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Tag - a beautiful board but no game.
Tag – a beautiful board but no game.

I was digging through my old project folder, checking what to archive and what was worth working on (I’ve got eleven games that I’m either working actively on at the moment or am not quite ready to give up on yet). There, while reminiscing about past mistakes and miscalculations, I found a children’s game from my early designing days: it was my second or third game that I ever took to the prototype stage.

The first game I designed I made the mistake of making lots and lots of cards without having any game to go along with them. In “Tag” I envisioned a game where children would chase each other in a dice based game of tag. Each child would have a type of die associated with it, with some children being faster and some children being nimbler. Nimbleness would be represented by numbers on the board, where, if you rolled your die higher than the number, you’d stumble and have to stop.

MicroWars - all graphics by me, or licensed.
MicroWars – all graphics by me, or licensed.

There’s an interesting discussion over in the Board Game Geek Board Game Designers Art & Graphics forum about whether it’s ethical to use someone else’s art in your prototypes.

It’s not legal, that’s fairly clear. Generally speaking you’re not allowed to use any part of someone else’s copyrighted works without explicit permission. But since copyright and IP law differs from country to country you’re operating in a gray area. For example in the US, where copyright law focuses almost solely on ownership and economic gain, you might get away with using someone else’s art as fair use. In Europe, in contract, you wouldn’t, no matter that you didn’t make any financial gain nor impacted on the artist’s financial gain. In Europe your copyright is protected no matter what and your right to be named the creator of the art is firm (although we don’t have quite as rabid copyright legislation nor as high punishments as in the States, but that’s changing).

But let’s talk about it in moral terms: is it right to take someone else’s creations in order to prettify our own?

Clash of Culture rules - a list using graphics
Clash of Cultures[amazon template=f_textamazon&asin=B00AMKOXYM] rules – a list using graphics
You get a new game. You tear off the shrink, gently pry open the lid, inhale that beautiful new-game-chemicals stench, grab the rules and work your way through them, cover-to-cover, word-by-word, underlining and making little notes in the margins.

Or not. If you’re anything like the average gamer you’ll fiddle with the bits first. Then you’ll enjoy the pictures on the covers for a little while. Then you scan the rules, maybe looking for what a particular bit does. Only then you’ll read the rules.

Except that you won’t read the rules. You’ll scan them, skimming as much as you can while still retaining the information. When you hit a snag you’ll backtrack, looking for a clarification.

Are you really reading? (more…)

Of course you can sell a game. But can you sell game rules? Can you sell rules and still make a buck?

No. Rule’s can’t be copyrighted and aren’t worth patenting (and a rules patent would probably be overturned in court if it came to that). Rules, in and of themselves, have no monetary value.

You could collect a large amount of rules and sell them as a book. If the rules referred to games you could play using standard components. If there were enough of them. If they were of games similar to what people were already playing, or aimed at a specialist audience. And you probably wouldn’t make much with it. So no, even if you could sell rules you wouldn’t make much money selling them.