What Every Game Studio or Hobbyist Needs to Know – Told Without Legalese

By Ryan Morrison

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Part 1: Don’t Let the Legal World Intimidate You

It’s a sign of a hack writer if they start a story with, “imagine if you will.” That said, imagine if you will, you are a normal person. You have a job, a family, friends, and everything else that gets most people’s lives from point A to point B. But, deep down, you aren’t satisfied with schlepping from paycheck to paycheck with your head down. So you do what most people only ever talk about doing, and you follow your dream.

Months and maybe years pass as you work — no, not work — create a beautiful game that will make some people really happy and maybe make you enough money to quit that hellish job you have to wake up at 7am for every day. You’ve had your friends test it out for you, you’ve polished it to a point of pure pride, and you did it — you’re in the marketplace!

All of a sudden, disaster strikes. It turns out your name, “Dungeon Ninja Zombie,” is infringing on another title from six years ago that you had never heard of and, to make matters worse, you just received a letter from their attorney telling you that you are in serious trouble.

But fear not! Let’s Wayne’s World style flashback to a time before this letter from that attorney. Let’s go to the present, where you are reading this guide to better understand the very important legal world that surrounds your very amazing game world. By reading this guide you will not only understand basic things like the difference between a copyright and trademark, you will understand what you need to do to properly protect yourself in an ever growing industry. Take my hand, little one. We are about to embark on a journey.

First things first, before the rest of this guide is released. Here is a table of contents that can double as a “checklist” of what you should be thinking about when releasing a game:

Part 2: Choosing a Lawyer

Part 3: Forming a Company

Part 4: Copyrights and Trademarks

Part 5: Working with Freelancers

Part 6: Hiring Employees

Part 7: Parody, Fair Use, and “But I’m Not Charging for My Game!”

Part 8:  Musical Interlude

Part 9: Terms of Service and Privacy Policies

Part 10: Nondisclosure Agreements

Part 11: Taxes

Part 12: Patents

That’s all for now, folks! I’ll be doing, at minimum, a full length chapter on each topic every month. (And most likely staying in this order.) Feedback always welcomed, and if you think an important subject is missing, don’t hesitate to yell at me to add it! Toodles.