Infringing Game A Tabletop Award Nominee Before Disqualification

from the lost-art dept

It's the oldest argument when it comes to copyright: what promotes creative works more, strict protections for creators or liberal abilities to create and adapt associated works? These arguments are often made as a matter of theory, with some creators saying copyright protections allow for investment in creating art, whereas those who might create other things based off of those creations (fan-art/films/fiction, mashup artists, samplers, etc.) would tell you about all the art we've lost due to over-reaching protections.

Well, now we have a case where the question isn't one of theory, but of reality. The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards are given out for various categories to the best tabletop games every year. This year, one game was nominated in three separate categories. A game that was clearly a copyright infringer.

Today, one of the few awards in tabletop roleplaying games announced its 2015 award nominees. There are some really good games that are in the running for ENnies awards, but as I went over the list a different story emerged. The judges at the ENnies awards managed to not once, not twice but three times nominate Mass Effect: The Fate RPG. It is up for Best Electronic Book, Best Free Product and Product of The Year.
The game was made without the permission of Electronic Arts or Bioware, who developed the original Mass Effect games. The creator of the game, Don Mappin, is well known in tabletop circles and has published games with mainstream publishers in the past. For this game, which he released for free and which has been downloaded heavily, he simply published it himself. He also contends that he hasn't violated the rules of the contest, which apparently didn't mention requiring the games to be licensed. Instead, they only required the games to be good.
The work is a labor of love and it has been downloaded extensively since its release last year. I am very public and open that it is an unlicensed product, made available free of charge and that no remuneration is to be made from its distribution. The Fate core OGL is adhered to (to the best of my ability) as well as content from Brennan Taylor of Galileo Games and their Bulldogs! product, with permission.

I don't believe that I have violated any aspect of the rules for the ENnies and would hope that my work could be considered. Nor do I believe that I am "stealing" (my words) a slot for Best Product if, in the eyes of the judges, my work was, in fact, superior enough to merit inclusion over other publishers. Conspiracy theories and such aside, I am simply an industry veteran choosing to give back to the hobby I love. I hope you'll consider my work--and its merits--in that vein.
Now, a work freely given away that is as transformative as this could be a test for whether a copyright claim would be valid, but let's not bother with that. In the current climate of copyright in our legal system, it would probably be found to be infringing, and it likely is infringing on trademark grounds as well. Fine, we'll stipulate that. But let's also consider the fact that the game has since been removed from the contest nominations and the whole backlash has caused Mapping to pull the game off his site for download.
In light of the forthcoming announcement of disqualification, I will also be removing the files of my own accord. My thanks to the personnel of ENWorld and the ENnies for their assistance.
And, just like that, poof, the tabletop game is gone. Save for anyone able to get a copy before this whole episode started, it might as well never have existed. An award-nominee of a game, just gone. A labor of love, as the fan-creator puts it, a labor that was plenty creative in its own rights, into the ether. One wonders how many games never even get to this point before dying on the vine, shriveled up by an over-protective copyright system that, at least some of the time, hinders the very creativity it purports to promote.

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Filed Under: boardgames, creativity, don mappin, ennies, gen gon, infringement, mass effect, rpg awards, tabletop games
Companies: bioware, electronic arts


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  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 12:18pm

    He should have called it Fifty Shades of Effect: The Mass Fate.

    Then, no one would have given a flying damn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 12:57pm

    "And, just like that, poof, the tabletop game is gone. Save for anyone able to get a copy before this whole episode started, it might as well never have existed."

    Or it would have be gone, if this wasn't the internet. Luckily it is, where torrents and direct download mirrors are already available, thanks to the people who got a copy earlier and are willing to share.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lord_Unseen (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 12:57pm

    A bit confused.

    So, I'm a little confused here. I'm filling in for OOTB right now, but I'm kind of new.

    Should I be calling this an anomaly or should I be celebrating the fact that this obvious thief got the slapdown he deserved? Also, is this too coherent? I'm not sure.

    Thank you for all your help.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:10pm

      Re: A bit confused.

      6/10

      You need to capitalize random words and bold random lines. Use more exclamation marks and accuse "Masnick" of something even if he didn't write the article you're responding to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:45pm

      Re: A bit confused.

      I believe you would be celebrating. Also you need to add random all cap words, add lines, say everyone who reads this blog is a pirate, and then somehow make it Google's fault.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Daniel (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:46pm

      Re: A bit confused.

      Because it's Monday and feeding trolls is sometimes as numbing/relaxing as feeding pigeons:

      What did he steal? To be an "obvious" thief, you'd think you'd have to obviously have stolen something first. And to be more pointed, from who was anything stolen? The only "obvious" _victim_ with a quantifiable loss is the game creator who must now hide his work, something forged on his own time and merit, because... copyright.

      All works are derivative of something before it, that's just how culture works. Under copyright law, we are simply to ignore this natural fact and set an imaginary/arbitrary goal of derivation for a work to be considered "original."

      You did get one thing right and that is the implied sense of this is how the system is supposed to work. Copyright has ALWAYS been about censorship, the working model was forged in Britain centuries ago to allow the monarch to control what got mass printed and what didn't, and so the result isn't even an "abuse of copyright" but more simply the intent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Lord_Unseen (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 2:12pm

        Re: Re: A bit confused.

        Okay, you're arguing with me, that's good.

        I think it's supposed to be obvious because he stole very valuable and maybe irreplaceable INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY from the hard working EA. I think now I'm supposed to say something to the effect of you pirate everything and don't want to pay for anything. (Is freetard still used? If not, let me know and I'll start using a more appropriate word.) I'm also supposed to imply you're a Google shill somehow.

        Also, I think I should completely ignore your comment about how all works are derivative, so I'll do that now.

        (I'm trying out the advise of the commenter above you. How'd I do?)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          out_of_the_blue, 6 Jul 2015 @ 7:11pm

          Re: Re: Re: A bit confused.

          Sorry, boy, THIS is how you write like the REAL out_of_the_blue! First of all you -- being a total pirate and STEALING my writing style! -- need to add random dashes because semicolons are for pirates. Also, you need MORE exclamation marks! The real OOTB is SHOUTING ALL THE TIME!


          ^^Also, add some random line breaks and carets, using them ironically without realizing they are used to indicate that something is MISSING from the original text (like intelligence). I'm sure your hero MASNICK knows all about punctuation -- being a STEALING PIRATE that works for GOOGLE -- who CONSTANTLY WHINES about how he can't make a living by giving things away for FREE. If I keep saying it enough it will eventually become TRUE and not TOTAL BULLSHIT! Don't forget to make fun of other peoples grammer and spelling errors while making plenty of error's youself!

          -------------------------------------------

          Better luck next time, fanboy! Don't forget your inane tag that only you think is clever!

          Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up same place!
          http://techdirt.com/
          Where the fanboys troll the site with vulgar ad hom, and call anyone disagreeing "trolls"!
          14:28:18[p-785-0]

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 1:17am

      Re: A bit confused.

      Why exactly did he deserve a slap-down, as you put it?
      Last I checked copyright infringement didn't have "slapdowns" listed as a punishment.
      This is just basic CYA from the contest's organizer, no more, no less.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JP Jones (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:01pm

    Seriously, though, without copyright to get rid of this obvious theft, how could EA justify continuing to make Mass Effect games? Obviously this free board game will negatively affect their completely different video game sales when people realize they can just download the board game and not have to play the video game!

    That's the logic here, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 11:16pm

      Re:

      While I personally don't think it is a problem since people having been playing RPGs from one setting using the rules from another for decades without it negatively impacting those properties (and arguably actually increasing their sales and prestige). However, legally speaking, the fact that Bioware has put out RPGs of their games in the past would give this game a realistic likelyhood of interfering with their market - particularly if the official licensed game was dreck.

      That said, I think that most of the non-corporate types at Bioware would be pretty thrilled with a good 'Mass Effect' RPG as the original Bioware crew (before they expanded and got bought by EA) were quite intimately connected to the Edmonton LARP and roleplaying scene. Fun fact: The 'Dragon Age' setting was originally conceptualized by Dave Gaider as a setting for his reboot of his 'Sovereign' LARP/boardgame which was itself derived from George RR Martins 'Song of Ice and Fire'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Li'l Ole Me, 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:14pm

    It's still available for download if you go WAYBACK in time. Just sayin...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Seegras (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:21pm

    Not Copyright, Trademark

    I've just found it and downloaded it.

    - The images used might actually constitute copyright infringement. They also might be transformative use.

    - The text clearly is the work of the author, so there cannot be any copyright infringement there.

    - The rules are actually NOT copyrightable in the first place, so it doesn't matter that he uses the fate system.

    - For the rule-system, there's a trademark agreement, called the "Open Game License". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Game_License to which he adheres.

    - What obviously remains is a trademark infringement towards the "Mass Effect" (and related words) trademark.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Will "scifantasy" Frank (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:25pm

    Given that Dragon Age, Bioware's other RPG property, has a tabletop RPG setting, it's reasonable to say that this is a market within the copyright holder's relevant sphere of consideration. (This is a point that Geigner glosses by saying "OK, fine, it could be a good test case of the transformative rule, but we'll concede that it infringes." It strikes me as a very bad test case for the transformative standard, in fact.)

    I think it's a fair question to ask this: If the game was so good, why was it Mass Effect? Wouldn't it have been just as successful if it didn't use the Mass Effect name, setting, races, and structure? And whatever the answer to that question is, what does that indicate?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 1:57pm

      Re:

      I think it's a fair question to ask this: If the game was so good, why was it Mass Effect? The same reason people write fan fiction. They enjoy the universe that has been created. I don't know anything about the game but it was likely designed around the storyline of Mass Effect. Because of this, people choices will be based on knowledge that they already know about that universe and are playing it because they liked that universe. I doubt the RPG would have been created under a random created universe since it was the Mass Effect universe that that author wanted to be in.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 2:21pm

      Re:

      What (typically non-artistic) people like to think of as the creative process can involve different types of skills, which not every creator will be able to perform as equally as other skills.

      Writing a story involves coming up with a world, creating characters, making the details that make the storytelling elements consistent and thus believable, a large amount of research or familiarity if you're writing about an pre-existing world or existing characters, plotting, and then the actual writing of the words, sentences, and paragraphs that make up the story text.

      Some writers are better at storytelling than they are at the act of wordsmithing. The same can be said for game creators. If you've got a great plot, but need/want to expedite the creative process, using pre-existing worlds and characters helps that along. Sometimes the plot you came up with only works within a pre-existing world and with pre-existing characters. If you've got a great game system you've created, whether it was inspired by a pre-existing world or later applied to a pre-existing world, the creation of the game system is still art, even if the world used for the setting wasn't your original creation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Will "scifantasy" Frank (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 3:02pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't disagree, but given he was using the FATE system, a preexisting open-licensed system, and again given that this was an area that it was perfectly reasonable for Bioware to want to move into as demonstrated by Dragon Age, I don't think this is the most sterling example of "IP hurts creators" one could pick...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Seegras (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 11:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Now, really.

          Please stop confusing this "Open Game License" to anything other than a trademark-license. In that context, the only thing it allows you is to state it's using the FATE system.

          You could use the FATE system (or any other system), without agreeing to this, because game rules are not subject to copyright, but then you probably could not state it on your product.

          Indeed, people are doing this: http://www.jdrp.fr/jdr/basic-199.html -- In fact (this french rpg) BaSIC has exactly the same rules as Chaosiums BRP. But it doesn't really say so..

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lurker Keith, 6 Jul 2015 @ 3:01pm

      Re:

      Also, to add to the post above, some less creative types can get inspiration to be creative from something they love. They may be bad at coming up w/ original characters & making them feel alive, but can easily write for existing characters w/ existing personalities, especially from stuff they've grown up loving.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Will "scifantasy" Frank (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 3:06pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't think Don Mappin gets to describe himself as a "less creative type" for these purposes.

        They say bad cases make bad law. This is one such.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Lurker Keith, 8 Jul 2015 @ 5:09pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You missed the point. We're explaining why people write fan fiction. Because it's the same reason he used Mass Effect for his RPG.

          In other words, we're generalizing. Generalizations apply to more than one individual.

          & just because someone has become established doesn't mean they can't go back to doing fan fiction if they wanted to. Their being well known or having money has zero effect on Fair Use.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 11:38pm

        "Less creative types"

        It takes a lot of work to create a unique diegetic franchise, and then a whole 'nother lot of work to write a novel or design a game or draw art based on it.

        So someone doing one of these things is hardly a less creative type so much a someone who does more than one is an extra creative type.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tore V, 7 Jul 2015 @ 6:33am

      Re:

      Because the Mass Effect universe is awesome and he wanted to roleplay in it, I assume. And because no tabletop rpg had been published.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris Meadows (profile), 6 Jul 2015 @ 5:19pm

    This is what happens when a fan award gets respectable

    It's worth noting that these really aren't the "Gen Con" EN World RPG awards except for the fact that EN World announces the awards at Gen Con. They're not officially part of Gen Con in the sense that Gen Con has any sponsorship or control over them. They're just given out at the convention because that's where everybody is.

    They started out as just an unofficial fannish way for the EN World blog to award prizes to games it personally thought were cool. They were fan awards, that was that. More recently, they got some corporate sponsorship and people started taking notice of them; they're sort of gradually acquiring some respectability just from the fact they've been put on at this big ceremony for so long.

    If this Mass Effect thing had happened a few years ago, I guarantee you nobody would even have noticed. The whole thing was basically just Mappin wanting his fellow RPG geeks to give him some kudos for how kewl his fan game was. He never stopped to think that so many more eyes are on the awards now that kind of thing just isn't going to fly anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2015 @ 7:30pm

    EA! nuff said. In the past I bought hundreds of EA titles. Wisened up, now I exclude products from my collection from publishers that don't respect their customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 6:29pm

    Game design is work.

    As a (not-yet professional) tabletop game designer I can affirm that the development of a game is a truckload of work, even if you borrow mechanics from other games.

    Incidentally, given that Wizards of the Coast patented not only the CCCG (the collectable custimizable card game, in which cards are sold in randomized sets) but also the Tap mechanic, which indicates that a game mechanic can be patented. Of course, someone might challenge the patent. I resorted to When this card is in play, once per turn, you may... or As an action you may... with the number of actions alloted elsewhere.

    My genre of choice was Star Trek though since I didn't want to fight with CBS, Paramount, Desilu or a teeming army of Star Trek fans about continuity details, I went ahead and genericized the game, and then expanded on the diegetic aspects until it became its own thing. Still, there are no other tabletop games that allow players to create a crew and go on TOS-style adventures, so I was tickled that that worked so well.

    What interests me about this is that since he released it for free, it essentially is a fanfic game, which I've been tempted to do with Harry Potter or Firefly.

    What frightens me is it seems that anytime someone gains money or recognition off of their own creative effort, it becomes a ripe target for litigation, because no creativity is allowed unless it's backed by a powerful, monied corporate interest.

    And so yeah, sucks for the garage inventors and artists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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