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Is it "my game" or "their game"?

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CS
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Joined: 10/10/2013

Hey everyone. I am totally new to game design (and to BGDF) and I have a question or two I was hoping you all might be able to help me with.

I came up with this really great idea for a game (I hear you laughing already...) and I was wondering whether it's "my game" or "their game". I've read on this forum that game ideas can't be copyrighted, that the mechanics of the game can't be copyrighted, but that parts of games can be (art, names, etc).

So, here's the dilemma... Say I took the game Monopoly, changed all the art on it, changed all the words on it, and called it something else entirely, but I used the exact same mechanics - there squares are in the same places, they have the same function, and I used cards that did essentially the same thing as in Monopoly. Similar little plastic figures (but not the houses Monopoly uses... let's say I used 'widgets'). Let's also assume for the sake of argument that the Monopoly mechanic is unique.

Have I created a new game that I have legal rights too, or have I created a derivative (right word?) that the owners of Monopoly would have legal rights too??

I don't know, and I'd appreciate any feedback you all might have. Thanks!

CS

Steve
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Joined: 07/29/2008
"Mine" or "Theirs"

{snark}Neither, you just became Zynga.{/snark}

I can't claim legal expertise but, my question would be, what would be the point? As a game creator, you ought to be in the business of creating original games because original games create original experiences. A board game provides a different experience then a card game. A social game provides a different experience then a strategy game.

What function would a Monopoly clone serve that Monopoly itself couldn't provide? What new strategies have you included?

There are a lot of games out there that started their developmental lives as being a clone but then added new strategy elements until they became their own game. For example, perhaps you feel that Monopoly doesn't have enough strategy so you added in cards where people could substitute turns for cards that had die rolls on them that players could use whenever they wanted. Perhaps you add a new type of building to the game besides hotels and houses. Maybe you have "Monopoly in Reverse," where people start out with hotels but the maintenance and routine costs are so high that they must eventually break them down to houses and the game ends with the winner having the last structure standing? Or perhaps you forgo money and all of the purchases are loans and the goal is to be the last player to default on their loans?

If all you want to do is cash in on an established game, I'm sure that you can. As long as you change the name and change the art (and even add/drop/alter one tiny rule for good measure), then lawyers might grouse depending upon the company but you ought (emphasis on "ought") to be legally safe. However, what would be the point? I'm sure that there are other ways that you can make money without the legal brinksmanship.

Welcome to the forum.

Corsaire
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Joined: 06/27/2013
Mine

Or rather yours. There are some fuzzy areas relating to trademark beyond just speciific words. There is a notion of "trade dress" which involves aspects of the execution or presentation of a product that makes a product uniquely identified in the consumer's mind as belonging to a particular company. Because some of that is fuzzy, companies may use lawyers to challenge products they think are even close. Depends on the company.

With the degree of change you are describing there are plenty of examples of people specifically following those lines with Monopoly without an issue.

questccg
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Joined: 04/16/2011
Another comment...

Just because you chose "Monopoly" as the game your game is derived from...

Personally if you are creating a game that is *like* Monopoly, you should already know that "Roll & Move" games are "passé" (outdated). I wish I had the link to the message that talked about game alternatives to popular commercial games. The author explains why and then explains the ALTERNATIVE game that should be played. It's a very interesting read... from the alternatives "Ticket to Ride" is one of the games recommended. I cannot remember the others (saddly - it was a great article to read).

Anyway I hope the game you want to create is not a "Monopoly" *knock-off*!

Update: I found the OP about the games: http://www.bgdf.com/node/13072

I would read that article to get familiar with OTHER games besides the commercial ones...

KrisW
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Joined: 01/15/2013
Depends on how deep your pockets are

I've had a couple of run-ins with the Monopoly monopoly and both cases were determined by money, not the rights or wrongs of the case. Legal defense costs a lot, and the Monopoly guys were willing to keep throwing more suits until the other side ran out of money to defend themselves.

It should be about right and wrong, but it isn't.

questccg
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Joined: 04/16/2011
Hmm...

KrisW wrote:
I've had a couple of run-ins with the Monopoly monopoly and both cases were determined by money, not the rights or wrongs of the case.

Are you saying YOU were sued by Hasbro? Not to be too curious - but could you explain what circumstances led you to having "run-ins" with the Monopoly people???

eviljohs
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Joined: 03/10/2012
questccg wrote:KrisW

questccg wrote:
KrisW wrote:
I've had a couple of run-ins with the Monopoly monopoly and both cases were determined by money, not the rights or wrongs of the case.

Are you saying YOU were sued by Hasbro? Not to be too curious - but could you explain what circumstances led you to having "run-ins" with the Monopoly people???

I agree with Questccg. Not to take away from the original question, it was indeed an interesting question. But I am now more interested in hearing about these legal run ins with Hasbro? I too have seen monopoly knock offs around. So what lead up to you taking the raw deal from Hasbro and not all those others.

CS
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Joined: 10/10/2013
Thanks for the comments

Thanks for the comments everyone, especially the comment about 'trade dress'. That addressed my question pretty directly and was what I was wondering about. It appears that a game with a very unique mechanic might fall under 'trade dress' issue. I dunno.

I am actually not using Monopoly as the basis for the game, I don't care for roll and move games either, I just used it as an example for the discussion because it seemed easy to talk about. I apologize if it made the question harder to answer. I guess like others who are new to the designing business, I didn't want a Hasbro rep thinking to himself *Hey, that's a good idea! I think I'll take it!*, which he/she could easily do. I'd rather just call them and ask if they'd take a look at it, but I read on another thread that Hasbro won't talk to designers.

Kroz1776
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Joined: 10/09/2013
There are no Winners, only losers

CS wrote:
I'd rather just call them and ask if they'd take a look at it, but I read on another thread that Hasbro won't talk to designers.

Because they don't want the risk that their designers will use your idea.

I heard about this on Heroscapers.com. There were a lot of custom figures being made for the game and the designers of the game could visit the forum and talk to the fans of the game, but they couldn't venture into the customs forum because Hasbro didn't want to risk a legal battle. In a legal battle there are no winners, everyone pays up the rear.

BENagy
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Joined: 09/25/2013
Except the lawyers. ;) I have

Except the lawyers. ;)

I have the lucky opportunity to have my game publishing company be a part of a business incubator, so I have access to some lawyers, and basically the advice they gave me when I posed a hypothetical question similar to yours was this (By the way, this is something everyone should look at to see how easy it would be for someone else to rip off THEIR idea):

"Copyrighting of board games, according to FL-108, does not cover names, mechanics, style, etc. Trademarks can cover the name and brand, but nothing really covers mechanics. That being said, as with any laws, Hasbro can pull something up like 'trade dress' that may hold up in court, even though it is specifically written against in the law."

Here's a helpful link, too. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html

If the pieces were the same, you're dead. If the rules read the same, dead. If you same the same name, car text, etc, dead. Otherwise, you're technically free. Now in my opinion it would be stupid to go up against Hasbro. They took in over $1.4B last year, so careful careful! They will defend their brands to the death.

Now something to be aware of though, is that this means others can copy YOUR game. James Mathe (@ jamesmathe.com) wrote an article about this that said it just doesn't happen too much, because if it did, people would shun the copy on their own. Gamers are a tight knit group, and defend their own. That's great, but I wonder how much money that copier would get away with before his name was ruined...

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