Game Development Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and independent game developers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is one allowed to make a similar game or even a sequel which would usually require obtaining a license? Who keeps the license in the end, i.e. who is to be asked for permission in such cases?

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The basic answer is that in 90% of the cases, it is essentially impossible to figure out who owns the license, due to it possibly being sold to a string of liquidators. This is where the concept of Abandonware originally came from, and there are tons of early PC games with completely unclear ownership. To make any sort official sequel you will have to track down the current rights holder, which may very well be absolutely impossible.

If you put some effort into tracking down an owner and cannot, it is very likely that the current owner is not aware that it owns a certain property or does not care. In this case it may not be "legal" to reuse aspects of the game but there is essentially 0 chance of any legal issues. However, if your clone/sequel manages to become a financial success be prepared for the rights owner to show up one day and demand a huge cut of the profits.

Also, making a similar game, even a spiritual sequel, is unlikely to actually be actionable in court even if they do show up. Reuse of any specific asset (art, music, text) is very easy to prove as illegal infringement, but doing a gameplay clone of an abandoned property is generally safe, based on the thousands of such PC games in existence.

share|improve this answer

When a company goes bust all assets are sold off to help pay some of their debts. This would include any intellectual property like a game. So no, it's not open season, it's still owned by someone.

share|improve this answer
Usually auctions like that are even public record, so you can see who the buyer actually was. But, the buyers often resell quickly, so it can be quite difficult to track it down. – Matt DeKrey Jul 21 '10 at 18:48
Large companies often purchase such assets "just in case" if they are cheap, and it's not rare for them to sit on a licence for 10+ years until developing a sequel or related fame. – Peteris May 25 at 14:21

In addition to Iain's and Ben's very good answers, an important concept is the differentiation between "what is legal" and "what is enforceable."

Just because no one has a particular interest in enforcing their Intellectual Property rights doesn't mean they don't own them and couldn't suddenly change their mind about where to put their legal focus. It's safest (and most ethical) to make an honest attempt to seek permission from the rightful owner. This may involve cost to you, as to hire someone to find the rightful owner.

Of course, you can choose to "live life on the edge" and just go for it, but the legal/right thing to do is to put in the effort.

Btw, I have some experience with asking for permission to clone what you might think of as abandonware, and the rightful owner telling me "no problem, we're totally done with that IP, now", so don't think it can't happen.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.