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Playtesting Disclosure?

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TKJimbo's picture
Joined: 01/31/2013

First off, I realize that theres not a lot of practical protection for designers out there in terms of submitting to publishers other than the motto that "Game publishers wouldn't be in business long if they kept stealing ideas" and thats just a rule we have to live with... But this is not about publishers...

What is some practical advice for playtesting your game amongst strangers (and acquaintances that aren't as ethical as they appear)? Whats to stop someone from playtesting a game and then basically recreate the game and try to pass it off to a publisher as their own?

Thank you

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
Nothing. But generally

Nothing. But generally several factors stop this from happening:

-It takes a lot of work to get a game to actually playable. If you're still playtesting it, it's probably not finished, and still requires work. Work that your average thief doesn't actually want to do- otherwise why would they be stealing?

-Most ideas aren't worth trying to steal to start with. Like, 99% of them. Or more.

-Even if it is worth trying to steal, the odds of it getting picked up by a publisher are still low- the same low odds you'd have yourself when pitching to publishers.

-If you've actually got a paper trail for your game, and can prove that they stole from you, you can talk to the publisher about it. Most publishers won't want a stolen game (and certainly don't want to get sued)- I've seen peoples' games on their way to publication, contract signed and everything, stopped because an existing product was too close to it. If it's too far into the pipeline to stop without heavy loss of money for them, you may get a royalty deal out of it. But the more obscure and unseen your game is, the less you'll be able to prove that you're the originator. HOWEVER, PITFALL: lots of designers overestimate how "original" their design is. Try not to get overly loose in understanding what actually makes your game, your game. There was a guy here a few months ago freaking out because some company had published his design! His tic-tac-toe variant... of which pre-existing similar designs were already out there... and the published one didn't match his any more closely than the pre-existing ones did... and "published" is used optimistically in this sense.

-The general ethics of people. Most people don't actually want to steal.

So if all these things align, and something gets legitimately stolen, and you can't talk it out with a publisher, you can sue. You probably will not win, but you can at least make it hard on the perpetrators.

HOWEVER, most importantly: look at how many games are published every year. How many instances of theft do you hear about? I see literally hundreds of games playtested at public conventions with strangers every year, my own included, and how many times do you see a thread or an article about a stolen game?

So my advice, as always, is to playtest with as many people as possible, friends and strangers, and make your game as awesome as possible. Worrying about it being stolen is just a way to roadblock yourself, and there are PLENTY of roadblocks already.

TKJimbo's picture
Joined: 01/31/2013
Valid points... I've been

Valid points... I've been around recruiters a bit, and the goofy (and unethical) things I've heard of people stealing positions and candidates from other recruiters kinda soured me on the goodness of people's ethics when there is possible money around...

The unethical playtesters have an advantage here... If they are looking for a good game, all they have to do is go to a few playtest sessions and see what games rise to the top, and then swoop in... And as I've seen in the recruiter world, if two obviously similar games go into a publisher, the publisher will kabash both of them because the publisher doesnt want to deal with an obviously touchy situation...

But you are absolutely right... I'm definitely over-thinking this... But having a good paper trail of your playtesting is good for this and just in general for game feedback so yiou dont forget...

Thanks truekid!

Joined: 11/19/2012
I've worked both in video

I've worked both in video games and board games and one thing that's always rang true is that the mind's of game developer don't work like corporate minds. They tend to work longer hour, get paid less, and even volunteer for unpaid overtime for the sole reason of creating a great game. People who actually make games actually enjoy the process of making their own games. Yeah... we are little messed up like that.

The "Idea thieves" and "Copycats" have a different mindset. They want success without work. They want a PROVEN model that is sure to make them loads of cash. You won't really need to worry about an idea being ripped off until you start making money from it... that's the bottom feeders will come.

All that said, I recommend talking to your play testers before and while their looking at the game. This will give you an idea of who you are working with and if you get bad vibes you can limit the information they get. Same goes with keeping a paper trail both of sending them your game... and actual contact with them. This will give you solid proof if you need to prove your ownership of the game.

One last point, I SHOULD mention. I recommend keeping a relaxed mindset over any idea's you had. Even us lovable game makers who'd never steal an idea... we CAN be inspired by it. Sometimes this leads to creating a game with the same theme or sometimes it's using certain mechanics on our own projects. Sometimes people ask for permission... other times they don't.

I've seen some people go nuts over this... but it never does any good. As long as it's not a blatant copy I recommend putting on a smile and being proud that someone was inspired. If your willing to watch people work with your idea you'll see amazing things that you'd never have thought

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
TKJimbo wrote: The unethical

TKJimbo wrote:

The unethical playtesters have an advantage here... If they are looking for a good game, all they have to do is go to a few playtest sessions and see what games rise to the top, and then swoop in...

McTeddy did a good job elaborating on the point of thieves looking for the path of least resistance, and I'll go even further- At BGG con this year, I played 5 published games, and the rest of the 4 days I spent playing prototypes. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Spielbany, and was playtesting games for 2 days. Number of other people's games that were in a stealable state? 2. And 1 was already picked up for publishing at the time. The remaining one wasn't revolutionary (not an insult!), so the submit-reject cycle would have taken MONTHS on average, and may never have panned out.

So if I was a thief: 6 days of hardcore playtesting (sifting through the muck, seriously) for almost the entire day, to find one game, would have required months more (optimistically!) to get someone to pick it up, all to earn an amount of money that (again, on average) won't pay for the time spent to find it, much less the gas/plane/food/convention fees.

I am not saying game design theft never ever happens, but it is far, FAR from easy money.

Ferrel's picture
Joined: 01/29/2013
The good nature of people

I really struggled with this when I opened my game up to external testing. I drafted an NDA and everything. The problem with that document is that it is just another barrier of entry for the person who is basically doing me a favor. I dropped that idea, took a deep breath, and just put it out there.

Generally speaking, I rely on the good nature of others to do what is right. It is possible that someone will steal my ideas. The real question is, are they going to take my ideas all the way to production like I plan to? Probably not.

The major, I guess we'll call it annoyance, I could see with this is if someone tries to claim they were the originator and you are the copy artist. That can sink a fledgling game with scandal. If you're really concerned about this sort of thing (I was/am) you do have some avenues.

In my case, since I come from a book publishing background, I took all of the text from the rules and cards and submitted them to the copyright office. Can someone still just change it around and use it? Certainly! Does it protect me? Not really! If, however, I ever have to prove the ideas originated with me I have it on public record. It is a small measure of peace.

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