Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Merchants of Venus

There was a bit of a stir last week at Essen, when two different publishers announced that they had secured the rights to the (out of print) Merchants of Venus game.

Stronghold Games has been working with the original designer, Richard Hamblen. Fantasy Flight Games has been working with the descendents of the original publisher, Avalon Hill (now a division of Hasbro).

So who legally holds the rights to produce the game?  That's the million dollar question.

Something that I haven't mentioned before, 

It's entirely possible that both publishers could do versions of the game, provided one of them doesn't use the original art and rules text.

Yes, really.
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.
Of course, then one of them may claim the other has published a derivative work and another kettle of fish (which I freely admit to not understanding at all) is opened.

We could have another Scrabble vs Scrabulous situation, here - and there is some excellent analysis of that (now old and resolved) situation here. It may also turn into a Steam/Age of Steam debacle.

Personally, I'd like to see both versions hit the market - Stronghold has a history of doing an excellent job with their various reprints, and Fantasy Flight has done an excellent job of cleaning up and/or chroming their reprints.

But that's not likely to happen.

As one BGG user said:
So the situation on the rights of old Avalon Hill-games is as unclear as people always said, eh? Very bad for all involved parties and maybe no one really is to blame.
Here's hoping that it ends well for all - including the fans.

But you'll forgive me if I have my doubts of a positive outcome.

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