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I am implementing an online version of a card game. The author and publisher of the game owns the IP, evidently (e.g on mechanics and design).

the game (mechanics) and the graphics are our intellectual property - to be used only with our consent.

They are open to my publishing my implementation as open source - but in the interest of transparency, I'd like to pick the most appropriate license to a) ensure my work just doesn't get appropriated and used for commercial gain, b) ensure my work is not providing ways for someone else to appropriate their IP, if that makes sense (basically I don't want to accidentally screw them over) -- they are a small publisher, and struggling with pirate copies of the physical game.

Any idea or precedent of a similar scenario elsewhere? I could obviously just not open source this, but I don't see good reasons to do so, except my lack of understanding of copyright laws :)

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It sounds like the game publisher doesn't want an open source license. As soon as the code is released under an open source license, anyone will be able to do what they like with the code, and that's going to mean that they lose all control as to what people do with their mechanics and graphics.

The graphics issue can actually be worked around by licensing the graphics separately from the code - this is exactly what has been done by e.g. Keldon's excellent Race for the Galaxy implementation where the graphics are not released under the open source license that the code is released under.

Game mechanics are a more interesting issue - I believe the general consensus right now is that game mechanics cannot be copyrighted, so it's debatable whether they could actually enforce anything if somebody did make a reimplementation of their mechanics. Of course, releasing the game engine as open source would make it easier for somebody else to take those mechanics and re-use them.

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  • Thanks for your response Philip! I don't understand why releasing the mechanics in the form of source code would make it more or less free for anyone to do what they want - moreso than releasing the game to the public, that is. The game rules are available... when you buy the game, but also on a ton of different websites; I don't think their encoding in Java code makes it necessarily easier to copy :D Also thanks for the pointer on RftG, I'll check it out! – Grégory Joseph Jun 16 at 4:22
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    @GrégoryJoseph because open-source code is used for more than just the task it's released for. As well as simply downloading and running it as-is, people can and do take subroutines or subsections and use them in their own code, or take the entire thing and swap out elements to make similar but different games, in all cases making large numbers of copies and distributing them widely. This is not generally what happens when someone buys a card game. – MadHatter Jun 17 at 13:20
  • @MadHatter that's an interesting angle, thanks for that. Interestingly, this particular game readily admits it's a mashup of different traditional games and some additional "twists". That actually sounds quite similar to someone taking some open source code from a game, to build another game? – Grégory Joseph Jun 19 at 22:27

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