19 January 2017
Has 'legacy' been locked down like the mechanics of Magic or the 'living card game' name?
The legacy genre continues to be one of the hottest topics of discussion in the world of tabletop gaming, with last year seeing the format’s pioneer Rob Daviau releasing his first fully original legacy project, SeaFall, and other designers beginning to incorporate some of the innovation seen in Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy in their own games.
But, as the ‘legacy’ name continues to gather momentum on the back of critical acclaim and fervent anticipation, who actually owns the rights to the word and its unique mechanics? Are other designers even allowed to use legacy-like elements in their own games? Or are they risking landing in legal hot water?
Two lawyers from the McArthur Law Firm have answered these questions as part of a fascinating chat with Daviau himself about the origins of the legacy genre as it arose through his creation of Risk Legacy while still working at Hasbro in 2011.
Making reference to Wizards of the Coast’s tight legal grip on the very mechanics of Magic: The Gathering, which were patented for 20 years until their expiration in 2014 (suggesting we might see a lot more Magic clones in coming years) and Fantasy Flight’s trademark of the ‘living card game’ name, which can’t legally be used by any other designer or publisher – even if their title is an LGC in format – the lawyers ask whether Hasbro opted to lock down the use of legacy as either a format or descriptor.
As you might expect from the release of Pandemic Legacy and SeaFall, both of which were not published by Hasbro but Z-Man and Plaid Hat, respectively, it seems that the toy giant decided not to patent either the name or mechanics of ‘legacy’.
According to Daviau, Hasbro’s lawyers weighed up the possibility of patenting the ingredients of Risk Legacy but ultimately left them to enter the public domain – meaning anyone can make a legacy game AND use the word ‘legacy’ to describe it.
“A search of the United States trademark registration and application database produces no results for ‘Legacy’ by Hasbro or anyone else that covers this genre of game mechanics,” the lawyers clarify.
It turns out, though, that Daviau is the one who regrets not staking his claim to the burgeoning genre, telling the McArthur lawyers that he wishes that “he could both control the kinds and quality of games that use the term and collect a licensing fee for his creation”. However, he admits, “that opportunity has long passed”.
So there you have it: outside of inspiration, there’s nothing stopping designers and publishers making their very own legacy games. With the genre still in its early stages, it should be exciting to see what the next few years bring. Who knows, perhaps someone will even create a spin-off of the genre that becomes its own industry-transforming innovation – they might want to do the legal paperwork, though.