How to Open License Your Game
January 30, 2010
Chris Sakkas (admin of the Year of Living Free wiki).
This is a draft. Do you have any suggestions? Email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Why Go Open?
Why not? Let others build on what you’ve created, share your work and develop it further.
- What if shoddy products reflect badly on my own? You can prevent this, most easily with the Open Game Licence. See ‘Product Identity and Closed Content’ below.
- What if other people take my work and sell it? You can prevent this with a Creative Commons Noncommercial licence. See ‘Why Noncommercial?’ below.
- What if other people adapt my work and don’t make it open? You can prevent this with a Creative Commons Share-Alike licence or the Open Game Licence. See ‘Why Share-Alike?’ below.
- What if I’ve used other people’s copyright in my work? You can work around this. See ‘Legal Stuff’ below.
- Will people use my material in a way I don’t like? It’s unlikely. I know of only one case where an author’s open work was used in a way that wasn’t appreciated. The author complained and the problem was resolved.
Benefits to going open include:
- It increases circulation of your game, because people know they can distribute it legally and ethically.
- Others may create supplements or modifications of your game, as people have for Donjon (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike) and 4C System (public domain).
- It allows you to give back to the community
You might prefer to read this article as a DOC.
- Make sure you hold the copyright and trademark for your game
If you have used other people’s material in your game, you have three options:
- Ask their permission to release it under an open licence
- Remove it from your game
- Release the rest of your game under an open licence, leaving the stuff you don’t own as closed content (see ‘Product Identity and Closed Content’ below).
- I’ve used Open Game Content in my work. You must use the Open Game License.
- I want or have to keep parts of my game closed. See ‘Product Identity and Closed Content’ below.
- I don’t want derivatives to mention my name, publishing company or trademarks. See ‘Product Identity and Closed Content’ below.
- I want people to use my material without any limitations. Release it into the public domain or use Creative Commons Copyright 0.
- I don’t want my work used commercially. Use a Creative Commons Noncommercial licence. See also, ‘Why Creative Commons Noncommercial’.
- I don’t want my work modified in any way. Use a Creative Commons No Derivatives licence. See ‘Why No Derivatives?’ below.
- I want adaptations of my work to be open as well. Use the Open Game License or a Creative Commons Share-Alike licence. See ‘Why Share-Alike?’ below.
- Otherwise, use the Creative Commons Attribution licence.
Product Identity and Closed Content
There are two reasons to keep content closed.
- To release the rest of a game as open if it contains content you don’t own the copyright to.
- To protect your name, publishing company and trademarks from being undermined by other people’s shoddy products.
Under the Open Game License: Either do not release the content as Open Game Content or identify it as Product Identity.
Under a Creative Commons licence: Include a comment like, ‘Most of this product is covered by a Creative Commons licence. The remainder (and explain which part this is) is proprietary and you must seek the permission of the copyright owner before using it.’
- You are obliged to use it if you’re using material under a Share-Alike licence
- Any material building on your own work is also open. Someone builds on your work, then someone builds on their work, and so on.
The disadvantage is that it can discourage people from building on your work at all. Some people are protective of their creations, particularly if they want to market them commercially.
- It ensures that others can only profit off your work with your permission
- It ensures adaptations and supplements are free, which support the community
I prefer to avoid Noncommercial. Give others a chance to make a buck or two.
Noncommercial can also get fiddly when someone wants to do something for free, but money is still involved. For example, a free podcast that makes some money from advertising. I used a Creative Commons Noncommercial image on a PDF I gave away for free. No problem. But then I wanted to release it as a print-on-demand book on Lulu at cost price. It wasn’t commercial for me, but it was for Lulu. I couldn’t do it.
I figure, my work will never make me a fortune. It certainly won’t make anyone else a fortune.
Why No Derivatives?
- It ensures you control the nature and quality of any adaptations of your work
- It stops others from undermining your product with adaptations of it or supplements for it
This licence is not open. It’s preferable to keeping the product completely closed, since it allows others to distribute your game, but it doesn’t fit the definition of open source.
How Should I Indicate My Work is Open?
- It is simplest to put a note in the game itself. Creative Commons provides this text when you select a licence in a sidebar titled ‘Offline work?’
- I’m not sure of the legality of a simple comment like “Creative Commons Attribution licence”. It’s better to stick with the official text.
- I don’t think you have to include the text in the game itself. An announcement elsewhere, with the official text, should be enough.
Which Jurisdiction Should I Choose?
I believe Creative Commons recommends you choose as your licence’s jurisdiction the country where you live. They also offer an unported licence if you’d prefer.
What Else Should I Do?
- Add your product to the Year of Living Free wiki or email its admin to do it for you
- Consider making a System Reference Document – an HTML or DOC collection of all the open material, which makes it easier for others to adapt and reuse it.
- If you’ve used a more restrictive licence, like Noncommercial or Share-Alike, tell people under what circumstances you’d consider a looser licence. (For example, ‘I’m happy to allow commercial products if you ask permission and give me a small cut’).
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.