Updated: October 13, 2021
The independent game developer doesn’t need to be told how valuable it is to protect their work. However, many choose to take shortcuts, use online contract generators, or proceed on handshakes. Developers work hard to create complex worlds and innovative ideas in gaming, and now more than ever it’s important to be knowledgeable about the legal landscape. Indie developers who are concerned with protecting themselves and their games should ask themselves the following questions:
New developers may have a firm grasp on what kind of game they want to make, but they may not be thinking of the business side of things. When you’re putting out a product, you should have a company in place to protect your interests and limit your liability. If you’re working alone, consider forming a single-member LLC. If you have partners, perhaps form a multi-member LLC, or even a corporation. Putting an entity barrier in place not only protects the individuals from liability but also gives developers the opportunity to think critically about ownership of intellectual property and investment in the business. This will be crucial if you ever decide to sell or license your game.
Many independent developers are “moonlighting” – by day, they are working at big-name tech or entertainment companies. If you’re living a double life, it’s important to review your employment documents with your development job. For instance, are you allowed to use company materials in the furtherance of your own projects? Does your current place of employment have a claim on anything you develop? The most crucial things to consider are actions that could get you fired, or that could result in the company claiming ownership of your game. Make certain that you are abiding by any restrictions your current job has in place.
Let’s say you’re helming a project that requires you to outsource, and you need different assets from certain people or extra hands to help code or design. If so, make sure you have agreements with these individuals that very clearly outline your intentions before you start working – if you’re planning on being able to own whatever they put together, work-for-hire language is key. A simple handshake among friends or a bare-bones agreement can land you in some hot water, so be prepared.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list. Making great games is a business, and there are always legal considerations in business. If you’re serious about protecting your game, an attorney may be the greatest asset you develop.