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If I develop a game that is essentially pretty much Pokemon (you're a trainer, you catch "monsters" and put them to fight and level up etc), and I do the next things:

  • I'm a trainer with a 6-"Monsters" party.
  • Mechanics like the PC, Gym Leaders and "tall grass" will be used.
  • I will throw an "ball" to catch the weakened "monster".
  • I will use common item names, like "potion", "high potion".
  • The battles are almost the same as Pokemon in terms of mechanics (four moves, elements, critical, evasion etc)
  • I will NOT use Pokemon names nor graphics... artwork is mine.
  • Some of the attack names will match Pokemon attack names. I think it is okay, like "ember". Come on.

With all these points, I shouldn't run into copyright issues or anything right? Even if the game feels a lot like Pokemon itself?

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omg that sounds exactly like Digimon :> –  Andrew Russell Mar 26 '11 at 4:33
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You seem to have outlined everything that defines Pokemon, except called them monsters. :P –  The Communist Duck Mar 26 '11 at 9:00
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@The Communist Duck: I would say he's actually outlined everything that defines Pocket Monsters. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 27 '11 at 15:30
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@Jonathan Hobbs Except they are being carried in balls, not pockets. ;) –  The Communist Duck Mar 27 '11 at 15:30
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I guess this might differ from country to country, but this is not a copyright problem even if you did a complete ripoff or remake because all you are selling/copying is your own work for which you inherently have copyright. This is more of a Patent problem (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent) where the idea/invention of the mechanics of Pokemon might be patented. Still even if you call them Pokemons and use a version of the Pokemon logo you made, it's not copyright violation but a Trademark issue on top of the possible Patent problem. –  Trinidad Jun 15 '11 at 14:10
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5 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

First, I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, if you follow my advice and get sued then it's your fault not mine.

That said, you've talked about "copyright issues". I'm going to break this down into two questions:

1) If I get sued for copyright infringement, will I win?

Probably! Game mechanics can't be copyrighted, so you're safe there. If "potion" isn't officially in the public domain then it's only one court case away from being so. "Ember" should be reasonably easy to defend - I know that ability name is used elsewhere. The "ball" is probably the sketchiest thing you've got, and if you just change the ball you're probably gold.

2) Will I get sued?

Maybe.

Unless you have a nice big legal war chest to rely on, getting sued is almost as bad as losing. You can't hope to match Nintendo's legal funds. It will not happen. You'll go to court, and you'll probably blow thousands of dollars just on prep work. And then even, if you win, there's no way you're getting that money back without a second court case - more money, and you're not even guaranteed to win that one.

So, as I see it, you have two realistic approaches ahead of you.

First, you can change things up enough so it's not as sketchy. Give your game a feeling of its own, not one copied from Pokemon. Don't use "gym trainer" and "tall grass", invent stuff. Instead of four abilities, use six. Give your PC a seven-monster party, and do something new with the monsters. Throw out two thirds of the Pokemon elements and make your own. (You're probably safe with "fire", but if you have "psychic", "bug", "rock", and "ghost", people will look at you a bit odd.) "Inspired by Pokemon" is safe. "Exact copy of Pokemon" isn't safe.

Alternatively: get legal counsel, get legal insurance, and form an official company to get at least a slight hint of the corporate veil going on. It'll cost you money, but it'll be a lot cheaper than being sued into oblivion by Nintendo, who will probably cheerfully drop the suit the instant you sign over all your intellectual property to them, and not a moment before.

Again, not a lawyer, not legal advice, get a lawyer.

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For 200 points, use real elements :) I was thinking of doing that. –  Noctrine Mar 27 '11 at 20:20
    
Game mechanics can not be under copyright but could be patented as an invention. –  Trinidad Jun 15 '11 at 14:12
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This is probably close enough that you should consult a lawyer, not ask on a forum like this. Copyright only covers tangible works for the most part, but that doesn't mean this isn't a trademark or other IP issue. Really if you are having doubts, that usually means you have crossed a line already.

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No actually I haven't even started yet XD. –  Omega Mar 26 '11 at 4:23
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Why not make something new and original then? –  coderanger Mar 26 '11 at 6:15
    
'Cuz I like a Pokemon-like game. I'm not saying I want to clone the whole game, I just want to know whether the points I said are valid. Apparently many are not, like using a "ball" to catch a monster :(.. –  Omega Mar 26 '11 at 16:31
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First lesson of professional game development, you don't always get to work on your favorite thing ever ;-) –  coderanger Mar 26 '11 at 19:45
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No, it's not a good idea: it's a very stupid idea, actually. But since you clearly don't care about what grown ups tell you, just do it anyway. –  Lohoris Aug 24 '11 at 15:50
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Why bother?

It's pointless to clone a game widespread such as that one: doing so you automatically give away any chance of success for your game!

You risk getting sued to build something that will be worthless anyway? Why, lol, that's nonsense!

You'd better focus on actually creating something original instead.

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I disagree. I find no problem in cloning a game. Many people clone Tetris. In fact in other questions, it's encouraged. What's wrong with cloning a more complex game such as Pokemon? –  Jeff Mar 27 '11 at 2:45
    
Yeah! What's wrong! Lol :) –  Omega Mar 27 '11 at 16:39
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@Jeff @Omega: Tetris is simple, so cloning it is useful to learn. Pokèmon is complex, so cloning it is just an enormous waste of time, which you could use to create something new instead. –  Lohoris Mar 28 '11 at 13:21
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Others have addressed the legal issues: copyrights cover code and artwork, not concepts; trademarks cover things like the Pokemon names; and patents can probably cover game mechanics, but that's unlikely to get you in trouble.

The issue I'm concerned with is the ethical one. This would be plagiarism. Ask yourself why you want to do this. Is it to learn to develop games? Then you should probably start with a smaller concept. Is it to make money? Then you are exploiting the creative work of Game Freak, essentially stealing their concepts for your own gain. Is it to demonstrate your own skills? Then you should do something original that will earn more recognition, instead of having people see you as a copier. Is it because you enjoy Pokemon and want to make a fun game? Recognize that your Pokemon clone will probably be much poorer than Pokemon, and that you've got a much better chance of success with an original idea.

In a comment, you ask "What's wrong" with cloning a complex game. It's unethical, and the reason you're asking about copyright is that you recognize that fact. If it's for personal education, go ahead, but there's little point in releasing such a thing.

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+1 Good observations, which clearly won't help this hopeless poster, but might help future visitors. –  Lohoris Mar 4 '12 at 16:56
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Just a thought: couldn't this question itself potentially be evidence in a copyright-related trial? If I represented Nintendo, I know I would present evidence that portrayed you as negatively as possible. Asking how much you can get away with seems inherently sketchy to me. It suggests you intend to ride Pokemon's design coattails for easy profit, which isn't a good idea.

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