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How closely can a game resemble another game without legal problems

I was thinking about making a pacman clone, I know there is a similar question here Using Copyrighted Images , but I know i can't use the original art from the game because it belongs to Namco, so if I design a character that has the shape of the slice circle it will look exactly like pacman, maybe if I use green instead of yellow? Also if the game plays like the original pacman, it is wrong? I just want to make the game as a personal project and and publish it in my site without getting in trouble

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    \$\begingroup\$ While you might get answers on this question, be aware that you should take all legal advice received over the internet with a (giant) grain of salt, and when in doubt, talk to a real lawyer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ricket
    Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 7:20

1 Answer 1


ZorbaTHut's answer is probably what you seek, but nevertheless I'd like to enhance it a bit.

Jessica Hische's "Inspiration vs. Imitation"

Something that I sadly hear too much is that “it’s not illegal to copy someone’s style”. Sure, if you create an illustration that is completely derivative of someone else but not a direct rip-off or tracing, they might have a hard time suing you. That doesn’t make it OK to make derivative work.

What Jessica is trying to emphasize throughout her post is that there is a difference between being inspired by some art and trying to imitate/copy/trace it (tracing is the process of "following"/tracing the outline of some art, and then simply colouring it or at least changing it slightly).

Creating open-source fan-made games legally.

As for what portions of a game can and cannot be protected:

  1. The concept of a game cannot be protected -- you can make as many games as you want about plumbers who smash things with their face.
  2. The code itself is protected by copyright, but you only violate copyright by duplicating said code -- in other words, you looked at their code and replicated it, or used their code verbatim somehow.
  3. The code itself could conceivably contain algorithms that are patented, which would be protected -- If the algorithm is core to the game in some way, you'd have to figure out an alternative implementation that achieves the same thing, and it can't be a trivial transformation of the original algorithm.
  4. Artistic elements -- graphics, sound, music, level design, etc -- are protected by copyright at a minimum. You can't replicate these things verbatim.
  5. Some artistic elements that are unique and highly recognizable are also protected by trademark -- trademark protects firms from replicas that are meant to pass themselves off as the original -- You can make graphics for a blue plumber that likes to jump on tortoises just fine, but he better not have a mustache, be named "Nario", and speak with an Italian accent. Trademark is essentially about counterfeiting, its still a violation even when you change small things if the purpose is to deceive customers, or otherwise mooch of the good name of the authentic item.


I found some wonderful site on fangame copyright issues long ago that I couldn't find again right now, but the author's final advice would be something like this:

If you are in doubt whether what you've created is violating copyright, DON'T use it.

My comment:

If you really have to (completely) copy art, characters or mechanics from another game, then your game isn't really worth publishing to the world. Bring in your own twist, invest in your game's design, create new and exciting characters, storyline and mechanics, even use "programmer's art" in order to express yourself!

Thus, why use dots and a yellow/blue/whatever sliced pizza as a character? Create a chipmunk collecting nuts, create a farmer collecting eggs while being hunted by angry chickens (lol), something different, something exciting! :)

  • \$\begingroup\$ And here's a nice article about some idea theft: thepencilfarm.com/blog/2008/02/… While it may be legal (except stealing images), taking someone's idea may still impair your reputation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 7:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Astyanax- Hey Astyanax, small world this is. I have not seen you for nearly a decade since the time we used to frequent A@H back in the beginning of the Milena. Good seeing you mate. \$\endgroup\$
    – AturSams
    Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is an excellent answer, and I am so glad you mentioned Jessica Hische's Inspiration vs Imitation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 16:57

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