Kickstarter Lesson #235: Surviving an Attack on Your Character

26 October 2017 | 93 Comments

A few days ago, a creator (Jan from Underground Games) approached me with a difficult situation they had recently encountered on a live Kickstarter project. I’ll let Jan tell the story, then I’ll chime in with my thoughts.

***

JAN

Kickstarters are all about reputation and how people perceive the project and its creator(s), so building your reputation is an important task that takes quite long and there have been numerous very good posts about it like this one here. But what if that reputation comes under attack? It can take months or years to build it, but only seconds to tear it down and spread negativity. Kickstarters live from positivity, from looking forward to something and being excited, so this can become a real problem.

And that can hurt you financially and emotionally.

I have been making digital games and RPGs for over 25 years now and have dealt with licenses for brands from games to movies, so I consider myself to have at least modestly aware of the legal parts of IP rights. So, before we launched our recent Kickstarter for our Jagged Alliance board game, we made sure we had all the rights in place for names and pictures prior to launch. But the problem we faced was not a legal one.

Two days in, we had someone appear in our comments section claiming we stole their mechanics and designs for our game. It was a game I had heard of, but never played before and initially I thought that was a hoax. But it turned out it was the actual designer filled with righteous indignation about how we stole the design he had taken years to hone and refine.

I looked at a playthrough and there were indeed striking similarities, visually and mechanically. The mechanics in question had been developed 6 years ago as a paper prototype for a computer game.

After a little back and forth in the public comments section, we managed to move the conversation to a private channel and I hoped we could resolve the matter amicably, yet the next day his company also posted in our forums and kind-of sort-of still claimed that we had copied parts of the game. And suddenly our backers began to wonder if maybe we did.

What’s more, people suddenly popped up on our Facebook page and rated it down, responding to explanations and reasoning with laughter emojis. We were forced to again take up the discussion on the comments section and explain in length what transpired and that added a certain…heaviness to things, distracting from the positive atmosphere so far.

So now I am spending time trying to fend off allegations and I realized how Kickstarter and the ecosystem of relationship building around it is very vulnerable, as are all social mediascapes. This is not even about being sued or taken to court – in most cases ideas cannot be trademarked, only the specific form they take like graphics, text, or an actual tune.  It is about losing credibility, which essentially is your currency as a creator.

I wish I had a universal solution to this. In our case we explained in detail how we derived the ideas and stats from the original Jagged Alliance game and it seemed enough to hopefully resolve this. We also hope we can meet the other company in Essen and talk about this over a fizzy drink.

***

JAMEY

First, it saddens me that a designer would act that way, especially since there’s absolutely no legal grounds to sue someone in the US for using similar or the same game mechanisms. Designers should celebrate when others are inspired by their mechanisms, not threaten their peers.

Second, as Jan points out, this isn’t really about game mechanisms. It’s about surviving an unfounded attack on your character on a platform where reputation, trust, and integrity have a huge impact on your success.

I think Jan did a number of things right:

  • He first managed to shift the attack from a public channel to private message.
  • He publicly acknowledged that there were some strong similarities to the other game.
  • He repeatedly explained the history of his design process on various forums.

Overall, I think the key is to be consistently trustworthy and transparent. At some point, someone is going to make an attack on your character, whether its big or little. When they do, other people are going to look at what they know about you to see if the attack is consistent. If the attacker’s claim doesn’t fit at all, it will be much easier to dismiss than if your history contains a series of contradictions and mysteries.

Have you survived an unfounded attack on your character, on Kickstarter or elsewhere? How did you deal with it?

Also read:

93 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #235: Surviving an Attack on Your Character

  1. Jan, that was Terrible what happened to your kickstarter campaign. It’s ridiculous. I looked at your kickstarter page.

    The ridiculousness of the original designer can be seen in claiming visual design elements were stolen. What he is claiming is unprotectable under the doctrine of scenes-à-faire. Look up Capcom v. Data East (1994). Link below. Capcom lost because of scenes-à-faireplain (standard, expected). The visual graphic elements he said you stole: The cube icon (it’s a plain boring cube icon, no offense to Jan or Matt Leacock), dice being the color yellow and red (standard for color blindness). Blood splatter on cards. These are standard. The graphic design on the original game looks great but it’s unoriginal, and has been done before. It’s standard. It’s like a hockey game creator trying to sue another creator for using white ice and a crowd on his board. And we all know mechanics can’t be copyrighted, otherwise we would never have had a Mario Bros or Street Fighter or 99% of all video and board games.

    https://www.patentarcade.com/2005/08/case-capcom-v-data-east-nd-cal-1994-c.html

    Can you sue him for slander and public defamation and financial ruin of your kickstarter? I hate lawsuits but he attacked you. He didn’t think twice about publicly destroying your chances.

  2. Problem was not inspiration, it was not telling it was (and it’s not just the stamina thing, for sure). I think the problem is that the co-designer knew exactly what he was doing, but Jan didn’t.
    Jan admitted in private that his co-designer played the game a lot, then he said in public that’s not the case.

    The original game’s did the wrong thing going in public, but there’s something about inspiration and truth which is not crystal clear fron J.A team.

    It’s a lose/lose situation.

    1. Hang on there, I did no such thing. Neither of us ever played the game and the mechanic in question is something we did for a PC game prototype 6 years ago.
      I have been quite consistent in explaining this. We did not play the game, we did not see the visuals and when we checked for dice colour we picked (after we asked around on BGG and other forums for suggestions for escalating dice, we found another game using the same dice and felt that this showed the colours work.
      I am also wondering how a private conversation could be referenced here?

      1. Sorry, need to add to that – AFTER the issue had been brought up, he went ahead and played the game in question to verify what similarities are there. I think this could have been misunderstood in the mail, which is all on me not making myself clear enough.
        So, we did not play PRIOR to the event, but he played after that, to check for himself.

  3. Did the designer of the game credit his inspiration for the following elements seen in the game, where did he get these ideas from?

    -Dice rolls
    -Cards
    -Player mats with different player skills
    -Stamina counter/effects (besides hundreds of video games)
    -Plastic gems,
    -Circle counters (green, blue, yellow, red, orange)
    -A game board
    -Miniatures (instead of something original)
    – White irregular lines on the board (besides space strategy space video games)
    -Character cards (with white backgrounds)

  4. If the original designer considers those equipment cards to be similar, then he should be very worried that Hasbro would be upset with him “copying” Dungeons & Dragons: The Fantasy Adventure Board Game’s equipment cards:
    https://boardgamegeek.com/image/70690/dungeons-dragons-fantasy-adventure-board-game

    As well as using the same colors of the dice and alternating flipped weapon designs:
    https://boardgamegeek.com/image/160336/dungeons-dragons-fantasy-adventure-board-game

  5. I’m sorry to do this, but I’ve edited a few of these comments to remove proper nouns. This post was definitely not meant to attack the character of the original designer by name, as I only know what Jan has told me, and I can only verify what has been said in public, not what actually happened.

    The core idea of the post is about what to do when your character is publicly attacked, and I would ask that the conversation revolve around that subject.

  6. Ok.
    First : excuse for my broken english.

    Jamey : I wrote you an email about this allegations.

    So, Please, let me ask a simple question :

    Jan, after saying to everybody “emphatically and clearly” that nor you nor your codesigner never played Conan and haven’t been inspired by the game, please let me publish our private exchange.
    So, all will be clear for everybody. And evrybody will be able to judge with facts and not with half the information.
    So, Jan, am I authorised by you to publish this exchange ?

    Did I demand Money ? NO. NEVER.
    I just demand truth and aknowlegment. That s all.

    1. Fred: Sure, I responded to your e-mail. Here’s what I said:

      Thanks for your message. I made sure to make the article not reference you at all. The article really isn’t about you and Jan—it’s about what to do if someone publicly attacks your character. It is true that you did that, yes?

      I’ll remove the sentence from the article where Jan claims that his co-designer never played Conan. Everything else in the article is [I apparently forgot to finish this sentence, but I was going to say that everything else in this article is anonymous.]

      Why do you think you’re legitimate to be angry at Jan? If you thought he used some mechanisms from your game, why not contact him privately to say, “It looks like you were inspired by Conan—is that true? If so, I’m flattered that my game was an inspiration from you. Would you consider mentioning that inspiration in the project page and rulebook?” There’s a HUGE difference between that and publicly attacking someone, and you wouldn’t find yourself in your current position if you hadn’t made the attack in the first place.

      The difference here is that you attacked Jan’s character, and Jan went out of his way to not attack you by name or game name in his article. It’s clear to me from his e-mail that he’s really suffered as a result from your attack, yet he doesn’t wish suffering onto you.

      Again, this article isn’t about whether or not Jan actually used mechanisms or visual elements that are similar to Conan. It’s about how to survive when someone publicly attacks your character. If you would like to respond to that specific element, I will consider putting it in the post.

      Best,
      Jamey

      1. Fred, this post was not about what transpired (which is why I did not name names) and I don’t want it to be an argument again about who is right or not. It is about the issues that can appear with the large amount of games out there (where similarities are bound to exists by accident or not) and exactly that no one can win such an argument, as there is no proper procedure. The public is not a court room, but it DOES judge people either way and this is what my post was supposed to show. Exactly what happens now is what I am concerned with as a creator.

  7. Can you also edit my novel :) joke. What I said is a way to defend yourself. What is the first game the claimant played using dice? Did he credit that game?

    Another way is If u did something wrong then apologise. But if your innocent and the other guy is unreasonable or very aggressive then don’t waste time justifying yourself. Brush it off. Don’t shine light on it. Play it cool, make fun of it. Like when Linsey lohan sued GTA. But don’t do a bill Clinton “I did not have enjoyable relations with that boardgame”.

    But the the claimant has to mature to know that when he releases his game then anyone can reuse his mechanics. If he is angrily against that then he should redesign his game as to remove standard mechanics someone other than he created. Then he will be true to his principals, which would command respect to what he says. By his terms he stole most of the mechanics for his game and he doesn’t even remember source. So he needs to be more mature like Picasso, and he can release his new “vampire” game with a clear conscience.

    Did i disguise the new game well enough? I feel very sorry for both designers for different reasons.

  8. Trying to get back to the original intent of the article – I think there is a larger issue at stake here: Especially with kickstarters these kinds of arguments benefit no one but have an effect in a time where you social capital is potentially your actual capital.
    I am sure I could have handled this better and being in a kickstarter with its heightened sense of urgency (aka wide-eyed panic) I probably did not choose my words particularly well.

    But as competition on kickstarter increases and more and more titles come out (with similar genres and no doubt often rules and mechanics) and the pie doesn’t get bigger at the same ratio conflict is going to be more likely.

    In this case both the people involved tried to protect their reputation and work, because it matters on a personal and professional level. The article could just as easily have been named “How to protect yourself from someone stealing your idea” and give a different perspective.

    That is exactly my point: The influence this has and how in an age of social media and social capital this is more than just two guys arguing about who was first. It MATTERS now how and where and in front of whom these things happen and can affect us in a very real way. On both sides of the argument!

  9. Jamey, your first paragraph after the letter from the guy at Kickstarter is absurd. I mean, you talk about generally about copyright/patents laws at US in positive way. Man, the legislation about these areas is a joke. Seriously. Remember the amazing Apple patent over rectangles with round corners? Yeah… I’m not criticizing your article, or thinking that the kickstarter project is fraudulent or anything near that… I’m criticizing just your flourish tone about rules still applied till nowadays. Those laws were designed at a time that was way different than today and end being nonsense when applied at current problems. Except for that part, I liked everything else you wrote. Good night.

    1. At the section “I mean, you talk about generally about copyright/patents laws at US in positive way.” ignore “about generally”. That was a typo.

    2. Marcelo: You’re welcome to your opinion that it’s absurd. Here’s the paragraph in question:

      “First, it saddens me that a designer would act that way, especially since there’s absolutely no legal grounds to sue someone in the US for using similar or the same game mechanisms. Designers should celebrate when others are inspired by their mechanisms, not threaten their peers.”

      However, strictly in terms of facts, this is most certainly not true: “Those laws were designed at a time that was way different than today and end being nonsense when applied at current problems.” The link in the paragraph is about a court case that was resolved on April 27, 2016. If that’s not current, I don’t know what is. You can read about it here: https://2u4on4242akh3q6np31p52bb.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/DaVinci-80fb93d0-05e5-4f5a-b3ca-84241d32fd0c.pdf

  10. This comment bypasses the inevitable anger in the specific situation described—so much more easily said than done—and addresses such situations more generaliy.
    It might be worthwhile for the accused to point out that simultaneous independent discovery of important innovative ideas is not uncommon, as is documented by a number of shared Nobel Prizes in science. To include that in making one’s case recognizes both parties as stars and accentuates the positive. Regardless of the accuser’s response, it seems appropriate and potentially useful to express that in public—given that the attack has been made public, even if continued in private—because it shows even-mindedness on your side.

  11. This seems like a pretty big lose-lose scenario. In another situation, it would have been a “like this game, you should try this other game” that would potentially go in both directions. Instead I think many people will pick one game and not the other.

    Kickstarter also tends to be frequented by board game enthusiasts that are interested in knowing the creators background, and not just board game consumers. So this type of encounter is likely to haunt both sides for a while. The truth is I wouldn’t have known (or cared) who the other party was, but he followed Jan into this forum so I was able to look him and his games up on boardgamegeek. I don’t think either of these games are something that would fit my group, but this might affect future purchases of other board games.

  12. Would be best for both parties to resolve to turn the situation from a lose/lose to a win/win. First, public apologies from both sides to each other. Second, promote the similarities between both games. The reality is, when gamers like games, they seek out other games with similar mechanics, to see experience how these mechanics are implemented with different flavor. Demanding recognition is harmful to the one demanding it, especially when there are already so many gaming concepts reused in every game since the first game.

  13. Jan, has your kickstarter campaign stalled?

    If it has then would a good strategy be “go to all in” with the controversy?

    Contact all media, board games and videos games publications about it. If your campaign has lost already then not much can hurt it any more. That $35k is worth nothing at the moment unless the goat is met. And there is a chance that big media coverage could make you quadruple your goal.

    I remember years ago Disney sued Piggly Pooh. The public support went with Piggly Pooh, and made it famous for a while. A children’s TV series was created for it. Also when King (of Candy Crush) tried to sue everyone for using the word saga it backfired for them.

    If you do embrace it then you give your campaign a chance, and you are also fighting for board game creators everywhere. Because all of our work, and the claimants work, is based on mechanics from other games. If a designer wants the law changed to protect his mechanic then he would have to accept that Hasbro and maybe 3 other big companies would own 99.99% of all game mechanics and he (and other creators) could not use any of them. So you would be doing the community a favor and setting an example how to defend your self.

    I like the noble peace prize example mentioned above by Dorothy. Also did you see the claimants company logo? I don’t see a credit to Stanley Kubrick under the logo. It really is hypocrisy of the highest degree.

      1. Yes, that is much better. It takes 2 for a win/win. I hope the originator can see the light, see eye to eye. If he can then they can work out the details in private and then come out. In an ideal world it should all have been private.

        But what is the solution if the other party doesn’t want a win/win, is unreasonable, unrealistic, and you have already taken lots of damage? What do creators do in that situation. Especially with a kickstarter timer? Unfortunately I don’t think this will be the last time it happens in the board game community. Is there another nice way when something nasty happens? My 2nd suggestion was fighting fire with fire when attacked. But is there another fire/water way when if the other party wont meet minds?

        1. That’s a great question, Anthony: What if the other party doesn’t want a win-win situation? I think my preferred way is to take a “higher ground” approach as I describe in the article. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll also end up looking like a defensive jerk. :)

          I think there’s probably a situation where public attacks cross over into slander, and then legal action may be justified.

          1. Yes it’s very easy to get sucked down, especially if someone starts joking about nuclear bombs and mutual destruction :)

  14. Ok.
    I learned the Lesson.

    Nobody see any difference between very simple mechanics (throw a die, move a mini…) and a very specific way to manage something : a “system” (and not simply a mechanic) wich mean a specific process powering togather mechanics : an engine.

    So defending his own work on “systems” here seems bad, while using systems from other games seems here good.

    I have to definitly change may way of thinking game industry. I will incredibly improve my productivity.

    And good news for publishers : they have not anymore to pay Royalties, because the “systems” which empower games seems belonging to everybody.
    So if a publisher was lurking on game prototypes websites and download and publish such prototypes without aknowledging nor paying anybody you would tell me that s pretty cool, and the guy who did the prototype should be happy with that.
    If tomoroww I publish “8Wonders” or “PrinceDomino” it will be cool ?

    1. Fred: There’s a great comment below from AJ in response to this, but I should note again that this article isn’t about game mechanisms. It’s about attacking someone’s character in public (and how to deal with such an attack). Have you reflected on if your attack has made anyone happier, including yourself?

      I’ll offer this unsolicited advice: You’ve now gone through the experience of accusing someone of copying your ideas. You know the real-world results and fallout of such a public accusation. So the next time this happens–because I absolutely guarantee there will be other games in the future that have at least one mechanism that is similar to your game–what if you try the opposite, just to see how it goes? Celebrate that the other game has a mechanism you love and see what happens. I would bet anything that you’ll walk away from that experience with a stronger feeling of camaraderie and support from that designer and the gaming community that your sales depend on.

      And if I’m wrong, you can always go back to your original method.

      1. When I first read “Ok. I learned the Lesson.” I felt happy for the situation and I thought Fred is not so bad. So it’s not too late.

  15. Beyond that it seems there is here a big cultural difference between the french way of thinking intellectual property (which is inalienable) and the copyrigth system from the US common law.
    I think a lot of people can t even simply understand my reaction because their way to think about “ideas” is way too far from the french one.
    Actually there is probably on this specific point as much as difference between french and US industry than there is between US and Chinese industry.

  16. Matter of example : if I publish an exactly clone of the 7th Continent Game, but with other cards and stories, you would tell me that s ok ?
    If I publish my own Unlock adventures/enigme just changing the title and graphism designs, but leaving rules unchanged, you would think that s moraly normal ?

    Really, that s just question ?

    1. You may not like this answer, but, Mostly Yes.

      The only parts of a game that are protected by US Copyright are the written and drawn parts, so you couldn’t use the original rule book word for word, but you could absolutely reuse the mechanics and general game components.

      Would anyone buy a game that’s a blatant rip-off? Maybe not.

      There are easily over a hundred different rebranded Monopoly games in the world today. There’s literally nothing Hasbro or Parker Brothers can do anything about a company making a “Catopoly” came, even though it’s a slightly changed carbon copy.

      1. Hello Leslie. I used to play a lot Monopoly at my youth but I never saw anywhere any game that reassembled it. Would you mind to say the name, if you can remember it by memory, so I could go after?

        1. Marcelo – if you get on Amazon and search “Opoly games” you can see a TON of “Monopoly” carbon copies that are just rethemed. There’s a “Baconopoly” for goodness sakes, because of course there is.

          Almost none of these are “official” games done by Hasbro/Parker Bros, and you will note that none of them use the classic Monopoly style header for that reason.

    2. That’s what they did with Mythos Tales, borrowing the gameplay of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. I don’t think people minded but rather welcomed the new spin.

      You can cling all you like to your “French” way of thinking about intellectual property but it’s very much like the apocryphal King Canute trying to stop the tides.

      Borrowing ideas is how humans evolve ideas. I hate to tell you this, but you didn’t invent your game in a vacuum, either.

    3. I love Conan and The Adventurers. I would really love to see what you could do in a system similar to 7th Continent or Unlock.

  17. Essentially, Fred, yes: You could publish a clone of 7th Continent tomorrow, so long as you use original artwork, graphics, and story. You’d have to write your own rules, of course — or else they’d have a decent case for plagiarism — but you could use the same mechanics and systems.

    Off the top of my head, I could name a half-dozen card games that are simply re-themed versions of Uno. The same goes for rummy, or crazy eights. A dozen party games that are clones of CAH. Myriad deckbuilders that use strikingly similar “systems.” At least four or five miniatures games that rode the coattails of Zombicide’s success. Some of these games even go as far as to be transparent about it (“it’s like this game, but with this theme,” or “if you liked that, try this”).

    Here’s the problem (at least as far as I’ve found, as a designer): Gamers are a fairly discerning bunch. They’ll generally notice an attempt at a reskin of a popular existing game, and if all you’ve done is (knowingly) make a straight clone of something else, it’s usually met with disdain.

    I say “knowingly” not because of your case specifically (I’m not familiar enough with the details), but because of a situation I was in recently. Just a couple of months ago, my co-designer and I tested a prototype of our new game with a few trusted friends.

    After explaining the rules, one of the playtesters commented, “Oh, so it’s sort of like Tokaido.”

    Neither of us had ever played Tokaido; it’s been on my radar for a long time, but I haven’t had the chance. So we looked into it, and sure enough, our game design was fairly similar.

    We’ve since changed several things, but even with those changes, I think that a discerning player could make the connection between them. I don’t see it as a detriment to our game; rather, I see it as an opportunity, and while we probably won’t bridge the two ourselves, I hope that others do, because Tokaido is an excellent game that has a large following. I’d see it as a compliment.

      1. Great minds think alike! Though if you made a “Catopoly” game that was a carbon copy of Monopoly, it’s likely you’d receive something in the mail. Some of those larger companies can be bullies, even if it’s legally shaky ground. :)

    1. (To clarify: I’m not comparing my situation to yours; I’m just using it as an example regarding your question about borrowing mechanics and systems. If we wanted, we could use the same mechanics as Tokaido, tailored to our theme, but we’ve chosen not to do that.)

    2. The one caveat to this is if you copied a game so completely you damaged sales of the original game you could be sued for damages from lost sales. You’d have to be able to demonstrate not only that mechanics were copied, but you’d also have to quantify your damages by with real data. The copied game might even have to use a similar name so that you could claim that consumers were confused about which one was the original and which was the copy (ie Prince Domino, 8 Wonders, Settlers of Cayman).

      If it’s just a few mechanics here and there (say Alchemists using a similar wake-up track from Viticulture which Jamey may have seen in yet another game) then there’s no recourse.

      1. Trademark infringement usually only applies to the title of a game or possibly also the publisher’s name.

        Obviously anyone can sue anyone else for anything they want, but I’d be astonished to see a successful lawsuit come out of a “game copied so completely” that only related to sales and not copyright infringement.

        Up thread someone mentioned Capcom v. Data East, which is about as close to a one-to-one copy as you can get, at least in the video game world, and even Capcom lost that battle.

  18. I have a great sense of intuition…now I could be wrong, but I have a feeling you did in fact not learn the lesson???

    If you were the judge, the law, of the world the world would be worse than it already is. Imagine there would be no French car company, Renault. There would only be Ford, (speaking of engines) that would cost 10 times the price minus decades of improvement due to no competition. The only smartphones would cost over $1,000 by one company. Monopolies everywhere. There would be only 1 First-Person-Shooter, no Call of Duty, no SWAT 4, no No One Lives Forever. Actually forget that last sentence, the world would be better in that case. France would not have the nuclear bomb. Do you really only want 1 country to have a nuclear bomb? Are you anti-mutual-destruction? Mutual destruction is a good thing right? I remember being told it’s good. Ah, I’m just joking. But you get the point (or do you?).

    I don’t think it’s a cultural thing as you suggested. Every country has people that behave badly online. And every country has regular people that believe their own “should be like this” laws. It’s not just France, every culture has people like that.

    Speaking of inventing things at the same time. Would you say your game and Jan’s game are as similar as the Egyptian pyramids and the Aztec pyramids? They were on other sides of the world but still came up with very similar ideas, and broke “should be like this” imaginary copyright laws.

    Did you do this to Stanley Kubrick or Arthur C Clarke for copying your company logo in Space Odyssey 2001? If they are on you list please take them off.

    Sorry Jamey.

  19. I will clarify too: my comments are not aimed at Jamey, They are in reply to the commenter Fred. I am sorry to Jamey because I got pulled back in and went off topic, just when I thought I was out… I think some people can not be reasoned with, so I should not have tried.

    1. Anthony: I understand. I’m trying to give Fred a chance here. Yes, I think he made a mistake, a big mistake. But he’s human, and that’s what we do. I’m hoping Fred gives this conversation some thought and consideration.

  20. So just one more question Jamey :
    I understand your point, but in this case, Why a publisher should pay royalties to an author ?

  21. If authors have no property on the systems the designed, they are absolutly no legitimate to claim any right for their work.
    That s all the point.

  22. Anthony Gerald : you are wrong. I really learned the lesson.
    First change :
    – I will never again sign any game as an author with publisher. I will just do game as a publisher. Because an author has just no right to claim anything about what he did.
    Second change :
    – I will abandonn my old way of doing things, wich was based on not play anygame for not being under precise influence. I will permit myself to search and use specific systems. All this confrontation just have broken what was my “ligne of conduct”. I was actually in the wrong way. Doing game is not art, it s just doing product.

  23. So, that’s just the next step of the causal chain. Abandoning my ligne of conduct I will not attacking anymore, since I will be in the same way of thinking.
    You can t just split the reason of my anger and my way of seeing things. So that s not really a differrent subject.

    1. You’re right, the two subjects are tied together. It’s okay for you to be angry about something. But attacking someone in public as a result of that anger can be detrimental to you and a fellow game designer, which doesn’t help anyone.

      Fred, I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve been angry, and I’ve acted on it in public in different situations. And it’s never turned out well. It’s hurt me, it’s made my fans look bad, and it’s impacted my company. So even though I’m sure I’ll get angry about things in the future, I’ve tried to find a way to act in such a way that it creates something positive instead of something negative.

  24. In France, for example, we are not speaking about “Game designer” we are speaking about “author” in the same way that you do in the book industry.

  25. Stories also can’t be copyrighted, thank god.
    They say most stories are from a base of about 12. Prometheus, the story of Wu Kung, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, they are all the same story from the bible.

    1. To be more specific, a plot arc and story progression cannot be copyrighted. The IDEA of the story cannot be copyrighted. The “Hero’s Journey” for example, is the base for millions, if not billions, of stories, and without it I don’t even know what fiction would look like today.

      Stories – the writing itself – obviously are definitely copyrighted, and copying someone outright can get you in trouble.

  26. Thanks to all for this discussion. I feel stretched and tired just reading it. You have put a lot into the discussion, and to the issues around it.

    I keep thinking back to something in OP. Reputation is crucial, but vulnerable.

  27. Jamey.
    I understand now your point of view but I would really appreciate that you answer my question :
    Why a publisher should pay a gamedesigner for his work ?
    If his gamedesigns are frees and belong to evreybody, why a publisher should pay for it ?

    I will give you a precise and real example.
    With Monolith we decided to republish Mythic Battle last year. So we made a proposal to the gamedesigner and have published the game with a complete different arts, layouts and components. Actually we only kept the mechanics.
    So, in your opinion, we could have published the game the way we did, except we would have to just change the title and bypass the gamedesigner. So we would have saved 8% of our incomes. And he would have been happy because we used is work without nor aknowledging nor paying him ?
    That’s really sound good for you ?
    I m daily working with Asmodee and Space cowboys (I have there my offices) and it would not even pass through their head nor mine to act in this way.
    We plane to republish Claustrophobia in a couple of months. We will change everything except the mechanics. You really think we should bypass Croc and doing the game without pay him, because there is no legally nor ethically necessity to do it ?
    That’s a really big part of the debat.

    1. “Why a publisher should pay a gamedesigner for his work?”

      Because it’s the right thing to do.

      Because I don’t want to publish stuff that already exists. I want games that are new, fresh, and innovative, and I think people want to buy games that are new, fresh, and innovative.

      Because I would never, ever take a game that someone had submitted to me and produce an exact copy of that game without paying their permission and paying them a royalty for it.

      “So, in your opinion, we could have published the game the way we did, except we would have to just change the title and bypass the gamedesigner.”

      In no way is that my opinion. How are you possibly interpreting that as my opinion?

      “You really think we should bypass Croc and doing the game without pay him, because there is no legally nor ethically necessity to do it?”

      Hell no. I don’t think that at all. It’s surprising and disappointing to me that the thought would even cross your mind to not pay Croc. That’s really terrible, Fred.

      Somehow you’re equating a designer being inspired by another game’s mechanisms to flat-out stealing a game. They’re completely different things.

      I’m going to say this for the last time: This blog entry isn’t about game mechanisms. It’s about attacking someone’s character in public for things that are in your imagination. You did that to Jan, and now you’re actually doing that to me? What?

      I’ve repeatedly tried to give you the benefit of the doubt in these comments, but you’ve consistently shown your true colors, and I have no qualms about saying that you’re no longer welcome here on my blog.

      1. In Fred’s defense, I think his post was rhetorical. I don’t think he was actually accusing you of not wanting designers to get paid.

        That being said, I think you hit the nail on the head with this: “Somehow you’re equating a designer being inspired by another game’s mechanisms to flat-out stealing a game. They’re completely different things.”

        I would also add that it’s incredibly arrogant for anyone to think his or her idea is so brilliant that it would be impossible for anyone else in the entire world to think of something similar. Calculus was invented independently by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Had Einstein never been born, somebody else would have discovered the relationship between energy and mass.

        Ideas don’t come out of nowhere. They are inspired by one’s experiences with the previous ideas that led to the new one. Newton himself once wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Thus, others who also have experiences with those same previous ideas might end up coming to similar conclusions.

        So designers should be very careful before assuming that a game mechanic idea was stolen from them. But if you are on the other side, and are being accused of doing that, I don’t know that there’s much you can do unless you can prove that it was impossible for you to have known about the other game. If you can’t do that, then all you can really do is what Jan did: explain how you developed your mechanics, and hope people believe you.

        As consumers, we can also help with this by keeping in mind that intelligent people often do independently come up with similar solutions. So if creators are being accused of claiming another’s idea as their own, we should give them a chance to explain their side of the story, and expect a high standard of proof that they indeed took that idea from someone else.

        1. Joe: Thanks for sharing your perspective. I might have agreed with you were it not for this line, “So, in your opinion, we could have published the game the way we did, except we would have to just change the title and bypass the gamedesigner.”

          I haven’t said anything even close to that, so Fred crossed a big line in saying that.

          I really like what you said about ideas and the way they’re used and innovated, upon, though. I completely agree! :)

          1. I feel bad for you Jamey. The attack moved location to your website, and the target changed to you.

            If you want to highlight a similar situation in the future and avoid this negativity, an idea would be to also obfuscate the creator’s name and project title.

          2. Anthony: That’s a good idea. The intention of this post wasn’t to get into the he-said/she-said nature of an attack or accusation, and even though the second party was never mentioned by name, game, or company, perhaps further obfuscation was necessary.

          3. Maybe it’s because I’m french as well, so my english understanding differs a bit from a true native english person, but I didn’t read Mr Henry’s list of questions as a directed attach toward you either. Even the bit you quote here, I believe is a result of Mr Henry’s limited english mastery which he had stated multiple times here or in other places.
            On the subject, as somebody who has no knowledge of all of this, I wonder why boardgames are legally different from the other hobbies on the plagiarism subject, like video games for example where mechanisms or systems are patentable. And didn’t Magic the Gathering filled a court case against Hex a few years ago? Which got resolved with an agreement between WotC and Cryptozoic in favor of WotC in favor of WotC (which would probably have been the case if Cryptozoic didn’t risk anything in court)?

          4. Benjamin: I think it was that line from Fred, plus all of the other context in the comments, that made me feel like Fred had decided to start to attack my character. His English is pretty darn good. Look at a line like, “You really think we should bypass Croc and doing the game without pay him, because there is no legally nor ethically necessity to do it ?” I’ve said nothing like that, yet Fred is accusing me of believing that he should cheat designers out of their royalties.

            Honestly, though, I’d like to move forward. Fred is simply not someone I want to spend my time or energy on.

          5. Jamey, I think Fred said those things specifically because he didn’t think you thought them.

            The way I interpreted his argument was basically, “If A is okay, then so is B. Do you really think B is okay? If not, then why would you think A is?”

            Now, you and I both agree that his “If A is okay, then so is B” assumption was flawed because he was equating outright theft (B) with games sharing similar mechanics (A).

            But I think his intent with the “Do you really think B?” questions was not to suggest that you actually thought B, but rather to get you to come to the conclusion, “Well, I don’t think B is okay, so I have to admit that A doesn’t seem right either.”

          6. Joe,

            Jamey is an indie game designer and publisher. Indies, and their livelihood, rely heavily on their reputation. Some people will read those comments by Fred and believe Jamey actually said them somewhere, or even believe Jamey must have said them in private, as Fred also reveals things in private emails. Fred put these false words in Jamey’s mouth, “So, in your opinion, we could have published the game the way we did, except we would have to just change the title and bypass the gamedesigner”, and, “You really think we should bypass Croc and doing the game without pay him”. Fred attacked something important and fragile (in today’s market). Fred is not some drunk guy in a pub/bar talking like this. He is a fellow creator, and business person. He has a higher responsibility than most people when talking to peers, especially in public, especially on a fellow creators space, especially in-front of that fellow creators fans. What Fred did to Jamey is unforgivable minus a huge, widespread, effort from Fred in making a public apology towards Jamey.

          7. Benjamin: Systems and mechanics in video games are not legally protected any more than systems and mechanics in a tabletop game.

            I will use the example of the basic platformer, many platformers have the same system for character movement. Move left and right, jump, etc. Braid and Super Mario for instance have more than superficial similarities when it comes to their systems not just their mechanics. There are in fact enemies in Braid that are strikingly similar to Mario’s Goombas. Both games are in fact about saving a princess. No one ever accused Braid of stealing from Super Mario

            The importance is in how you present these things, Braid and Super Mario though very close in systems and mechanics produce two very different emotional outputs in terms of player experience. Braid is in fact a critically acclaimed game, despite the fact that it uses systems, not just mechanics that have been used time and time again.

            Now it would be different if you went and just literally copy and pasted the lines of code from a game to another game, that’s plagiarism.

            Also just a heads up patent is not the word you were looking for, patent applies to inventions. The word you want to use is copyright as that applies to written works. Just a tip since I know you are a non-native speaker.

            Source: I am a few months away from completing a Bachelor’s degree in Game Design.

          8. Anthony, I highly doubt even one person now thinks Jamey steals games from other designers because of Fred’s comment.

            Fred’s comment was in the context of the question, “If game designs are free and belong to everybody, why should publishers pay for them?” His argument was based on the premise that if it’s okay to take some mechanics from other games without compensating or acknowledging the original designers, why wouldn’t it be okay to take all of them? He then gave examples of games he was involved in publishing that had everything replaced except for the mechanics.

            If he had wanted to attack Jamey for not paying designers, he would have used an example of a game Jamey had published that had involved outside designers, such as Between Two Cities. He used examples of his own games instead to set up a hypothetical scenario for which to ask the question, “If you think it is okay to take some mechanics from other games, why wouldn’t you also think it would be okay for us to take all mechanics from a game, and make a ‘new’ game that excludes the original designer?”

            But even if someone read Fred’s comment as stating Jamey’s opinion rather than asking about it, that person would have no reason to take that comment seriously unless Fred had actually had any previous business dealings with Jamey.

          9. Hi Joe, you have a high level or logic and reasoning skills.
            I think a good rule is don’t apply your own logic and reasoning on to strangers. Or don’t over estimate logic and reasoning in people you don’t know. This helps to reduce miscommunication and makes for good rule books. The minority of people I come in to contact don’t have such a good level of reasoning skills as you, Joe, and Jamey, it’s not the norm. We don’t have Joes and Jameys walking around everywhere.

        2. @Joe:
          The credit for “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” is historically attributed to Bernard de Chartres, a French guy. Newton must have stolen the quote from him (how dare he!).
          (I’m a big tongue in cheek person, but I don’t know how to convey that online. I’ll try using a smiley face that is not smiling :-l )­­

    2. A publisher should pay a game designer for their work because only a game designer can come up with the original ideas in the first place. A smart game designer signs a contract so he or she can reliably pick up a check upon the instance of reprints, etc.

      Game mechanics and a game’s design cannot be copyrighted. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have worth.

      The rulebook – which has to be written by someone, and the designer is usually heavily involved – is copyrighted, and obviously this must also be paid for in some fashion.

      In the example you give about Monolith & Mythic Battle – if you legitimately changed everything, including all of the rulebook text, art, etc., between one printing and the other, then yes, you could absolutely have bypassed the original game designer.

      ****It is BETTER THAT YOU DIDN’T because that’s not a great way to win good will with that game designer or his following, but, yes, you could have.****

      The law as it stands has NOTHING to do with Jamey or anyone one on this page. It doesn’t “sound good” or “sound bad” – the law is completely objective and neutral.

      It is hard to have a discussion with you because you are obviously very emotional about the revelation you’ve had today about this issue. It would be best if you stepped back and read up on Intellectual Property law and try realize that the law isn’t personally attacking game designers or publishers, but instead has an objective purpose.

      1. Well said, Leslie. One thing I’ll add to this–you suggest it, but I’ll say it more directly so maybe Fred will hear it–is just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something. Literally no one here is saying that a publisher should steal games from designers.

  28. I like Jamey’s way to defend yourself from a public attack. Explain in a comment, ” i have also got upset before, and later realized I was wrong and regret it. it’s definitely wrong to attack someone in public. You can damage your own reputation as well and later become embarrassed. So let’s talk in private, but if you want to apologise in public i applaud that, because everyone should get a second chance.”

    That would be perceived better by bystanders than knocking back logic with a person that argues with imagination instead of reason. Someone who will only accept a loss for you and never a win/win.

    A side lesson is don’t over estimate the power of logic and reason. It doesn’t work on a lot of people, maybe even most people. Coke doesn’t list it’s “benefits”, it says Open Happiness.

  29. And then being strong when the person won’t stop like Jamey did saying “you’re no longer welcome here.”

    Maybe precede that with “you obviously don’t intend to apologise so…”.

  30. I have to apologize to Jamey (I did so privately already), it really was not my intention to bring my trouble over here and also not to make Fred look bad. This debate has obviously gotten a number of people riled up and that also was not what I wanted.
    It isn’t about winning the argument – which is a hypothetical anyway until litigation gets involved. It also isn’t about copyright laws (Ideas that take FORM can and have successfully been litigated, so the example above means someone could claim the actual game being 100% similar other than in visual is his IP and that could be brought to court and would not be an open and shut case still, there us frivolous trademarking and you would need to find a court of arbitration between Europe and the US for example etc etc etc)
    However, what happened here is what I was initially trying to point at: Some discussions (especially if you lack social cues like face an tone) flame up on forums/comments.
    People take sides, things get heated, negativity ensues.

    And sometimes cooler heads do not prevail. This will become a problem – Fred is obviously emotional. He cares for the topic and he oversteps boundaries in fighting what he sees as the good fight. Attacks on character (or body of work) can happen for the best intentions and while board game creators had a sort of unspoken code of conduct, the recent years have brought so many people in, professionalized the industry but also created more pressure and competition. I don’t think we can automatically assume the “friendly spirit” will continue and I am wondering what we as individuals can do to preserve it as much as possible, because I think it is better and it is important.

    So I sort of made a case for the problems, I just would have loved to make more of a case for the solutions.

    1. “it really was not my intention to […] make Fred look bad.”

      Fred made *himself* look bad, and nobody asked him to comment, neither here or on your Kickstarter campaign. After reading his comments both here and there, it’s clear to me that Fred is a particular type of individual. He has certain beliefs about this issue, and when faced with the fact that his understanding of the issue may be wrong, he decided to flip it in a way to damage the character of those pointing out that misunderstanding (Jamey, in this case). Trolls on forums notwithstanding, the only individual who doesn’t seem to “get it” is Fred.

      Fred seems to be unwilling or unable to grasp the concept of nuance when it comes to the topic of different games sharing mechanics, to the point of, by his own admission, specifically avoiding playing certain (types of?) games in order to prevent himself from unwittingly using their concepts. The problem is, the exact phenomenon he’s trying to prevent is already definitely at play anyway. The only way he can claim to not be guilty of exactly the thing he’s upset about is if, somehow, *all* of the following claims are true:

      1. He has never played a single game he himself has not designed
      2. He has never taken any input or suggestions about his games from anyone who has ever played a game he didn’t design
      3. All of his playtesting sessions and feedback were conducted using only people who have never played any games that were not designed by him
      4. He has never discussed games, designs, mechanics, or systems with anyone who has ever played a game he didn’t design

      I would bet good money that, at some point during, say, his childhood, he played a game of some sort, and immediately disqualified himself from all claims of uniqueness or originality, by his own rubric.

      Anyway, if Fred would watch this talk, Steal Like An Artist, he would probably finally (hopefully) understand why he’s wrong about this:

    2. So Jan, a question back on the original topic…

      How would you have handled this differently if the attacker was a fan (or someone else) instead of the creator. For the sake of an example, let’s pretend that I had attacked you because your Jagged Alliance game had a lot of similarities with Scythe. (FWIW I didn’t read your kickstarter page, so I have no idea if it shares even a single mechanic with Scythe, because that’s precisely not the point of what I’m asking).

      As a fan, I wouldn’t have financial incentive in steering sales towards my game, but I also wouldn’t have my reputation on the line, because I don’t have a product to sell. From what I’ve seen, attacks from enthusiasts came have a very high level of acidity, so lots assume that my criticisms were in an open forum of a very caustic nature. How would that change what you believe is the right way to respond.

      Similarly, a question for Jamey. If you were in the situation where you found someone borrowing (a bit too) heavily from Scythe, what do you believe is the right way to respond? Scythe is clearly selling well and highly regarded on BGG, so it’s a pretty good target, and it’s pretty plausible that this hypothetical situation could manifest at some point. (And maybe this gets spun off into a separate blog post that truly is a hypothetical situation, because afaik it hasn’t happened yet).

      1. Hi Derian,
        that is a good question and finally closer to what the OP was intended for.
        My normal line of defense is trying to put out a friendly but firm argument for my case – whether that is accidentally sharing mechanics or whether I borrowed from another game. Let’s say it was Scythe, my line would be something like: Yes, I loved that game, it inspired me to do this and that and it fit very well with what I intended to achieve in this particular mechanic. It’s like basketball and soccer/football: both have balls you need to get into nets and teams and fouls etc. – but arguably are not the same game.

        I would also take time out to talk to the fan personally.

        As that may or may not satisfy the hypothetical fan, I would actually try to contact the designer of the game in question and a personal response from him I could message in my forum – as fans usually try to protect that person.

        I have run community management for digital games for years and many a ‘troll’ acts out of love for something or out of a perceived attack on his (shared) values and I have seen some harsh critics turn into fans by giving them personal time.

        If all this does not work, I would publicly defend myself and ask him (as I am the owner of that particular place on the net) to stop his attacks (unless they were fair criticism).

        If that does not stop I would publicly announce that his posts will be deleted. If he or she were aggressive to others, I would swiftly ban him/her.

        It can take lot of time, but in an established forum that is ok. Kickstarters on the other hand only have fledgling communities (unless it is your second or third) and no time. This is why they are so much more vulnerable.

  31. Oh dear. What a depressing thread (albeit with plenty of sensible advice about it not being worth getting angry and trying to turn lose-lose into win-win). Sad to see so much energy being wasted in attacking and then having to defend positions. Wish all that effort was going into constructively creating games instead…

    In response to the original question: I think key to surviving an unwarranted attack is support from a network of friends and acquaintances who can stand up for you. Circumstances were very different, but I was once the victim of homophobia from my boss who felt that my sexuality was incompatible with the job I was doing. I was initially unaware of her views and the actions she was taking, but fortunately colleagues recognised that her behaviour was unacceptable. They approached her boss who privately made it clear to her that she was totally out of order, and the problem ceased. I felt that she’d learned so, since her original unacceptable behaviour had probably stemmed from ignorance rather than malice, we were all able to move on from the matter and get back to focusing on our jobs.

    1. Jamey has written in the past about building up an audience prior to launching a Kickstarter, and having a good support network is probably another good reason to do that. For one thing, as you expose your game to more people, you’re more likely to be made aware of other games with similar mechanics, and can address any concerns or accusations of theft before Day 1. And when you do go live, you have an established network of people who have seen the development of your game, and can vouch to at least some degree for your character.

  32. I may be a bit of an idealist, but it is my sincere belief that if you continue to act in a way that is consistent, honest, and truthful then by the virtue of that behavior alone any attack you face on your character that is not truthful will be bore out and you will recover.

    Ultimately I think this is true for everything, how we respond to obstacles in life define us, not the obstacles themselves. Or more simply put.

    “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

  33. In response to the original question, I think that many character attacks stem from backers not feeling like the creator cares about them. Sometimes, I think the backers are justified in feeling this way. For example, the backers may be asking for a game play video, and the creator responds with “I don’t think that is important.” ( I’ve seen this case and others many, many times) Other times the backers may be asking for something completely unreasonable, like cheaper shipping or redesigns of large portions of the game. It is appropriate for the designer to say no in them cases, but you end up with a backer that doesn’t feel like the creator cares about them. They get upset and say somethings that they shouldn’t. Many of these cases are avoidable by better communication, but you can’t avoid all of them.

    If I were in such a situation, I imagine that I would try to contact the person offline. Explain the situation to them and then ask if there is any reasonable thing that they think I could do to help them feel better about the situation. I would make clear the sorts of things that I am and am not willing to do. In this particular case, if Jan had asked Fred this question he could have added, that he is not willing to throw the game away, but he is willing to give Fred some acknowledgement in the game.

    I like this question, because it attempts to redirect the anger into something constructive. It communicates to Fred that Jan cares about him. Fred may have refused to answer or come up with a ridiculous resolution, but he also might have asked for something reasonable and then both parties would feel better about the situation.

    My work recently relocated my family and we had a bad experience. At the time I was pretty upset (and my wife was far more so). When I explained what happened to the people in charge, they more or less asked me if there was something reasonable they could do to improve the situation? I came up with a solution that they thought was reasonable and now everyone is happy.

    I would also be careful with Fred and the language barrier. I served a mission for my church in Portugal several years ago. I spoke Portuguese very well, but I still could get myself into trouble. I remember once, when I thought that I was politely telling something that they could sit if they like. It turns out that I was demanding that they sit. My words were grammatically correct, but I wasn’t using the right phrasing for my intent. Asking questions and showing intent can be really tricky in other languages.

  34. I just have to comment on the poignancy that, at the time I am writing this comment (but not at the time when most of the above comments were written), the background for this webpage is the artwork from the cover of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. The story behind this game, apparently, is that while feeling out ideas for a sequel to Between Two Cities, the designers recognized a similarity between their game and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. It sounds like this was not a direct inspiration but a later recognition.

    This led to exactly what Jamey suggested above: interaction between the design team and Bezier, leading to just the sort of “win-win” situation that turns a potential conflict (or missed opportunity) into something that benefits everyone involved.

    How interesting that the proof of the wisdom of Jamey’s advice would appear as an artistic backdrop to the words themselves, by coincidence, months later.

    1. Thanks for making that connection! Here’s how I relayed that story to GeekDad a few months ago:

      “A year or so later after trying several themes and versions of new Between Two games, Ben was at Geekway to the West, and he said he had some news to share,” Stegmaier continued. “Apparently local playtesting for a castles-themed game had been going quite well. But, Ben told me that many of the mechanisms were heavily inspired by Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so he was worried about how Bézier Games would feel about that. It was then that I told Ben that Castles of Mad King Ludwig is one of my absolute favorite games.”

      Stegmaier tells a great story because we seldom hear about the genesis of games and how they evolve in development. What’s more, because this game’s birth involves the crossroads of two popular games, it’s even more fascinating. Still, knowing how licensing can often throw a wrench in many great projects, I wanted to know what happened next. Stegmaier recalls “I wondered aloud, ‘Instead of making Between Two Castles, what if we collaborated with Bézier to make Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig?’

      “Ben knew Ted [Alspach, president of Bézier Games], so he made the initial contact and showed the game to Ted at Origins [Game Fair] in 2017,” Stegmaier remembered. “I also played it around that time to make sure it was a game I wanted to publish, and indeed that was the case … it captured everything I love about each of the two games. We worked out a deal with Bézier Games that amounted to a licensing deal — Stonemaier Games is the publisher with full responsibilities for developing, blind playtesting, art, graphic design, production, marketing, distribution, localization, etc. It’s been a fruitful collaboration, and I can’t wait for people to finally play the finished version of the game.”

      https://geekdad.com/2018/08/between-two-castles-of-mad-king-ludwig-adds-more-gaming-to-your-gaming/

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