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Own ruleset - how likely do I violate others?


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#1 thomascalc   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 20 August 2014 - 07:04 PM

I made an own ruleset for my upcoming fantasy RPG. It doesn't mimic any other ruleset (including D&D), but obviously, it has similarities (obviously, because it's an RPG after all).
 
I invested years of my free time (including the programming of the game), so I want to be very careful (I mean, if the game is a success, I don't want to lose its income due to copyright/trademark/whatever trials). The characteristics of my ruleset are:
  1. There are 6 abilities, including Charisma, Intelligence, Dexterity (the other three aren't from D&D, e.g. Physique or Focus). Their min and max are different than in D&D (I don't know D&D much, though).
  2. I have 2 races: Human and Dwarf
  3. I have classes like Warrior, Thief, Shaman, Necromancer and a few others.
  4. I don't use any trademarked names or creatures with their characteristics (like beholders), but I use common mythology names like "troll" or "giant".
  5. I use spell slots. There are two types of spell slots: normal and high-energy slots (so some spells may only be put to high-energy slots).
  6. When characters sleep, spells in spell slots are regained.
  7. When creatures gain XP (for quests or for killing enemies, etc.), they may level-up. The XP points for a certain class level are totally different from D&D.
  8. I don't think there are any other similarities.
 
How safe am I with these? I feel that 5, 6 and perhaps 7 might be problematic.
 
Note that I was directed here from gamedev.stackexchange. They said my question is suitable to be discussed here.

Edited by thomascalc, 21 August 2014 - 06:55 AM.


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#2 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 10675

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Posted 20 August 2014 - 08:05 PM

How safe am I with these?


It's hard to quantify "safety from lawsuit." Maybe 80% safe.
No matter what you do, when you release a game, you're not 100% safe. Anybody can sue you for anything.
The rules you cited (5, 6, 7 specifically) are probably not patented. They can't be trademarked or copyrighted. You should ask a lawyer (I'm not one).
-- Tom Sloper
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Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#3 Ravyne   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 9586

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Posted 20 August 2014 - 09:06 PM

I am not a lawyer, so do not take this as legal advice -- that being said, here's what I think about your question...

 

You're being paranoid.

 

Not just about yourself infringing on others, but of "protecting" your own ideas as well. This stems, bluntly, from a complete lack of understanding about what can even be protected and of how valuable or not something is, just because it's 'protected'. The symptoms are evident in the way that you think you're working around D&D rules by using different stat names, etc -- and in your being overly secretive about your own specific rules. If anything at all can be protected, its certainly not the generalities -- its the specifics, in concert. That is to say, using different stat names affords you none of the 'protection' you seem to think it does, and by not revealing your complete ruleset no one here can formulate any idea at all about how vulnerably you might or might not be to litigation. I'm not saying to never think about it -- certainly you can't just clone existing rules outright and get away with it unchallenged -- but protection of creative works doesn't typically afford each element in isolation (e.g. rules, archetypes, themes, a'la carte) protection, it generally protects the sum total of those things, possibly together with *specific* people, places, and things (that is, nouns that begin with capital letters.)

 

Besides that, you say it took you three years to develop -- so, either in those three years you've done something amazing with and around those rules, creatively, which serves as a moat around your castle (good); or, what you have isn't all that special and neither affords or deserves the protection you think it does (bad). Game mechanics of any kind, as a general rule, are difficult or impossible to justify protecting -- ideas alone are not afforded the benefit of protection out of hand, there are requirements that have to be satisfied first.

 

And even achieving your own special snowflake of a game, guess what? Anyone can sue you at any time for any perceived toe-stepping at all -- and to the degree that their allegations have any semblance of a reasonable reality at all, their charges will either be thrown out, force you to settle, or drag you through a trial. That's not just a threat, its a legal tactic that IP holders use *all the time* to keep would-be competitors out of their scrapyard -- sometimes the bark is just as effective as the bite.

 

Despite my hyperbolic tone -- there's no bad news for you here, unless by "not copying D&D" you actually meant "I'm TOTALLY copying D&D!" If you can put your game down in front of any role-playing group worth their salt and they don't immediately shout "Dude! This to totally F*cking D&D!", you're probably about as safe as you can expect to be.


Edited by Ravyne, 20 August 2014 - 09:12 PM.


#4 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 12339

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Posted 20 August 2014 - 10:06 PM

A leveling system will be original so long as the formula you're using is custom. 


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#5 thomascalc   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 04:59 AM

Thanks for you the feedback, everyone. This is exactly what I was (and am) looking for. I know it's not professional legal advice, but I don't need that for the time being.

 

Ravyne: I think you misunderstood some parts of my post, probably I wasn't clear enough (sorry). So let me clarify it:

  • It isn't the ruleset that needed 3 years: it's the game itself. With some friends, we implemented the engine, too.
  • I might be paranoid about getting sued (I invested years to this game), but not about others stealing my ruleset. The reasons I didn't want to publish it yet are that it isn't fully finished yet, and I want it to release it together with the game. This is for fans. Anyway, when the game is released, everyone will know the ruleset, so I have no reason to hide it now due to paranoia.

 

An addition that might be legally relevant: I'm in European Union. I haven't yet registered the company, but it will probably be registered in Germany, The Netherlands, or Austria. The game will be available worldwide, including the US, as well.


Edited by thomascalc, 21 August 2014 - 06:08 AM.


#6 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 12339

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 08:05 AM


An addition that might be legally relevant: I'm in European Union. I haven't yet registered the company, but it will probably be registered in Germany, The Netherlands, or Austria. The game will be available worldwide, including the US, as well.

 

Be sure to register your brand beyond the territory in which your company is. Patent trolls might otherwise claim the name and mechanics of your game and operate it legally outside of your territory (possibly claiming a lot more marketshare than you).

Just a piece of advice I've recently learned from one lawyer I do business with (her experience with Sega taught me much!)


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#7 thomascalc   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 12:19 PM

Thanks for the advice.

 

Registering the brand takes a lot lot lot money I guess. We're just indie developers...

 

Anyway the rule system itself isn't so "special" I think; it suits the needs of our game, but it's the game content (quests, spells, stories) that should make our game great.

 

Or do you mean that they might steal the game as a whole (name, characters, world and city names, etc.), and start to re-distribute it in the same binary form? In this case, I thought that they would almost certainly lose a copyright trial, because it is pure theft (especially because the software itself -- the binary code -- is copyrighted too I suppose.) Or perhaps they would make a new game based on our characters, names, ideas and quests -- I suppose this is the tougher case...


Edited by thomascalc, 21 August 2014 - 12:21 PM.


#8 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 10675

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 01:32 PM

Or do you mean that they might steal the game as a whole (name, characters, world and city names, etc.), and start to re-distribute it


I don't think anybody said that. And I don't think you should worry about that.
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#9 SeanMiddleditch   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 8749

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 06:12 PM

If any of those rules are in violation then almost much every single RPG ever made is in violation. smile.png

#10 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 12339

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 06:17 PM


Or do you mean that they might steal the game as a whole (name, characters, world and city names, etc.), and start to re-distribute it in the same binary form? In this case, I thought that they would almost certainly lose a copyright trial, because it is pure theft (especially because the software itself -- the binary code -- is copyrighted too I suppose.) Or perhaps they would make a new game based on our characters, names, ideas and quests -- I suppose this is the tougher case...

 

Generally speaking, they don't tend to steal your code as is, but they use the same brand/presentation to capitalize on your audience. Of course, this assumes your game gets big first. Perhaps the advice merely holds for when you're beyond 100 000 players and start to garner some serious attention.


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#11 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 12339

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 06:19 PM

If any of those rules are in violation then almost much every single RPG ever made is in violation. smile.png

That hardly holds in court as jurisprudence. When someone trademarks the term 'candy', they go after everyone that infringes on it, so being part of the majority is not a legal safe shelter at all.

 

 

That being said, the pressure on King was so dire that they eventually chose to come to their senses. But that's a company that still tries to play the 'good guy'.


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#12 thomascalc   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 22 August 2014 - 09:02 AM

Generally speaking, they don't tend to steal your code as is, but they use the same brand/presentation to capitalize on your audience. Of course, this assumes your game gets big first. Perhaps the advice merely holds for when you're beyond 100 000 players and start to garner some serious attention.

 

 

I see. If the game becomes so successful, then it will probably monetize very well => I will have the chance to legally protect whatever can be (and is reasonable) to be protected. Plus, I can hire lawyers for whatever necessary.

 

 



If any of those rules are in violation then almost much every single RPG ever made is in violation. smile.png

 

Thanks. This is also something I felt, and wanted to hear from somebody. And yes I know this doesn't work in court (as Orymus3 also pointed out), but besides legal "tips", I also wanted some informal confirmation. I also thought that the fact someone can "level-up" after gaining "experience points" cannot be protected even if I call it "level-up" and "XP".

 

Similarly, the fact spells in "spell slots" are regained after "sleep" shouldn't be a problem.

 

With names, I was careful (e.g. not to use beholder or its visual/general characteristics), so my creatures are either totally unique-named (and unique characteristics), or they are trolls, frost giants, ogres, etc. These latter ones have been present in mythology, so I'm sure noone can protect them (as concepts or names).


Edited by thomascalc, 22 August 2014 - 09:05 AM.





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