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There is a game I want to develop for mobile devices e.g. cellphone/tablet. I have been looking for this game and couldn't find it so I decide to just do it on my own. But I'm worried that there will be legal issues. I'm sorry but I do not know what is the process in doing this.

I noticed for example the game Bejeweled Blitz. If I develop something similar, do I have to contact the developer and ask for permission if I develop a game with similar rules but use shapes rather than jewels?

The original game exists only on Windows for free. If I develop the game, exactly similar rules but different display, am I allowed to sell it?


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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jun 27 '11 at 3:08

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

Similar question from the other point of view: How to protect a developed game? –  Gilles Jun 30 '11 at 23:07
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3 Answers

It's pretty cool you're concerned about plagiarism. Me? I'm dropping a line to the developer to check. You have to realize if it's a free game, it's not like something similar will take food off their table (unless they do get revenue, say -- from ads).

Can't hurt to ask. But these days, the chance that the same game has been written about 100 times (or more) and is out there, for free, as a means for the developer to be able to point to something as part of his coding portfolio -- is high.

Being unique with games or any software is very challenging. Good luck, and good for you for being ethical!

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damn I can't vote up. My question was migrated to this site but not my reputations. Anyway, I'll try to contact the developer. –  demotics2002 Jun 27 '11 at 3:48
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I'm not a lawyer, but...

Technically, you should be safe:


Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

In practice, distributors seem to ignore this, probably in fear of legal costs, or in simple ignorance of this law:


"... I have received an email warning that my game was suspended from Android Market due to a violation of the Developer Content Policy... I emailed Google asking what is the reason for the application removal. Google promptly answered that The Tetris Company, LLC notified them under DMCA to remove various Tetris clones from Android Market. My app was removed together with other 35 Tetris clones..."

This kind of empty threat probably wouldn't have been as effective in the past, when games were sold not just by one or two distributors but by numerous vendors.

So if your game is very similar to another game, it's probably a bit of a gamble. You should probably be able to tell them to get lost, so long as your distributor (Apple, Google etc.) doesn't side with them.

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Thank you Rei. I'll just contact the developer and hope to get a response. I will also proceed on developing the game and cross my fingers and hope that the market won't bully me. –  demotics2002 Jun 27 '11 at 3:51
There have been attempts to protect game rules via patents, but AFAIK they are now generally thought not to be valid. –  Gilles Jun 30 '11 at 23:00
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Writing a program that does the same thing as another program is ok. It doesn't violate the copyright of the other program, as long as you can show that you imitated the behavior of the other program rather than reusing or adapting its code. This is the basis of clean room design, which jurisprudence points to not violating copyright.

Writing a program with a similar interface as another program is probably ok. There have been attempts to protect look and feel; the jurisprudence isn't clear-cut, but if you don't copy visual elements wholesale you're unlikely to face real trouble.

Game mechanics and rules have been patented in the past; the Monopoly patent is a famous case. As far as I know, the recent (late 2000s) trend in the US is against such patents, because they are too far removed from tangible objects, and Europe has never admitted them. However this trend, if it exists, is too recent to have generated clear jurisprudence. Games can involve other kinds of patents which have a bigger chance of being upheld (a few examples), but small game-making firms are unlikely to have these.

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