Most people have a general idea about what programmers, artists, designers and musicians do in the industry, but I’ve seldom heard about how the law and lawyers impact game development.

I’m especially interested in knowing how lawyers can affect positive outcomes in game development, and if there are any examples of lawyers or others with legal backgrounds who have been involved in one of the more traditional game development roles.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do politicians passing laws that affect game development count? \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Oct 26, 2021 at 1:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000 Sure; I’d be interested in hearing about that too. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2021 at 1:58

3 Answers 3


Lawyers rarely have creative influence on the game itself. But they still fulfill two important jobs in the game industry.

The first is intellectual property (IP) law. Games and all their individual assets are IP which is protected by copyrights, trademarks and sometimes patents. Lawyers are required to advise development teams how to not violate the IP of others and how to prevent others from violating their IP. And keep in mind that games are almost always sold internationally nowadays, which means that an IP lawyer worth her money should not just know about the IP law in the state she is licensed in but also have a vague idea about how IP laws differ around the world.

The second is contract law. Many game developers are regular employees, and employment law is a whole legal can of worms in itself. But the basics of labor law are usually accessible enough to legal laypeople that lawyers aren't strictly required until there is an actual dispute. And if there is one, then there is usually not much about those cases which is gamedev-specific. But there are also a lot of game developers who don't collaborate in regular employer-employee arrangements. The game industry does a lot of freelance contracting and b2b contracting which require non-standard contracts. Especially considering that game developers sometimes form agreements which are unusual in other industries, like work-for-work or revenue share. Those contracts need to be complicated and non-standard to cover all possible situations, which makes it important to consult contract lawyers. And if those lawyers have a good idea about the realities of game development and game business, then that can be really useful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of my interactions with our legal department at my last studio had to do with vetting words and images used in our games to ensure we weren't infringing on others' trademarks, and to ensure we were correctly upholding our obligations for crediting middleware we used. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Oct 24, 2021 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are lawyers involved with game ratings (e.g. ESRB)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Pablo H
    Oct 25, 2021 at 11:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @PabloH - maybe only in the capacity of vetting a contract for a service they provide, or disputing a judgement. Use of an ESRB mark without submission would be a trademark/licensing violation. The ESRB isn't a government body in the US, but an industry self-regulation one, and there's no legal obligation to obtain a rating (and in many - but not all - other Western democracies). Whether stores will sell an unrated game is a different question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 25, 2021 at 14:47

I worked with the legal team at a Chinese game developer/publisher and one important role they played was to help with cease-and-desist and litigation, as IP theft is a pretty big problem there. One of our RPGs was copied lock, stock and barrel, with even the in-game stats were exactly the same as ours. And of course we had to keep our Western colleagues in the loop on all of this, too.

Another important thing that our legal team did handle licensing. We purchased the rights to use a very expensive game engine, with a zillion lines of code and a huge price tag, and the contract for it was fittingly enormous. So in addition to reading through it with a fine-tooth comb, they also conducted research to understand best practices, what they could and should negotiate, etc. I suppose that had something of an effect on the games we used it for.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a very important part in the current state of the industry; nowadays small and startup game dev companies are very common, and most of them use third-party tools and assets, which come with pages and pages of terms of use can cause very ugly things if not followed correcty \$\endgroup\$
    – Josh Part
    Oct 26, 2021 at 16:38

Politicians can pass laws that affect video games.

Many politicians have backgrounds as lawyers, and sometimes the laws that they pass affect video games. For instance, the GDPR would affect how online games that operate in the EU handle their player data, and there have been a number of investigations by legislative bodies into the addictive effects of lootbox-based microtransactions with the intent of looking into legislating regulations on them. While they wouldn't be working on the behalf of any particular gaming company, they would definitely have an impact on game development through the creation of the legal regime within which the games are designed.


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