Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Protecting intellectual property

Intellectual property and the protection thereof is not the kind of thing I put a lot of thought into. However for the last day or so I've been thinking about it a lot. My friend Bo, who I sometimes work on games with, owns a company called Shifting Skies Games. As such he views Game Design a bit differently than I do, and than pretty much anyone I've talked to about it. that's because the designers I know are doing it as a hobby, not as a profession, and they're not inextricably tied to the publishing end of things as Bo is.

My personal process of designing and developing a game involves a lot of open information. I do my best work in the Board Game Designers Forum chat room, bouncing ideas off of people and listening to what they have to say, offering my own insight and suggestions on their projects, and generally just brainstorming. I'm not published at this time, but I think I'm relatively good at what I do (at least some of the time).

The problem is, from a "game design as a profession" point of view, my process is technically unprofessional. Even in the low stakes world of hobbyist board game design, intellectual property has value, and to be as cavalier as I am about sharing intimate details of my game designs with anyone who's willing to listen could cause legal or financial nightmares if and when the game ever does get published, even if only in theory.

My personal philosophy is that it's not worth the effort to steal someone else's game idea, because ideas are a dime a dozen - the hard part is the execution. Also, I don't worry about someone claiming credit on a game I eventually get published because first off, I'm imminently fair about credit where credit is due (or I try to be), and secondly I don't think it's worth anybody's time to sue me over that kind of thing, when it would cost more to arbitrate than either party stands to make.

But then, I'm not counting on board game design to buy my groceries. I have a job as an Engineer and I make decent money at it. One could argue that nobody should try to survive solely on amateur game design, and to an extent that's true... but then there wouldn't be Z-man Games and Rio Grande, and our hobby would die out.

The long and short of this post is that I'm a bit conflicted about whether to carry on the way I always have, or whether to take on a more protective philosophy. I've always considered that the guarded approach is actually bad for the state of game design. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and in my personal opinion games in general would be better if designers all sort of worked together on them. the problem with that kind of thinking is "who owns the idea?" and therefore "who gets paid when it gets published?"

In the end I believe I will continue working the way I work (open information) with regard to my own designs, but when working on games with Bo I will need to keep things under wraps until the game is at least ready to be playtested. Bo and I make a pretty good team, and we've had a lot of good discussions about various games, It's unfortunate that I need to either work with Bo or work the way I'm used to, and not both.

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