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I want to make a game derived from an existing game. That game is owned by a live company.

How do I go about contacting the rights owners correctly and negotiating for the rights to the content?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure this the right place to ask such a question. Plus I don't understand do you want to make a game based on another game? or just buy that franchise? \$\endgroup\$ – concept3d Jan 5 '14 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is OT, but it costs a lot of money to license an established franchise. \$\endgroup\$ – bobobobo Jan 5 '14 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd say you have to contact them, see if it's for sale, if so hire a lawyer, negotiate a price, sign a contract, and pay some money. \$\endgroup\$ – Laurent Couvidou Jan 5 '14 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @concept3d This page suggests it's OK. \$\endgroup\$ – Tharwen Jan 5 '14 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tharwen I didn't say it's off-topic, and I didn't actually voted for a close. What I meant is to actually contact people who know about the legalities and laws, and not particularly tech people on this site. \$\endgroup\$ – concept3d Jan 5 '14 at 16:43
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Are there any legal ways to acquire the rights to make a derivative video game?

Yes, it's frequently done.

The game is owned by a live company, so how would I contact them correctly and negotiate for the rights to the content?

Find their contact information on the web. Typically with a "Contact Us" page. You're likely not going to find a "Use this number to contact us about making a derivative game". Find their main contact number and work your way through the channels. You may not be able to talk to anyone about it, they might reject you before then.

What are some different deals that we could make?

Lots, or none. Depends on what you have available to offer and what they're willing to offer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hint: if it's a big franchise, just save yourself the time and use it more productively instead. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Jan 5 '14 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep, if someone has to ask these types of questions here, it's highly unlikely they have the funds or other resources required to to undertake such a large project. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Jan 5 '14 at 18:06
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IP can get EXPENSIVE, and it gives a third party way to much control over your game (including, potentially, an expiration date).

Ever heard of Starwars Galaxies? It was pretty infamous for two reasons. 1) [unrelated] they nigh-completely changed their gameplay well after release. Was not well received. 2) They shut down for no apparent reason.

The reason however isn't all that hard to deduce.

  • Starwars Galaxies shutdown: December 15, 2011
  • Starwars The Old republic released: December 20, 2011

Only 5 days later.

In fact, I understand that the then-president of SOE (the devs behind SWG), John Smedley, SWORE OFF others' IP as a direct result. Someone else shut one of his games down, and he had no say in the matter, no recourse. "Take this corncob, right where it'll hurt most. Oh, and take the blame for shutting your game down so it doesn't hurt the sales of the next one."

I can't imagine why he'd be upset by the experience.

On the "up side", the game industry has a Long and Storied history of "borrowing ideas" from one another. iD made the first FPS. To some extent, everyone who made one afterwards was "ripping them off". If you want to mimic gameplay, go for it. You can't patent/copyright/etc GAMEPLAY.

If you want their characters, backstory... not so much. Still, it's not that hard to make up your own similar characters. Superman (DC comics) knockoffs: Marvel: Gladiator, Hyperion, Sentry. Image: Apollo (who is (was?) married to "Midnighter", their Batman knockoff, good times!). Gladiator even has the same "last of his species" thing going.

Other Peoples Intellectual Property can be an "I Win" button for initial sales. OPIP can also be a boat anchor around your neck, dragging you under.

YMMV.

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