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How protective are you of your game ideas?

Started by Matt Wilson, September 19, 2002, 06:35:14 PM

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Matt Wilson

In another thread in actual play, Alan asked about using a mechanic idea similar to that in Donjon.

To which Mike said:
Quoteone cannot prevent another designer from using a particular mechanic. So go ahead, sounds like a good idea. Nice of you to do the ethical thing and ask, however. Really. :-)

But that doesn't mean you won't get really irked. How much "borrowing" goes on among designers? And how protective do you get about it?


While individual reactions will vary.

But the general rule of thumb is to give credit where its due...and even when its not necessarily due...a nice tip of the hat goes a long way to avoiding ill-will.

Matt Wilson

Quote from: ValamirWhile individual reactions will vary.

Which is, uh, why I asked. :) My desire was to hear from people about how protective they feel over their ideas.

Ron Edwards


I'm hunting desperately for an older thread in which I lay out the issue of "influence" on role-playing game design in a whole list of possibilities and interpretations. Can't find it - Fang, maybe you can help, it was the one in which you were concerned that you'd be classified as a "bastard" in my scheme.

Anyway, the long and short of it was that I recommended acknowledging not only games which were direct influences on the present game's design, but also games which shared design features even if they weren't influential (or even known to the designer of the present game).

I'll present these tangentially-related threads for reference purposes: I'm a plagiarizing bastard, Intellectual property and dice mechanics and the slightly-acrimonious Copyrights which includes tons of useful links


Gordon C. Landis

Probably because I referred to it in a Site Discussion post (parts of which might be better suited here, but I didn't know about this thread then), I was able to find this comment from Ron:

(Ron's last post - THE last post - lays it out clearly.  Earlier stuff is mostly ignorable)

Sounds like a good policy to me.

By my perception, someone trying to "keep track" of where all the neat ideas in recent Forge member's games "came from" would go freakin' insane.  Was "who controls narration?" simultaneously developed, or is it all from The Pool?  What mechanic REALLY demonstrated the full potential of FitM first?  

So not only is a good policy, it may be the only sane way to approach it.  At least, IMO.

Gordon (under construction)

Le Joueur

Quote from: Ron EdwardsFang, maybe you can help, it was the one in which you were concerned that you'd be classified as a "bastard" in my scheme.
Looking around my 'stuff,' I'd say that was possibly this thread about kickers.  Privately, I believe I worried that Scattershot's Precipitating Events was going to be mistaken for Kickers and that people would think I ripped off the idea (even though I coined mine back in the early nineties).  The "bastard" part was in Private Message, I think.

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Mike Holmes

I formerly worried about people taking "my" ideas a lot. Then I realized something. Nobody was actually publishing these ideas, even when they had access to them. Look at Sorcerer. Lots of great ideas. How many copycat games came out while it was being published in PDF? So the idea of being "beaten to market" has been expunged from me soundly. In fact so much so that I'm making my current game Synthesis "open source" so to speak. It's arrogance to even assume that your game is worth copying, much less that somebody will find it so cool as to steal it. That's a hard thing for a designer to admit (we all think our idea is going to be "It" or "the one"). It's just not something that anyone should worry about.

I would worry a bit about not being credited for some mechanic that I did which was new. But looking at all my work, I note how I have all sorts of stuff that's in other systems. Not really all that new at all. And I also realize that I may not have credited people who came up with stuff that I included and just missed. As such, forgetting to credit is forgivable too for all but the most egregious of cases imaginable. Which never happens.

Not that one shouldn't try to credit when one can. There is no good reason not too. And, actually, I don't think that you really need to ask a designer to use his mechanics, but notifying them can be a sign of resepct. I'd love to hear, "Hey, Mike I'm going to use something like the Synthesis conflict rules in my game. Here's what they look like; what do you think?"

So, to sum up, I think that designers would be doing themselves a favor if they just didn't worry about it at all. I don't (hardly at all :-)   ) any more.

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Ron Edwards


That was the thread, Gordon! Thanks!!

Also, Fang was kind enough to recall a private-message exchange we had a while before that, and forwarded what I'd said to him:

I should be very clear that I'm talking about a personal values statement, and I don't expect that others have to accord with it.

Here's what I'd want to see from other designers: acknowledgment of the history of RPG design, particularly those elements which are important in the game they are presenting. This acknowledgment is especially nice in the printed text itself, but if not there, then at least in discussions of the system in public forums, interviews, etc. People who do this get kind of a "little gold star" in my head.

(The first edition of GURPS was very nice about acknowledging Champions and Empire of the Petal Throne in its first section, for instance. I acknowledged Over the Edge, Prince Valiant, Cyberpunk, and Zero in the preface to Sorcerer. John Wick acknowledges his influence by Pendragon in discussing both Legends of the Five Rings and Orkworld, and Greg Stolze does the same regarding the influence of Over the Edge on Unknown Armies.)

However, no one actually has to do this, and if they don't, I don't have any widely-acknowledged reason to get all upset about it either. The actual industry standard is to lift very, very freely from existing game designs and to present no such referencing. So I guess calling them "bastards" is too extreme in any way except inside my head. And I'll always make allowances for people simply not to have seen the parallels (as opposed to ignoring direct influences).



So long as the mechanic isn't copied word for word, so long as the mechanic isn't exactly the same, I don't mind if someone uses an idea of mine as inspiration for something of thiers.  As long as they give due credit (which I've tried to do in the threads about MY mechanics system)  As long as they don't copy a whole whack of stuff from any one system, I guess it's okay.
"Know thyself,"  the master said to me "lest I verily clout thee over thine head with a really big stick and take thine shoes, thine coat, thine hat, thine wallet and thine watch."

And thus I was enlightened


I don't care about it all.  But then I would say that.  For me, if I get "an idea", whether my own or by reading, its hard to stop thinking about it.  Moreover, I will not self-edit in that way.  I think theres a massive qualitative difference between an actual product and "intellectual" property.  Frankly, even if someone took an idea of mine and published it, I begrudge them nothing - they still took the risk, made the investment, yada yada.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Christoffer Lernö

For myself? Not at all. But then again I feel I'm borrowing from all over the place. If someone thought an idea was a good one - who can stop them? And it's a compliment anyway.

So me? Not at all. But then again I haven't finished my first game yet either, right?
formerly Pale Fire
[Yggdrasil (in progress) | The Evil (v1.2)]
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Indie-Netgaming member

Andrew Martin

Quote from: itsmrwilsonAnd how protective do you get about it?

I'm trying to live my life as if I was living in a gift culture. You and anyone else are free to use what ever is on my site, as long as you or others don't prevent me or others from using it.
Andrew Martin