Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Windmills of the Gods...

... grind slowly but surely.

Latest update on the technical front: I finally got the Elthos RPG Web Application switched over to the new hosting service. Hopefully this will vastly improve the site's performance. It will probably be a couple of days before I have all of the configuration work finished and the site back up and running, but for now, I'm OK with the switch. It was a bit more complicated to do than I expected, and the regestrar for the domain is still not switched over. For that I will have to wait two more months and try again. Not the most efficient infrastructure I've ever seen, but that's the Internet for ya.

On other news, I went to the Small Business Administration and found out some interesting stuff. My question was: What do I need a Patent for? This conversation went on for an hour. The upshot is that there are no clear answers. Making such decisions are the equivalent of being a commander in the middle of an ongoing war. You have to quickly size up the terrain, make a decision, run with it, adjust as you go, hope you didn't make a business-killing mistake. It's fun.

The questions around patenting Elthos RPG boil down to two things:

1) is it worth trying to protect the application from copy-cats?
2) is it essential to have a patent in order to partner with other companies later on?

In both cases the answer is (predictable enough): it depends.

For example, it depends on who you are trying to protect from copying your application. Is it a small company that could be deterred with a few legal notifications? Or is it Microsoft or Google, who have infinite resources to crush you in court?

The same "it depends" applies to the second question. Of course.

The problem with the Patent is that it can be enormously expensive ($200,000+) to go through the process of applying for it, it can take years, and it can in the end be denied by the Patent Office anyway - in which case you spent a fortune for nothing. On the other hand it could possibly cost as little as $3000. How do you know what the cost will be? You don't. Why? Because - it depends. How many times does your lawyer have to go back and forth with the Patent Office? It depends. How many billable hours will it take to create the documentation for the Patent? It depends. Etc.

Then there is the question of "What does a Patent do for me exactly?" ... Again... it depends. In some cases it might help to deter a small company from trying to copy your product, or it might encourage a mid-sized company to negotiate a deal with you. On the other hand, if the company copying your product is large and doesn't give a damn, then the Patent is only as good as the amount of money you have to spend in court trying to sue the offending behemoth. Others have tried to do the same, and died in the process. So, it depends.

Another irksome issue is the question of International Patents... you can get a Patent in America, but in the case of an Internet application... if the copy-cat is in China, then forget being protected by your American Patent. They won't care. And then again, if you do have a (much more expensive and time consuming to obtain) International Patent, which is really getting an individual patent in every country on earth that allows it (not all do), they still may not care. And when you go to sue the copy-cat in Bangladesh, their Authorities may just laugh you off the phone. So what protection does a Patent afford you? It depends.

Overall, the setup is fraught with perils. It's a war out there, and if you're going to head in that direction, you better be prepared to take your chances.

Which gives some idea why Entrepreneurship in the Capitalist world is so exciting, and so risky. You *can* make it big - but you are definitely spending your resources on a risky venture in which there are never clear answers. You just have to try it, and be prepared to be destroyed by the competition, and lose everything you put into it, and then be galled to watch others make their fortunes having stolen your idea. If you feel that you could not possibly stomach that outcome, then according to the powers that be - just stick with your day job, and forget about inventing anything and bringing it to market.

For me, I'm in the process of evaluating the options, and trying, like any good wargammer, to maximize my chances of success. Unfortunately, time is also a factor. The longer it takes for me to sort through all of this and learn the ropes, the more chance there is that someone else with better connections and understand will produce something close enough to what I'm doing to make all of my efforts in vain.

There is risk in every direction. Of course.


Willow Palecek said...

Glad to hear that Elthos is on track Mark!

As you are probably figuring out, the benefits of a gaming patent are far outweighed by the costs. This is a hobby industry, and there's simply not that much money at stake. Furthermore, anyone with the drive and passion to publish a roleplaying game is going to want it to be theirs, something they labored over with love, not something they stole over the internet. Plagiarism, is extremely rare.

(Not to say it doesn't exist, but usually the targets are the big guys- see the recent AD&D OGL snafu.)

Some of the most popular games out right now, including Pathfinder, FATE, and Eclipse Phase are some version of Creative Commons or another Open License. This means that most, if not all, of the rules are available free online. However, this does not seem to be a deterrent to sales and play, rather the reverse- people like free stuff, and are likely to follow up with a physical sale for the book itself.

vbwyrde said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Willow.

The patent consideration is not for the Elthos Rules Book. It is for the web application I designed and built. I do want to bring it forward to the world, but I want to make sure I do it in a way that does not put my project at risk. I could offer it for free, and that is not necessarily a bad idea. But before I decide that, I want to research all of the possibilities. My thought was to charge a very modest fee for the use of the web application. I am thinking $1 / month might be a reasonable price. Maybe $2. The site has a lot of features, and I think it is reasonably well designed, and functionally it does a lot of GM grunt work for the Elthos RPG. It doesn't run other systems, but only my One Die System at this point. Of course I plan to expand on it over time, so it will get better as time goes on. But before I put it into the public sphere I want to make sure I do not make a bad decision and put it out into the public before I understand what the pros and cons are, and what the possibilities are.

One thing that would annoy me greatly is if I decide to put it out for free, and some other company or group decides that the idea is good, and with a larger more advanced team make a version that does well in the market and they make a lot of money and I don't make any. Of course, I am also thinking this over as well. Maybe that is not such a great concern. It may be very improbable, or even if it does happen, maybe it would not bother me too much anyway.

At this point I am evaluating and doing research and thinking things over so I know what the lay of the land is. Then I will make a decision and move forward. But with an understanding of the environment.