Eric asked a question about legal issues. This post is one of those ask game producer questions.
What legal issues are important to consider/or are typically involved with the indie developer releasing their first game? Are there steps that they must take to protect themselves? What must they do to sell their games legally?
I’m not an attorney, but I believe there are some legal issues you need to consider.
Is your game too similar with another game on the market?
If you are creating a game that’s based on existing game on the market then you really need to consider legal aspects. There needs to be enough different elements in your game or you might get into trouble. Our secret game project is based on popular board game, but we’ve changed the core gameplay mechanics and the theme completely different to avoid legal issues.
Is the name of your game already in use?
This can happen to anyone. It just might be that there’s another game with same name than your game. Easiest way to deal with this is to pick a new name. Remember to check the google before deciding the name of your game.
Don’t use or ‘lend’ any copyrighted material
Never use anyone elses graphics or sounds in the game. Don’t use free material. If you do – make sure you understand the licence and write it down next to the game file. For example, if you have map.jpg file that is public domain or something, then make a map.licence file and write there the licence info. If you don’t do that you will forget what material was copyrighted and what wasn’t.
That’s why I repeat: never use anyone elses material. Get your own material. Or stick with placeholders if you need to.
Does your company own the copyrights for code?
When you produce your games, make sure all the developers involved understand that the material they put in game are owned by your company. If you are not doing this, and a team member leaves… you’ll have a big problem.
Is your company name registered?
I’ve registered my company name right away before the new game production even begun. I’d suggest you to do the same. That way nobody else can ‘steal’ your company’s name. Same can be done for the game as well.
Team member contracts
Team members need to have contract about what their are making and for what kind of payment. Usually this is bit easier with artist (because their tasks are easier to define – it’s quite impossible to define ‘bug fixing’ for programmers). Here’s something you might want to define:
– The exact tasks that needs to be done (or objectives for programmers)
– Will team members be expected to work after the game release?
– Payment (Deferred? Royalties? Hourly based? Task based?)
– What happens if the project is sold to another developer/publisher?
– What happens if the project is canceled?
– Who owns the assets contributed by the team member?
– Will the team member still be eglible for profit sharing even if he leaves?
– Order of paypack (in case of profit sharing or deferred payment)
– Tools (will contributors be expected to use their own tools or will your company purchase the needed tools)
I’ve managed with smaller list, but these items can be useful to consider.
NDA’s could be signed
If you want, you can use non-disclosure agreements. These contracts basically mean that the parties involved are not allowed to tell others about your game. You can get people to sign the papers which is more official, but I have always trusted people and made agreements on ‘virtual handshake’ – emailwise or someway told them. This has worked every time, and I haven’t had problems with this.
If you prefer papers – use them.
Do I have to get everything on paper?
Yes, if you want to be sure. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve used ‘virtual handshake’ and email agreements (which has worked fine) but because different countries have different legislations it’s best to get everything on paper if you want to make sure it’s legally binding.
Are there other legal issues to consider?
As said, I’m not an attorney – so if you need extra advice: please contact a lawyer.
There’s also a legal kit for starters. I don’t own one, so I cannot tell how useful it is. But, it’s sold here: gamedevkit.com