A friend of mine was trying to figure out options for creating a role playing game related to creative properties and I was wondering what licensing options were available with various systems, GURPS was asked about specifically. Anyone have any information about what you need to do/go through to use a rule system for a game around your own creative property?
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It depends on the system, since the creators' attitudes vary so much. Most companies are not eager to give out these licenses as that makes you competition for their products, but there are enough exceptions to make licensing a system a reasonable route to go. As a rule, you will need some kind of written agreement to license a system.
For GURPS specifically, SJ Games does allow third-party products that are "Powered by GURPS". There is little information on that page about what sort of licensing terms SJG will ask for, but they have been and appear to continue to be willing to work out private licensing deals if people are interested. If your friend really wants to consider GURPS, they can certainly contact Steve Jackson Games and find out what licensing the system entails so they can decide whether it would work for them.
Assuming your friend owns the other creative properties, you could also ask Steve Jackson Games if they're interested in creating the game for you. It's not clear how much creative control would be retained in that case, but if your friend is going to be contact SGJ anyway (and is interested in someone else doing the job) it may be worth finding out at the same time if that's a possible route to publication.
Apart from GURPS, the most hassle-free option is using a system that is licensed under the Open Game License (OGL), one of the Creative Commons licenses (CC) compatible with your friend's aims, the Gnu Free Document License (GFDL), or another open license. The advantage of such licenses over a negotiated license is that the license can be used immediately just by following the terms it lays out, without having to negotiate directly with the rights-holder of the system. There is a list of open games at Wikipedia. The most notable of these are:
Another option is to license one of the systems owned by publishers that advertise very liberal licensing attitudes. Two in particular have stood out to me:
There are more options of course, as these are just the ones that stick out for me.
And of course, you could always write a game from scratch! There is a long and honoured tradition of learning from the designs of existing games and incorporating that into a new game, so licensing isn't the only option if your friend has any desire to do system design. The actual writing could be done in a week or two if you put your mind to it. The playtesting would take a while anyway, no matter what game system you chose to adapt.
Another game that's wide open on licensing policy is BTRC's EABA game system. It's a generic engine on the order of HERO or GURPS but it is explicitly licensed (under the so-called Open Supplement License) in such a way as to make it very easy for third-party developers to support.
It's a bit hard to find it all on their site, here's a blog post that helps break it down.
I came across the publisher of an RPG toolkit called Myriad a while back. Myriad is aimed specifically at gamers and publishers looking for a 'system' to use for their setting and own commercial works.
Throughout it you are actively encouraged to create derivative works. The author uses a creative commons license which permits derivative works & commercial works but are expected to place the Myriad logo on the product, provide credit to the system author. It says you can actually get these conditions waived if you contact the author directly.
While there are things in Myriad I would change, it may be of use as a starting point?
Sane Studio's is the company behind Myriad and you can download it for free from their website - along with full license details.
Using your above example of a book series, the way to obtain a license would be to contact the publisher and/or author of the book series reqarding licensing their content/property. Being an individual or non-business entity, they are most likely to reject you out of hand with a professional, if confusingly worded letter from their lawyers.
If you or your friend were to be a business, then your odds improve a bit at getting them to at least listen to your proposal. If you go in with a professional, well prepared and thought out business proposal for how you would use their property and why their property would sell well as an rpg, then your odds increase further. Remember, it's all about the sales pitch. You have to go in there with a sales pitch on how, working together, you can achieve great things, especially financial rewards.
But as an individual saying "hey, I like your books, can I license them to make an rpg out of?" You don't stand much of a chance. That is based on my own experiences and those I've heard from other people.