What If Someone Steals My Idea?

25 June 2020 | 86 Comments

Let’s try a little exercise: Envision an idea. Something you thought of on your own and that you’re really excited about. It can be an old or new idea, but the it’s just an idea–you haven’t done anything with it yet.

Now tell me your idea. Post it in the comments below.

How do you feel right now at this moment? (This is the real question–I don’t actually want to know your idea.) Uncomfortable? Protective? Squeamish?

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most since I started writing this blog in 2012 is: “What if someone steals my idea?” It’s human nature to wonder this–it’s perfectly natural. As a result, we tend to covet our ideas like dragon’s gold, warding away anyone who approaches.

Today I’d like to make a case for why the fear of someone stealing your idea is unfounded, counterproductive, and detrimental.

First, and most importantly: No one is going to steal your idea. How do I know this? Go back to the first few sentences of the post and think about how much you value your own idea. Someone could walk up to you right now with an idea that is objectively 10x better, but you would still value your own idea more. We all think our ideas are unique and special as compared to everyone else. Why would I steal your idea when I could spend my limited time, energy, and resources on my own ideas?

Second: You are not the first person to have your idea. There are nearly 8 billion people on Earth right now. Do you really think you are the only person to have your idea? Your idea may be special, but I’m mentioning this because it puts “stealing” in relative terms. Think about all of the other brains that have also had your idea–you’re not stealing from them, are you?

Third: Your idea probably already exists. More on this in a second, but yes, someone has probably already executed your idea. I often feel a sense of relief when I learn this, because it means that someone else already put in the work, and I can immediately benefit from it.

Fourth: Your idea is brilliant, but it’s also worthless. Execution is everything. What would you rather read, an amazing novel, or a single sentence describing an idea for a novel? Or a novel, game, a song, a movie, etc? An idea only has value when it is executed, and it only has a lot of value when it’s executed well.

Fifth: You will learn far more by sharing your idea than by keeping it secret. I understand that this is a difficult step to take, but just try it once. Go to a relevant Facebook group and share one of your ideas. Ask people what they think, and I think you’ll discover one or more of the following:

  • You’ll learn it already exists. Perhaps someone executed a similar idea really well and you can buy it now…or maybe quite poorly, and you can do better.
  • You’ll get instant feedback and support from people who want to see you succeed. People aren’t lurking around social media hoping to snag the best ideas.
  • You’ll get a bunch of suggestions of adjacent, existing concepts/products that you can research. It’s good to be aware of the competition, especially so you can differentiate your idea from everything that’s already on the market.

Sixth: You will protect your executed idea far more by sharing it than by keeping it secret. I’ve stressed “executed” because you can’t copyright or protect hypothetical ideas. But you can actually make something, and by sharing what you make with others, you’re creating a public paper trail to show that you made it first. In the extremely rare case of someone who actually does steal your executed idea and claims it as their own, you can point the to series of posts you’ve made over the last few years. If you haven’t shared any of that, though, it’s just your word against theirs.

Basically, if you’re really passionate about your idea and you’re ready to make it a reality, one of the first and best steps you can take is to share it with others. I say this because I want to read your amazing novel, play your amazing game, and watch your amazing movie. But that’s not going to happen if you view other people and see thieves instead of collaborators and supporters.

You don’t need to share your idea in the comments, but if you want to give it a try here, you’re welcome to do so. You can also get to work on your idea so you can experience firsthand the sheer amount of time, resources, and energy it takes to make an idea a reality.

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86 Comments on “What If Someone Steals My Idea?

  1. Hi Jamey, great advice.

    As creators I believe our work is automatically provided copyright which is another benefit of sharing ideas.

    One area I have not seen much discussion on relates to the game identity, logo and name.

    If a game designer believes they have a commercially viable game and a great name, do you believe they should register a URL and TradeMark before sharing too much?

    I currently have a game that is in development. Unfortunately I am waiting for our 8 week Covid lockdown in Melbourne to wind up before I can begin more play-testing.

    I have not registered the URL, TM or shared much publicly yet so it would be interesting to hear your feedback.

    thanks
    David

      1. Hi Jamey,

        URLs are not expensive and TM may only be a few hundred for a region, although worldwide TM costs would be very prohibitive. I think it would be a safer option to organise a URL and regional TM though just for a bit of piece-of-mind.

        A good thing is that if you have shared information about your game to the game community, the community would look very unkindly upon anyone else taking the name and and any aspects of the game.

        Thanks
        David

      2. Hi Jamey,

        When you go through the registration process with a game, what do you register and where i.e name and unique figurines, worldwide or regional IP?

        thanks
        David

    1. At least in the US, it is not as simple as sharing an idea and it is now yours. Look at the Washington football team. The quarterback tweeted an idea for a new team name and someone else copyrighted it. Now if they want to use it, they have to pay the copyright holder.

      1. Hi Mark,

        I really do not know the legalities but the name may have been TM’d by the other person.

        Here is Australia you can register a business name – which has to be unique for your industry – but someone else can get a trademark for the name and then force you via legal channels to stop using the name – even if you had been trading with it for years.

        thanks
        David

  2. Hi Jamey,

    Ok, here goes, …

    General Description:
    You and your colleagues have gained the trust of the Governments, the Corporations, and the People of the world in this cooperative, educational, party-style board game. You are collectively seated on the NEW IPCC Advisory Panel. Can you save our civilization before the point of no return in 2030? Your collective decisions will be faithfully executed. You just need to make the right ones.

  3. Hi Jamey!
    We are currently creating a board game called Space Plague and the idea is to launch it worldwide on Kickstarter, we want to make a prototype to promote and test our game in Tabletop simulator, but it scares us that all the assets that are used are going to be left on a public server and people in theory could download the entire game and copy it. We have a feeling of ambivalence, because we do not want the game to be available until the Kickstarter campaign is released, but on the other hand, we would love to try it and be able to share the experience with more people, do you have any experience with this? What could you recommend us?

    Thank you very much.

  4. Since all pledge levels are Early Bird and there are only 3 days left in a 56 day campaign that has reached 41 times their original goal, it is not actually early bird. I was surprised Kickstarter did not have a problem with it. But I guess when you are making money off of it, you look the other way.

  5. A current multi million dollar kickstarter is continually bumping the number available at each pledge level. And all of their pledge levels are listed as “Early Bird”. This makes it so that anyone who goes to the page sees there are always less than 50 remaining. Creating the fear of missing out.

    To me this is deceptive, but Kickstarter does not have a problem with it and even lists them as a “Projects we Love”

    What are your thoughts on this practice?

    1. To me, it depends on why they’re doing it. If they are organically gaining access to more units, it makes sense that they should increase the quantity. But if they’re just gamifying a system I’m already not a fan of (early birds), I wouldn’t support that practice.

  6. I’m still self-brainstorming an idea for a game. I actually started from the theme, to then choose and develop the mechanics for it. It is a geology/plate tectonics game where players shapes the Earth starting from the early stage of its existence into the present continent drifting system. I feel like it is going to be a competitive game, I’ve got a lot of ideas of what should be there, and how certain things should work out, but still struggling to put all together. the most complicate part I’d say is to translate the 3D real earth system into a 2D one, but I guess that, being a game and not a simulation, a certain degree of approximation is going to be ok.
    I’ve got a plan for the game-flow so I guess it is going to be soon the time for a hand-made prototype.

    One question: as I’ll be dealing with points “earned” and “spent” in order to allow players to start creating the events that will, later on during the game, put in motion all the system, I’m wondering if I should first figure out how many points a player will receive each turn and how much he will have to spend for each event he can place in motion, or should I just start with the prototype straight away and figure out numbers and values while checking if the flux is smooth enough?

      1. Wow, the theme is the same. but mechanics, the style, the main concept they all feel very different. To be clear: the project you linked it doesn’t look at all as anything I’d like to do. This does not mean that the game is bad. It is just not what I want to do. I think I should actually back this campaign. I could learn a great deal over the tiles shifting mechanic.

  7. Well…I am working on Roll and Write version of Wingspan. My wife loves the game and I really want to buy it for her, but I can’t buy a English copy currently (I live in Taiwan and all I found was Chinese copies).

    If I ever get to a point where I think it would be worthy of Stonemaier’s label I will submit it, but for now it is just a pipe dream.

    1. Sorry, I meant to add…

      I will be purchasing Wingspan as soon as I am back stateside, but until then I am looking to make something that captures the engine building of Wingspan while only using the dice. I have started to fall in love with games that are more nature themed and I attribute that directly to Wingspan.

  8. To answer your question — what game idea do I have — lately it’s been this (Jamey knows this because I mentioned it to him already):

    A word building / connection game called Reading Railroad, where you make words, to get income, to lay track, to connect cities, to collect alphabet blocks, to satisfy endgame scoring goals. It’s intended to be a game that can be played and enjoyed by both people who love word games (like Scrabble), and people who hate them.

    It seems to me that much of the reason players don’t like word games is that they fear a lack of vocabulary (or recall thereof– that’s my problem!) will lead to them doing poorly, and feeling stupid. So Reading Railroad has a forgiving wordbuilding mechanism, so it’s easy to make a word, even if you aren’t a Scrabble star. In fact, if you want to make big long words (for bigger income), that’s a strategy you have to pursue, and there are ways to draw more times each turn to facilitate that. But you could instead get by with less income, and do well with strategic rail placement and set collection prowess.

    This was an old idea that I entered into a design contest circa 2008, and it has been on the back burner ever since then. I finally got it back out and I’m almost done making a Tabletop Simulator mod for it, so I can play it again and put some finishing touches on it. I remember it being fun, and one that my local game group actually requested I bring back (it’s always nice when people request to play your prototypes!)

    1. Wow, I feel like I would enjoy this game. Is it on social media or, how else can I keep up with it development?

      I’m also working on a word game, and I’m considering bluffing as a counter skill to overcome the smarties.

  9. So I need to share something that is occurring as we speak. As this relates basically to the idea situation at hand. For The last year I have been developing an accurate simulation of quidditch in tabletop form. I have deeply researched and broken down elements to try and represent the fictional sport. The mechanics of the game are solid and speak for themselves. I am really proud of what I have created as both a fun and unique experience.

    I have an amazing prototype and a set of rules that have evolved as I discover how some things work and others just don’t flow. I have had to redesign the action phase several times and finally created a system that strategically pushes past the you go,I go and the back and forth styles that are typically seen in tabletop strategy games.
    My intentions was to create this game and then present it to the IP holders to work in coordination with them and a publisher to release th game, while also fostering a community of people interested in playing and then purchasing the game upon release.

    Sharing, the next step. I have been very cautious about sharing my work as I harbour those feelings that everyone feels internally in game development. But I pushed past those to over come them. I belong to a group of creators for a different HP game that already exists, separate to my design. One of the people I confide in the most, I have shared some of my work with. Because there is cross over we discussed together to create a space where he could share his custom scenarios and custom models for the other game and I could create and promote my design.

    Sharing has been extremely positive response, then last week my friend asked my to share more photos of my work with the group.
    Yesterday I got a message from my friend saying “hey, I just wanted to let you be the first to know I’ve started a new project and I’m designing a quidditch game. I’ve made a point to try not pinch your ideas. I merely want to create something for my home, I have like 5 other projects on the go so it may never actually see the table, I also know nothing about the rules of quidditch.” My first question to him was doesn’t this confuse the branding I have tried to develop? He did not respond

    While I can accept I don’t directly hold ownership of the idea, it does feel like a massive betrayal. My game stands on for itself and the complexities of understanding the actual game have become a passionate love for the game.

    I formed a friendship through the internet with someone, through the HP miniature adventure game, and we started our own group together. One of the key factors in creating this group was the intention of building a community that would be interested in hopefully building a community of people with common interest and create buzz about my design. Then hopefully grown interest for people present to the IP holder there was a market for this game.
    I feel My biggest frustration is this confuses the branding of the group with two games (one in develop) and a new project of similar design. My heckles are up I am no longer sensing I should share any of my work. I want to protect it and now I don’t know if I can trust the person I formed a friendship with; with my work any longer. Even if they say they only intend to create something for them, it feels like a personal hit as this project has been so close to my heart for the last year. There are key considerations taken into account that this person now wants to tred down not as cautiously or as dedicated as myself.

    This is a very difficult position. I am disheartened. When friends start developing similar games after you have shared your work. I’m sure it’s inevitable, but it feels personal. While I haven’t shared any written rules and I can stand on my mechanics the engineering that has gone into my game. One could say I have a years head lead on this person. But the intent to share was to develop community around the executed idea. And while this person says they will try not to steal ideas, there is always bleed and to me the idea theft has already occurred and the trust feels broken.
    If you’ve made it this far thanks for hearing my frustration and thoughts in the matter.

    1. Michael: I absolutely hear your frustration, and I’m sorry that this person betrayed your trust. It sounds like they decided not to buy into the community you were forming around the game, and I think that’s grounds for removing them from the group you created and forging ahead with the original plan. You’ve laid the foundation for something awesome, and you’ve put in the time, resources, and work. I know it’s hard to move past this incident, but as you said, that person only has an idea, which is worthless. You have the execution, and it may be time for you to pursue the IP (which, honestly, is going to be very difficult to get, so you might as well give in a shot now so you can either get the IP or move forward with a retheme).

      1. Thanks for the positive reinforcement Jamey, it’s frustrating and I hope my friend sees the task as daunting and decides it’s just one more thing that comes and goes and he doesn’t fully pursue. As Co founders of the group it’s probably better if I personally limit my sharing or withdraw that portion of my achievements. But it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep promoting and pursuing my goal.
        My intention was to bringing it to a publisher eventually, as I a sole new designer probably gain more trust with an established publisher that I can levy their experiences.
        Thanks again
        Here’s me putting it out to the universe
        https://imgur.com/a/NLS6TFM

  10. This is really interesting subject. I totally agree on all the benefits of sharing your game and game mechanic ideas. It truly is a great way to get feedback and also think in different ways than you’ve done before.

    BUT that said, more then once I would say I get inspired by reading and seeing other persons ideas, I always leave feedback if I have some to give and they seem open to it. But it is hard not to remember a great idea and get inspired to incorporate it if you design a game where it fits. Is that not a kind of at least borrowing the idea?

    I am working on a game where you try to build a big raft by area control :D

  11. Just wanted to say thank you. Also, thank you to Seth Jaffee below (or above ^_^) as well. This is something that I have been worrying about – I want to tell everyone about the games that we have ideas for and even physical prototypes and am meeting some resistance to sharing. This has helped though and allows me to re-frame some thoughts and plans in the area of sharing.

    I am working on an Kittens game which is character based for children. In the main, it’s a race to the food bowl with some elements of chance in action cards and abilities and (what I think, in fairness) a Roomba that can be ridden around by using directional cards (a little like the programmable turtle we used to have at school). I love the games that the kittens can get up to in general and I like the race to the food elements but I really love the kittens themselves and have tried to put their characters into the rules and entire concept.

    Anyways, thank you for reading my ramblings. I’m going to go post this up publicly now – I think I’ve found my time and place to do this and it just feels like less of a weight in words. Thank you =^_^=

  12. Jamey, I agree with you 1000% about this! I like to be very open and forthcoming with my ideas, as evidenced by my design blog, and some years ago, all my posting on the Board Game Designers Forum (www.bgdf.com)

    By way of allegory (tangentially related), here is a story about a guy who felt the opposite – that ideas should be kept under wraps. He used to be a local friend of mine, and we had worked on a couple of games together. One of those games was based on an idea I had come up with, and that I really liked: the idea of using Liar’s Dice as a mechanism in a larger game. He and I worked on a game using this idea, a “bluff auction” as we were calling it, where you played 6 simultaneous games of Liar’s Dice in order to acquire items for set collection. We had some trouble finding a good theme for the game, and settled on one that wasn’t great, but kinda worked. Similarly, the game that we had wasn’t great, but kinda worked — I wouldn’t say it was finished though.

    That guy moved away, and for the most part, never returned my messages. As I had mentioned, he was very particular about IP, and had asked that I not post about the game as we worked on it (something I would normally have done as a matter of course). So I was bummed to not be able to continue working on that game.

    A couple years later, I wanted to do something with that initial Liar’s Dice auction, so I started over making a new game with that auction in it. I was finally able to find a theme that fit better and that I liked better, and I got the details of the game working really well, I was very happy with it. At Essen one year, I was able to sign the game with a European publisher! It was my first non-TMG title, and I was very excited to see it come out.

    Well, my former friend got word of this, and in the end tried to claim that I had stolen his IP and claim it as my own. He made a bit of a stink, making some legal sounding claims (though after checking with some IP lawyers, including a mutual friend we happen to share, I’m convinced that I was in the clear and he had no claim to my game, even if he were there when we first discussed the mechanism, and even though we worked together on a different game based on that mechanism).

    So I guess the point is that even if you don’t steal an idea, someone can try to claim you did, and that whether or not an idea is stolen, it’s the execution that matters. This story would have more of a moral if the ending were that the game got published, but alas, the publisher didn’t want to get involved (the former friend was, at the time, very influential in the game industry), so it sits on my shelf to this day.

    This former friend has since been somewhat ostracized from the gaming community for other fairly well known issues, and I’m not sure what’s become of him in the intervening years, but what I really lament is that this game may be un-publishable for fear of him bringing up some legal hassle for the publisher :/

  13. I am currently working on a computer vision system whose goal is to add value to analog tabletop gaming without turning it into something different or ending up being just a gimmick. For example, it can do all the checking needed in Light Speed (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5534/light-speed) with a single picture. We are still at an early stage but I am really looking forward to delivering some novel designs :)

  14. I’m considering a game based on Bhagavad Gita’s “Vimanas.” Just not sure if there would be any appropriations concerns. The Vimanas are astonishing to read about, especially when filtered through the reality that they were written about 3000+ years ago. Could make for an amazing combat game while at the same time casting light on past humanity as a whole.

  15. Nothing deep, I just want to make a lightweight game about adventurers in a dungeon trying to fill their backpacks with polyomino shaped treasures and magic items and escape with the most loot.

    1. I saw a prototype one time (I can’t remember where) of something that sounds exactly like that — fitting polyominoes into a backpack.

      So, more evidence that ideas aren’t unique :)

  16. Well, here’s something that might not make me any friends. I pursued a patent on a board game mechanic and have had some success in doing so. Well, in pursuing the patent anyway (cheers Kirk). I came to game design from outside the community and have since learned that doing this can rub people the wrong way. But I also don’t regret doing it, because the game is secondary to the project as a whole, which is a spiritual experiment more than a board game. I’ve known from the get-go that it would be really, really easy for someone to come along, take the mechanical idea behind the game, strip away the layers and layers of other components and publish something quick and easy that might do really well and make my product seem like something unnecessarily pretentious. Like I’ve stolen the idea from someone else. It would cheapen the experience I’m trying to cultivate.

    Protecting the core game in my product is less about my idea being stolen and more about the rest of the product being ignored and thrown away by someone that recognizes an easy grift when they see one. I don’t care if someone copies my idea after this game comes out but experiencing the gameplay somewhere else would change the way that people engage with the meat and potatoes of what I want this product to do. Securing patent protection gives me a sense that I’ll be able to have SOME control over how the world receives my product, and if that makes the board game community think less of me, I’ve decided I can live with that.

    Also: I want to create a demurrage cryptocurrency that fundamentally breaks the way that capitalism works, so that’s the kind of asshole you’re dealing with here. I am intentionally foolish in the scope of my ideas lololol

    1. What mechanism did you patent? I wasn’t aware that you could even patent a mechanism, though I’ve heard of several court cases that have ruled you can’t patent/copyright a mechanism. What I have seen patented are very specific game components (most notably the meeples found in the Tiny Epic series).

  17. I’m working on a worker placement, area control, risk management balancing game that uses a variety of calibrated weights as pawns you place into risk/reward zones on a balancing game deck. You either place pawns to capture the most difficult outside zones or void yourself of all 15 of your pawns by placing or stacking them anywhere. An unplayed heavy pawn can be traded for it’s equivalent amongst your lighter ones that have been played. Zones can be re-captured by opponents. Crashing the deck doesn’t end the game but does get you into trouble.

  18. A game that teaches modern economic theory by starting players with almost nothing – they build a real estate empire by buying selling and borrowing on the values of property derived from other similar property already in the game. When the first player goes bankrupt, the game ends and the remaining player with the most gold wins. A key mechanic is that if I own a bunch of property with a given characteristic – say “beach front” and I pay you a zillion dollars for one of your “beach front” properties, suddenly my beach front properties are worth a zillion dollars too.

    Ponzi Scheme and Q.E. are games based on related ideas.

  19. A narrative time travel loop game where even interactions are persistent and considered deja vu or echos of the past. The game takes place over a looping period of 3 days with each day being broken up into phases. Locations change over the phases of the day and over the course of each day. Solving puzzles and unravelling the mystery means understanding when and where you have to be.

    This exploration is paired with a sci-fi sea travel and combat system, using squares to allow for rotation, orientation, and wind to affect ships in 8 directions. The player ships are represented by upgradable cards that are laid out to depict a ship; each card has its own abilities and vulnerabilities. Worker placement cubes represent crew taking actions, including raising/lowering sails, using oars, loading/firing cannons, and sealing leaking parts of the hull. Cannons have a number associated with them that represents range and power. The further away your target is, the less damage it does. Your ship is destroyed when its hull is flooded or if all your crew cubes are hit.

    Initial playtesting of the rudimentary combat between a player and an AI desk has been done. Concept nearly finalized for management of the exploration decks vs. passage of time.

    Super nervous to let my idea out there, but in the spirit of trust and community, here it is! :)

    Thanks as always for your insights, Jamie!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Chuck! This is a really neat concept. As part of your research, I’d recommend that you check out Forgotten Waters (pirates, cannons, sailing, etc) and Chrono Corsairs (time travel, pirates).

      1. Thanks, Jamie! I’ve checked out about every video and blog on pirate-type games. Forgotten Waters arrives on Monday, but I’ve never heard of Chrono Corsairs! I appreciate this. :)

  20. A video game called “Please, Finish My Game”. In it, like the chess and backgammon newspaper column games of old, you are presented with a game in progress and a goal of winning or “acquiring x of z” or whatever. Each puzzle can be made with a different game and the whole thing could be branded with an existing company which has a backlog of games.

    I think it’s highly compelling and may already exist but I haven’t seen it.

  21. 100% agree with this blog, its been said before, but deserves being said again. I constantly come across people more interested in protecting their idea than developing it. Most bizarre of all is the number of Kickstarter projects I see that refuse to tell potential backers about their game idea in case it gets stolen. I’m not a fan of ‘keep it secret, keep it safe’ at any stage of development, but when you’re actively asking people for money you’d better be telling them what you want the money for.

    In the vein of ideas, today’s idea is a cyberpunk skirmish game where a physical incursion is happening alongside, on the same tabletop, as a cyberspace incursion, with hackers trying to clear the way for the real world allies by opening doors/shutting down cameras while the opposition tries to stop them.

    I would add:

    Seventh: Ideas are cheap. I have a list of ideas that I know I’ll never get around to fleshing out and developing, and I know that five more will come next week. You want one of my ideas, have it, there’s always another one. If you steal my artwork or something else, that’s an issue, but ideas, come, have them, ideas for all.

  22. Okay, first time, I put this out in front of so many people:
    I always dreamt of a board (or video?) game where you run The Muppet Show.
    You choose which character you want to play, and thus your aim what to do changes.
    – as Kermit you want to run a smooth show, check in with the guests, make them comfortable, make sure everyone is on stage in time, avoid being distracted by Mrs. Piggy, etc.
    – as Fozzie your only goal is to enter the stage and tell as many jokes as you can, building your stand-up reputation.
    – as Mrs. Piggy you are collecting – äehm rather kind of forcing – compliments and kisses from the guests and of course Kermit, building your “I am being loved by everyone”-meter.
    – as Scooter you plan to take over the show from Kermit, right under his nose, trying not to act supiciously.

    I am exited to hear more ideas from you guys for that game!!

  23. Back in the day, I had this idea for a deck building game that puts together action cards instead of characters and units. Then, Seth Jaffee came out with Eminent Domain a few weeks after and it was that game that I would have designed, but better.

    Then I had this idea for another deck building that drives dudes-on-a-map. Just recently, Monumental came out and it really looks like the concept in real-world form.

    I just wanted to share that because I truly believe ideas are not unique, especially in the information age.

  24. I have just boxed up my first prototype of a game designed for blind and vision impaired players which is based on 3D flight. Run with a sighted GM or moderator, the game is designed for one to seven blind-folded players. Rules are written, sound effects app and dice app selected. Playtesting completed in 1 week. Designed it in about 2 days after 90 seconds of brainstorm. If you can guess the name of the game, you can get a free copy as a prize.

  25. I am working on a hidden role dice game where you are a member of a cult, trying to establish your faction’s power. At the center of the table are altars where ritual cards and creatures are placed so you can gain different benefits from them or even control them.

  26. I’m working to bring a card game series to life called, Top Tale, which is a casual party game where players tell tales in response to topic cards, then everyone votes on the round’s top tale. The series will start with a family-friendly volume of topic cards, then I will introduce decks to appeal to different audiences, where each deck can be played with the others. I also plan to develop booster packs of topic cards that are industry specific, for team building and ice braking.
    Playing the game helps people get to know each other on a much deeper level, generating respect and empathy (earning the trademark, “Get To Know Your Fellow Human”). I’ve seem similar games that help people learn about each other, but Top Tale has evolved to focus on sharing stories that don’t come up typically, with a balance of light and dark questions that get people to open up and be vulnerable. Since everyone is in the same boat, everyone typically bares all for the sake of the game.
    I kept the game secret for the first year, and it was crap until I played with dozens of helpful strangers that have made it into a game people will actually buy.

  27. I want to make a procedurally generated survival game set on a space station that you can harvest for parts to build a space ship and explore other space station that you can also harvest for parts. I guess it’s Minecraft in space. With aliens.

  28. I think that the military bases named after confederate generals should be renamed after Black American Soldiers who were the victims of lynchings.

    I am not nervous about this idea being stolen since I already posted it on my blog.

    Don’t worry. My blog is not monetized.

  29. It’s worth noting that the protective steps beginners often investigate (like patents) are generally a waste of time, energy, and money, that are much better spent making more games!

  30. I’m currently working on a deck building racing game called Burnout. Some big things that set it apart:
    -An upgrade system that gives you 3 core attributes throughout the game that you can make better (movement, fuel, hand size)
    -each lap gives you points based on how you finish. It’s a racing game that gets more and more intense with each lap increasing in value for points
    -each player that finishes the race can compete in a bonus lap to earn extra points before the race ends
    -acouple other things like lapping, off roading, etc

    I’m currently in the prototyping stage and play testing stage and close to hopefully submitting it to publishers :)

      1. Are you referring to Automobiles, by David Short? I think that’s a great bag-building, car-racing game (though TBH I haven’t played it since it first came out).

        I am playing Downforce on BGA right now, and it’s fun to see the cars move around (and especially see the drivers curse when they are blocked :) )

        I think there’s room for more deck-building racing games in the world :)

  31. Seahaven, as a portmanteau of Seafall and Gloomhaven. Gloomhaven might be my favorite game right now, and my most played this year. Beyond the mechanics, I love the concept of mercenaries exploring ruins and finding secrets. Seafall was a great idea, exploring uncharted islands and finding their secrets, though it had some problems in execution. As I have an increasing number of ocean and aquatic miniatures, I’ve looked for some way to get some use out of them, and building my own setting for D&D seemed like the route.

    Personally, I’d love it if someone stole this idea and developed it into my dream product. Failing that, when I’m ready, I’ll put in the work to make this something my players enjoy.

    1. “I love the concept of mercenaries exploring ruins and finding secrets.” I think that perfectly describes what I *wanted* both of those games to be. :) As a result, this is a big part of the open world game I’m making.

  32. Glad to see this topic resurfacing. It is a great question.

    Jamey’s point is excellent and I agree with it.

    That said, and Jamey can relate, once your idea is MADE it’s more likely to be stolen. My dice designs have been copied and claimed as authentic designs repeatedly, and board games (like Jamey’s) have had counterfeits produced en masse and sold on Amazon. It’s the nature of some people to steal, ride coat-tails, and refuse to innovate or create something new.

    The trick is: You can’t let those people stop YOU from innovating and creating something new.

    1. John: I’m sorry to hear that’s happened to you. I agree, intellectual property is stolen all the time, unfortunately (an idea doesn’t become intellectual property until you actually execute it).

  33. One thing I have noticed over on the reddit tabletop design page; is that some people sharing their ideas is as far as they take the creation process.

    Posts that are basically, what do you think of my idea? Are now semi banned. Because what has been found is once a person has validated someone’s idea there are a lot of people that just stop. It’s not that they continue in the background. But after they get this weird sense of validation of their idea, They don’t continue with development.

    I find this very interesting that a person just wants validation of ideas but doesn’t execute them. The instant gratification over actually building something tangible. I still find myself constantly searching to see if someone has attempted my idea.

    Sharing my design is scary and I fight those feelings of theft, But I remind myself the engineering aspect of my design took a lot of work and it would require a person to put in a lot of effort to replicate my design. I still safe guard to a degree by not showing every aspect but pieces of the puzzle. In a way I think this makes me feel a little more secure. Even if it’s a false sense of security.

    1. Michael: That’s really interesting, and it speaks to how we overvalue our own ideas. For me, it feels so much more amazing to actually follow through on an idea and create something than to just have someone say, “That’s a neat idea!”

  34. Great advice as usual, Jamey.

    I would add that if you really want to discuss your idea for a game in a respectful environment with like minded people, BoardGameGeek has forums crafted around just that. They have a Works In Progress forum where you can share your game idea in detail and maybe even start building that precious crowd, since the very act of publishing something online can be helpful in proving ownership to IP. There’s even a forum called “Design Queries and Inquires,” and after getting free advice from the community of designers and gamers there, knowing the quality of feedback I’ve gotten in regards to my own game, I wouldn’t bat an eye if they charged $50 per question (they don’t, it’s free).

    If this seems a might tangential, it is because it reminded me of something I came across on those forums; someone who asked, “Is the risk of handing my playtesters something with no potential something I’m just going to have to live with?” It haunted me because I believe they are making the mistake of overvaluing or undervaluing an idea before it has had time to take shape. My reply was, “It is up to you whether or not your idea has potential. It’s just a matter of how much work you are willing to put in and how far your enthusiasm for that work will carry you.”

    And I will add an idea for a game, one that I welcome anyone to steal: A worker placement game where your ability to get new workers during the game increases exponentially, allowing me to feel much more powerful at the end of the game than at the beginning. I suppose that vagueness just proves Jamey’s point: an untested, not fully formed idea is worthless.

    1. Kevin: That’s a great point about finding the right group/forum/platform for sharing your idea.

      I really like your answer about determining whether or not an idea has potential. I think a certain amount of responsibility when playtesting a game with others (or blind playtesting) is really important–I don’t want to send a completely dysfunctional game to blind playtesters because I would feel bad about asking them to spend their time on something that doesn’t work at all. So that drives me to ensure that our games are functional,fun, intuitive, and relatively balanced before entering the blind playtest process.

  35. You make some great points.

    I admit this is something I have wrestled with on and off over the years.

    I brought my already play tested prototype of my game, Luthier, to Stonemaier Design Day in 2019. The idea came to me in around 2009, but to your point *it was just an idea*. I had a rough “functioning” play test in 2013. It sat on the back burner for awhile until concrete development in 2018. Since I am not a publisher or full time game designer, I wanted to wait until it was far enough along to put “out there” since my development was so slow going.

    It felt good to get feedback at Design Day and take action on that. It felt good to have it tested at the following Protospiel in MN and make tweaks based on that experience. It felt good to get mention as a favorite from the Protospiel in a podcast!

    I think probably my biggest challenge is that even though people are encouraging of my idea becoming a reality, it seems it doesn’t really matter how playable or liked my game is unless it is officially published. If someone did publish a game with the same theme before I do, when mine comes out, it could be in the shadow of that game. Does that make sense?

    Jamey, do you think to gamers, Viticulture and Vinos are an either/or? Are they different enough that it’s a win/win for the respective audiences?

    I admit that part of my problem not moving from idea to product by now is perfectionism. My wife recently told me it will never be perfect and to get it out there. So I am working on that.

    At the end of the day, I recognize though that whereas my theme is unique, and the game is a whole stands on it’s own, most elements of my game are not unique. We borrow directly from each other and then put our personal twist on it. I could point directly, or at least indirectly, to the game designs that inspired mine- and so could most gamers.

    1. Abe: Thanks for your note! I think it’s great that you brought Luthier to Design Day last year.

      For any game, I think it’s good to be able to answer the question, “Why wouldn’t I just play X instead?” That pushes me to innovate and differentiate, and to even just be aware of other similar games. That was the case with Vinhos–I knew what it was and how it was received, and I wanted to offer something different.

      1. Yeah, that totally makes sense. It seems overall, both the industry as well as the gamers benefit from so many ideas becoming final products. The standards for quality and innovation keep getting raised and there are more options than ever to find something that fits your own preference.
        Side note: I am super excited for the Masters of the Universe game to come out next year. That is an example of an idea I stopped pursuing a long time ago because of the IP. I am just glad someone is finally doing it…

  36. A deckbuilder set in the Scythe universe.

    A Euro game, codenamed “Wild” inspired by the Zelda video game.

    ;) Joke.

  37. I think this is why production value, originality and longevity is key. A lot of what I’ve played is basically resources being manoeuvred for tactical reasons or reward. So when a game does have great artwork and quality chips and counters it sets it apart. Tapestry, Azul and the Poker quality chips from Splendour sets these already great games apart.

  38. I hear this constantly with my film students. They’re obsessed with the notion that their ideas are going to be ripped from them and someone else will make millions. I make each of your points every time, but I think that fear needs to be un-learned by experience, seeing how things in this world ACTUALLY go from idea to reality.

    Personally though I have a kind of inverted fear of this – I don’t like to share my ideas because I’m worried my followers will get excited and then I won’t be able to follow through, or the idea will change (as things inevitably do during development) and then their expectations won’t align with reality.

    I thought about this the other day, and thought about you, actually. I assume this is why you choose to play your cards close to the chest until things are 99% done. I remember Tapestry being launched, like, a couple weeks after I first saw your Instagram art tease. I’m sure you’re in late stages of games we know almost nothing about yet.

    I wonder if the approach you’re proposing in this post could actually work: share your ideas with your crowd right off the bat and get them to participate and have a voice in the design early on. “Hey guys! I’m thinking of doing an open world adventure game, and I also have an idea for a puzzly abstract game. Which would you want to see first?” And so on. I got the idea from the Board Game Design Lab podcast with Gabe Barrett, where he talked with a board game publisher from India who does this.

    Anyway, interesting!

    1. Malachi: That’s a great point about how this fear may be best unlearned by experience, to see how hard it is to turn an idea into reality.

      For me, I can absolutely relate to what you’re saying. I wouldn’t necessarily label it as a fear, but because there are a number of people who follow what I make, I don’t want to say I’m making something and then have the expectation out there that I’ll make it, especially knowing how much it will change during development. I’ve found that it helps to talk about those ideas as hypotheticals, making that flexibility and uncertainty clear every time I mention it.

  39. Wanted to chime in here on another industry perspective.

    Mainly working in coding and we have been working on a public project. Open Source.

    We’ve been working on an implementation of the code, and found that the developers of the underlying code would be releasing a feature that basically invalidates all of our code in some ways. Because of this we debating just throwing out all of the work we did. However after looking at it, those who want to be more granular in how they use it, and don’t want to do an all or nothing approach would still benefit from our project.

    Especially with programming, someone has likely used your idea at least once before, and done it differently, no two approaches will be the same, but by releasing your idea, and others reading and giving feedback on your ideas, it can be made better.

    1. Sean: Thanks for sharing this perspective from another industry! I really like this: “by releasing your idea, and others reading and giving feedback on your ideas, it can be made better.”

  40. An interesting post, that touches other areas than just board game design. The attitude of protecting an idea has always seemed a bit silly to me (though I understand that gut reaction not to). I worked as a Product Designer for almost 20 years in the digital space, often with big name companies and often with small start ups, and it was always about signing NDAs and not sharing anything with anybody. I was always annoyed by that and felt it just wasted time and got in the way of the core mandate – actually design and make something. The point about execution is key… what are the odds someone/some company is actually going to take that idea, put in all the hard work and money and execute on it well? I’m calling it pretty close to zero chance (I’ve never seen it happen in my career).

    Now, all that said, I filled out Ravensburger’s Inventor Days form today (they’re looking for new game design ideas) and I briefly hesitated about writing out one idea I’ve been working on that I think is particularly clever. “Would they steal it?”, some small part of my mind asked. Lol… so everyone falls prey to that reaction (and yes, I did include the idea). =)

    1. Mike: I think you said it perfectly here: “what are the odds someone/some company is actually going to take that idea, put in all the hard work and money and execute on it well?”

      1. True – and I think one has to factor in passion as well. That’s such a big driver in someone achieving something – and when it is your idea, that usually comes with a lot of passion. But if someone else just hears about your idea – and they may love it – I think they won’t have the same passion for it because it didn’t germinate within them. And that lack of passion results in them being far less likely to do anything with the idea… or not do it as well even if they were to try.

  41. I’ve been thinking about / wanting to design a NASCAR themed worker placement game for awhile but really struggled not knowing where to start and getting repeatedly discouraged. I have really appreciated your blog posts as well as others in the industry providing advice on how to start. I finally started making actionable steps on my idea this past weekend which feels really good!

    1. Forrest: That’s great to hear that you’re taking steps to bring your game to reality! If you haven’t tried them, I highly recommend Downforce and Camel Up as racing games, and I’ve heard good things about Rallyman. All of them might actually be available on Board Game Arena.

      1. I’m familiar with Downforce/Camel Up /Automania but had not heard fo Kraftwagen before. Thanks for the tip!

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