Developers are going to find it increasingly more difficult to protect their game mechanics under copyright law following a ruling from a Texas court judge.
The ruling stems from a case in which DaVinci Editrice sued Ziko Games over a game with mechanics that were identical to its own, GamaSutra reports. DaVinci’s board game Bang! is based on the Wild West, while Ziko’s Legend of the Three Kingdoms is themed on Chinese history.
Despite the mechanics of the two games being identical, the court ruled that the "expressive" elements – such as art and aesthetics – weren’t similar enough between the two games to warrant copyright infringement. It stressed that the mechanics of Bang! cannot be considered as "expressive" and that the lack of a fixed progression of events means the gameplay cannot be protected by copyright.
Given that the outcome can be different every time, the court suggested the game was more like basketball than The Legend of Zelda.
"Making certain roles aligned and others opposed is part of the game’s winning conditions, but these determine little about how players will progress through the game," the ruling reads.
The ruling also referred to this clause concerning what can be protected: "In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."
It’s disappointing for developers at a time when so many games, particularly on mobile, are cloned and reskinned by other companies. However, GamaSutra notes that this also means most basic and commonly used mechanics are legally available to all studios.