Legal Issues With Remakes

Question:

In a forum we are currently discussion the legality of game remakes in contrast to fan fiction which is kinda not illegal, but allowed in most countries. The reason for that discussion is that the creators of the settlers series (you may know it, RTS game) decided after the latest release of Settlers 5 to do a remake of their own game Settlers 2 (which had a more unique gameplay focused on economics than war instead of creating an AoEIII type of game -clone) with their current 3D engine to enhance the visuals as sweet candy for all the fans out there. Most users agreed that this decision is amazing, so we discussed this general topic. I searched google about more serious information than some users which talk about Lucas Arts which abandoned some users projects or else, but I didnt came too far. So.. I thought that you as a professional game developer know something more about that topic or perhaps you can discuss the on the gameproducer blog. That would be very nice, because its a strong discussion under indies as you may know.

This time the question was more like a topic of discussion, but I found an issue that I’ve had experience with.

Legal issues with remakes

Answer:
I’ve already mentioned that the secret game project is based on one popular board game. I approached the publisher of that game (using the 3-step program, twice actually. Worked both times) and a very clear answer from them.

They said: “Any attempt to copy the system of a game of ours is a breach of copyright. Any mention of either [designer’s name] or [brand name] is a serious breach of registered trademarks and will be dealt with accordingly.” (in response to asking whether I could use their name in a press release).

Legally I’d say that their note about ‘attempt to copy of the system’ is not legally very easy to protect as we can see in games today. There are clone wars: developers copy each other’s ideas… and they are not easy to protect.

Now I have know quite clearly where I stand:

#1 – First of all, I am now 100% sure that it’s better to ask permission to use references, before using them. As we didn’t get the permission I have no interest to use it, and I’m sure our game will get the players it deserves. Without need to mention the board game.

#2 – To dodge the issue of ‘similar gameplay’ we will use different gameplay mechanics. Their game uses bit different battle system, we have different board, movement, theme etc. This is issue with remakes – I personally think that best way to avoid legal issues, is to make the gameplay something bit more original. If you are making a direct clone from some game (even if the game is very old) there are chances getting into legal problems, especially if you plan to sell your game.

You Don’t Have to Know Everything

Which one do you find easier and more efficient:

1) To learn everything about everything
2) Ask from people who know

Number 2 sounds right to me.

There’s no need for you, me or others to try to learn everything. Besides being quite a lot wasted time it is impossible. I encourage to do much by yourself. I encourage you to learn programming, marketing, culture, sales, business, design, modding, graphics, team management, product planning, productivity to some extent, but I don’t think it’s best use of your time to try to be the best Java programmer and the best 3D modeler in the world. I believe it’s much more efficient to concentrate on getting professionals near you. Get the best Java programmer and the best 3D modeler to work with you. Concentrate on being the best game producer and focusing the areas which you can handle.

It’s not necessary to know everything, it’s much more efficient to gather around professional developers who can help you with specific questions that are outside of your knowledge.

3 Step Program on Getting Response From Big Corporations

This little 3-step program will help you get people to respond to your emails. Email, Wait and Follow-up. That’s all you need.

Step #1 – Send them a proper email and state what you want
Make sure the dots and spaces are all okay, and be sure to type the contact person’s name (if any) properly. DON’T CAPITALIZE EVERY CHARACTER. The contents of the email could be something along these lines:

  • Email Topic: right to the point – tell what you want (like “Ad proposal” or “Possible interview with mister X” or “Publishing proposal for game Z”)
  • Greetings (“Hi,”, “Dear Editors,” etc.)
  • Very short description about who you are, what you do and what you want (“I’m and independent game producer at company Y and would like to discuss about a potential publishing deal with you”)
  • Additional details (“Our game has got over N number of downloads and have been featured in magazines such as…. yadda yadda da… and screenshots and demo can be seen at this website: http://yourgame.com/screenshot.jpg and http://yourgame.com/demo.exe”)
  • Ending (“Best Regards,” or “Regards” or something similar, depending on who you are contacting)
  • Contact details (Full name, title, company name, website URL, phone number, skype, MSN/ICQ/AOL info)

Step #2 – Wait
Be patient. It may take week or month before people have time to react and response. Give them some time.

Step #3 – If you don’t get an answer, send another email and remind them gently
Follow-up is very important. After the 1st email I don’t necessarily get a response (response rate varies depending on the contact, but huge corporations don’t tend to answer easily), but after I send another email I usually get the response within days. Just remind them gently about your offer. You can forward your previous email with a reminder note if you think it sounds better.

The content of the second email could be something like this:

  • Email topic: again right to the point (“Publishing proposal” or “Follow-up on publishing proposal”)
  • Short greetings (“Hi,” etc.)
  • Very short reminder note: (“I just wanted to follow-up on you about the publishing proposal I made some time ago. I’d really appreciate if you could find time to check out my proposal and get back to me”)
  • Ending (“Best Regards”, “All the best” or something that suits you)
  • Contact details (Again the same info as previously: Full name, title, company name, website URL, phone number, skype, MSN/ICQ/AOL info)

That’s it. If the second email doesn’t work, then I’d presume they are not interested in your offer. But so far I’ve got a response from everywhere I’ve contacted after the follow-up email. I expect my 100% rate drop, but I’d believe you can raise the response rate from 30-50% to 70-90% with this simple system: Email, Wait and Follow-up