Legal Requirements for Mobile Games

Last updated on 25 August 2022 by Jocelyn Mackie (Former civil litigation attorney. Content legal strategist at TermsFeed)

Legal Requirements for Mobile Games

If you have a new mobile game to launch, it's essential that you protect your game's intellectual property and add the necessary legal agreements.

These early steps protect your business interests and assure that users enjoy game within the rules and limitations you set out for them in the Terms & Conditions agreement.

This article is a summary of what you should consider in terms of intellectual property and legal agreements for your mobile game.



Mobile Games & Intellectual Property

Intellectual property describes non-tangible interests such as creative productions, graphics other unique expressions.

Your mobile game may contain music, graphics, character voices, a story, and other unique characteristics that would be considered your intellectual property.

You need to not only to assure your ownership of these elements but also keep other developers from using them to your detriment.

Copyrights

A copyright protects artistic expression. When you register your copyright, you limit the rights of others to copy or use your creation in additional works.

This process prevents other developers from duplicating your game or making another version of your game to compete against you. If they do so anyway, you have the legal standing to stop the use because you registered it.

Before you register your copyright, you must first assure all the elements of the game belong to you or your company.

Games have the potential for several copyright registrations. Several people worked together to make your game a reality including voice actors, musicians, and graphic artists. Technically, any of these individuals can register a copyright for their part of the game and make it impossible for you to distribute the game as a whole.

You prevent this from happening by having these individuals sign their potential intellectual property rights over to you or your company.

This is easy if they are employees since that's usually part of the employment agreement--anything they create while working for you belongs to the company, not them.

If you hired independent contractors, you'll need to execute a similar agreement with the same provision.

This portion in an employment or independent contractor agreement is called an "Assignment of Intellectual Property."

If you create original works like mobile games, this assignment is an essential provision in your worker agreements. The following is an example of an Assignment of Intellectual Property taken from a generic form online:

Example of Assignment of Intellectual Property clause

Once you confirm your ownership of all elements in a mobile game, register your copyright.

Without copyright registration, you'll not have a legal basis to pursue damages for infringement should a former worker, independent contractor or competitor copy or develop your game or parts of it without your permission.

The process can be completed mostly online and is simple to do.

You can also register with the EU Copyright Office if you want to retain your rights across the EU market.

After registration, place notices on your website and through your mobile game letting others know of your copyright.

Nintendo offers the following legal notice on the copyrights it holds on Pokemon. Notice the "c" indication next to the names and registration years for the products. That shows registration:

Nintendo and Pokemon: Legal notice on copyright

This gives third parties notice that you registered and own the copyright to your game and all its elements including music, characters, graphics, and even special effects.

Trademarks

Trademarks are distinguishing marks and names for your game. They include game titles and logos, rather than concepts, graphics, and other elements.

You want to protect your mobile game marks and names because they help you stand out in the marketplace.

You protect a trademark by filing an Intent-To-Use Form before you start distribution. It describes your title or mark and how it is unique. Once registered successfully, you can use the title or mark to market your game.

Trademarks show their status with the small "TM" near the mark. You can see this in small print on the right side of this Pokemon Go logo:

Logo of Pokemon Go: Trademark TM symbol

Marks do not need the "TM" to enjoy protection.

Candy Crush Saga, the popular game developed by King.com Ltd, does not display the "TM" after its Candy Crush logo:

Logo of Candy Crush Saga: No TM symbol

However, it displays its trademark and copyright ownership notices at the bottom of its website. This leaves no doubt of its interests:

King website footer: Marks and Logos of company are trademarks

You can see the same notices across app stores.

These are the trademark and copyright notices for Candy Crush and Pokemon Go on the profile page of the mobile game:

Candy Crush Saga mobile game on App Store: Copyright notice on profile page

And here is the copyright notice for the Pokemon GO mobile game from Nintendo on its App Store page:

Pokemon GO mobile game on App Store: Copyright notice on profile page

One thing to know about publishing platforms is that they distribute your game and a means to sell your game but are not necessarily looking out for your business interests.

Even if there are default agreements that are binding for your game users - for both the App Store and the Play Store - you are better off creating your own agreements to set out the terms and rules.

There are three legal agreements to consider:

  • A Privacy Policy is required by most jurisdictions in the world. You risk liability if you do not have Privacy Policy.
  • The other two agreements include the Terms & Conditions (T&C), also known as Terms of Use or Terms of Service, and the End User License Agreement (EULA). These agreements are considered optional because there are no legal requirements for them.

    However, it's nearly impossible to enforce your legal interests without them.

Privacy Policy for Mobile Games Apps

A Privacy Policy is required in the U.K., Australia, the state of California, and other countries. It explains how you handle a user's personal data.

In this agreement, you'll also describe how you collect the data and if you disclose it to any third parties.

Privacy Policies for mobile games are not much different from other apps.

You'll list the information you collect through your mobile game, how you collect it, and indicate that it will not be transmitted without permission.

Pokemon GO in its Privacy Policy explains that data collection defines the game features for the user, how these features are used, and that the frequency of the features use is tracked so the company can make improvements to the game:

Pokemon GO Privacy Policy: Information Related to Use of the Services clause

It's also possible that your game will collect and share collected data to address technical difficulties.

This also needs to be in your Privacy Policy. Here's how it is addressed by Pokemon GO:

Pokemon GO Privacy Policy: Information Shared with Our Services Providers clause

While the Privacy Policy should be linked through your website, users should also be able to access the agreement from the App Store or by following the link to your website from the Play Store.

When Pokemon GO is downloaded from the App Store, the user can see it on the initial screen:

Pokemon GO mobile game App Store profile page: Privacy Policy link

Terms & Conditions for Mobile Games Apps

The Terms & Conditions (T&C) are the rules for using and playing your game.

Terms & Conditions contain any payment requirements, community standards, and restricted uses. It can also include liability disclaimers and other useful clauses specific to your game.

While it's not an absolute protection, like copyright or trademark registration, the Terms & Conditions addresses intellectual property interests, too. Normally this is done through a license to use and play the game.

Niantic develops an augmented reality game called Ingress. In a section called "Right in App," its Terms & Conditions agreement explains to users that they may copy, download, and use Ingress. However, they cannot modify it, reverse-engineer it or distribute it:

Niantic and Ingress mobile game Terms & Conditions: Rights in App clause

When you include rules of conduct in your legal agreement, it gives your business grounds to terminate an account if a user harasses another or even engages in illegal activity.

Plarium develops many interactive games including Vikings: War of Clans. In its Terms of Use agreement, rules of conduct address user age, false accounts, and unauthorized advertisement. It also includes harassing behavior. Any of these behaviors result in users being removed from the game:

Plarium and Vikings mobile game Terms of Use: Rules of Conduct clause

However, don't assume that if you have a single-player game with little or no interaction between users you don't need to list rules of conduct.

Two Dots is a puzzle game available on the App Store and Google Play. In its Terms & Conditions agreement, it offers an extensive rules of conduct that includes primarily intellectual property violations:

Two Dots mobile game Terms & Conditions: Rules of Conduct clause

EULA for Mobile Games Apps

The End-User License Agreement (EULA) applies when a user downloads, installs, and uses your game.

The EULA agreement is most relevant for games that require more resources on the user's end rather than requiring constant Internet connection. Rather than access your game through a cloud server, a user makes a copy of the game for their own use.

This agreement contains similar content to a Terms & Conditions agreement but it is much more narrow:

  • Terms & Conditions agreements contain a right to use the app but also payment terms, rules of conduct, and licensing terms.
  • EULA focuses mainly on intellectual property rather than behavior.

If you distribute your mobile game through Apple Apple Store, you have the benefit of a default EULA. It's a basic and broad agreement which offers your business some protection.

This is the general license granted in that agreement:

The Scope of License clause from Apple standard EULA

However, if you require specific assurances, like defined uses of the game, use restrictions, termination of accounts, and liability limitations, you must investigate creating your own EULA.

Microsoft Office 365 distributes apps through Apple, but created its own EULA. These are the specific provisions it prefers under "Scope of License."

The Scope of License clause from Microsoft Office 365 EULA

When you use an Android platform like Google Play Store or Amazon Appstore, you will not have a default EULA available.

The platforms have their own developer agreements and Terms of Use to follow if you distribute through them. These contain important provisions, like the ability to charge, offer refunds, and licensing. However, they do not offer additional intellectual property protection.

After reviewing the differences between Terms & Conditions and EULA for your mobile game, you may decide you do not require a EULA or if you distribute through Apple, that Apple's default EULA is adequate.

In many cases, a Terms & Conditions agreement with defined licensing provisions works well for most developers of mobile games.

Create Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions and other legal agreements in a few minutes. Free to use, free to download.

Get started today ⇢

Screenshot of TermsFeed Generator

Jocelyn Mackie

Jocelyn Mackie

Former civil litigation attorney. Content legal strategist at TermsFeed

This article is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice.