call it their own original idea? How would I protect the fact that I was the creator?

Essentially (tl;dr), publisher is going to steal your idea. They have enough work of their own to deal with.

BUT, if you're truly worried about it, talk about it, get feedback, be active in the community. Start up a design blog/WIP blog. The more people associate it with you, the more they realize who did it.

The industry is relatively small. Shameful behavior gets noticed and does not go over well.

Here's the most relavant part of that link btw;

"How do I protect my work?

Just by making your game available to the public, you have claimed copyright protection for the artwork (unless you licensed it from someone else). By continually using certain elements, you will have a trademark defense.

If someone violates your copyright, you can send a Cease and Desist letter. One is provided in the Nolo Press Copyright Handbook. That is usually enough.

You can far better protect your game by making a superior product. Playtest, procure premium components, do something different. Fantasy Flight's Games are hard to produce due to the quality of the bits they procure. Puerto Rico's simultaneous role selection mechanic has defined a new genre (notice how we sometimes refer to Race for the Galaxy as "Puerto Rico in Space) or refer to tile-laying games as "Like Carcassonne."

What should I register?

If you are going to create a line of games on a similar theme, I'd consider registering a trademark. If you have a very unique new mechanic, consider filing for a patent. In my humble opinion, it is not worth registering any copyrights for games.

What does registering give me?

Registering a copyright, trademark or patent gives you a slightly stronger defense. If you made a game available to the public, even as a print and play, and 2 years later someone registers a copyright on the rules sheet, you may very well have a stronger case, since you published it first and were the first to obtain the de facto copyright.

Can someone steal my game/Can I use elements from someone else's game?

Sure, as long as:

1) The artwork is different
2) The "expression of the rules" are different
3) No trademarks are infringed
4) No patents are infringed

This is may be why web developers such as ASObrain can offer Settlers and Carcassonne clones without paying royalties or requiring permission.

So sure, you could publish a game that works exactly like Settlers of Catan or Star Wars: Queen's Gambit as long as you did not use the name, artwork, or licenses.

Straight up copying a game is generally not a good idea though, as you will have a hard time marketing and selling a game that already exists in a more popular incarnation."

radioactivemouse's picture
Joined: 07/08/2013
Established IPs

I'm a big proponent against using existing IPs just for the reason that a big part of your potential profit will go straight to the owner of the IP and not you.

I don't know if that's what you want.

There is the other matter of "I have an idea for a card game that I am quite sure would be popular and profitable"

No one knows for sure whether or not an idea is "sure" to be profitable. In board game terms, there's a game that just came out called Seafall which sounded like a sure-fire hit, but since it has come out has been panned by reviewers left and right.

I take statements like that with a grain of salt. It's not the idea that's's the idea + hard work + knowledge that CAN equal success. My point is that there's a lot of factors involved in having a profitable and successful game.

But if you think you have the next big thing, here's what I suggest:

-Don't use an IP. It may be tempting to use an IP, but you want ALL the profit and you want your time to be spent developing your game instead of strategizing lawyers. Besides, creating a new universe of your own around your game is kinda awesome.

-Playtest, playtest, PLAYTEST. You should devote a considerable amount of time play testing. While the mechanics you talk about may work in other games, they may not work in YOUR game. You can't guarantee or assume that because it works somewhere else it will automatically work every single time.

-Rules and playability ARE concerning. If you cannot communicate your idea through your rules, your game will fail. Just because the mechanics are in other games doesn't mean the same audience will automatically assume. Rules writing is a skill in itself. Playability is equally as important.

-Make a prototype...NOW. If it sits in your head, it will go nowhere. Make a prototype and play it right away. You'll know immediately what you need to change and that's good! Playtest - iterate - playtest again, wash, rinse, repeat.

Hope this helps.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
IF it's just an IDEA...

I don't want to "offend" you - but IF it's just an IDEA - it's worthless.

Why is it worthless?

Because you are no where near a prototype and that's what a Publisher will want. THEY WANT A GAME, not just an idea. WHY? Because there are so many details to a game's DESIGN that can make or break a game.

Let me put it in another set of words.

If you have a Set Collection mechanic and you realize you want to use a Drafting mechanic ... and suddenly you realize that you don't want the opponent to know the kind of cards you are buying. (That's a sample problem).

What do you do? Do you abandon the design because of this hurdle? (It is possible you may not be able to "marry" the two...) Or do you decided to eliminate Drafting and go with a Deck Construction mechanic... Knowing full well you MUST avoid the pitfalls of CCGs/TCGs because nobody is interested in those two (2) categories of games except HUGE Franchises.

Or instead do you SHELF the game - and let your mind explore other designs while in the back of your head, you try to fix this mechanical conflict...

That's what makes a GREAT game!

Having gone through the process with my 2nd Game, I can tell you that by listening to the playtesters, having a Developer on your team or another designer to help bring your idea to reality, is very important. Of course you could get by not having someone to bounce "ideas" with and see what makes sense for YOUR game... But it's more difficult.

So now you know the secret, why people Blog about their future game ideas and don't worry about "People stealing the idea"... Because most of us need people to playtest and that of course means creating a prototype and making sure all the mechanics and rules hold together in ONE (1) cohesive unit...

And so I say to you: transform your IDEA into a GAME. And then there will be something REAL to talk about.

As @Jay put it: create your own universe. BUT keep in mind, that when you pitch the game - you say that instead of using your own universe, you may use the work of another entity... And I would say this ONLY after they have PLAYTESTED YOUR game (and they like it...)

If they like the GAME that much, maybe you have a chance to use the OTHER IP. Maybe the publisher might say: "Of course using the Universe of 'X' would make complete total sense..." But don't hold your breath on it...

Focus on YOUR game FIRST... Deal with the IP LAST!

Note: And yeah - for the most part I design "Card Games" too... This is a good website to discuss your design and future game...

Update: And you can IGNORE and NOT worry about the artwork of the game. A prototype could be Black & White... Your prototype must convey the IDEA of the game with all the rules that go with it. So a GAME is a prototype + rulebook.

If you are "secure" about yourself, instead of "hiding" the IP, I would simply just say in a post, "I WANT to use the IP 'X' for my Card Game". The designer will figure out from that statement if indeed your "idea" is sufficiently creative. But remember, what matters is how YOU transform the IDEA into a GAME. And that's the BEAUTY of BGDF... We can help. We will give you feedback, help you with obstacles, offer you criticism (positive not negative), help you with playtesting (harder but sometimes possible), help make sure your rulebook is well written and is cohesive, etc.

And if you ask: "What makes it that all these people know what to do?"

Because we have designers JUST LIKE YOU who HAVE managed to use IP. @David has created a Star Trek game using licensed Star Trek material for his game "Star Trek: Five Year Mission"... Here is the link:

David has a close working relationship with Mayfair Games. If you want to discuss the finer details of IP, send him a PM (Private Message). Username is "Dralius". You can search for his username (in the search and select the Users tab when the search results appear).

While David has designed a BUNCH of games, he has had many of his designs Published.

So there are people here, other designers who have already DONE what you may (still) want to... Just a matter of you opening up and telling us what you want to do - knowing several designers have key-ed in telling you an IDEA is not good enough.

Update #2: And how do I know? You said it yourself:

Zanoske wrote:
Hi Everyone!...

I have an idea for a card game that I am quite sure would be popular and profitable.

You have no clue how profitable an idea is. Like I said IDEAS are "worthless". Do you know how many GAME IDEAS I have? I have over a dozen design ideas... All in some form of concept/prototype.

Most have prototypes that are "broken" (they don't work with the game). And if you ask other designers some have EVEN MORE like two (2) dozen ideas... Or the prototype of the game SUCKS - Because I thought the idea SOUNDED COOL - but when I CREATED a PROTOTYPE, the game SUCKED.

As you prototype - you will realize IF your game can be cohesive or not. The next step is PLAYTESTING - Play test it YOURSELF and you will see IF the game might be FUN. Is there enough - to make it a worthwhile prototype??? IDK - time will tell... But you've got to MOVE ON from the IDEA - and closer to a playable prototype...

Joined: 05/11/2010
Good advice here. Just want

Good advice here. Just want to add, while IP can help sell a game, I don't think this is as prominent a feature in the boardgame market as in other markets. Even worse than video games, people have been badly badly burned by TERRIBLE board games that were just cash grabs because someone owned that ip and wanted to make a board game based on it. Gamers as a whole care much more about the quality of the game itself than how it happens to be themed, and sometimes, even a good game that doesn't FEEL like the ip can be overlooked because the wrong good game was made based on the wrong good ip.

If your game is actually amazing (or you are able to develop the idea you have into something amazing), I don't know that it would do that much better by being attached to an ip. The first licensed game on Amazon's best selling board games list is Jim Henson's Labyrinth at #43. That's one above apples to apples. You aren't going to outsell apples to apples. And that's the only licensed game on the top 100.

I don't have hard data, but it feels like the best sellers in more hardcore board games this year were Scythe and Mechs Vs Minions. Scythe is new ip (people were hyped because they knew who designed it) and MvM, while it is attached to a license, doesn't capitalize on the license in a meaningful way, and they've been up front about that. Most of the board game fans I've seen who are hyped for it have never played League.

Food for thought.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
The way I see it...

Using licensed IP is like FROSTING! You have a perfectly yummy cupcake ... and you want to add sugary frosting to the top. Of course the cupcake could be perfectly good without the frosting - but just adding the frosting makes the cupcake even better! So much so, that we gawk when we see a cupcake without frosting: "Oh my, somebody must be on a diet!"

The bottom line is that there is EXCITEMENT when you see brands you know.

And I think this is one legitimate reason you would want to use licensed IP: brand recognition. And that suggests some form of zombie-like acceptance. "Oh my god a Star Wars Miniatures Game...! I got to play this..." <- See what I mean!

I am in the process of "building a brand". Not a label brand, a GAME brand.

What does that mean? I can't fully disclose all the details because they are a bit subject to secrecy... BUT I can say we're talking about "Expansions"! Very excited to go in that direction and offer more content to gamers.

We'll have a NEW "Core" and in the future hopefully release two (2) more...

The goal is to get some familiarity: "Hey I've heard of this game before..."

And that's what licensed IP does: it grants you familiarity of the brand. So licensed IP, if used smartly can be valuable... But are you willing to pay the high cost of acquiring the IP???

That's another question...

radioactivemouse's picture
Joined: 07/08/2013
Let's look at this practically...

Say a license holder wants to expand their brand by creating a card game. Who do they turn to? They'll look for someone that has already created games, has a stable reputation, has probably worked on other IPs before, and is probably already working for the company.

That's just the reality of the situation. Take it for what you will.

I'm sure that license holders are constantly being bombarded by amateur game designers offering to create their card game out there, but the company doesn't know how reliable or how good the game designer is.

But I don't usually post criticism without some form of solutions.

1) Create your own game. Build a reputation in the card game community that you can create a solid product.


2) Work for the license holder and work your way into the IP. Maybe you can go in as QA, or some managerial position, but it's going to take time because you'll need to prove yourself in other areas before you get to the position you want.

Either way, creating a game using an existing IP isn't as easy as it appears. It's hard work. The illusion is that because it's "fun", it should be "easy". It's not. It's an industry like any other industry and, like any other industry, there's stiff competition.

I hope this helps.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Figure it all out FIRST

The other option as I see it, is pricing the COST to make the game and the sales point (MSRP) you are going to sell the game for.

You might not need the complexity of "lawyers" per se, it could be simply an amount based on the distributors' discount (60% off). So MSRP x 0.40.

Then you should know how much each Game COSTS to manufacture + shipping. And deduct from the wholesale cost (distributor's price point).

That will leave you with $x.00 of profitability for each game set SOLD. Now IF you are doing it alone, from that profit you must deduct the cost of having a Graphics Designer (or doing it yourself - if you can) and any cost of artwork. If it's 100% licensed material, then figure out how much of $x.00 you are willing to spend for the IP.

This is the other way and can avoid any type of complexities.

Once you figure out HOW much you are willing to share $y.00, you send an e-mail to the IP owner saying you want to make a card game and use their IP. In return you are willing to share $y.00 per game sold.

If they like the amount and feel confident about your game - they may agree to it... You can ask them to draft the contract based on $y.00 per game sold.

That in my opinion is another way of going about it...

Rick L
Rick L's picture
Joined: 08/22/2016
In the OP, it sounds like

In the OP, it sounds like this is a re-themed version of an existing game, so play testing isn't really an issue, right?

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Then forget it

Mokheshur wrote:
In the OP, it sounds like this is a re-themed version of an existing game, so play testing isn't really an issue, right?

If this is NOT an "original" game - but just a re-skin of an existing game - well then I would forget about it... Not only do you have to license IP, you also need to strike a deal with another Designer or even worst his Publisher...

Neither will probably agree to making a "re-themed" version... That's just my opinion.

radioactivemouse's picture
Joined: 07/08/2013
All games need testing

Mokheshur wrote:
In the OP, it sounds like this is a re-themed version of an existing game, so play testing isn't really an issue, right?

All games need play testing, whether it's a re-skinned version of the game or not. Even if things are 1:1 exact spellings of cards and functions, but with different titles and art, you STILL have to playtest it for thematic purposes. The functions and mechanics you lift from other games work for THAT game and sometimes your cards may not fit exactly.

Of course you don't want to go 1:1 matching every card text. That will get you in a lot of trouble.

It's like have a car engine you want to put in your car. You take the engine out, and place it in a car frame YOU designed. You still have to make sure that your car not only fits with the engine, but it also has to be drive tested to make sure it doesn't fly off the handle. If you're modifying the engine, it's even more imperative that you test everything or you'll have a malfunctioning engine...or an engine that's not at the peak of its efficiency.

Arguably, a close second to the design of the game is the testing of it. Fact is: The more you test the game, the better it will be.

Never...EVER underestimate the value of testing.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
It's just a shame that

It's just a shame that intellectual property games cannot be easily designed. I mean, I could open a Subway franchise relatively easily, Why is it not as easy with IP.

I understand that the profits made from board game are already thin, so it could be the reason why negotiating an IP could be more complicated as probably the price to get that IP is not proportional to the profit margin of a board game.

Designing games from IP has many advantages besides boosting sales. It's also a source of inspiration for game design.

I would have liked to have a generic Intellectual Property management system that could allow designing games based on IP without a hassle. Some kind of system where you have pre-defined cost in proportion with your profit margin making it accessible to any kind of production scale.

The down side of more accessible IP is that it could lead to a lot of crap and actually destroy the quality of the IP. For example, I have seen a TMNT video game where the turtles does not look at all like the original turtles. Still, the IP holder could always give the final go about accepting or refusing the licensing.

From an IP owner point of view, the only work it could demand is reviewing the project to authorise licensing if they really want to. Else, it's just free money for them. So I don't understand why it should be that complex to get in the first place.

It's the same idea as a franchise, the person opening the franchise reduce his risk of failure if they accept to follow the rules of the franchise.

Joined: 05/11/2010
The difference is, subway

The difference is, subway isnt creative. The franchise copies the structure of the parent, and has a very strict set of rules for how it operates. Creative endeavors are completely different. The IP manager has to work with the creatives to ensure the ip is used as well as possible. So it involves work from them. Even if they take a very light touch, they have to consider that property now as a part of all of the other various licencees.

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