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copyright and patent issues in game design

Started by europeanmatt, January 05, 2010, 03:22:21 PM

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i'm new, hi everyone!

I'm dipping back into CCG design after 14 years. I could straight up copy any game I like for personal use (though i fail to see the point in that), but in the unlikely event I could ever sell my CCG (even as a complete non-randomised set) I want it to be legit.

So does anyone know how practical it is to release a CCG and not get sued by WotC? Do all the other publishers pay them a license fee in light of their patent? Is there a goodwill situation going that means anyone can publish CCGs (especially those that "tap" cards for whatever reason) if they're sufficiently different to WotC properties?

And in a new game that's mechanically distinct, what about use of game terms, such as "cost: effect" for "activated abilities", and cards that may be called "creatures" or "instants"?

many thanks.


WotC doesn't exercise their stupid patent. They sued Nintendo over Pok?mon, but that lawsuit was about distribution and licensing deals, not about patents. I'm not aware of them bringing the pain on any other CCG creator.


This is the  patent WoTC holds :,662,332

it is worth a read and lets you understand that there are key points that could incur infringement lawsuits but as a whole a game that does not use the same system, characteristics and genre would most likely not fall within the patents domain.

But conversly, if WoTC decided to hit a company with a lawsuit - especially a small one, you would close up shop within seconds just for the possible cost  of legal representation. So best to read the patent, and be very careful in your game not infringing on the key points.

I hoep this helps in any way. Cheers.


Their key claims include tapping and the library though. You're not going to avoid 'infringing' on this patent unless you make something that doesn't use a deck...

I want to reiterate out that they've had this patent for years and have yet to use it to browbeat anyone. It actually expires in less than five years (at which point nothing will change since they're not abusing this and there's no market for copycat CCGs).


i did have a read through of the patent yesterday, and it seems that virtually every single CCG (certainly every CCG that I've come across) includes mechanics and styles of play cited in the document, including but not limited to "tapping" (or any marking of a card as exhausted, such as Cthulu's use of little statues), deckbuilding, the comparing of stats to determine the result of character battles, the idea that cards are issued according to rarity in randomised packs... you name it, it's there!

I suppose that it would be in Wotc's interests to sue a company that it had a reasonable chance of winning against, thereby establishing a legal precedent with which to threaten the rest of the industry. (i read in InQuest that there was a Japanese company that were threatened with action by WotC back in the 90s for ripping off Magic totally, with minor tweaks to the graphic design. It may have happened before the patent was granted).


Remember that WotC cares about brand image. Early 90s they had stake to sue ripoffs because they weren't established and a total ripoff was a real threat to them. Today a total ripoff isn't going to have their budget and will end up having cheaper art/less experienced development teams/higher printing costs/smaller market share. The ripoff would die without WotC lifting a finger.

I mean, I hate patents with a fiery passion, but if you don't rip off magic you're not going to get sued by Wizards. It's not a winning move for them.


The patent isn't that hard to dodge. In fact, it's about time that CCG's as a whole step out from the shadow of Magic. And a game that uses the same mechanics except for one or two is not a new style. A whole new approach is required. Just don't use mana, spells, lifepoints, or libraries. Unless they can prove that they invented the idea of "decks" (poker, anyone?), then they don't have a legal leg to stand on.


That's the whole crux of the issue, stepping out of the shadow in genre, style, layout and gameplay - if you dodge these issues you are fine. It's the Magical Realms using Earth WInd and Fire to bring your opponent's Essence Force down to Zero while using your spells and "tapping" into the elements that is not only over used but basis for legal action. Many CCG'S use elements of MtG without reproach, but coming up with new ways to signify the use of a card is still the same as "tapping", so it is rightfully so that it is time to come up with new unique mechanics and when you do that, patent issues fall aside as well as competition. Cheers


Every CCG ever infringes on that patent. Wizards has a patent for customizing a deck (and make no mistake, they did actually invent this, regardless of whether the invention was patent worthy or not). If you stop using a customizable deck, it's not a CCG anymore. The point I'm trying to make is this: You can not dodge WotC's patent. Don't try. If they decide to sue you, you're dead even if you aren't infringing on anything (that's how patents work, you have to pay your defense lawyers more cash than you have to defeat the legal challenge).


I thought something about the patent made it so you had to infringe on a majority of it in order for WoTC to take legal action against you... am I just making that up?


You are somewhat correct Cy - in a general legal standpoint you have to change roughly equivelant of 25% of a patented item / process / idea for it to legally be considered a new idea. That's roughshot though and in many an idea there is no tangible percentage, so it becoems a judge's descretion of how much you infringed. However the point really is to not incur legal action because if you do, in almost all cases, you will be sunk unless you have the pockets to back up the action. Cheers.