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RavenITA

Clones of a classic game

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What would be the legal steps to produce a clone of a classic game? Take Tetris, or Monopoly. There are lots of free clones (I'm especially thinking of the various clones of Civilization, SimCity...), so I think it can actually be done. What would I need to change? For example, can I make a Monopoly game with the exact same rules and the exact same board layout? Fictional names for properties would suffice? Do I also have to change the rules? To me, this is kind of a gray area: while it's clear that the Monopoly logo is a copyrighted trademark, is it the same with the Jail? Also, I think it would be a different story to clone a computer game or a board game. With the latter, there are no troubles with digital assets.

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The article clarifies a couple of points, but is still a bit vague (which is probably on the safe side when discussing legal matters...). I've found a lot of suggestions like "don't use their IP", but how far do IP rights go?

For example, say I make a game where players wander around a city or a region and walk into buildings, factories, land lots; they may, if they wish, buy them and manage the existing facilities, or build new ones. No "houses" or "hotels"; the player could decide to build, say, a petroleum refinery, which may bring him good money but decrease the land value. Properties could be sold and traded and so off.

Now, this sounds close to Monopoly, but with different twists and implementation. My question is: how different is "different enough"? Would it be enough if players moved around based on something different from a dice throw? Would it be enough if players stopping on a property didn't have to pay the rent? What if I made a feature called "Cartel", like: own five facilities of the same type to increase their productivity - would that be too similar to Monopoly's "get all four stations"?

I know that the specifics of my design would have to be discussed concretely and in a detailed manner, but I just wanted to get an indication, and I'm using Monopoly as a concrete example. Another example would be: what about porn Tetris? It uses the game mechanics of Tetris - I suppose that would qualify as an infringement?

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Original post by RavenITA
The article clarifies a couple of points, but is still a bit vague (which is probably on the safe side when discussing legal matters...). I've found a lot of suggestions like "don't use their IP", but how far do IP rights go?

Read http://sloperama.com/advice/faq61.htm

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Original post by RavenITA
The article clarifies a couple of points, but is still a bit vague (which is probably on the safe side when discussing legal matters...). I've found a lot of suggestions like "don't use their IP", but how far do IP rights go?

For example, say I make a game where players wander around a city or a region and walk into buildings, factories, land lots; they may, if they wish, buy them and manage the existing facilities, or build new ones. No "houses" or "hotels"; the player could decide to build, say, a petroleum refinery, which may bring him good money but decrease the land value. Properties could be sold and traded and so off.

Now, this sounds close to Monopoly, but with different twists and implementation. My question is: how different is "different enough"? Would it be enough if players moved around based on something different from a dice throw? Would it be enough if players stopping on a property didn't have to pay the rent? What if I made a feature called "Cartel", like: own five facilities of the same type to increase their productivity - would that be too similar to Monopoly's "get all four stations"?

I know that the specifics of my design would have to be discussed concretely and in a detailed manner, but I just wanted to get an indication, and I'm using Monopoly as a concrete example. Another example would be: what about porn Tetris? It uses the game mechanics of Tetris - I suppose that would qualify as an infringement?


As for the monopoly example you can get fairly close, basically you are free to borrow ideas, only the actual implementation is protected, You might want to look around for boardgames that are similar to monopoly and also compare those with some of the licensed variations of monopoly.

It is not enough to just rename the properties and other elements of the game though.

When it comes to tetris its best to be careful, the company owning the IP is fairly litigation happy, falling blocks is fine, just don't make a carbon copy of tetris gameplay or use a similar name. (You probably wish to avoid using their block shapes etc) , The same goes for civilization and sim city clones. (Freeciv could possibly be in legal trouble while for example Master of Magic is in the clear)

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Thanks, both of you. The FAQ was very explicit in ruling out all kinds of assets; the bad news is that IP rights on gameplay and rules are anyway a complex question.

I would also like to hear your opinion on a real case. An Italian company (which I won't name, though you probably know it) makes racing games since more than ten years. In a game that was released around five years ago, they introduced a feature they called "Tiger effect": during a race, if you had enough "energy", you could rewind the race, going back a few seconds so that you could get a second chance. Now this feature is included in many racing games, from Dirt 2 to NFS:Shift to MotoGP 09/10 (a direct competitor, by the way). Don't all of the other developers steal an IP of the original inventor?

Also, they made a game that was never released, featuring the gameplay of current games like Blur or Split/Second; does it make a difference that the game was never publicly released?

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Original post by RavenITA
In a game that was released around five years ago, they introduced a feature they called "Tiger effect": during a race, if you had enough "energy", you could rewind the race, going back a few seconds so that you could get a second chance. Now this feature is included in many racing games, from Dirt 2 to NFS:Shift to MotoGP 09/10 (a direct competitor, by the way). Don't all of the other developers steal an IP of the original inventor?

No that is not IP, that is an idea. Anyone can copy the idea, but they would have to write their own code. If they copied the actual game code, then that would be IP infringement.

The developer might be able to patent the implementation of the idea (as SEGA did with part of Crazy Taxi) but that would be the only way to protect it.

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Original post by Obscure
No that is not IP, that is an idea. Anyone can copy the idea, but they would have to write their own code. If they copied the actual game code, then that would be IP infringement.

The developer might be able to patent the implementation of the idea (as SEGA did with part of Crazy Taxi) but that would be the only way to protect it.


Interesting - then why making a Tetris clone is illegal? I mean, I take the "idea" of falling blocks that fill the screen and may be eliminated with skillful playing, and I re-implement it on my own. But, this is illegal; the tiger effect is not.

How far would the IP rights go on a "Trivial Pursuit"-like game? A question game with categories you have to master before winning, is using an "idea" or an intellectual property?

Don't get me wrong, I know I may sound like I want to be right at all costs; I'm just trying to understand. I know that the matter is complex and I appreciate the time you're taking to explain it :-)

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I'm not a lawyer or a law student. I learned about Italian copyright laws in a University course a couple of years ago, so I may be wrong.

The tiger effect is just a single element of the game, while in Tetris you are copying the whole concept. Let consider novels instead. You can copy some small elements of the story, but if you create an identical story you can get troubles. Italian Law is quite different than USA one though. Softwares are considered similar to books and only the implementation and the artistic resources are copyrighted. We have never really updated our laws to consider computer programs. You can't patent software in Italy (neither in the rest of Europe I think). Anyway, you can always ask to a lawyer if you have doubts.

But if you want to sell your game, you have to make it unique and different. Why should someone buy your game if there is another equal? You can copy some elements from other games, but just make it different.

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Original post by RavenITA
Interesting - then why making a Tetris clone is illegal?

Because to make Tetris you need to include the same blocks and the art of Tetris would be protected by Copyright. If you made a game about falling fruit that needed to be arranged into patterns that would be fine. It is perfectly possible to implement a system like the Tiger System is a game without copying any of the art or graphics. In fact you could probably implement it into a game that wasn't even a driving game.



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So, as a rule of thumb, game mechanics shouldn't be IP rights, am I right? Because I think I remember reading that Risk's combat rules (using the three dices) were somehow registered and a protected property of Hasbro (sorry that I can't be more specific - I may have misunderstood at the time).

This should be sort of similar to what happens with code and algorithms, right? AFAIK, an algorithm (say, the sieve of Eratosthenes) cannot be copyrighted. Is it the same with gameplay features, i.e., they can be used as far as one doesn't steal art, or trademarks, or sounds, or other assets.

Note: I'm not planning to do any rip-off of a famous game. I'm planning for a game with rules I'll be designing myself, but some elements will be inevitably inspired to existing games, and I want to have an idea about how much I should keep away from existing stuff.

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Let's go to the basics, first.

Copyright protects expression put in tangible form. This means that ideas that are then expressed in some physical, consumable format are protected. This includes code, graphics, music, etc. It would also protect the literary components of a rule book; even if the general idea behind the rules are not protected (unless patented), the actual expressions (e.g., the selection of the words, phrasing, paragraphs, diagrams etc.) contained in the rule book ARE protected; which means that if you substantially copy or plagiarize those rules, you're committing copyright infringement. The type and degree of protection for things like this (expressions of facts, processes, methods, etc.) and what constitutes "substantial similarity" under an infringement test is a more difficult question, but it's sufficient for our purposes that the veil of protection is somewhat thinner than for that of, say, a piece of original abstract art. If you have further specific questions you should ask an attorney and give details as to what you want to use.

Trademark protects the identifying features of a brand or service. This loosely extends, thanks to the Lanham Act and international law, to unfair competition and trade dress. So trademark not only protects the name of a product, but the "look and feel" of a product. This is frequently what Tetris cites when it threatens IP enforcement or when it litigates a matter. Tetris would argue that when someone uses the "falling blocks", similar music, etc., they're ripping off the "look and feel" of the Tetris brand and product. It's not the best argument in the world, but it still can and should (not morally-- morally it's kind of reprehensible, but as a practical matter is an effective tactic) scare indie developers with shallow pockets (empty wallets) away.

Patent protects processes, methods, inventions, and articles of manufacture (manufactured goods, "this product requires assembly" type of stuff). This would include the aforementioned rules of a game, a game's unique mechanics, algorithms, etc.

And surrounding all of this you have a thin miasma of cross over rights, like trademark rights that leak into copyrights and design patents that leak into trademark rights.

In the case of any project where some of your work is derivative of or otherwise loosely based on the ideas of someone else's work, there's the possibility that someone somewhere will get pissed and sue you. The entire discussion above is purely academic, because where the "line" is depends on how recognizable your idea is as being based on someone else's. It's at that point that you're exposed to some level of risk; it's a matter of time and chance of you coming up on someone's radar and whether they deem it worth it to threaten you, sue you, or otherwise take action against you for using what they consider (whether rightfully or not) theirs.


Best,

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Original post by RavenITA

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Interesting - then why making a Tetris clone is illegal?

Because to make Tetris you need to include the same blocks and the art of Tetris would be protected by Copyright. If you made a game about falling fruit that needed to be arranged into patterns that would be fine. It is perfectly possible to implement a system like the Tiger System is a game without copying any of the art or graphics. In fact you could probably implement it into a game that wasn't even a driving game.


I was under the impression that Tetris was actually free to reproduce due to all the legality battles between the owner (Alexey Pazhitnov), the Soviet Union, and many other countries and companies. The license was finally picked up by the Soviet Union but since the fall of Soviet Russia, who exactly holds the rights now?

EDIT: Nevermind, found the answer to my own question :) So I'll share:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tetris_Company

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