How to Use Licensing to Launch a New Board Game

In today’s competitive board game industry, licensing can be a faster and lower risk way to get your board game into the market. Before licensing your game, you’ll need to identify and protect your IP rights. Keep in mind your game is developed from several types of IP including trademarks, copyrights, and in some cases even a design patent.

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Your game name as well as character names, logos, graphic designs are part of your trademark. Distinctive card layouts and game pieces can be protected as trade dress. Your copyright covers your game theme and includes the written rules, game board, card artwork, and other elements. How the game looks can be protected as a design patent, which can prevent others from creating a game that looks like yours.

For example, one of the worlds best known games is Monopoly. Originally invented during the 1930’s (during the depression), its trademark is one of the most well-known board game names. Hasbro, who owns the game, has trademark registered hundreds of variations of game names ending in -oply”.  Its distinctive artwork (such as the railroad icon; the images for the “Jail,” “Go to Jail,” and “Free Parking” spaces), game cards (i.e.Chance and Community Chest card designs), and the game’s money are all protected as trade dress. There was also a patent on the Monopoly game, covering the rules, game layout and player movement, and the real estate aspects (i.e. rent, buildings, etc) of the game.

Board games can be licensed in many ways. For example, you could make and sell your game, and license it to a different company for publication and distribution in another country. You can license your board game in different formats, such as a PC game played against the computer, or as an online version for multiple players. You can also license by platform, limiting each license to a single platform or platforms, such as iPod or Xbox,.

Another strategy is allowing your licensee to sub-license your game (they become your master licensee) and act as both a manufacturer and agent for your board game IP. They re-license rights to your game, and pay you a part of the royalties they get from the sub-licensee. If you go this route, be very clear about what rights can be sub-licensed. And make sure your master licensee is a reputable company.

Your first step is to find out what companies make and sell games like yours. Two quick ways to find out are visiting retail stores and researching online (see article on Finding Licensing Partners). Trade shows are another way to find potential partners. Two big ones are Toy Fair and the Game Inventors Expo. You can meet them and find out who to contact in the company. You may be able to show a prototype, but remember, they’re focus is selling their products, so it’s often better to schedule a follow-up call or meeting after the show.

Here’s a couple of key points to keep in mind when licensing your board game. The first thing a potential licensee will want is information about your game. Develop a short licensing profile outlining the board game, why it’s better, and how it fits the licensees business. You can tailor it for each company. Game companies get lots of submissions, so make sure yours is concise and to the point. Make sure your prototype has been thoroughly play-tested and game-play is tight and the rules are clear. Publishers aren’t interested in conceptual ideas nor half-finished designs.

If you license internationally, be clear you own the rights to these expanded versions (also known as derivative rights). For example, the foreign company may want the right to develop an expansion, such as an extra game board, or new components designed to integrate with the original game, or other rules.

Make sure the royalty is payable on their net sales and includes any derivatives of your board game. Detail the formula used when calculating the royalties, such as per unit or per download. Depending upon who you are dealing with, expect a royalty of somewhere between 2% and 5% of retail sales (or 7-8% of gross), and perhaps an advance against future royalties.

Include performance clauses that specify when they’ll start selling the game, and a minimum guarantee or amount of royalties payable during the licensing term. If they want a renewal, base it on reaching a certain sales or royalty payment benchmark (such as 150% of the minimum guarantee).

Before disclosing any confidential information, be sure a potential partner signs an NDA. Otherwise you run the risk of someone coming up with their version of your game.

Licensing your board game is often a faster and lower risk route to the market. Before licensing your board game, make sure you’ve registered your trademarks and copyright elements, and if your game is unique and novel enough, consider a design patent. When licensing your board game, make sure you’re clear about what makes your game unique. Research potential partners to make sure your game fits their business model. Most importantly, develop a compelling presentation that shows the licensee why your game is different and how they will make money with it.


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