From Solo Dev to Project Lead: Licensing and Ownership

I’ve been working on a project for about a month now, and it’s started taking off in a great direction. What was once a little bundle of unreal tutorials has started inching closer and closer towards something I think may end up being a serious, marketable game. Until this point, I’ve been the sole developer. All of the project files are on my PC and I’ve only shared cooked demo builds with others so my files and assets were safe. I also have rights for several models in my game to use them solely for my game and for myself, so distribution for other projects would be a breach of these contracts.

Now, however, it appears I may be very soon in a position where I am no longer the sole developer. I will be the lead dev of a potentially flourishing game project.

I want to discuss the topic of how I keep intellectual rights to what I’ve created so far. How should I distribute my files without concern they could be stolen, or that somebody could take my project and make it their own? I don’t distrust the person interested in co-devving with me, but nonetheless I feel a bit insecure about giving out all of the source files for a project I’ve worked so insanely hard on so far.

First of all I’m not a lawyer so if it really matters hire one but there is a lot of little things that you can do as far as SOP goes.

A good first step is to stop by your bank and have a chat with a small business advisor as to what would be require to set up a small business account and the required paper work to establish the necessary foundation. Usually this service is free Next you should acquire a business license and in most cases you will obtain a number used to identify your company that you would use on all of your contracts as to asset ownership.

As a registered company there are a lot of options available to you to be able to write off a lot of your development cost as a tax deduction so adding an accountant to the mix is worth the cost as well.

Next you will need a means of conveyance of rights as to IP property keeping in mind that full rights is created upon creation. The usual means is via a “work for hire” contract where the IP becomes the property of the registered company.

Last there will be a need for a NDA contract that outlines that should outlines the necessary handing of all materials and assets not covered by the work for hire contract as to security requirements of the project.

Looking at games development as a business though is not unique as to any other business and there is plenty of information as to this need on the InterWeb’s.

Internet Distance - Will this ‘partnership’ be done solely over the net?
Are you both in the same country at least, so the same laws apply etc.
You can protect yourself, but its tricky if work gets sent outside the US.

Game dev collaboration is often littered with horrific stories, just reality.
Try to only give out piecemeal sections, not the core game assets. So…
If possible break up the workload into isolated sections / keep control…

My question is simple … you are taking this person on board to help with your game but you are in a situation where you feel like you have to protect the assets and game. I would recommend not collaborating then … you aren’t ready to do it. I fully collaborate with another developer on his project (@karl182) and I would not be doing it if I wasn’t comfortable with collaborating with him. The same applies to him, we have not met in person but have been friends for a few years and he initially did some sound contract work for me.

We are releasing the game through Steam which is running off my business, he fully trusts me and I fully trust him. If you can’t get that right then you are wasting your time trying to collaborate. I would not collaborate with just anyone, but you need to get the trust relationship right first or the project will never work.