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Is it legal to recreate a game level for your own game?

kat · 1 · 1125

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Offline kat

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Q: Is it legal to recreate a game level for your own game?

A (short): In a word, "no".

A (long): There are various answers on the interwebs from more experienced game developers that, correctly (and notwithstanding IANAL) caution against 'copying', 'duplicating' or in any other way 'recreating' a level or levels from one or more game(s) into another, especially if the final product is being monetized, regardless of form that takes (adverts on a download web page constitutes 'monetization'), or at the very least competes with another licenced properties 'brand awareness' (the 'brand doesn't even have to be an active property).

Q #2: What's the big deal? It's not like a levels layout is a thing!

A #2: Well, two things (amongst others) to consider;

1) the design or layout of a level is an artistic or aesthetic expression the same way assets, themselves subject to copyright, are used to express or tell a particular story through interactive means (a level is an asset in this literal sense). Levels are the formative background space of the 'story' that prompts player-responsive actions, just as a movie or theatre production set piece, and differs from the experience of a game itself, the emergent and dynamic play, directed as that is by the way players behave depending on who they are and how they react to stimulus.

In other words, game levels and layouts don't exist outside an expressive story-telling process, ergo gipsum-lorry (said the badly programmed Architect), they're subject to protection (even if that's just at the authors insistence).

2) and probably the most important; the designer wanting to replicate a particular design isn't the one to determine whether something is an infringement or not, the Property owner does; they issue a claim against the alleged infringing party with an eye to prosecute should they need to.

In practice this question of 'replicating' a level is at heart a 'fan art' issue, which is similarly contentious and troublesome; although other game developers engage in it, it doesn't make it "legal" to do. It's not. Just ask the mod team behind Alien Quake about getting FOXed.

And finally, understand that "Fair Use" is a defence, not a claim over, or 'right', to do something.