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Author Topic: status of external properties  (Read 5118 times)
contracycle
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« on: August 22, 2007, 07:42:23 AM »

I would like to request some clarity/ruling on the extent to which we can discuss game ideas for a existing property held by someone else, your typical sort of movie or book tie in idea.

I reckon there were a lot of homebrew Star Wars games before the WEG release.  Making "the game of the TV series "might be an interesting exercise.  They are attractive because much of the detail and colour of the IS is already shared by the participants, both at the player/GM level and at the design discussion level.  Seems to me this could be an interesting vein to mine, and people frequently present ideas that are related to some prior title or are as thinly disguised version of such a title. 

So part of this question is about the extent to which actually attempting to produce such a product requires that ownership be relinquished to some larger entity.  Comments on thos with solid info appreciated.

Secondly, some thoughts on how far we could go or the limits of the acceptable.  If you proposed a design that was openly described as being "inspired by" with the serial numbers changed, would that fly?

Anyway any thoughts appreciated.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 09:37:46 AM »

I understand that you want to know the Forge policy on the matter, but meanwhile: there are several successful (insofar as they've been published and sold) roleplaying games that are just that - thinly veiled engines for a third-party property that both the designer and customer know will be used with the game. Examples that pop to mind are games like HeartQuest from Seraphim, Lashings of Ginger Beer by Simon Washbourne and Intergalactic Cooking Challenge by Zach Welhouse. Those are all games that have obvious properties behind their inspiration and might well be published with a licence with minimal modification.

So yeah, I see no reason why you couldn't do a thinly veiled rpg for a property, as long as the game actually does not infringe in detail. Personally I'd even be willing to advertise my game as being for the exact purpose of playing in the setting of X, but that's a legal matter wherein everybody has to make their own choices. I wouldn't be particularly worried even if I got the hankering to publish "Pocket Monsters roleplaying game" or something like that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2007, 09:44:53 AM »

Hi Gareth,

The hard line falls into the zone of creator control. For instance, you can go so far as to license that property by name and with all the serial numbers on, but with features of the contract that really do allow you, the publisher, to control the game content and the business decisions.

Luke Crane, for instance, does something like this with the Burning Empires arrangement. I say "something like this" not because I'm vague in my understanding, but because the details are his business. But it falls into the zone of creator control on his part. The same went for Greg Stafford and Issaries  products, based on our conversations, again, none of which I divulged but which satisfied my criteria; when his business model changed, we phased out the forum here.

Now, as far as filing off the serial numbers go, such that if someone made a game about a post-civil war spaceship called "Dragonfly," and didn't rip off trademarked stuff like actual ship design ... hey, if you own it, and if the use is not actionable, it's independent and that is totally OK by Forge standards. I think that saying "Inspired by Firefly" is the ethical thing to do in that case, and possibly a selling point, but making (or admitting) that reference is up to the individual. If past media are any model, then given the legal limits, one can imitate as slavishly as one wants (I do not mean that derisively, there's just no other way to say it), and no one has any reason to complain.

Best, Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2007, 05:03:20 AM »

Where I find this a bit vague is in the design phase, in which someone is considering how to create the-game-of-the-title; could they then ask for advice and help for this design?  That would have to occur before a game existed on which a contract could be discussed.  Or would it only be feasible after such a design was complete and in print and the contract agreed?

Similarly I was wondering, could you "patch" an existing game?  We have seen some discussions of modifications applied at home to game rules, but could we open a discussion on the best methods of fixing a game in a certain way?  Such a patch might constitute a big chunk of text as a rewrite, but at no point could an assertion of ownership over the original system be made.  Or if someone wanted to write a completely new alternate set of rules for an existing published setting?  Could we have threads that are kinda like "Dark Sun done right", and which analyse the weaknesses in an existing system with the goal of rewriting them in a way that better suits the setting?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2007, 05:35:05 AM »

Hi Gareth,

As long as these are aimed at creator ownership as the publishing goal, then all of that is fine. It makes most sense of the person goes ahead and says "My system for the faux Dark Sun setting," "my setting like Star Wars," "my Borribles game for which I am seeking the appropriate license," and is generally careful to keep that clear throughout the discussions. I don't think it will take much reinforcement, if any, beyond the first post of a given thread.

Your second paragraph, though, doesn't speak of publication. To be absolutely clear, my statements in my first post in this thread, and also in my paragraph above, are strictly regarding publication-oriented design.

On the other hand, let's say one wants to design a system which suits (oh) Dark Sun better than the published one, for purposes of play, not publication. That's not a First Thoughts or Playtesting topic at all; that's pure and simple Actual Play. It would begin with discussions of playing Dark Sun more-or-less as written (i.e., how you really did it), and your thoughts on how that could be changed. The thread or threads would become essentially design threads, always rooted in actual play examples of one sort or another, and I think it would serve the stated purpose admirably. In that case, you could say Dark Sun Dark Sun Dark Sun all the live-long day and no skin will be scraped from anywhere.

The two approaches aren't necessarily incompatible, either. Let's say you did the second one and arrived at a fun and exciting system that's just right for Dark Sun ... and then you decided to publish it yourself. (Let's also say, for simplicity's sake, that this has nothing to do with licenses or anything like that.) Fine! Now it's time to scrape off the serial numbers, which is a good topic for the Publishing forum. As a personal recommendation, not a legal one, I'd suggest acknowledging your inspiration in the indicia or in an appropriate place in the text, but that's just me.

Does this make sense?

Best, Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2007, 04:25:29 AM »

Yes thats fine thanks.
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