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Why DriveThruRPG? It’s the largest tabletop RPG download store and you’ll probably end up buying much more than just your copy of Ludotronics. Which would benefit all game designers!
Why not Amazon? Ludotronics isn’t well-suited for the Kindle format. And at €14.99, Amazon’s cut amounts to €9.75. Well, no.
Welcome to the Proposition Phase!
This is where it all comes together. First, you will build a proof of concept–prototype, if that’s feasible, and you will test it and iron out its kinks. Then, you will build your pitch presentation based on everything you accomplished so far. Finally, you will prepare your delivery of that pitch presentation. With the exception of the Postmortem phase, which revolves around references, rightsholders, and responses, this is the final stage of your journey. Yet, don’t rush it. It would be too sad if you impaled yourself on your proposal after all the work you put into it. Odysseus didn’t land in Ithaca after ten years of travels to immediately crash into his palace, guns a-blazin’. He meticulously prepared for killing it, so to speak, caring about every detail. So should you.
And because of that, there’s some legal stuff to consider. All of the following does not amount to legal advice in any way. It should only give you ideas what to look out for. One aspect is about the copyright of your work, another aspect about the copyrights of contributions to your work.
Let’s start with the copyright of your work. Way back, at the beginning of your journey, you started out with a game idea. From this idea, you extracted the core idea and built a game concept around it during the Procedure phase. Now, after the Process phase, you have much more than a concept: what you have is a game treatment. But you only have a game treatment if you typed everything out! It doesn’t count if it’s only in your head. Legally, a game treatment is neither an idea nor a concept; in legal terms, a concept is closer to ideas, log lines, titles, etc., which are not copyrightable, and an idea is also not copyrightable, only the artistic expression or embodiment of it. If you’re in the U.S., you can take your typed-out treatment, register and submit it online to the Library of Congress as a video game treatment, pay an application fee of $35 (as of 2018), and boom, it’s copyrighted—with a date stamp as proof that you came up with it first. It’s that simple! (You can even copyright a website that way, so don’t be shy.) In Europe, everything’s more complicated, especially in Germany. Despite an unalienable Urheberrecht (more on that in a minute), no legal option exists to publicly secure the copyright of a work, with proof that you came up with it first, without having it published. Which makes you wonder. For other areas and countries, you have to sound out the legal procedures yourself. The important point is, if you typed it out, it’s not a concept anymore. If you typed it out, it’s a thing.
Then, about the copyrights of contributions to your work. At several points in the upcoming levels, advice is given toward hiring a writer or an artist for a fee, to create or polish certain elements of your prototype or your pitch presentation or proposal document. Here, legal aspects are involved that you should know about. But again, the following is not legal advice. It’s merely a compilation of more or less common knowledge that could be wrong in your particular case, so beware. It only serves the purpose of giving you a general sense of direction, nothing more, nothing less.
Always make a contract about who obtains or retains what rights with the exact consequences all this entails, whenever you hire a writer, an artist, a programmer, a composer, and so forth. In case of major or regular contributions, you should always be generous within the framework of what your present situation allows. You should also see to it that you don’t throw your contributors under the bus in advance, effectively, when your game happens to become a surprise hit later and makes a lot more money than expected. But there’s the case of minor third-party contributions that you immediately pay for, and for that, you might want to apply a certain type of contract to ensure that the resulting work fully belongs, in terms of copyright, to you and your team. In the U.S., you have to set up a Work Made for Hire contract that all parties must sign, which specifically states that the commissioned work—text, image, bunch of code, sound loop, or whatever it is—is Work Made for Hire. This isn’t possible for stand-alone works of art, only for contributions to audiovisual and/or collective works, e.g., a video game. Of course, if any such work is created for you by someone who works for you as a regular employee, and whose task indeed is to produce that kind of work, that’s Work Made for Hire by default. In European countries, in contrast, such a Work Made for Hire option often doesn’t exist. In Germany, especially, the creators’ right—Urheberrecht—is an inalienable personal right that a creator cannot transfer to their client by design. (Though major publishers are very crafty in designing contract models and, indeed, drafting legislation to systematically corrode these creators’ rights.) Here, the only way for you to “own” a minor commissioned work is to acquire the exclusive and unlimited rights to use that work in question, either through a contract or an employment agreement that makes this very explicit, and this might also contain a so-called buy-out passage which means that as yet unknown types of use are also covered.
Work Made for Hire contracts should be the exception, not the rule. It’s a two-edged sword. The good side of its blade prevents successful projects from being milked by grotesque lawsuits. The evil side of its blade freezes out creatives from getting a decent cut when their work contributes to a game’s success, no matter whether it’s an anticipated or an unanticipated one. This happens all the time. It’s an appalling industry habit that needs to change.
So be discriminate, and judicious! Whatever you do when you commission a work, give everyone their due in relation to their contributions on the one hand, and see to it that usage rights won’t come around later and haunt you on the other.