Consider a Trading Card Game that is currently available for play in digital format only, the game in question would be HEX: Shards of Fate, but this question is intended as a general question about all Trading Card Games.

Now my idea is to create an AI player for that game and see how good it performs. For this I'll need to build a client that is capable of playing the game and initially I want to test it myself and distribute it to a few friends so they can play around with it.

I am myself unsure of whether the EULA specific to this game are of any importance, as I believe all games will try to protect their games to the fullest extent as possible. However we also know that there are fansites out there which are allowed (are they legally allowed?) to display the cards of the game (including artwork) as long as they have a clear reference to the game which it is about and they do not attempt to make any money out of the cards themselves. I do believe that premium services on a fansite itself are legal.

Ultimately I want to create a fansite where:

  • There is an obvious reference that the cards, etc. belong to the company that created the game.
  • You can as player play versus an AI, using a game interface that is similar to the one that is in the actual digital version. It most likely won't be an exact 1:1 copy and some substitute interface will be used that doesn't look as nice.
  • Playing versus the AI is not promoted as an actual game, it is just a site where you can test your skill as player, and as creator I can test the effectiveness of the AI.
  • All cards are freely available to any player, I most surely do not intend to monetize that part.
  • There is possibly a premium service that offers benefits, possibly more detailed statistics or more AI matches, more options, etc.

So I've got the following questions about this:

  • Is the limited distribution amongst myself and friends legal?
  • Is this fansite legal without the premium service?
  • Is the premium service legal?
  • Would selling booster packs (where you can obtain the cards) and having the player start with a minimal collection actually be illegal?
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp By the looks of it that question is about creating a game based upon another existing game, my question is not exactly about creating a game, though it depends on the definition of a game. This might matter from a legal perspective. \$\endgroup\$
    – skiwi
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 13:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Everything written in the answers to that question also applies to your situation. When you want to ask about nuances of copyright law, you would be well advised to ask an actual lawyer, because this website is a website for game developers, not for legal professionals. But he will likely tell you the same: Using someone elses IP without permission is illegal, and you would be very ill-advised to try building a business on it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 13:10

1 Answer 1


I am not a lawyer, but as a software developer and occasional artist, I've investigated this a bit so I know what I can do to protect my work and also so I don't accidentally screw myself over. While it would help to know what country you're in, because different countries have different laws that may also affect you, I'll make an attempt at answering your question.

You'll likely run afoul of Copyright. The owner of Copyright over a certain work (and Copyright in most countries is implicit, and does not require it saying something is copyrighted explicitly) has full control over how and whether at all something may be distributed. This applies to any graphics in the game, any sounds. While it's OK in most countries to make a photocopy of something for personal use, and sometimes even pass it on to a friend, most courts will consider posting something on the internet (where it's publicly accessible) as redistribution. So unless all of this is in a closed, password-protected area, you shouldn't be doing this. It would be treated about the same as pirating software or movies.

Also, keep in mind that many countries have higher fines for commercial infractions. And in many countries (e.g. where I live in Germany) just having ads on your page or having a link to your company's (unrelated) store in the navigation will make it considered commercial (as you could be using it to draw customers there).

Names are usually covered under trademark law. So if anyone already uses that name, and it's not a generic term, you can not use that name. If they've registered the name as a trademark, they can cause even more damage more easily (but a trade mark doesn't have to be registered to let them sue you). So you can't use the others' name either. At most, you might get away with saying that your game is "in the style of" another game, but that's a risky proposition.

So in short: Don't do it. Just make placeholder graphics (or hire someone to do them), make up your own names. The rules are not protected, but even though you can draw your own graphics for a deck of regular French playing cards, the graphics of commercial decks being sold out there are copyrighted, unless they explicitly say otherwise or you can prove that the artist has been dead the requisite 70 years (or more if you're unfortunate enough to live in the US with its endless copyright term extensions).

Note: There are fan productions out there that don't adhere to these rules and get by fine. That usually is totally due to benevolence on the part of the Copyright owners, you can't expect this in every case. E.g. Anne Rice was known for a long time to go after fan fiction web sites asking them to take down stories.

Update: Here's another example of a takedown done by Nintendo: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-03-31-nintendo-issues-takedown-notice-for-super-mario-64-hd-project though this involves actual copying of a few sound files and graphics from an original game.


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