When your new idea is someone else's obscure finished product.

edited December 2007 in Game Design Help
Recently, I've been pouring blood, sweat and tears into a really intriguing, innovative new way to play through stories involving surreal shifts in settings and plot. Working with friends and balancing new ideas with positive feedback on my current, the last month or so has been a really exciting time for me.

Today, I happened upon a 24 Hour RPG, buried in the depths of 1km1kt, that accomplishes nearly the exact same thing, using, strangely, nearly identical mechanics.

Now, the setting is 100% different, and circumstances involved in play are entirely unique... but I'd liken it to a setting for someone else's system, the way Forgotten Realms is still, at its' core, just D&D with lots of concrete ephemera from which to draw. Also, to know that it took me a month of hard work and collaboration to arrive at a sub-par clone of another guy's 24-Hour contest entry is disheartening, to say the least. It's surreal to read a nigh-duplicate setup, with notes about how "I'm too rushed to finish this" thrown into the mix, often next to mechanics I'd regard as elegant, well playtested, ultra-efficient variants of my rules, coupled with "I haven't had time to try these." You get the picture.

I normally wouldn't look to anyone for advice on the matter; I'd simply push forward and know that my setting would differentiate the two. After all, just because a game uses 3d6 to resolve a task doesn't make it GURPS, right? Except that, set next to one another, my book in its' current form looks like a triple-sized inefficient plagiarism. Also, to elaborate, the guy's system is entirely proprietary, not bound to any open source system; and I had hoped to release this as my first commercial RPG.

I'm tempted to swallow my pride and just write the individual a letter of plea, saying "Please, please don't sue me / take this as a personal insult or instance of theft / accuse me of plagiarism on the multitude of fora we mutually inhabit," but the answer could easily be "Um, no." In which case, I'm fucked. I'm kinda hanging this out here, gents.

What should I do? Has this happened to anyone else? If so, what did you do? If not, what would you do?

And also, what would you do if you were the other guy?

Comments

  • edited December 2007
    Listen, sorry to answer in a numerical list, but here's a numerical list.

    1. Don't expect useful legal advice here.
    2. Write to the guy.
    3. Are the mechanics really that similar? It's often easy to think they're similar, but as you say about GURPS, everything's been done before.
    4. If it's a 24 Hour RPG, I'll lay money it's not playtested or ultra-efficient.
    5. Tell us what your fucking game is, for fuck's sake!

    If the guy is me, which it won't be, but if it is, you're welcome. Go ahead.

    Graham
  • That's happened to me once or twice. Only instead of something obscure, it was something in print. Something in print, somewhat popular, and had been around for several years.

    I decided not to let it bother me and kept writing. Had I ever published that particular project, I imagine I would have mentioned how similar my product was to the other product in my acknowledgements.

    I'm not sure how I'd feel if I were the other guy. But I think I'd be ok with it so long as I saw my game and my name mentioned somewhere. Inspiration, "hey look at this other game", "great minds think alike", whatever. If there was no such acknowledgement, I guess I might just assume that the author never saw my work. I mean, after all, I've made very little effort to take credit for the work, haven't I? Theoretically speaking.

    In my opinion, you've nothing even remotely wrong. And you would be doing no wrong by publishing your work. Even without any acknowledgement of the other game and author. It's your work. You didn't crib from anyone. Take pride in it.

    Eric

  • edited December 2007
    Thanks to you both for your quick responses. As a musician, these kinds of things have left people crucified; but as Ram so gently put it, "When's the last time an Indie RPG designer sued someone over a dice mechanic?"

    Graham, not to be Ayn Rand, but if when it's done I'll blather about it in Directed Promotion, promise.
    Eric, thanks for that; it really puts it into perspective.
  • Jarrod,

    For what it's worth, I don't think it's possible to copyright game mechanics.
  • Posted By: JarrodThanks to you both for your quick responses. As a musician, these kinds of things have left people crucified; but as Ram so gently put it, "When's the last time an Indie RPG designer sued someone over a dice mechanic?"
    ...said in the context of a phone conversation that sounded remarkably like Eric's post, but with a little more bitterness in my tone and a lot of the "there's nothing new under the sun" references. I think I also said "I had a philosophical thought the other night, but it turns out some guy in China said the same thing a hundred years ago... so I shouldn't tell anyone my epiphany?" and "If it bothers you that much, put the credits at the beginning of the book".

    I've got a little bit of guilt over the same thing. There were a number of sections that didn't get done for my Ashcan for GenCon, and the credits/inspirations was one of 'em. Even though the mechanics were different, as was the fluff, I still have a twinge of guilt over not giving proper credit to my inspirations (particularly Dogs in the Vineyard and Everway)... even to games that I hadn't encountered until GenCon, but which had a few similarities. Now that I'm a little more emerged into the culture, the credits section is one of the first things that's being started.

    ...as an aside, I've been in a continuing argument with my roommate. New takes on old ideas- do they dilute the old idea, or develop it? I lean to the latter, roommate leans to the former, and it's been going long enough I'm more than a little frustrated at it and derivative arguments. Originality can make for a great experiment, and is almost always worth trying, but originality itself doesn't equal masterpiece or inherent value aside from opening new doors.
  • I don't think the games are alike as you think. I find it doubtful that someone's 24 hour rpg entry does exactly what you're trying to do, since I know a bit about what you've been working on lately. Especially considering the nifty mechanics and style of play you've been talking about.
  • edited December 2007
    Tim Gray and I have games with similar themes. When first found out about Legends Walk! I contacted him and let him know I was out there doing my thing.

    We acknowledged and wished one another luck and that was that. Tim turned out to be a really cool guy that I respect and admire. I sometimes pick up his game and flip through it to see how he handled a certain situation for inspiration. He’s brilliant.

    I’d say contact the guy and represent.

    What’s the worst he can do?
  • kill them, then feed them to the pigs.
    or eat them yourself, if you're so inclined
    or you could come up with another idea if you're that concerned(about committting homicide or using a simular implementation).
  • Jarrod,

    At JiffyCon I had a conversation with Emily about this game I was thinking about designing, called Created. It was based off of the Pygmalion myth, and had paper dolls as character sheets; the theme of the game was "discovering who you are through what you desire." I was afraid it was a little out there, but she encouraged me to run with it! I'd never read any of her games, but I left JC with a copy of Breaking the Ice and Shooting the Moon. I had a five-hour layover in Cincinatti on the way home, and-- excited by the encouragement-- wrote like five pages of notes for the game, which I went home and popped on my blog.

    The next day, I started reading Shooting the Moon for the first time.. and the mechanics were nearly identical.

    I blamed it on osmosis, emailed Emily about making it a reeeeally, really thorough hack of sorts, and she was totally cool. So-- it happens! Sometimes good ideas are good ideas.

    Have you had anyone else look at the two games just to make sure you're not seeing things?
  • Posted By: Natekill them, then feed them to the pigs.
    or eat them yourself, if you're so inclined
    or you could come up with another idea if you're that concerned(about committing homicide or using a similar implementation).
    Feed him to the pigs?

    Why not eat him and consume his creative powers?
  • Jerry ftw.

    Now that I've had time to think about it, I can see many ways to strongly differentiate myself from the game. Being about 75% done, there's a lot of this-or-that left to do. If he says "this," I can easily say "that" if saying "that" differentiates my game and strengthens play. That said, Ram and Eric are completely on point. I'm going to make the best game I can, regardless of whether there's something similar. Being a total n00b at fiction in general, these concerns have probably come up hundreds of times in a writer's career. This is merely my first, and by the end of this project it might not be the last; but now I know I can finish this, because I've seen something else finished in a day! Surely I can finish this in a few months... or as the Flawless Victory site says, January... *mild panic* Thanks everyone. Oh, and feel free to keep chipping in.
  • Jarrod,

    I’m glad we could help. It sounds like you have the fire in your belly to complete your art. I look forward to seeing it.

    Good luck!
  • I shit you not when I tell you that I had an idea for a game setting that was in many ways identical to Stephen King's Dark Tower setting. Mind you, my setting didn't have gunslingers, but the entire mythology about a dark tower in the center of all creation, the beams, the decay ... even the Crimson King and the Low Men. I started making all of this up when I was 15-16, and didn't read the books until I was in my late 20s.

    When it comes right down to it, there are a lot of inputs that make up the things we imagine up - some commonality is inevitable ... and when you're talking about a very specific subset of game mechanics that are meant to produce a specific game or narrative experience - I'd say that commonalities are more likely than not to happen, no matter how little you try to take in. There are only just so many ways to manipulate the ingredients of plot, scenes, characters, etc ... unless you start going completely out of your way to be novel.

    On the legalistic side, you can't copyright game mechanics - only expressions of game mechanics. While this doesn't mean that action is impossible, you also have to understand that there has only been two or three real cases in the entire history of role-playing gaming (30+ years) where the issue has come into play. (TSR v Mayfair - ie Role Aids; Palladium v Everyone on conversion rules, and one other concerning a board game that I can't remember).

    Not only all of that - but really it's not worth anyone's time or treasure to pursue such nonsense.

    Drop a line to be nice, but nothing is really in the balance.
  • I just wish I was that 24 hour guy - I'd be flattered as hell :)
  • Yep

    My very first foray into game design last year nearly ended with me jacking it all in because of this 'parallel evolution' thing. Before I was even AWARE of Spirit of the Century I managed to create a game system that was, essentially, the SotC engine with a load of the same terminology. I decided to change some stuff and work around it and then I found out I have created another game. It was infuriating in the extreme. Obviously I didn't want my first foray in design to simply be a third-rate passing off. It was at the point when I called the system the 'omniverse' system (to go with my longstanding omnihedron web address) and then discovered that someone else had the 'Omni' system that I very nearly just jacked it all in as a bad job.

    I'm glad I didn't.

    Neil
  • Posted By: KumaOn the legalistic side, you can't copyright game mechanics - only expressions of game mechanics. While this doesn't mean that action is impossible, you also have to understand that there has only been two or three real cases in the entire history of role-playing gaming (30+ years) where the issue has come into play. (TSR v Mayfair - ie Role Aids; Palladium v Everyone on conversion rules, and one other concerning a board game that I can't remember).
    As a general rule, most posters are supremely hesitant about posting expressions of general legal principles under the banner of "IANAL", "Don't take or give legal advice over the internet", etc. So, let me just say that Brian's post is correct. From a purely legal standpoint, using the same mechanics in your game is not a violation of copyright. You cannot, obviously, lift text describing the mechanics or how they are used. The bolded part above is one of the fundamental principles of copyright law.
  • Posted By: Jerry D. GraysonTim Gray and I have games with similar themes. When first found out about Legends Walk! I contacted him and let him know I was out there doing my thing.

    We acknowledged and wished one another luck and that was that. Tim turned out to be a really cool guy that I respect and admire. I sometimes pick up his game and flip through it to see how he handled a certain situation for inspiration. He’s brilliant.
    *blush*

    Thanks Jerry.
  • If I got an email saying "Hey, I'm doing this thing that's a lot like your unfinished thing"... I'd be pleased and interested, and feel all influential and shit if you flattered me further by grabbing a few of my mechanics.

    And, to my eye, that seems like a pretty normal kind of response around these parts.
  • I found myself in similar situations a couple of times.

    First when I "debuted" my still-unfinished fantasy RPG Mage Blade. I don't remember exactly what set me off to checking, but I found a bazillion links for "mage blade". I almost changed the name, which was kind of a bummer, because I'd invested a lot into the name. A little deeper looking, and I realized that the links weren't to games called Mage Blade, they were to stuff about the D&D class by the same name, magic items in various games, and several links referring to a British gaming organization by that name. The former, I didn't think it likely I'd have problems, but I decided to e-mail the gaming organization, telling them about my game, and, while not exactly asking for permission, making sure they weren't going to have any problems with my game. The responder had none, and was in fact rather interested in my game. Maybe when I finally finish the thing, I'll drop them another line.

    Second, with my also unfinished (seeing a trend here?) game ReCoil, someone pointed out that Whispering Vault did an extremely similar concept. From what I heard and read, I became very dismayed. I finally laid out a little bit of cash to purchase the .pdf and look it over. It seemed a very cool game, but I was confident that, even though the concepts were massively similar, I was certain that my game handled it differently enough that there wouldn't be any overlap. If anything, there might have been a little cross-pollination. "If you like ReCoil, you might also like Whispering Vault" or vice versa.

    Just another semi-relevant data-point. I think that your decision is the right one.
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