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Advice required before the next step

Started by neneoracle, June 18, 2009, 11:02:40 PM

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For all on the Forge,

I have been developing a Final Fantasy TTRPG for the last three years. It started while I was at university, going through a number of ups and downs but essentially I would love to try and get this published or out for the RPG world to play.

I have the whole system more or less finished as well as the entire basics of character creation etc. Only a small number of people have seen the system and played it, so the mechanics of the game itself have been kept contained and I have made no profit from the idea so far.

The problem I pose to everyone is what is the next step I should take if I want to publish the game?

I have thought about going to the Square Enix offices in London (being a resident of England, UK) and pitching my idea to them. Sounds well and good, but I am not sure what should be taken into consideration.

I have used the names of concepts and conventions that appear in a number of the Final Fantasy games, but I am aware that I cannot patent the idea due to the fact that Final Fantasy is a registered trademark.

Being in England, I am also unsure if there may be any publishing companies that might even be interested in the idea.

Nonetheless, I would love to be able to share the creation I have made with the rest of the gaming world.

What advice would you give me as to the next course of action to get the game out for all?

Please answer soon, as I have been sitting on my game for the last 3 years and want to do something about it.

Thanks everyone,


Eero Tuovinen

Here's my take:

1) Chances are that your game sucks. I'm not trying to offend, and I know nothing about your game, but that's just the statistics - having worked on a game a long time and being an avid gamer doesn't actually guarantee anything as far as a game's quality goes. You should take this into consideration by being what we like to call "realistic": approach your project with a soft hand, don't get hung up on your own impression of your game; listen to others and be prepared to give up on this one project if it seems that it's too ambitious for you at this point of your career as a designer. You've chosen a pretty ambitious project for your first one, after all.

2) Decide what you personally actually want out of this game project. Do you want to have creative control? Do you want to have financial control? Do you want to have the game featured in game stores, do you want it to get mainstream publicity? Is it more important to you that you get a fair share of profits, or that the game does well in the marketplace? Do you want the game to be expensive as a product, or does it only matter that people read it? Is the FF licence tie-in important to you, or are you willing to make a clone product? Or do you want them to even play it and tell you how much they liked it? Be aware of your motivations, because those should be your guide in choosing your strategy.

Now, what you should do next, according to me:

  • Decide whether the Final Fantasy tie-in is a crux issue for you in this project. I personally know of at least three Final Fantasy roleplaying game projects in development, but each designer in those cases has decided right out of the door that they don't actually need the name - they're designing roleplaying games that reflect what they feel are the important parts of Final Fantasy, which they express in more generic terms. So they're not "Final Fantasy" games in the sense that you get to ride chocobos, but you might get to ride something similarly named.
  • If you decided that the license is the thing you want and need, then you need to decide whether you want to be commercial and "big" with this. If not, then your best bet is to approach Square informally as a fan by email, asking them if they'd have a problem with you putting up a web page with a FF-inspired tabletop roleplaying game. Make clear that you're just an ethusiastic fan who wants to honor their trademark and nothing more. Then cross your fingers and see what comes of it - some companies like this sort of fan activity, others don't. Many fans also decide that they don't need prior permission: the common way people operate in non-commercial fan projects is to set up the web site and wait for the target company to notice it and, if they want, send a cease & desist order. Up to you which you find more reasonable.
  • If you decided that you need the license AND you're going to be commercial, then you need to prepare quite carefully before contacting the license-holder: the very minimum you need is going to be your own company capable of publishing the game, a business plan and sufficient capital to operate at a level that is reasonable for the licensor to negotiate with. A major company is not going to give a commercial license for a spin-off product to anybody whose business plan is insignificantly small; the potential risks for them are large enough that it's not smart for them to agree to it even if it's all free money for them. Such risks include stuff like having your project get in the way of a future tabletop rpg they might wish to publish later on, and having your representation of their trademark lessen its value due to mismanagement. For this risk-related reason it doesn't make sense to give permission to a small license product: the spin-off needs to either be powerful marketing or a powerful money-maker for them for it to be worthwhile for them as a business. Of course I know nothing about the corporate culture in this particular firm: the guy who decides things there might be an avid roleplayer who wants to make a bad decision in this case, but how likely is that, again?
  • If you've decided that you need the license, want to be commercial and won't be able to start up your own company to handle the license negotiations, THEN we get to what your best bet probably is: you should contact a likely rpg publishing company and pitch your game to them, hoping that they'll get interested enough to try for the license and make your game possible. This works exactly the same way it does for any author looking for a publisher: you should compare your planned game with what is on the market and find some likely companies that have published and seem to be doing well with similar product. Then you find out their contact information and submission guidelines, and start talking with them: tell them that you have what you feel is a good game, but need the larger company to help make the game happen on a scale that makes the quite ambitious license a reasonable reality. You should prepare for these discussions very carefully: you need to know what you yourself want out of the project, and you should have your game ready to be presented in as powerful a manner as you can manage at this point.
I should reiterate that I find it exceedingly unlikely that you actually have such a killer product here that it would be realistic to consider publishing it under one of the most valuable gaming properties. Such things do happen, but you need to understand that they don't usually happen because of what the game designer does: your design would by necessity be a small part of a large publishing machine if you managed to sell it to Green Ronin (to pick a random company you might contact) or whomever. What would then make the game feasible as a Final Fantasy license game would be plenty or art, product design, marketing and other steps that have little to do with roleplaying game design. License games rarely originate with designers in any game industry, and this is the reason for it: the person who actually has to invest of themselves and be smart and capable to make a license game a success is not actually the game designer, but the publisher - for you to get a Final Fantasy license game done, you need to become a publisher with balls of steel or find one willing to entertain this sort of project. Your game design would be a minor cog in that machine, if it even survived the process: a license publisher will often opt for a relatively conservative and safe-feeling core content for the license product, as that content is not what he is selling: he sells a license, not a product.

For the above reason I'd say that while I don't think a Final Fantasy roleplaying game would be impossible, it's pretty unlikely that such a project could be initialized by a beginning designer without the contacts and experience in the field needed to make such a project happen. I don't want to discourage you, however: there are other ways to publish your works, ways that might be better for you. As I already mentioned above, you could simply get rid of the trademark: believe it or not, the Final Fantasy trademark is the largest problem I'm seeing in your project right now, due to how it makes it more difficult to work on and publish your game. Were you to decide that you'd be happy to publish "Ultimate Sword: the epic video game roleplaying game" or whatever, most of the difficulties of this sort of project would disappear. You could still have all the content of your game be almost the same, you'd just have to change some trademark and product identity terminology from your game.

If the above solution attracts you, you can still approach an established publisher if you want, or you can publish the game yourself. A good step in either case might be public playtesting, after which you still have lots of writing to do. If you're publishing yourself, then you also need to do art direction, book design and such things, or get people to do them for you. If you're contacting a publisher, you need to prepare your game for the pitch and try to figure out who'd want to publish a FF-like game.

Also: get to know the copyright and trademark laws of your target market area. Your mention of patent makes me think that you might have things to learn in this regard.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I think Eero was a little harsh out of the gate, but perhaps it was an appropriate comment to get you to put on your analytical goggles and take a step back from your project.  I do not think that "3 years in development" has any relationship to whether or not your game "sucks."  I got into game design (officially) when Hasbro acquired WOTC.  I had this great idea to create a Transformers role playing game, thinking this product would be a no-brainer to a company whose parent owned the rights free and clear to the franchise (including lots of artwork).  I worked quite awhile on this project and made what I felt was a fantastic draft for the pitch to WOTC.  I then proceeded to try and get my foot in the door to show them it and explain how it was revolutionary (compared to all the other fan-based games out there).  I tried and tried but never even got a response back. 
My next step was to decide what I wanted out of the game I created.  I wanted to share it with other Transformer fans who were nostalgic like me.  I wanted to make some small-time money for doing this work on the side.  All else aside, I figured I had received a wealth of knowledge from the attempt and realized pretty much what Eero was saying -I could make any game I wanted (so long as it was my material) and not have to "pitch" it to any company.  I could publish it myself.  So, I took my game; put it out on the web for free as a "fan-based" game (making sure not to associate it with my new gaming company -hosting it on so that it wasn't even on my site's server).  Then I began work on my own property (which quickly developed into my Century's Edge book).  Now, in the 7 or so years that my Transformers RPG has been available, it has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times by people from all over the globe (webstats are soooo cool).  I've gotten emails from a few dozen of the folks that downloaded it -thanking me for making it or asking about some of the products mentioned in it (language I didn't take out when I abandoned it as fan-material).  I even had a editor from a medium-sized game company send me an email about how he liked it.  Though tragic in the sense that none of this has made me or the copyright owners any money, I am very glad I went this route because the feed back (though infinitely small compared to the number of total downloads) has kept me energized and designing games.
Well, whatever it's worth, that's my story/advice.  Good luck! -either way...

Louis Hoefer


I understand your excitement and pain that you have a great idea for an existing franchise.  Like Eero Tuovinen explained the networking and strings that must be pulled to even get a hold of the Final Fantasy crew will be vary tuff.  And I agree that just renaming the monsters; world and everything else might be a lot easier in the long run. If your system and game is sound and you have obviously put a lot of care and time into this endeavor you'll probably do just fine with renaming your game.  I have also made a Final Fantasy type game that I ran with my crew for a while and they loved it tell I told them I was inspired by Final Fantasy.  So if it's a full and lush world for fast and easy game play the name should not hurt your chances with it.  Make your own world flush it out and you could have the groundwork for some really good gaming.  Just try it out and if it dose not pan-out try renaming it.

Best of luck
E-mail me if you need any help