As part of a longer opinion piece published on Gamasutra today, designer and educator Ernest Adams has taken a strong stance against patenting video games, suggesting that the entire concept is flawed and encourages "patent trolls".
Explaining his argument into why patenting gameplay concepts - something done by major companies from Namco Bandai to Midway and beyond - is bad, he suggests:
"The US Patent and Trademark Office has taken a much more vague approach to determining what may or may not be patented. Its guidelines for patent examiners requires that the invention produce a concrete, useful, and tangible result, and gameplay patents are being allowed.
I assert that the very definition of a game precludes its gameplay from constituting a concrete, useful, and tangible result. A game takes place in a pretended reality -- the magic circle. Its mechanics are not concrete, useful or tangible; they are make-believe.
We may choose to place a real-world significance on them, as when we bet on the outcome or give prizes to the winners. But this significance is arbitrary, because games themselves are arbitrary -- that's why they're games. The creator of the game can change the rules at any time.
In short, because they are arbitrary, game rules are not machines or processes for solving real-world problems.
They are not inventions at all in the normal sense of the word. They are imaginary systems. Unlike mathematical theorems (which cannot be patented), game rules don't even have to be coherent -- though obviously they should be for playability reasons."
Adams' conclusion on the subject, which is readable in full as part of his in-depth Gamasutra column on the subject, reads as follows:
"The fact is, gameplay patents, especially on video games, aren't going to make anyone rich in and of themselves. A game is a hit for aesthetic and emotional reasons, not because it contains a brilliant new way of computing battle damage.
The only way a gameplay patent can make someone rich is by patent trolling -- waiting for some party to innocently infringe on the patent and then suing them. And that's not a way that I want to see this industry going. Our creativity is already under threat from enough directions without us terrorizing each other into mediocrity with the threat of lawsuits."
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