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Re: (TFT) Open Source TFT

----- Original Message ----- From: "David Miller" <djmiller@i-2000.com>
To: <tft@brainiac.com>

This thread lends a totally new meaning to the term "Rules Lawyer". (Sorry, I just had to work that bad joke in.) ;^)

Gee, never heard that one before... <grin>

First of all Ty, thanks for brining this up. I was beginning to think everyone had given up on this list. It is an important subject to all of us.

I have a question. All of us could go on for a very long while about the legalities of whether or not we could redo TFT and this thread so far has done just that. My question is simply this: What's the point?

1.) Is it to raise awareness of TFT? Is it to attempt to get more people introduced to TFT?


If the end product is to be freely distributed via a pdf file on a few web sites I really don't see how that helps TFT. The rule books to TFT are already available to download as a pdf file. (See: http://www.deiker.net/tft.html) Is Ted doing that legally? That site has been up for a while, has anyone asked him to take it down? Anyone looking for TFT can get them there. So, what exactly would a reworked, downloadable version of the rules do for TFT? How would they raise awareness for the game?

Well, Ted is *clearly* infringeing someone's copyright -- and I'm damn grateful for it. But he really shouldn't *have* to violate copyright IMHO, just so that others can enjoy an RPG that at one time was #2 behind AD&D. It just seems a shame to let it die.

2.) Is it to generate income? That's out.

Oh heaven's no. In fact, I may suggest that we setup a Texas nonprofit corporation. The filing fees are only about $25 and I can handle the IRS paperwork.

3.) Here's a tough question: Is this a possible way to try to finally flush out the copyright owner? As far as I know (and I spoke to Steve Jackson about this a few years back at GenCon) HT still owns this game. At least that was Steve's understanding at the time. Doing something like this might bring him forward. Is that the point? (As an aside I too have looked into finding the owner of the copyright with no success. I've even looked hard for HT but everyone who I know that knew him has no idea whatever happened to him.)

He hasn't materialized despite substantial efforts to flush him out and even posting of the TFT books on the internet. As a business lawyer, I find that the bank usually winds up with a defunct company's assets. Companies usually default on their bank loans and the bank has a lien on the assets. And I've described the difficulty of running Metagaming's banks down.

My bet is that HT does not own the TFT copyrights. I think that TFT is probably now the property of one of the megabanks -- Chase Manhattan, etc. And there's probably no one there that even knows or cares. And we can't rule out the possibility that Steve Jackson somehow got the copyrights back but decided to let TFT die so that he could focus on GURPS. Unlikely, I grant you.

But it's the off chance that the real owner of the TFT copyrights will materialize that makes me uncomfortable with simply distributing copies on a website.

4.) And finally, there is something to be said about having all of our names on a new version of TFT. Who of us hasn't thought of that? (If I could win the lottery tomorrow one of the things I would attempt to do is to republish this game.) But is this a reason to redo TFT? Not a good one if this is the case. And how would you credit the design of this new game? Would you say it was by SJ? Based on an original idea by SJ? Original rules by SJ? Or would you just leave his name completely off of the project.

My thought would be to list all collborators in alphabetical order. I see no problem paying homage to Steve Jackson as the source of inspiration for these rules.

Ty, I know you are a lawyer. I also think you've had some experience with the publishing industry but I'm not sure. I happen to make my living in publishing and understand somewhat what it takes to market a game successfully. For the past 20 years I've worked for most of the major RPG game companies as an illustrator and as a graphic designer. I've art directed a few well known games and I know many people who have written and self published their own games. So I know a few things about copyright laws as well.

I had considerable experience in publishing before I went to law school. It is a hard way to make a living. I do handle copyright and trademark issues for some clients, so I'm reasonably sure of my analysis. That said, I welcome *any* comments.

By the way...since you are a real graphic designer, perhaps you could design the look of our product?

You are absolutely correct in stating that you can not copyright a "gaming system". You can not copyright things like text, images, place names, etc. But let me think about a reworded version of TFT for a moment. You would definitely have to change the terminology to avoid copyright infringement. Would any of you be happy to play a version of TFT where a character who has picked preference Number 1 (stood still or traversed one hex unit up to one half of his total hex unit capability) has to stop when entering another figures forward zone-of-control? Or choose preference Number 4 to dodge back to escape your opponents attack radius? Does this rewording help clarify TFT to new people or confuse them?

The rewording is a safety measure. I agree that we may simply not be able to say it differently. And that this may therefore not be a copyright violation. But I'd sure want to try.

Wouldn't it be better if, instead of wasting energy and talent on redoing the core rules, we focused on promoting and exposing this game to a larger audience?

Sure, but we ain't got no core rules that we can legally distribute.

But let me get back to publishing a new, reworked version of TFT.

To bring a game to the market and raise awareness among your target audience requires many things: advertising, web site promotion, articles in gaming publications, etc. All of this costs money. Plus the gaming climate has changed since TFT first premiered. I don't think a cardboard counter style game could survive against the GamesWorkshop miniature gaming Goliath. Who would be interested?

Well, this is clearly a vanity project. I certainly don't expect to unseat Wizards of the Coast or Games Workshop. I just think that this would be a fun project that would give TFT the best chance of enlarging its audience. Remember - it was #2 behind AD&D. So we know that it had something special. I'm frankly curious to see what would happen if we could pull this off.

To bring a reworked version of TFT back to the forefront of gaming and give it a wide audience would require a slick, 4 color, printed core rule book followed by regularly published supplements. It would have to be widely distributed and you would have to pay a warehouse to store your inventory. (For those of you not familiar with publishing, most of your money, in the way of profits, goes to the distributor.) It would also have to be updated to current industry standards and include rules for miniature gaming. Otherwise it's just going to wind up as another free download on http://www.freewargamesrules.co.uk/ where it will be soon forgotten.

I had not initially envisioned a printed product, but I could be persuaded if we could get professionals to donate their time. And if the cost is bearable of course (see below).

Obviously I'm talking about a lot more work than what Ty is proposing. To do this thing right requires more than a word document with a static style sheet look. (By the way, designers use sidebars to break up the grey space on a page generated by the body copy. Pictures do the same thing.) It also would require an investment of several thousand dollars to do right.

Look, currently I know some of gamings top talent who would love to work on re-imaging TFT Melee and Wizards, most of them would even do it for free (they've told me as such). There are a lot of creative people out there that have fond memories of TFT and love this little game. But all of them (I included) would only touch it if it was legitimate, saw print, and was widely distributed. A reworked knock off would be just that, a reworked knock off.

Well how much would you estimate the initial cost needed to legitimately print and distribute the rules? Assume that we could get through the pre-press stage for no cost -- relying on talented professionals and amateurs to donate their time and talent. I can do all the legal work. Assume further that the rules would be a single 128 page perfect bound softcover book with color covers and b&w interior artwork. Let's at least quanitfy this cost before dismissing your idea.

I currently use a print on demand company to produce my "Fistful of TOWs" miniatures rules. The cost per unit is higher than traditional printing, but I don't have to fool with large inventories or fulfillment. That might be a viable way to go as well. I am very happy with the quality of the product and their fulfillment.

Anyway, please don't take offense at these comments. We are talking about serious matters here and I wanted to lay some thoughts out on the table.

None taken. I have been a business lawyer too long to ignore the suggestions of folks who are in the business.

Maybe it's the New Yorker in me. Or maybe I'm stewing over the fact that no one other than Dan responded to my Heroscape 3D Melee rules. I really thought that would generate more discussion than it did. Oh well, 3 months of work down the tubes.

Actually, I read them and quite liked them. I'll be buying Heroscape this weekend.

--Ty =====
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