Video Game Law in a Nutshell [Games Law Explained!]

“Video Game Law.”

I should know all about it, since I’m a “video game lawyer”!

The real truth is that “video game law” isn’t really a thing. It’s basically a bunch of other types of law smashed together with a focus on working with video games – from development, to publishing, to players, to eSports, and more!

Read on for more info on what really makes up the legal issues in video games!

Video Game Legal Issues

When I tell people that I’m a “video game lawyer,” they usually laugh at first. They think it’s a joke – that I’m Phoenix Wright or something!

I totally understand. If you’d said that to me before I was a video game lawyer, I’d have probably laughed, too.

But now I’ve reached enlightenment and can better explain exactly what the legal issues in the games industry are. As a general overview, what we think of as “video game law” actually includes all of the following practice areas, and more:

  • contract law
  • corporations/business law
  • trademark law
  • patent law
  • copyright law
  • employment law
  • regulatory law
  • tax law
  • publicity/privacy law

While all of these areas are covered under the larger umbrella of games law, in my practice I concentrate mainly on a few of these.

Intellectual Property Law

This encompasses the law around trademarks, copyrights, and patents, as well as trade secrets. While they all have their own areas of protection and nuances, essentially all of these things are “creations of the mind” that need to be protected.

The reason that intellectual property is such an important part of the legal issues in the games industry is that nearly all of the value in a game is contained in the intellectual property! While there may be some physical assets like computers and office space, the bulk of a company’s value is in the brand names, software code, art assets, and patentable inventions. 

This is unlike a company that manufacturers board games, toys, or other products, where their value is tied up in the actual inventory (though their intellectual property is also important!).

As a quick rundown, here’s what they protect:

  1. Video game copyright law protects your source code, art assets, music, sound, in-game text, and other creative materials
  2. Video game trademark law protects your brand names and logos, including your game names and company name
  3. Video game patents protect inventions, processes, and other novel parts of your game

I’ve got lots of posts related to intellectual property in the games industry, covering video game trademarks, patents, and copyright, if you’d like to know more!

Business Law

Another huge aspect of my video game law practice is business law – mostly starting new game development businesses. As you may know, indie game development has exploded over the last decade or so, and new studios are forming all the time.

For most new studios, it’s essential that there are some written documents that lay out how the studio’s owners will work together and how much of the company they own. In order to avoid fights later on, things like voting, ownership transfers, and each person’s role in the company should be addressed at the beginning.

It’s also important that each owner’s ownership of the company vests over time, in order to avoid a situation where a team member leaves early but retains ownership of the studio. We want to make sure that you can get that ownership back if they don’t hit the predetermined milestones for vested ownership (whether it’s based on the number of years worked or hitting specific game-related milestones).

If you want to read more, you can check out my guide to Indie Game Studio business plans here and my post about dividing up ownership in your game company here.

Privacy Law

Another big aspect of video game law these days is the ever-evolving area of privacy law. You may have heard of things like GDPR or CCPA (probably from the incessant emails notifying you of updated privacy policies!) – but navigating them is another issue entirely.

These laws mainly deal with:

  1. Collecting personal data
  2. Processing personal data
  3. Sharing personal data
  4. Data minimization and other data-related internal policies

Many countries (including the entirety of the EU and many individual states) either have privacy-related laws on the books or are looking to pass them. Understanding the rules you need to follow and getting a compliant privacy policy and internal procedures set up is important to stay in line with the law.

For more information, check out my post on California’s privacy requirements or sign up using the form below to get my eBook on putting together a CA privacy compliance program.

Want to know more?

If you want to learn more about video game law, one resource is a good video game law book. 

To start, you can sign up using the form below for my series of free video game law eBooks, including the 5 Legal Moves Every Game Developer Should Make, which is a great overview of Video Game Law.

I also recommend keeping current on my video game law blog, The Game Lawyer Blog, right on this site.

Another great pick is Video Game Law: Everything you need to know about Legal and Business Issues in the Game Industry, by S. Gregory Boyd. It goes over a ton of different legal issues important to game developers, including publishing agreements.

Zachary Strebeck

Zachary Strebeck

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