Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Game Patents: A Waste of your Money

Below is the text of the slides.  There's more to the presentation, of course, than the slide text.

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

I am not a lawyer
But I’ve listened to lawyers discuss game IP quite a few times
And I’ve read a lot
While this isn’t legal advice (and wouldn’t be even if I was a lawyer), I think it’s a good brief summary
If you want legal advice, talk to a lawyer (who’s experienced with game IP!)

A Patent:
Protects a specific expression of an idea
Usually a product
But there are also “design patents” and “method patents” these days, to help the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) make more money, I think
Must be novel and non-obvious
Limited duration (20 years (or less) in USA, down from 26)
Apply only in one country!
Copyright is respected in most countries through Berne Convention
Patent and trademark apply (and must be applied for) country by country

“One important concept that is lost on a lot of lay people is that when you sue to enforce a patent (and I am an IP trial lawyer who defends big companies daily), you are allowed to argue that a patent is obvious by combining two or more other things. . . sort of like combining chocolate with peanut butter.” - Steve Facie
The Patent and Trademark Office has allowed many such obvious patents, but the courts are much more strict
Such as the patent on providing an 800 number for people to call when they’re uncertain about the rules for a game
But even Hasbro didn’t spend the money to challenge it in court

Patent Office is a Big Mess
US Patent and Trademark Office is thoroughly screwed up because it self-funds
The more patents it issues, the more $$$ it makes
Not surprisingly, the PTO “regularly and routinely issues patents [that are] plainly invalid and are found to be such when enforcement is sought.” (Steve Facie, IP lawyer who participates in patent trials)
This is where “patent trolls” come from: buying up ridiculous patents that have nonetheless been issued by the PTO, the trolls try to scare companies into paying royalties on this trash

Patent Costs
Expensive to file ($3-10K according to lawyers)
Plus $565, $1425, $2365 for maintenance fees paid at 3 1/2, 7 1/2, and 11 1/2 years after your patent is granted. These fees maintain your legal protection
Worse, far more expensive than this to defend in court
And about 2/3 of patents are invalidated when they get to court
Successful games are very rarely patented
Games you never heard of, and never will, make up virtually all of the patents
Which anyone can look up online

Cost versus your Revenue
Why spend more money than you’re likely to make on the game?
Very few games (tabletop or video) are patented
The most well-known patent is on Magic: the Gathering, not just on “tapping”
“look and feel” come into it
It has now expired
You can see the latest patents online – virtually all are utterly foolish, such as a new way of betting on BlackJack!
Not novel
And Useless!

And it’s not likely to “Stick”
. . . If challenged in court
“. . . roughly TWO THIRDS of all patents asserted in litigation are invalidated (i.e., forever killed) either at trial or on appeal. In other words, the Patent and Trademark Office regularly and routinely issues patents [that are] plainly invalid and are found to be such when enforcement is sought.” IP Lawyer Steve Facie

Patent versus Copyright
Copyright protects the look and artistic presentation, including the actual wording, of a work
Copyright violation is to some extent a criminal matter, patents are purely a civil matter (government does not enforce, no law is broken)
Copyright is supported in most countries via the Berne convention; patents must be filed in every country where you want protection

I read much more often of copyright lawsuits than of patent suits
Wizards of the Coast takes on Cryptozoic Entertainment in CCG online lawsuit
Keep in mind, this is based on copyright, the patent has expired
Crytozoic issued a CCG that is just too much like MtG
Triple Town video game suit also based on copyright, not patent

Copyright (and trademark) are your friends. Find a game designer who has obtained a patent, and almost always, you’ll find one of those “suckers born every minute.”

Two recently published classes, one of them free:
"Introduction to (Tabletop) Role-playing Game Design"
More than four hours long, but it IS an introduction.
This is $15 on Udemy, with this coupon it's $12:

 I've just opened a brief (hour?) online course, "Prospering at Game Conventions and Conferences"
This is officially $5, but FREE to you with this coupon:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why I Only Play 1e D&D, not other RPGs

I first saw Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. At the time my favorite game was Diplomacy, a seven player cutthroat diceless wargame. I said to myself at the time, “I hate dice games.” But of course it turned out that D&D was not a dice game, rather it was a microcosm of life where you do what you can to reduce the number of times when you have to rely on the dice to save your butt. Smart people do the same thing in life, trying to reduce the number of times when they have to get lucky.

So in 1975 I started playing the game. I settled on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as my game of choice and that has been true until this year. I have never seen a need to switch to a newer edition because the newer editions had a different zeitgeist that I did not approve of. I did play and even referee third edition and I played fourth edition.

I’ve read lots of RPG rules and seen various games being played, but I never saw a need to change from first edition because I could modify it to suit whatever I needed. I am not a lover of games, I am a lover of particular games, and I tend to stick to those particular games. I have never been susceptible to the “cult of the new.” Why bother to learn new rules and new ways of doing things when I’m fully satisfied with what I’ve got? 1e D&D is a simple game despite the great mass of standard rules when compared with games like Rolemaster, but it provides enough detail to treat the game as a wargame rather than as merely a story (FATE is largely story, for example). Typically I set up situations to challenge the players rather than guide them along a particular story; I want the players to write their own story within the context that I provided.

I usually create my own settings, but the one commercial setting I was most interested in is Spelljammer, despite its inconsistencies.  I’ve partly devised an alternative set of rules for a Spelljammer-like game, and I have a couple of boardgames in mind related to the same kind of setting.

Because I’ve been satisfied with D&D, I have only once attempted to design a separate RPG. And that RPG is a very limited set of rules to be used in a boardgame. The idea was to substitute programmed instruction for a referee, but I’ve never got far enough to try doing that because I have great doubts that it can be done reasonably.

On the other hand I’ve written a great many supplements to D&D - at one time I was going to write a supplement for Games Workshop that fell through when they lost their distribution rights for D&D in the United Kingdom - among them a 23,000 word set of D&D Army rules that scaled from small groups (a few hundred) two armies of many tens of thousands. I use that a lot in my own campaign, and someday I’ll include it in a book with reprints of some of my many articles from Dungeon and White Dwarf magazines among others. There are unpublished character classes to include as well. So I wrote a lot of RPG stuff but as variants of D&D rather than separate games.

I have been extremely impressed with the professionalism and quality of rules writing and rules creation for the fifth edition of D&D. The ridiculously easy healing rules (a manifestation of 21st century reward-based gaming instead of 20th century consequence-based gaming) ruin the game as written, but it’s easy enough to remove the revivify spell and some of the easy healing rules. But I have to say I have not played fifth edition yet, I’m still working my way through the Monster Manual having read the other two. I tend to feel I ought to spend my time on my own board and card game designs rather than on playing D&D, but that can change.

Some of the excellent additions to the game are advantage and disadvantage, and attunement of magic items. The first is a great simplifier, and the second helps solve the problem of characters with huge bags of magic items. Even little things like the change so that no one has to keep track over long periods of how many charges there are in a magic item are an indication of the thought put into the game. Of course, the writers had 40 years of role-playing game experience to draw on.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Triptych IV

Three different topics in one blog post.

First, a comment about Reading Versus Listening and Watching.  I am not writing much in the blog, these days, as I tend to think in terms of screencasts (videos) because that’s where the education market has gone.  The proportion of people willing to read (as opposed to listen) decreases over time.  Before I retired from college teaching I saw that students often didn’t even get a copy of the textbook, let alone read it.

A blog such as this one naturally attracts the readers, rather than the listeners. So I’ll try to write more often.  I am also working on turning my online courses into books, for those who prefer to read.

“Growing” the Hobby

If you want to "grow" any game-related hobby, you make the games easier to play (require less thought/action by the participant) and make them more rewarding.

To do the first, you either:
tell the player what to do (as in many of the original Zynga Facebook games) or
you make things happen for the player (the player is a passive observer), or
you make every decision lead to success (that is, no "bad" decisions)

Further (and this is the second), make sure that there's feedback (at the very least) if not functional reward (such as loot) at every juncture/encounter.

Using these methods, people who don't want to make an effort (an attitude that seems to be more and more common in the days of the "Easy Button" - "I can't be bothered"), and people who want the game to be more like a movie, rewarding them rather than requiring them to earn something, will more likely be attracted.

This is what has happened in MMOs and F2P video games.  We're seeing some of it in tabletop games, though not as strongly as in video games.

I'm not going to say this broad appeal is bad.  But is it what you want as a designer, is that how you want to design "games"?  Are hobby games becoming famiily and party games?

 How being a game designer changes your perception

Christian Williams was describing Kickstarter in a blog post on LinkedIn recently.  Then he talked about the opening video for a KS project.  He showed three, including this one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ciouw-Fk-Jg

Christian said "Wow. Just wow. I watched this video and I wanted to play this game NOW!? "

What did I see, as a game designer?  I saw a fairly abstract game with some Euro influence and a little maneuver, more or less a game about collecting things.  I saw a video that emphasized story, but games aren't stories, they're games.  It hinted at the mechanics used, but emphasized the imagined story.

I saw how the game was constructed, not the story.  I only care about the story insofar as it influences the gameplay, the design, and I couldn't learn enough about the design to know, nor to be excited about the design.

I have no interest in playing it.  (Though I have to admit, I am not a game lover, I'm a lover of certain games and certain kinds of games, which is quite another thing.)

(Keep in mind, Kickstarters aren't about the game, they're about the product.  They're about the dream.  You don't really know what the game is like or how it will play, it may not even have been completed.)

Here's how a video game developer described the change in how the developer perceived games:

When you consider becoming a developer, you are going to develop a certain type of hypothetical 'developers glasses'. This means you'll be able to recognize the structure of games and how they are constructed. This sounds great at first, but it will soon transform you into an extremely critical judge, and these glasses will make it harder to swap back to your 'consumer glasses'. I won't say you will not enjoy games anymore, but pleasing yourself with what once was your hobby gets harder.  -Koen Deetman

Books are like games?

Books are like games in many ways.  Almost no game has original mechanics, original settings, themes, etc.  But a game can be new as a whole because of the way things are put together.  Nor could someone go out on the Web, find descriptions of some mechanics, and throw them together to be as good as a properly-designed game.

Books - fiction or non-fiction - rarely contain a lot that is original, but what is selected for inclusion, how it's arranged, how it's presented, makes a big difference.  For example, there are a couple dozen books on game design, but none that resemble my book.

Non-fiction books combine a lot of information that may be available somewhere, may be obscure: the author organizes it and infuses it with his or her understanding to make it something new.

The markets for games and books are behaving similarly, as well.  There's an oversupply of both, with the result that more and more games and books are being published each year, and on average each is selling fewer and fewer copies.  Hence the notion that you'll get rich designing boardgames becomes yet more ridiculous every year.  (It's happening in video games, too, with the average game on the Apple Store making all of $500 (median).)

Thanks to the difficulties of working with a Chinese printer for the first time, my adventure game Sea Kings from Worthington Publishing is now delayed until sometime in mid-summer.