Jul 26

Responsibility in Design

I posted this blog before at the bottom of a Designer Weekly, but as I’m intending this to be the first of hopefully many design OpEd’s then it should probably stand on it’s own. Now I’m no legal expert and this is just my opinion on the topic, but the question is,

Where does the responsibility lie when it comes to producing design work that is clear of legal entanglement?

There have been many articles on the Tetris/Mino clone case and I found this one to be the clearest and most comprehensive.




As a designer you are going to be mentally led by your experiences of past games played/watched and thus there will always be a link between your work and those past. You could indeed say that the industry is basically grown through ‘like that feature in X but with Y…’. There is innovation and invention involved too of course, but that’s for a different post.


Where does the responsibility lie when it comes to producing design work that is clear of legal entanglement? No producer or creative director is going to look at your suggestion for a red crowbar as the melee weapon and sign off on it. It’s more likely because you’re not breaking fresh ground when you could be (and gamers spot lifted elements in a heartbeat, lowering the perceived value of the product) and then secondly because of the legal ramifications.


In short IMHO it’s you that’s immediately responsible, and if you know you’re directly lifting from other titles lock, stock and barrel, then you’re ethically in the red too.


So you never played X-com and didn’t know that ‘Not Enough Time Units’ was going to raise a red flag. Or Gold boxes with [?] on them, or etc.,  etc. Well there are 4 things you should be doing as a designer to circumvent the issue:

  1. Be widely versed. Play games, full/demo, indie, whatever. Check out reviews of interesting/popular titles – main hooks will be highlighted.
  2. Discuss the idea / present a brief to your design peers (in the same company!). They will be quick to point out any similarities (we designers are nit-pickers :) ) and will offer suggestions on improvements/modifications/replacements
  3. If when describing the design to someone, notably not a designer, and they say ‘Oh, like Half-Effect of Duty 3?’ then dig deeper.
  4. I’ve talked before on the valuable resource QA is. They’re not just there to test for issues, but they are also a living resource you should check with. Whilst their suggestions, through no fault of their own,  are more-likely-than-not going to not fit the design goals and pillars, they will point out  similarities to other titles.


However, you’re all in this together and if you’ve somehow, unbelievably, managed to release a title that is a clone then you’re unlikely to get canned. (although if you’re a one man co. then go hire a lawyer.)





As always, these are just my thoughts on the topics and a)not actual legal advice and b)not representative of any company I am working for now or previously. :)


Image by Paul Bica

This image reminds me of a nightmare I used to get as a kid. Something about gigantic, alien (in the classic ‘imperceptible intelligence and strangeness’ sense) overlords. #TheInternetIsMyTherapy :) #YesIWillUseHashTagsInBlogPosts

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  1. » Live. Play. Design

    [...] check out the two other posts I did this week on designer responsibility and my first day in the [...]

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