First a bit of sad news, my game will not be called Sportsball. I started this game as a side project in 2009, and had my life been where I wanted it to be, I’d have finished it long ago and this would have never come up. Rather than form a band called “Shoulda Coulda Woulda and the Might’ve Beens”, I want to focus on the positives. But let me back up a bit and tell how this all unfolded for me.
When I quit my job earlier this year, I did so not just to make my current game, but to commit myself to being an independent game developer. I did it to throw myself into the fire and force myself to find a way to make it work. I had very little idea what I was doing.
I followed the advice of a post by Ryan Morrison and submitted my trademark for Sportsball. At the time, I couldn’t find any other games with the name, and thought I was in the clear to submit. I was nervous about it. It was a lot of money for someone who just gave up their income. The term “sportsball” seemed to be getting used a lot more on the internet than it was 5 years ago, and I thought my worst nightmare would be finding out someone else took my idea and rushed to market with it.
As time passed, I felt more confident. I was getting my game out there as best I could and it was coming along slowly but surely. I didn’t think about it, and focused on what an indie game developer wants to focus on: the game. Months passed all too quickly.
On Monday I got a tweet from @Too_DX asking for my email address. I clicked and saw “Creators of #sportsball“. Once I pulled myself out of the fetal position, I called my attorney. Not because I wanted to go all lawsuit crazy, but because I was scared. I know very little about how trademark law works and thought my nightmare scenario was coming true.
“Sportsball” was the very DNA of this game I’m writing. As someone who never really followed sports, as someone easily confused by sports discussions, and knowing very little else other than terms like “touchdown”, “slam dunk” and “scoring goal units”, I wanted to create a game that said “SPORTS!” in a way anybody could understand, and even the most hardcore sports fan could find joy in. The idea was, and is, to embrace the classic gameplay of sports games back when they had to be fun, because they couldn’t be accurate.
My attorney helped me understand the situation, what the possible outcomes were, and helped assure my hopes that there could be an amicable solution to the issue. So I got in touch with TOO DX.
At this point I still had no idea what would happen. I had no idea what their point of view was. I didn’t even know who I was dealing with. The unknowns were stacking. What I did know was their game looked A) great, B) much more polished than mine, and C) nothing like my game. In fact it looked a lot like Joust, and I friggin love Joust.
The call was set up. I had a huge sheet of notes I was going to go on about. I was going to try to argue why my game was “more sportsbally” than theirs in the nicest way possible. I didn’t feel like I had any legs to stand on other than “I filed first” which, it turns out, is not the be-all-end-all for trademarks in the US. But as soon as we started talking, I realized these guys are just doing what I’m doing. They wanted to get past this and focus on their game. And I found out how far along they were.
This quote from Ryan Morrison’s article deserves an underline:
You are all set to go to market, heck you might already be there. But wait! Are you seconds from having it all taken away?
It was clear how much more they had invested in the name Sportsball, and how much more was at stake for them. Either of us could be jerks about it, but we’d both be wasting our time and energy fighting over a name instead of working on our games and promoting them. We’d be doing what we hated instead of what we love.
I thought not so much about what I would do in their situation as I did what I would hope someone would do in mine, if it was me months away from release. One day we’ll all be working on different games, and what good would it serve either of us, let alone the indie game community to throw around more legal crap and negativity? When we look back on this, what will we wish we could have spent our energy on?
It also was clear how I am just starting out, how many lessons I have yet to learn, and although this was a crash course in one area, there are many other fronts Tipping Goat needs to work on. Here are some guys that are where I hope to be. They are just as passionate about creating fun experiences as I am, and heck, they’re even making a local multiplayer game; which is something I care about a lot. To me “social gaming” has always meant playing a game together with your friends on the couch. These guys were clearly would-be allies in the good fight.
At any stage here, they could have said no. They could have said “cease and decist any and all blah-blah-blah”. But instead Auston and Ned of TOO DX came off as the types of dudes I would want to play Sportsball with over some pizza and beers, be it on a field in uniform, or on the backs of giant birds. The players in my game are still playing a sport called “sportsball”, but it will not be the name of the game any longer.
In a truly bizarre world where the words “Candy” and “Scrolls” are fought over in courts, my sadness over giving up the title was overshadowed by the fact that real actual human beings can still behave like such. Even if it’s a little guy vs. littler guy dispute, it felt like Goliath vs. “zygote David” in my mind.
That’s my long-winded story. It may not seem like much, but when it’s your potential livelihood out on a limb, it feels a lot bigger. It’s kind of silly the story even needs this many words. The short version is: Humans shook hands and made great games. I wish we could all behave like this in the game industry.
Look for Sportsball from TOO DX coming soon on the Wii U!