I always enjoyed playing video games and for a long time I toyed with the idea of trying to make something on my own as a hobby. First of all, I must say I am not a computer engineer and my coding skills are very limited. So, I started checking for a platform which would allow me to make my game without barely any coding. After finally gathering enough energy and courage to try, I managed (thanks to a lot of tutorials) to produce my own little game.
Now, my purpose with this post is to analyse the legal challenges I spotted during the process. Of course, this was merely an aficionado attempt. The process of designing a video game is way more complex and long. But it was very interesting to experience in practice some of the legal knowledge I always write about.
Choosing the engine
My first choice before starting: what game engine to use. For my first attempt I considered the next three options:
- Unreal: An engine that has allowed studios to create masterpieces as Hellblade: Shenua’s Sacrifice and popular games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Final Fantasy VII Remake. And therefore, a platform totally out of my league. In this case, Unreal engine is available under a license that allows developers to use the platform and after pay a fee of 5% of benefits from the created game to Epic Games (owners of Unreal) and always the game is generating more than $3,000 per quarter.
- Unity 3D: A more accessible engine than Unreal, also focus on 3D and still for real-looking games. Examples of games made with this platform are Ghost of a Tale or Cuphead. In this case the license allows creator to choose between three kind of levels (plus a fourth one specific for students): Free, Plus and Pro. The level of the license depends, first, on the features included in the engine and second on the annual company revenues (0-100K: Free, 100K – 200K: Plus and +200K: Pro)
- GameMaker: A simple platform ideal for 2D games with an 8 bits looking. At the moment of writing this post, free limited version (GM 1.4) is no longer available (new GM 2 only allows a free trial period), but when I started my project I had the opportunity to use this software with the only limitation of developing exclusively for Windows (other OS had to be purchased). Also, after a bit of Reddit research, this platform looked like everything I needed at that time: no coding skills necessary, simple, free and with a bunch of tutorials out there to start. Now, GameMaker is distributed under three possible levels licenses: Creator (Windows or Mac), Developer (Desktop, Mobile and Xbox) and Console (Desktop, Mobile and Consoles).
In my case, the simplicity, community and tutorial of GameMaker made my decide to start my project using this platform.
Making the game
Once the engine was decided, I had to start creating everything for my game. All the content that together was going to be a whole called a video game (even if a very simple one). Of course, in my head I was going to just drop stuff, write a couple of dialogue lines, add some audio resources and come out with the new GOTY. In real life, I opened the engine for the first time and I barely knew how to create my first project. Time for tutorials.
Luckily for me, creators of GameMaker upload a great quantity of tutorials into YouTube and other platforms (YoYo Games, Shaun Spalding). So I decided to start, following video after video, with an easy space simulator (aka Asteroids game). The first challenge I faced is that I really needed to do everything. Every single element takes way more effort than I had expected. Not only I had to provide instructions to every object, I had to designed it!
The different elements composing my video game were: sprites, backgrounds, sounds, music, font and code.
Sprites are everything inside the game that is ‘alive’, that moves between the background and the player. They can be controlled by the player, like the main playing character, but also vehicles, bullets, objects; or not controlled by the player (NPC) like enemies, other characters, rain, plants… They need to be there so the player can interact, and therefore, they all come with a great bunch of instructions that determines their behaviour.
In the case of my game I had to make:
- The ship (three, so it looks the fire behind is moving)
- Asteroid type 1
- Asteroid type 2
- Broken asteroid
- Laser beam
For this game I decided to create my own sprites. It is possible to use them from third parties. In this case, copyright of the designs will belong to the creators and therefore it is important to pay attention to the license terms. From ‘pay to use’ to ‘free with attribution’ or ‘completely free’, there are several options and it is always essential to comply with the terms when using content created by third parties.
The background is the static image behind (in a 2D game like mine) where the action is happening. For my game, the background is a simple black image where I placed some stars as static objects. As it happens with all other resources, Internet is full of shared content under different kind of licenses.
The font to include text in the game. For my game, I used the fonts included in the engine. However, for more complex and ambitious games, personalised fonts that match with the essence of the games are very important. Again, if they are not original it is very important to pay attention to license conditions. A good example of a game with a very characteristic font is Life is Strange.
Sounds are the audio pieces that reproduce according to actions, menus or screens; and music that allows a better interaction with the player and make games more immersive and enjoyable. In this case I could no longer avoid using external content as I did not have the tools nor the knowledge to produce my own audio resources. Thanks to the tutorials it was easy to find free sources. For sounds such as laser shooting or explosions I used the generator of BFXR. Checking the license, we can notice that I can freely include them in my game:
“You have full rights to all sounds made with bfxr, and are free to use them for any purposes, commercial or otherwise”.
For the music, I looked for an 8bit style matching with the simplicity of my game. I found a creator who shares his works for free under the next license:
“All songs are released under a Creative Commons Attribution License, please feel free to use them in your projects, games, podcasts, videos, or whatever you like, just be sure to let me know so I can link back to you!”
As the author requested, I included a link to his website on the main menu and the description of my game, and I let him know I am using his work.
As a conclusion we can state that, when creating the game, I was limited by the platform (licenses) and the use of external elements. Copyright law (international, EU) allows creators to protect their works under their own terms so it is very important to pay attention under what conditions, price or royalties external content can be used and included in a game.