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( I understand that this is a subjective question. My goal is obtaining some personal feedback from other game designers )

I wish to develop a digital version of an existing board game. What would be the "best" course of action regarding contacting the original game designer?

Some additional information:

  • This is not a question about copyright. My understanding is that this is something that I can do as long as I do not use copyrighted material.
  • I have a recently obtained a masters in informatics and computing engineering and have a serious interest in pursuing a career in game design and development.
  • The game in question is a board game for which there is no digital version on my medium of choice.
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5  
What is your motivation for doing this? Are you hoping to sell this game? Give it away? Sell it/license it to the company? What your goals are makes a big difference in possible answers. –  Tim Holt Mar 15 '12 at 16:22

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Random thoughts...

Contact them before you do any work

If you do all the work and THEN contact them and they say no, you now have a game you can't do anything with. A good learning exerciser, but not a very efficient way to run a business if you see yourself as one. If they say no, be mentally prepared to rm -r -f the code and walk away and move on to some other idea.

On the other hand if they say yes to something before you start, then you can proceed and not risk all your work is for naught.

If you ignore their "no", then you are really at risk of legal trouble. The act of asking will put you on their radar big time.

And what if you just don't ask? Maybe they never know, maybe they do but don't care, or maybe they just take you to court. Getting taken to court is like them saying no, with the added fun of you probably owing them something.

Are they a publisher?

See if they accept submissions from outside developers - something a lot of publishers would do by nature of being a publisher. If they do, then present your electronic version of their game as a proposed product. Again, because your proposal is so tied to their product, them saying "no" leaves you with not many options.

One way to approach them would be to ask them if they would be willing to let you do a prototype, with the agreement that they get to make the decision whether to allow it or not. Then at least you've decreased the risk of throwing everything away. If you do this though, make sure that they don't end up owning your demo. You don't want them to say, "No thanks" and then turn around and use your work for free and leverage it to their advantage.

Consider asking to license their content

One way to present the idea of developing the game is to ask them if they would be willing to license their IP for a project. The terms of the license might include money up front, a percentage of income from your work, or a combination of the two. It also no doubt means you will have zero path to using their IP except through them. You're not going to be able to open source your game if you decide to stop working on it for example.

Don't ask them to take risks

When you pitch something to them, make sure it's you taking on the risk, not them. Or at least be willing to equally take on risk. Don't ask them to pay you to develop the game for example. Set it up so that if it does fail, you lose, not them. Someone with strong business and negotiating savvy could probably work that a bit more evenly, but it sounds like you're not bringing a lot to the table. I.e., you're not a studio with 10 years experience and 5 published titles.

Do your homework

Has anyone ever done a version of this game before? Maybe the company did it internally and failed, or it was deemed not a good idea. If so, find out why if you can and learn. Maybe a third party was developing the game in the past and went out of business? Maybe the company just plain hates video games and are board game purists? Get names of people at the company, read their Facebook and Twitter posts, blog posts, and see if there is anything about them on Moby Games. Find out if they ever talk about games and in what way (positive, negative, wishful, cynical, etc.). It's not spying, it's homework that may give you a big hint about how to present things.

Be careful about the impression you create

As an additional comment, be very careful how you present yourself. You sound like you're not yet a game developer, but want to be one. If you tell them that, they may not see you as a viable author. On the other hand if you have examples of existing work to show them, or prototypes of concepts that aren't for release, this may show them you are capable. Have something you can show them as an example of what you can do. Additionally if you are thinking of selling this game yourself (with their permission), be prepared to have a business plan.

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I couldn't have asked for more in an answer. Thank You. –  rteixeira Mar 19 '12 at 13:11
    
I'm glad you found it useful. I went through something similar a while back. –  Tim Holt Mar 19 '12 at 17:14

There are several cases before in both people having or not having problems with the owners of the game. The most known one is Vassal Engine, which supports a lot of game modules playing games from a lot of different companies.

Rule of thumb is that you should not automatize actions, the game should be played online the same way it would be played physically so it is not actually a better version; and leave the rules or some skill descriptions out so the game is unplayable unless someone has the original game (or has decent googling skills). If you can replace the assets and the game is not from Fantasy Flight Games you are pretty safe ignoring this RoT.

And to be honest if all you want is to play the game I'd save myself the hassle and remake it in Vassal itself, or in GameMaker. If you want to learn, pick an engine of your choice like XNA, Cocos2D or SDL and stick with it.

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Smart idea there leaving out the rules/etc. You could add that he could write it and if it is good enough attempt to sell it to the original owner. –  Jonathan Dickinson Mar 15 '12 at 15:25
    
I know it has been tried before and they are mostly not interested unless they're in-house developed. –  MLProgrammer-CiM Mar 15 '12 at 15:31
    
@EfEs This is the kind of valuable insight that I was hoping to get (the in-house comment). –  rteixeira Mar 15 '12 at 15:53
    
There are questions like this every other day in boardgamegeek or vassal forums, even one by me from some months ago :) –  MLProgrammer-CiM Mar 15 '12 at 16:21

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