Do you need to protect your game idea?
Recently we got the tip from a reader to write something in our basic manual about how to protect your game idea. Not a bad tip, because many novice game designers are left with the question of whether and how they can protect their game ideas and whether they should give them up somewhere as intellectual property. We are not lawyers, but we have read a few things about protecting your own game. In this blog post we tell you what we know.
You have come up with a fantastic game concept, a gap in the market and everyone who tells you about it is lyrical. This cannot but be a success. But how do you prevent others from running off with your idea? In a society of contracts, fine print and a lot of mistrust, it is not surprising that the beginning game designer wants to know more about this. But are these concerns justified?
The short answer to this question is: No.
Below we explain in more detail why, but also which options there are.
What often happens is that novice game makers are afraid of having their game play-tested by other people or showing it to publishers. The reaction from the games community is actually always: "The best way to protect your game idea is to share it with as many people as possible." You are automatically protected by copyright. Write down your rules of the game, put them online and share them with people.
Copyright exists to protect the intellectual property of texts, images, videos or other artistic work. A game idea or concept does not in itself fall under copyright law. An elaborated idea or concept is. This means that if you have made a manual or design of the game, they are protected by copyright. For this reason, you best protect your game by sharing it with as many people as possible.
There are a lot of different games and game ideas and game makers often use game mechanics from different existing games. Copyright does not allow you to claim a game mechanic for yourself. The deckbuilder Dominion fortunately can't use the game mechanics'deckbuilder'claim. However, they can make use of copyright if others make almost exactly the same implementation.
“Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles“
The best way to protect your game concept is therefore to make a superior product. You can make an as good deduction from the tiler 'Carcassonne', if it's not better than Carcassonne, no one wants it.
Trademark law allows you to protect your trademark or certain symbols. For example, the trade name 'Wizard of the Coast', but also the game name' Magic the Gathering 'and the symbols for the mana are part of market law. You too can record your game name or certain symbols of your game if you decide to publish your game yourself. You can choose to do this only in the Benelux, Europe or International. The costs for this run in the hundreds of euros.
However, this is usually not very relevant for most game makers. If you bring out a game yourself, chances are you are among the masses that sell less than 5,000 copies. Only if you have a great success or want to make a recurring series of games where it is important that you are unique in your brand name, symbols or other expressions, registration via Trademark Law is necessary. Even if you don't register your game name, you can usually assume that other game makers will not just use the same name. This only confuses consumers and that does not help anyone.
Inventions can be protected by means of a patent. In the game world we are talking about game mechanics. By applying for a patent on a game mechanism, you can prohibit other people from using that mechanism. In order to get a patent, game mechanics must be really unique and not obvious. This makes it almost impossible to get a patent on game mechanics.
In addition, applying for a patent has to be done separately for each country and therefore quickly becomes an expensive affair.
Can someone steal my game idea?
Yes you can, provided:
1) The artwork is actually different
2) The game rules are written differently
3) No trademark law is exceeded
4) No patent is exceeded
But in our opinion, it is not necessary to worry about this as a starting game designer. There are plenty of other obstacles to overcome before you can release a successful game that the distraction for protecting your game is not a useful time commitment.