by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games LLC
When we did our first PLAAY Games survey a couple years ago, one of the things people said they liked best was our willingness to share our card-making formulas. Obviously, from a business standpoint, offering "How-To" guides is sort of a double-edged sword in terms of economic sustainability. However, I feel like we have the greatest community in the sports game hobby, and there's always been an unwritten code of sorts between us regarding sharing of one's sports game stuff. With so many new members in the community, though, I thought it would be wise to maybe spell out that code a little bit, with some personal thoughts on PLAAY Games' "open source" gamer creation philosophy...
Back when I established PLAAY Games, twenty years ago, I wanted to empower gamers to be able to create seasons and card sets for their own personal enjoyment. That desire is unchanged all these years alter. Interestingly, though, as the internet has evolved from novelty to necessity, and with the burgeoning of social media as one if its by-products, the concept of personal enjoyment has expanded to include the personal enjoyment and satisfaction one gets by sharing their creations with others. I'm not saying that's wrong (in many cases), or that it's a bad thing. I'm just saying that it wasn't what I envisioned, and that it puts PLAAY Games in an awkward position of having to simultaneously serve AND compete with our community.
Technology is fueling this phenomenon: digital tools and online resources are available now that weren't in place twenty, even ten years ago! With the help of Excel, Adobe PDF and (sports)-reference.com (to name just a few), the community has the ability like never before to create and consume its own product, rather than relying on PLAAY Games to provide it for them. On the surface, this makes my practice of providing the "How-To" recipes seem fool-hardy from a business standpoint. It allows PLAAY Gamers to make "professional grade" card sets—but even more than that, since they're unshackled by trademark law, licensing fees and royalty requirements by which we as a company have to abide, the community can (and does) incorporate professional logos and brand assets like uniforms and player likenesses into their cards, something we can't legally do as a business.
I'm not lamenting this (well, maybe I am, a little!), merely making note of it. It's my belief that the path of culture and commerce has always taken unexpected twists and turns. My job, as owner of the company, is to figure out a shrewd response.
Frankly, there's a great deal of gray area here. I feel it's tricky to tell people what they can and should not do. Sure, we could dictate terms in the sphere over which we have some control (i.e., the Delphi Forum, company and community Facebook pages, etc.), removing content that we think is problematic. Lawyers are available for everything that we feel we need to pursue outside that sphere. But in the end, I'd really rather be making and playing games than monitoring, legislating and litigating.
So, let me just go on record with as clear a policy as I can express, relying on the good will and fair-mindedness of the community to understand and abide by it...
Please understand that we naturally have varying levels of support for fan-released card sets. Often we are VERY excited about a home-brewed set, and it'll wind up in the newsletter for maximum exposure. On the other hand, if someone posts their own version of something we have already released or are planning to release, I think people would understand that we'd not be overly enthusiastic about it. In a broad sense, it's not difficult to recognize that the availability of free, fan-made card sets dampens the demand for our own for-sale card sets. Our hope is that we make up the difference in goodwill and increased hobby participation.
One final thing. Copying and pasting team logos and such into your home-brewed cards (or helpers) for your own personal use is perfectly legal and acceptable. But it's my view that if you share them, you're taking a legal risk--even if you're not selling them. Professional sports organizations like MLB and the NFL are notorious for aggressively protecting their brands. If a digital copy of your card set winds up on somebody's computer screen at league headquarters, to me it's not a given that they'll think "ah, it's just some fan-made thing, no worries."
Here's the way I look at it: if I made a bunch of t-shirts with the official Colorado Rockies logo downloaded from the internet and gave them away for free to people outside Coors Field, would the Rockies care? You bet they would, they'd shut me down within 30 minutes. It wouldn't matter that I wasn't charging money--the Rockies would assert that it negatively impacted sales of their own shirts, or demeaned their brand, or both. If I was lucky, they'd let me off with a warning. Now, I'm not a lawyer and these are simply my own personal views, but I believe they are informed views and valid. Again, please note the distinction: you can do whatever you want for your own personal use but once you start sharing, that's where the potential trouble could begin.
To close, let me reiterate that one of the greatest things about our community is the respect shown between members and the trust we've built together. That's why I have been mostly silent about this in the past, and am hesitant to bring it up even now. I'm grateful for a community that has my back, and takes care of each other in ways that transcend cards and dice. "Do The Right Thing"—that's something this community has always consistently done, and will, I'm sure, continue to do. THANKS!
Questions? Comments? Let us know!