Warning to collaborators

I received a real kick in the guts today and thought I’d share my experience as a warning to other potential collaborators.

I met up with this guy via an Adventuron game jam late in 2019. He had this idea for a game and was looking for someone to write it for him. It looked like an interesting project, so I took it on as a favour to him. I poured my heart and soul into that game. It was written in Inform 6 and compiled to Glulx. It was really polished with music and graphics - probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done and of commercial quality. It went through two rounds of play testing and my play testers loved it.

In the meantime, my collaborator had contracted other companies to write a book and an RPG based on the game. I haven’t seen these, as they’re not finished yet. I understand that he has paid big money for this, whereas I received nothing.

I planned to enter my game into IFComp 2020. I did the cover graphics during the weekend and thought I’d send it to my collaborator for his opinion, as I hadn’t heard from him for several months. Imagine my surprise when he sent me a software licence agreement to hand over all rights to my game to his company (Blue Dream Games) and send 70% of any competition winnings to him!

Apart from the music and graphics, this game is 100% my work, so, needless to say, I told him to get f*cked (but in more diplomatic terms). As there is only 3 weeks until entries close and I don’t have time to chase around seeking legal advice, I will have to withdraw my game from IFComp.

So, be warned, do not take on any collaboration projects unless you are 100% satisfied that the other party is not going to try to rip you off and make money out of your efforts. There is no such thing as a gentleman’s agreement.

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Good advice, especially when collaborating with someone unfamiliar to you. Don’t do a lot of work without knowing all the parameters ahead of time. Sorry this happened to you.

(I had a somewhat similar thing happen when I was screenwriting - a “producer” asked me to do a rewrite of an existing script and he needed it fast and wanted it sent over. I was happy to do the work, he sent me a contract and everything. After I sent it, and signed the contract, weeks went by and he informed me that they were “going a different way” with the script and none of the ideas I had written would be used. Of course he already had my script, but I think he was just a player and there was never any kind of actual deal. If people want something fast, get paid up front.)

(The “contract” only paid conditionally if my version of the script was optioned, so I’ve learned my lesson. I think he was just farming several writers in lieu of doing his own work.)

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What an absolute piece of work. So disappointed for you, Garry. :frowning:

(It would’ve been impossible for you to sign a contract like for an Adventuron game anyway!)

I’ve had recent bad experiences with collaborations but nothing on this sort of scale.

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Sorry Garry. I was looking forward to seeing the game too. Sounded amazing.

I’m sure it would have been very polished too.

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If the purloined work ever hits the market, give us a heads up. I for one want to be sure I don’t help them make a profit.

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Since you wrote the game, and the only resources he contributed (I’m assuming) were graphics and sound, then what about replacing just those and releasing it anyway? I mean, it’s not like you signed any agreement…

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I’m with @Mike_G on this;

Take out the graphics and sound and the game is yours. You wrote it, so you have copyright (assuming you haven’t signed anything over).

There are some fantastic free music and sound resources out there. Graphics, a bit harder to replace, but do-able.

No fundamental reason to throw your good work away.

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Let the storm pass and you will certainly find common ground. There is no reason why this game should not participate at the IFComp 2020.
But why do you want to drink this strange mixture of human, ranking and money?

I think the same. Change names, and IP, and release it anyway (maybe next year).

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Thanks for the support and the suggestions. I really enjoyed working on this project as I learnt so much. For example, it was the first time I’d added music and sound effects and the first time I’d allowed graphics to be turned on and off.

I think I’ll sit on it for awhile, as I have so many other projects on the boil anyway. I won’t discard it completely. I’ll just replace the music and graphics and remove anything that has any trace whatsoever of my collaborator’s original idea. That shouldn’t be too difficult, as most of it is mine anyway. Certainly all the text is mine. Change a bit here, change a bit there, make it even better than it was before!

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Put it in Spring Thing? That looks like the next big event.

Original ideas are not copyright in any case, but I understand how you might want to get rid of the bad taste by excising it.

I’m always a bit wary of these “Frank Oliver”-types who seem to have books and games (and concept albums) on the go for years and years, based on the same IP that they came up with when they were much younger.

I imagine that the biggest loser in all of this might be the other guy… He seems to be throwing away the only concrete, solid thing that has been produced from his ideas during the last thirty years.

We’ll just have to sadly wait a bit longer for your first, full-length game. Just so annoying that your time has been wasted in this way.

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I am familiar with intellectual property law (patents, trademarks, copyright etc.) and I know that an idea is not ‘copyrightable’ (is that a word?), only the expression of an idea is protected by copyright, so I’m protected. But, like you said, I would want to remove any association with the other party.

One thing I’m wondering about is that the book and RPG is based on the game, not vice versa. The other party has seen the game, but I have not seen the book or the RPG. I wonder if he’s ripped off anything original of mine from the game? Hmm…

Spring Thing might be an idea, as it allows games that take longer than 2 hours. IFComp reckons you should judge the game in two hours. Two of my play testers said it took them 4 hours. Food for thought.

Really depends on how much input the other person had on your game, and whether you signed something beforehand and what it says. (Even if you didn’t actually sign something, it can be held as a verbal agreement, though it’s harder to prove. But if they didn’t pay you for any of it then it usually means no contract can apply.)

If they designed the world and characters and you incorporated them into your game, even without explicit contract, they still “own” those and could interfere with commercial release. (Non-commercial release is usually fine, being in the same basket as “fan fiction”, but the ground is still shaky.)

If they only outlined a broad concept and you’re the one who designed the world and characters then you’re on safer ground, especially if you didn’t get paid for any of it. You’d still have to avoid using any specific assets that they directly contributed. (And you might have grounds to turn around and demand royalties for the book, if it’s based on your game.)

But it’s not unusual to have the person “doing the work” different from the “ideas guy” – I know a number of webcomics that work this way, for example, with separate writers and artists and sometimes also a separate “story” guy that helps with writing but doesn’t do the bulk of it. Usually that sort of thing is explicitly contracted, though.

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