Making a game

Started by MrNay, February 26, 2011, 10:46:39 AM

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I am a bit curious. This is a bit longwinded, sorry about that, I am not sure where to start.

I having been playing rpgs for a while now, starting with Advanced Fighting Fantasy, then moving to Rifts then cruising through the New world of Darkness.
One thing I have noticed is my lack of interest in learning large amounts of rules, all I want to learn is what I need for the story/game.

Last year I discovered Indie style games and realized that people seem to be of the same opinion and are publishing their pet projects. So I have been buying, reading and playing the ones that take my eye.

Now I have this framework for a setting and a system that has been floating in my head for years (the setting, not the system it is an on going critter,) about a collective dreamworld accessed by lucid dreamers via a new street drug made of shamanic psychoactives.

I really would like to show someone what I have so far and get some tips from people who have been down this road before, but how much should you keep under wraps, do people poach budding games, repackage them and sell them as their own?

Ron Edwards

Hello, and welcome.

About fifteen-plus years ago, a number of people independently decided not to worry too much about that issue, and to make their games available on-line. Some were finished, some were starting ideas, and some were in between. The medium was eminently copyable, obviously.

Some of us went one further and decided to emulate the publishing habits from RPGs of the late 1970s, in which citing games which had influenced one's ideas, as well as similar games currently available from other publishers, was ordinary.

The question is whether any of these things resulted in massive ripping-off. Did people get their ideas stolen? Did they lose a golden goose because someone slapped their name on it?

The answer is no. There have been no instances to date among the independent design community. I don't think it's due to amazing virtues, either. I think it's due to several other factors, including the essential inability of people who would do this to recognize a good system in the first place. I also think it's due to the fact that the initial fear is a little bit unformed, and informed only by rumor or associations.

Can you tell me, or those of us reading, exactly what you fear? It may be a legitimate concern that either has been negated already, or needs specific care for protection. Or it may be a bugaboo emerging from other industries or from rumors and misconceptions that are common in hobby subculture.

Also, I'll be moving this thread to the Publishing forum pretty soon. No big deal.

Best, Ron


Thanks Ron. It is just my initial caution at being in an unfamiliar situation. I havent come across any rumours for or against being completely transparent, that is why I thought I should ask those who have gone before.

Im not in this to get rich and dont think it is really that kind of hobby, too niche. 
It is more of a vague fear of having someone else in a better position and more experience developing a near identical game and rendering mine redundant.
I would love to see my crazy setting become a book. 

Jason Pitre

Welcome as well. 

I understand your caution, as someone relatively new to the design community, but as Ron so eloquently described it is less of an issue then you might otherwise assume.  There are a few interesting little twists that make the "indie" community a tad unusual from other intellectual property generating groups. 

1) Recommendations.  One of the relatively early aspects of the "indie" designed games were that they included advertisements for other games which was logical enough considering how very niche our games tend to be in the larger scheme of things.  Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard fulfill entirely different gaming desires, but if you like one of them you might very well appreciate the other. 

2) Citation.  Many of the games (starting with Dogs, in a direct fashion?  Ron?)  specifically cited other earlier works as inspirations for the design.   They would say "the Relationship mechanic was inspired by Game X, while the Ennui Stabbing theme was directly lifted from Game Y."  Innovation was respected and games were built upon the shoulders of their predecessors.

3) Difficulty.  Quite frankly, neat and compelling game design ideas are a dime a dozen.  I am drowning in the things, but they won't do me a lick of good until I am able to perform the difficult task of actually implementing them in the form of a written game.  Realistically, we are aiming to be rewarded for our skill in implementing neat ideas, rather then for the raw inspiration.   While it's possible that another designer would take the same idea and run with it, there is very little time-savings on their end and it usually isn't worth the effort.

4) Transparency.  Some of us are unusually transparant in our game design work.   I think that Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Publishing explained it very well in a podcast of his which you can find right here;     

Best of luck and let us know if we can help you out in any way.
Genesis of Legend Publishing
Telling New Stories around the Digital Fire

Ron Edwards

Since you asked ...

I claim direct personal credit for re-introducing citations and recommendations to RPG publishing, always acknowledging that it was standard practice in the early publishing days of the hobby. I started with the first commercial version of Sorcerer in 1996 and pushed the concept heavily when I became active in on-line discussions in 1999. Clinton and I emphasized it as well when we began the Forge forums in 2001 or so.

It's not just about the influences, either. It's about acknowledging current games with similar topics and/or mechanics, what in other industries would be called the competition. Or to put it another way, I don't regard Dogs in the Vineyard, Dust Devils, Polaris, and Sorcerer as stealing sales from one another - if you own and like one or two of these, you are a prime customer for the other two, with a win-win for everyone.

Best, Ron


I myself am exceedingly intolerant and see only the bad sides of people. in the case of role-playing games this is directed at various gaming companies. I will name those that my opinion look down on as examples: Steve Jackson, Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf and very personally Games Workshop. These companies, in my opinion, are very aggressive and highly prone to sue and attack others and heavily copyright everything they do even if its not something originated by them. With the exception of Steve I have actually seen these companies take some poor fool to court over some unimportant detail. I am actually terrified of going through with trying to publish my game and expect at any point for some company, most likely WotC to either tell me to stop or take me to court for trying to emulate basic D&D and claim my game is truer to the original game than any WotC product. I do take exception to the fact they are calling their AD&D 4th Ed D&D when i refuse to acknowledge any similarities. but then I'm a nobody and they are a vast company who only want more money and power. I can't do or say anything and if I stand up they will smack me down real hard.

As to people copying and using my game ideas. I am more than happy to share my version of D&D for free with everyone.

The purpose of me creating my game system is actually a worry for me. The purpose is to write adventure novels in a world of my own making. The origins of this fantasy world appeared in the mid 80s and while there was prior inspiration for it, I can dare to say that most of the world is fairly original and based on my own imagination rather than influenced by the world around me. In the 30 years that have passed, however, I have seen so many games and books and films and comics that bear an uncanny resemblance to my world. for a start I had to delete the name of the planet as that is now copyright of some manga comic. So many changes I have to make to avoid others screaming copyright at me that I am loathe to mention anything at all about my game world to the general public. it will forever remain...adventure in the land of Jan...a name coined by a fellow gamer, until I am finally able to publish it. this book, and world is my invention and it has suffered damage over the years. at this time I am cripplingly unable and unwilling to leak any info out about the world lest such info gets used against my permission. and that crippling fear is getting in the way of creating my game system. because the most common question people ask is tell us about the game world you are designing this system for so we can understand and help you.
I feel like a caged animal being imprisoned because I refuse to hand over the item I'm cuddling. The prison guards will free me once I hand it over, but I dare not lose my precious item.


Lol, that is kind of how I feel.
I have had this idea in my head since I was a teen and ever since Between the Shadows (Nightbane) I have seen so many "almost not quite" games, movies and comics come out.
Now I feel it is not really my idea but another branch of the same ur-genre that has been popping up since the 90s.


Hi ssem,

QuoteSteve Jackson, Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf and very personally Games Workshop. These companies, in my opinion, are very aggressive and highly prone to sue and attack others and heavily copyright everything they do even if its not something originated by them. With the exception of Steve I have actually seen these companies take some poor fool to court over some unimportant detail.

I'd love to see some links on this.  I've never heard of this nor seen any reports about mass lawsuits or copyright hammers coming down. 

The "big examples" I've heard of are Palladium Books sending cease and desists to fan sites and of WOTC sending the same for folks who had "power cards" for 4E, as soon as they started selling their own.  Otherwise, I've not seen any reports, just a lot of gamers worried about copyright doom without much to back it up.   Currently, several games are literal D&D clones as part of the "Old School Renaissance" which have suffered no legal backlash thus far.

Can you give some linked examples of what you're talking about?



unfortunately I can't. technology and internet is from a different planet from me. I wouldn't know how to google something I've seen or heard to show as computer evidence to another.

Wizards took the creators of Master of Magic, the computer game to court for copying what they thought was a WotC idea in Magic the gathering. My opinion is that a tacky card game takes maybe a week to a month to put in a shop after someone comes up with the idea, where a computer game usually takes years of programming and testing before it can be sold. Both games came out at roughly the same time and I played the computer game before even hearing about card games. So my biased opinion is that WotC produced the card game before the computer game came out and Wizards use this to argue that they have the right to sue the computer game for copyright breach.

White Wolf took the creators of that boring film, Underworld, I think it was called for copying all the types of vampires and werewolves and the names of organisations in the film which exist exactly the same in WW games.

Games Workshop... memory flickers in and out and so when I posted last I might have remembered something that GW did...this memory eludes me and might even exist. However GW copyright and trademark just about everything with their name on it. Orcs, Eldar Elves, Balruuks, even the bleeding pads of paper they sell! They absolutely refuse to allow anyone to create anything similar to GW products such as films and games and books. It was only through years of begging and grovelling that an on-line game was allowed to be made. I myself have personal experience with them in person as they live in the same county as me. they've demanded to know my purpose in buying their products because I've spoken to them in the past about my desires to create my own RPG. I had to be vague and elusive and lie a little when answering them but I could see they suspected I was using their products for my own games and they were looking for some opening to charge me. I also had 2 players in the employ of them and when these players saw I was using GW hex sheets (sheets which had the (C)and (tm) logos on them) for a game I was running of my own design, they complained loudly and threatened to sue me. Admittedly, unless I actually make any money from it. companies are reluctant to take action as all they can do is force me to stop what I'm doing. I do have a personal enmity with GW, they were the only gamers I could talk to in an official matter and when I asked for an interview with one of the founders they accepted and let me walk a few miles to their base, enter the door, say hello, shake hands, wait for me to begin the meeting, listen to me state that I am interested in designing an RPG...then suddenly interrupt me by stating RPGs are dead, good bye... end of interview.

Hehe sorry you asked me about Games Workshop... thats one of my many buttons that say ... don't press :)

Nathan P.

Some perspective on companies issuing lawsuits...(standard caveat: I'm just a guy on the internet, not a lawyer. However, I am actually coming fresh from a seminar with reference to trademarks, patents and copyright in context of branding and manufacturing given by an IP attorney for a huge manufacturing company, so it's fresh in my mind. And the issues we went over hewed pretty closely to the research I've done on copyright and trademark for my own purposes, so...)

(oh, and, this all applies primarily to the US, I have no idea how it works in other countries)

There's a thing about trademarks, in particular - a company can lose their trademark if it's found to be "abandoned," which is a call that a court makes in context of the individual circumstances of the case. What this means in practice tends to be that companies will sue over a seemingly unrelated or frivolous thing, because if they don't, and later down the road some other company infringes on their property, the infringing company can point to the earlier case of the original company not protecting their trademark as evidence of abandonment. This was one operating theory of why White Wolf sued Sony over Underworld (which IIRC was settled out of court).

Don't get me wrong, this means that companies will bring suit for stupid reasons, but there is (usually) a logic behind it greater than "screw the little guy just cuz we can"

To be more on topic for this thread - another thing is you can't copyright game mechanics, just the expression (i.e. the actual textual writing) of them. Which is why the retro-clones (like Labyrinth Lord) are generally legally good, even though they're basically repackaging early D&D rules. So, sure, theoretically someone could take your idea and write their own version of it, and there's not much you can do, especially if you don't have the financial resources to bring suit. If you are really seriously worried about someone sharing your work before you're ready, you can ask readers/playtesters/etc to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which gives you leverage to sue them if you can prove they divulged anything to a third party. This is generally what most mid-tier-and-up publishers do.

However! As other have pointed out, the hobby gaming community is really startlingly good at respecting other peoples work*, both by not intentionally ripping each other off, and in terms of being inspired by others work and incorporating those inspirations into their own games. One of the trends that has really helped out the indie games scene is that your early readers and playtesters will actually form your initial marketing force, talking about your game because they have experience with it before it gets out to a wider circle. So, there's that to consider as well.

Hope that some of that is helpful and/or useful!

*outside of some art-related shenanigans
Nathan P.
Find Annalise
I design | ndp design
I blog | Games, Design & Game Design
I tweet | @ndpaoletta

Ron Edwards


You have no basis for worry if this is all you have in mind.

The case against Underworld actually good news for you and me, in that the relative underdog (White Wolf) was able to force a very big foe (Sony Pictures) to a settlement. The judge put some effort into deeming the suit not frivolous. This example does not in any way support your image of White Wolf as a abuser of small-press competitors. Collins and White Wolf vs. Sony Pictures (this link is to the White Wolf press release, but its contents are the same in various legal website records as well). It's a rare day when I defend White Wolf regarding anything, but in this case, which involves reality and legality, not game design, they were the injured party and apparently justice was served.

The interactions you describe with GW people are mere posturing. "I'd like to see you try," is the proper response.

Your account of the Masters of Magic situation demonstrates some confusion about the whole legal issue. There is no such thing as a "right to sue." People sue one another, period. The question is whether it gets thrown out of court at the outset, i.e., is deemed frivolous. And as it happens, I can find no evidence of any court case.

It's true that some game companies have issued cease & desist letters to others. I know of no case in which they have been successfully enforced.

The only really nasty example I know of concerning game shutdowns comes from TSR vs. Games Design Workshop, regarding the game Dangerous Journeys. Still, the details are instructive. The original game title was Dangerous Dimensions, which Gary Gygax changed to Dangerous Journeys upon threat of lawsuit from TSR, during the game's development. Then later, when Dangerous Journeys was published by GDW, TSR brought suit against them to bar initial release, which failed. Further threats, however, led GDW to drop the game. In other words, TSR never brought any successful lawsuit against Gygax or GDW. See The ultimate interview with Gary Gygax.

It's also true that Wizards of the Coast holds a patent on several different features of competitive/customizable card games, most notoriously the tapping rule. No company has ever suffered any consequences from using similar or even identical features. Note that to violate a patent requires hitting every, not any of the listed features. So you'd have to imitate so many specific features, it'd be Magic anyway. The tactic was clearly a "chilling" move by WotC to scare people, but has demonstrated absolutely no legal substance in all the years since the patent was granted. See TCG and the WotC patent (notice that this linked discussion is full of fear-filled bullshit despite several weary, repeated explanations for why there's no need for any).

Bluntly, you are scaring yourself over nothing.

Best, Ron


thank you Ron and Nathan :)
your posts have helped greatly. all that remains for me is to wait for the info to calm me down and take effect. as you said my post was completely due to my fears.

recently when I placed an advert in the shop stating that Bunnies & Beasties was a D&D 2nd Ed game and that the pictures I used were taken from google images. lots of people said I can't do that and that I was asking for trouble and would get done if I continued these adverts. even though others laughed and said nothing will ever happen it did bring to light that there were companies who 'seemed' to be watching out to stop anyone doing anything they didn't like.

Ofcourse it doesn't help that I openly tell every gamer that AD&D 4th Ed is a purely WotC product and a complete failure where TSR is concerned and that the game has absolutely nothing to do with the original D&D. I tell them that AD&D 3rd Ed is the best and last AD&D game and it's greatness partly stems from the fact it uses more D&D rules than AD&D rules, this i proudly tell everyone. All the GMs at the shop, including the store owner, frequently ask me not to call 4th Ed AD&D as WotC has insisted it is the original D&D. So in the public world I openly contest that my system is more D&D than WotCs 4th Ed and I boldly and stupidly and yes stubbornly dare WotC to shut me up.

So each day I look behind me to see if the WotC police are onto me but now you have given me strength and hope that I can do whatever I want with my game so long as the final product does not claim to be D&D.

thanks and much appreciated
Jan the professional antagonist

Ron Edwards

Oh dude, you must spend time clicking away at the links summarized at Old School Renaissance Sites. Never mind pontificating at the game store!

I think you'll be wonderfully surprised at both the games which have been published via this extremely productive community and the success of the publication push itself.

Best, Ron


Ofcourse it doesn't help that I openly tell every gamer that AD&D 4th Ed is a purely WotC product and a complete failure where TSR is concerned and that the game has absolutely nothing to do with the original D&D.

SSEM I hear you man.  I started with D&D went to AD&D.  Took a while to worm up to 3rd "Then loved it".  And when I saw 4th me and my cohorts wept.  Were did all the love go?
You got to check out Ron's links from above its a bit of the past that gives hope to my RPG hart.
I know this is an older conversation but I just had to give you props for the statements you made.


Quote from: Ron Edwards on March 03, 2011, 02:37:50 AM
It's true that some game companies have issued cease & desist letters to others. I know of no case in which they have been successfully enforced.

Ron I believe this is one of the cases where it was enforced  Please correct me if I am mistaken.