20 A Note About Intellectual Property

At this point, some of you may be thinking that by talking about your game in class or posting your game online, you run the risk that someone will Steal Your Great Idea. How can you protect yourself from the threat of someone taking your basic idea, turning it into a working, sellable game, and leaving you with nothing?

One of the participants of Ian Schreiber’s course, Dan Rosenthal, wrote an article that details the basics of IP (intellectual property) law as it pertains to games. The article admits to being US-centric, but the core idea (which is worth repeating here) should be sound no matter where you are:

Remember, ideas are not copyrightable, they’re not trademarkable, not trade secretable, and both difficult and prohibitively expensive to patent. You can’t protect them anyway, and you shouldn’t try — instead you should try to come up with new ones, and start working on the good ones.  Don’t freak out when you see things like Game Jams, or this course and think “Ian says I should post my work to the discussion forum, but I came up with a Great Idea(tm) and I don’t want other people to steal it.” Ideas are commonplace in games, and the value of your idea is nothing compared to the value of the implementation of that idea, your expertise and hard work in developing it into something that’s going to make you real money. But most importantly, our industry is very lateral, very tight-knit, very collaborative. You’ll find people sharing their ideas at GDC, doing collaborative projects between studios, or using inspiration from one game’s mechanics to improve another. Don’t fight it. That’s the way things work, and by embracing that open atmosphere, you’ll be far better off.

This chapter was adapted from Level 3 of Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts course.


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Creating Games by Cathie LeBlanc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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