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BigBadBeef

How to protect the idea?

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So, here's the deal, I've got an idea, and I want to protect it. By that, I am not talking about piracy protection, more like content protection.

 

Say there's a hypothetical scenario, a fiend hacks into my files and steals that which I plan to put into development, and that thing finds its way into big bucks publishing house and they end up hoarding million for something whose concept I conceived... how can I protect myself from such a scenario outside of making a patent, it being under lock and key?

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So, here's the deal, I've got an idea, and I want to protect it. By that, I am not talking about piracy protection, more like content protection.

 

'Content' is what is created from ideas. 'Content' is protected by copyrights.

 

 

 

Say there's a hypothetical scenario, a fiend hacks into my files and steals that which I plan to put into development, and that thing finds its way into big bucks publishing house and they end up hoarding million for something whose concept I conceived... how can I protect myself from such a scenario outside of making a patent, it being under lock and key?

 

You can't patent, trademark, or copyright ideas. Ideas can't be owned.

 

Only your specific implementation or design of that idea can be protected.

If your implementation or design gets stolen, and you can prove it through your documentation, then sue the crap out of that company. But if it's under lock and key, you won't be able to prove that your idea was created beforehand.

 

Apart from that, keep your idea to yourself, and if you must talk to someone else (say an investor), make them sign an NDA. If they violate the NDA, sue them.

 

Ofcourse, if your idea is generic enough, chances are other people also have the same idea, and someone might get around to making it before you. Or even after you. When this occurs, don't assume that they stole "your" idea. Many people come out of the woodwork and start suing big successes like Star Wars and Harry Potter and Twilight and Facebook and whatever else, claiming (and even proving) that they had the "idea" first, or even wrote and published a book or game that's similar. Doesn't matter. If one human can have an idea, hundreds of other humans might get the same idea independently. "Boy goes to magic school" (Harry Potter) isn't owned by anyone. "Boy is chosen one" (Harry Potter and Star Wars and a bajillion others) isn't owned by anyone. Only the execution/implementation of the idea is owned.

 

Same with names. If someone else happened to use the name "Harry Potter" in a book before JK Rowling did, that doesn't mean JK Rowling stole the name. Heck, there are more than one real life people with the name Harry Potter. That doesn't mean JK Rowling stole their birth name either.

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In short the tl;dr version is implement your idea asap in some form quickly and make it publicly known that you were there first. It won't stop others copying your idea but being first has benefits if it's own as you will find out.

In the end though the one who markets the idea most aggressively wins. Does anyone know who designed the first platform game? No? But you could probably identify the character Mario or sonic the hedgehog... I rest my case.

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So, here's the deal, I've got an idea, and I want to protect it. By that, I am not talking about piracy protection, more like content protection.

 

Say there's a hypothetical scenario, a fiend hacks into my files and steals that which I plan to put into development, and that thing finds its way into big bucks publishing house and they end up hoarding million for something whose concept I conceived... how can I protect myself from such a scenario outside of making a patent, it being under lock and key?

 

Don't worry about others stealing your idea, most likely your idea falls into one of three groups:

 

1. ideas that won't work (too expensive, tech isn't ready, market doesn't want it, the idea is stupid, etc)

2. ideas that recently became feasible due to <something>

3. new ideas that were inspired by <something else>

 

if your idea falls into 1. but you know how to bring it to 2. then you don't have to worry about others stealing the idea itself, worry about keeping your solution to the problems secret instead (and if possible patent those solutions if they are patentable)

 

if your idea falls into 2 or 3 then you need to get off your ass and start working, even if you are the first in the world to have the idea and most others who get the idea wrongly place it in 1. you can be fairly certain that someone somewhere will come up with something similar and decide that it is worth persuing, if you sit around and wait someone will beat you.

Edited by SimonForsman

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I've got an idea, and I want to protect it. By that, I am not talking about piracy protection, more like content protection.


That isn't a Game Design question. Everything can't always be a game design question! Moved this to Business/Law (it's a legal question). Read http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson39.htm

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I wouldn't worry about it for a couple reasons:

 

1) Ideas by themselves aren't worth much.  It's the execution of the idea that matters most.  You can have the most unoriginal idea in the world, but if you do it better than everyone else, you'll more than likely be successful.

 

2) Chances are someone else has already thought of it anyway.  And if it's a good idea, someone else is probably already developing it.

Edited by Shpongle

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The harsh truth is that an idea on its own isn't worth anything. At best, its value is latent -- like a lump coal that will turn to diamond if enough heat and pressure are applied or the grain of sand in an oyster that will become a pearl one day. As a thought exercise, take any of the popular game franchises today -- Mario, Final Fantasy, Tetris, Halo -- and imagine what their germ of an idea might have been. Even if you work backwards from an existing success story, its hard to argue that that germ of an idea has any value of its own if we're being honest with ourselves. Those ideas didn't have any intrinsic value, and sadly neither do mine or yours.

 

An idea is just too simple to even communicate what latent value it might hold -- because an idea of not so many words leaves lots of room for the party hearing it to make different interpretations and additions of their own -- an idea at this level isn't even a singular thing, once you've shared it, it cannot be. You need to elevate a mere idea into a design before its even capable of communicating itself effectively, if imperfectly, but at least then two people can agree on what its value might be -- which is key to establishing collaborators. But even then we're talking about the intrinsic value of the thing in its own terms (that is, how its experienced by whoever experiences it) -- not its monetary value. To raise your once-idea to that level, you now have to rally and transform your design into a tangible thing that can be experienced, and which will entice consumers to pay for the privilege. Ideas are important because they're the first step in this value chain, but perhaps counter-intuitively they are the one link that lacks any value of its own what-so-ever.

 

I cannot think of even a single idea that's ever been sold. Designs, sometimes, but never an idea. Anyone telling you different is reciting fairy tales. So you've got an idea -- that's great -- now comes the hard part. Only you will will decide whether that first link will become something valuable to the world, or become another single link piled deeply in a Scroodge McDuckian vault of 'valuable' ideas.

 

 

TL;DR: Ideas are just the thing that gets you to the thing that's valuable.

Edited by Ravyne

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Apart from that, keep your idea to yourself, and if you must talk to someone else (say an investor), make them sign an NDA. If they violate the NDA, sue them.

 

This is precisely why a lot of potential investors won't sign an NDA.  For just pitching an idea and showing off a prototype, I'd skip the NDA personally.

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As Mr. "Servant of the Lord" pointed out, one can sue the crap out of that company, that particular fact I am already familiar with, but how do I secure the data itself to make it admissible in court? Time stamps can be easily falsified and it can be difficult prove the "me first" claim!

 

You see, that's why I was asking a general question about options in this case, it is difficult in my country to get digital data to become admissible.

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If you are seriously concerned about the security of your information (e.g., being hacked), your best bet is consulting an Information Security Service to help you keep your information secure.

 

Crisis prevention should come before crisis management. A good InfoSec service would also ensure you have the necessary legal means to sue if your information was stolen, not just by proving that this information is yours, but with evidence that your security has been breeched.

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and that thing finds its way into big bucks publishing house and they end up hoarding million for something whose concept I conceived...

That's not how it works, you have nothing to worry about.

 

 

Well, even if it would work that way... given that a concept that sells truckloads like that most probably has a prohibitive high upfront cost (modern AAA games cost millions to make... like double to triple digit millions of US$), chances are you as an individual had just as much chances in making this concept a reality yourself as selling it to the big bucks publishing house.

(hint: in 99% of cases, they will NOT buy your concept... they will wait for you to build it and prove that there is a market, then they create their version and flush you out of the market with better execution and bigger marketing budget... see Zynga and all their Copy-Pasta Games (yes, all of them, AFAIK))

 

 

So you cannot loose anything as long as you haven't built it yourself and tested it on the market... only then your idea will become something valuable, IF the market reacts in a positive way. Even your crude, untested prototype has not much value yet... let alone the idea in your head or inside your 200 page GDD. Sorry mate, nothing to protect or steal there.

 

 

Do you think anybody would have bought or stolen Notches ideas or even prototypes before MineCraft became a big hit? MS wouldn't even have paid him lunch for the rights to MineCraft... yet some years and many millions of players later, they paid him (and the other stakeholders) many, MANY lunches for it.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Get a copy of your source and post it to your lawyer (you have one of those right?) with strict instructions not to open it.

Have them sign a written document to prove it was received on a given date by them and not opened.

Take it along with said letter and file it in a safety deposit box at a bank.

If your day in court comes you have the lawyers signature to prove that you aren't lying and an envelope containing your game on dvd, which has a stamp on it from the postal service with a hopefully watertight date on it.

That is undeniable proof of the date you created your game.

Someone once gave me this advice when I asked the same question, and now I impart it to you. Again, I am not a lawyer and the person who gave me this advice wasn't either.

Have fun!

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The "poor man's copyright" isn't that strong a protection, although having a lawyer deposit it (with a record of the date of deposit) may add a bit of strength to it. Why not just file a copyright the usual way?


Last time I checked this worked out cheaper in the UK, but it was cheaper for a reason :)

Poor man's copyright is a pretty apt description of the process.

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I find it sadly funny how people will jump through hoops to avoid it.

 

What is the cost of mailing the thing to yourself?  You've got to spend effort making sure it contains what you think it contains, storing the sealed envelope, and only opening that envelope in the presence of a judge or magistrate after undergoing the beginnings of a trial?  The postage is cheap, but overall you are looking at hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars.  What are the other costs you may have in worry, lost sleep.

 

Possibly far worse, what are the costs of not being able to enforce your copyright because you did it wrong?  If someone stole the work or derived from it and made a fortune, you have no real recourse because you didn't register.

 

 

 

In the US, the cost of a copyright registration is $35, and the application can be completed in under 30 minutes.

 

The "poor man's copyright" is more akin to the "stupid man's copyright", since it doesn't give you any significant protections, is an enormous risk, all to save a tiny bit of money.  If you are concerned about it, skip one date night and spend the $35 on a proper copyright registration.

 

Edit:  Clicky. Read the instructions. Create an account and wait for the verification email.  Click the "register a new claim" link, answer three statements as "Yes" (registering a single work, you are the only author and owner, and the work is your own work). Attach a copy of your source code all appended into a single 50-page block, enter your bank card number for the $35 fee. Done.  A few weeks later get a fancy-looking letter in the post describing your acceptance.

Edited by frob

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I agree that in the US this might be a good reason.

However in the eu whether or not a computer program may be even copyrighted is hazy at best and even filing copyright might not be worth it as courts have previously upheld appeals that software and programs cannot be copyrighted : http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=53f4a333-fdba-4dcf-a7f6-456d2dc05369

Thus means that you really have no protection and he who shouts loudest (the company who promotes most) wins.

Its probably best to not bother at all in the EU and I don't personally try to copyright programs. YMMV.

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Nono, I'm not seeking to copyright the game itself, I'm seeking to copyright the features, the mechanic. Sure, anybody can make a game with space ships shooting each other, but nobody else should copy a mechanic that is completely different that everybody else's.

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Nono, I'm not seeking to copyright the game itself, I'm seeking to copyright the features, the mechanic. Sure, anybody can make a game with space ships shooting each other, but nobody else should copy a mechanic that is completely different that everybody else's.

 

Maybe look at examples on how the big boys did it.

 

There are two patents on game mechanics I am aware of:

 

Sega patenting parts of crazy taxis game mechanics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Simpsons:_Road_Rage#Controversy

 

CCG Tapping being patented by Wizards of the coast

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tap_(gaming)#Collectible_card_games

 

 

Here is some additional information on the topic... interesting read actually:

 

http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/210/can-game-mechanics-be-patented

 

Here, the interesting takeaway is "Hasbro dropped their lawsuit against the makers of Scrabulous after they agreed to change the name and the rules of the game, by increasing the number of letter tiles that each player receives from 7 to 8"...

 

Wow... a pretty big company dropping a lawsuit against a pretty obvious copycat after changing the name, and some lame game mechanic changes that pretty much still make it "scrabble with a different name and 8 instead of 7 tiles"?

 

 

 

I really am not sure how much such a patent is worth if even the big boys seem to have difficulties defending them. If you lack the funds of Sega, or Hasbro, or WotC, you might not be able to even force the infringer to make ridicolous changes like in the example above.

 

Best thing would be to make sure names and such are protected, to make sure the copycats that will surely pop up if your game is successfull have to at least have to use different names and images/icons. I don't think any patent on game mechanics will really protect you much, even though, if you have enough money, you can at least force them to be just a little bit more imaginative than just blatantly re-use your exact game concept... but is scrabble with 8 tiles really that different from scrabble with 7 tiles? Who protects you from people finding out that the additional tile actually makes the game MORE enjoyable?

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Nono, I'm not seeking to copyright the game itself, I'm seeking to copyright the features, the mechanic. Sure, anybody can make a game with space ships shooting each other, but nobody else should copy a mechanic that is completely different that everybody else's.

 

You don't copyright features or mechanics.  What you are looking at there is getting a patent.  But for that you need to go through the process of submitting a patent application and having it granted.  But a patent by itself is worthless without the legal means to defend it.  Even if you did patent a game mechanic, are you willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend it in court?

 

It also goes against the very thing that helped build the game industry: namely the copying of ideas.  If you look at the history of games, game mechanics and ideas are routinely copied.  It's precisely that which allows so many video games to be created.  If companies spent all their time patenting everything and then suing each other, the industry would be much worse off for it.

 

And in the end, it's likely that whatever ideas you have that you think are unique probably aren't.  The sheer volume of video games that exist or are being created means someone else has probably already thought of your idea.  It would not surprise me if it already exists.

 

The best thing to do is focusing on developing a game and making it the best implementation of your idea you can, and getting it to market.

Edited by Shpongle

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