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How closely can a game resemble another game without legal problems

I'm going to make a game in the form of a 100% free Android phone app that will be basically a clone of an old arcade style NES game, but with a few modifications to make it better. Now the game I am inspired by was released in 1985, so I'm not exactly shitting bricks about being sued, but I just thought I'd ask on here first about what kind of legal considerations developers go through when copying others' games.

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marked as duplicate by Noctrine Feb 3 '12 at 6:37

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The rule of thumb for cloning games is that they can't copyright game mechanics but they can copyright or trademark the specific names and art. Thus making a game that plays the same but has a different title and different artwork is fine.

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Doesn't hurt to point out you can be sued anyway, in any case. –  Lohoris Jan 31 '12 at 10:56
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And age doesn't really matter; at one point a number of Breakout clones on iOS got cease and desist letters. Although most of them resolved the issue by simply changing their name, because names like "Brick Breaker" were too close for Atari. –  jhocking Jan 31 '12 at 12:58
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