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About 8 months ago a small game development company approached me to write dialogue for quests. They loved my writing and I quickly became the narrative designer for the game. I had to use characters they had premade and they had only made about 30 pages of dialogue content.

Over the next 8 months I wrote hundreds of pages of quest dialogue and remade the game. I also did many other things as well and spent hundreds of hours working without pay. Their developer kept telling me he would get funding and even made contracts we never got to sign.

I am tired of working and making this game with little help for no pay.

If I leave, will they be able to take all my content and use it since I wrote with their characters?

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  • Are you in the US? Are you in California? They probably made a mistake by doing that. I'm not a lawyer, but without a contract, you might be considered an equal partner of the game dev company. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 8 '17 at 2:06
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    no offense but this sound like one of those situations where you leaped before you looked and the fact you spent so much time working for no pay and without a signed contract shows bad judgement on your part – Memor-X Jun 8 '17 at 3:24
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    We are not lawyers here, and we don't know where you are or what laws are in your jurisdiction. Your situation could be anywhere from "too bad, you're screwed" to, as @StephanBranczyk suggested, "you are an equal partner." You should probably contact a lawyer and ask for advice. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 8 '17 at 12:29
  • @StephanBranczyk Partnerships are a legal entity, not an informal agreement. And, patners are liable. – user23046 Jun 8 '17 at 23:42
  • RobtA, Yes, that's a good point. He shouldn't make this claim willy-nilly. He needs to consult a lawyer first and bring him all written communications he had with that person. The lawyer can then decide. Obviously, if the business has formally incurred debt under its name, or if the written communications show a different type of relationship, then the OP may not want to, or may not even be able to go that route. What I wanted to highlight is that he may have much more leverage than he believes, depending on the jurisdiction he's in. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 9 '17 at 7:16
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That's a legal question above the level of mere anonymous commenters on the Internet. If you feel that there is enough money involved, talk to a lawyer. Here is what your lawyer will ask you, so know the answers to avoid wasting your time and money:

(1) Are there any written agreements at all? Note that e-mail may, in some circumstances, be considered a written agreement (depends).

(2) Was there any relationship by which you would be considered to be an employee? Did they provide office space,or a computer? Did you have to report at particular times and places? Did they provide any compensation at all, whether in the form of pay or something else? Or, just "maybe someday" comments?

(3) Can you prove that you did the writing? This is important. "Why" you did it, or "for whom" you did it, is not the question. I repeat: Can you prove that YOU did the writing? If so, was your writing according to script or outline provided by them (known in some circles as "copy") or was your writing original, merely based on general character names and theme? Did you write after seeing the specific game scenes, or prior to that?

(4) Did you do anything that would relinquish or transfer your copyright?

(5) Did you do anything that granted them a license to use your writing? If so, on what terms?

(6) Assuming that your were paid at a "writer's rate" rather than by "hoping to make big bucks via stock options" rate, how much money would be involved? I have no clue as to what a "writer's rate" is for something like that, but I imagine that an experienced writer, not a known name, would get about $30 per hour of writing (not per hour of game time).

(7) Have they actually used your work in a product that they are selling? Or has it only been used internally, as a demo?

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Generally speaking, any work/time/materials you are going to create for a company should be contract signed first. Signing them "later" should be a clear sign that something may not be right. Being that this is for a game, most of the time you would have needed to sign things such as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). They wouldn't want you to take their ideas and run off to a competitor who could complete it say better or faster and screw them out of their creation. Make sure you have all of your hours documented and logged as well as all of the material you created for them. Save all email exchanges between you and this company especially in regards to your work and pay.

Like others have said this is something you will need to take a serious look at with a lawyer. As RobtA pointed out too... if they have actually already implemented anything you have done in the product as a demo/marketing commercials/released to beta and they have made money off of it, that's basically Intellectual property (IP) of yours that they took without proper compensation.

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    Right. And I add: Contrary to an earlier comment, t is probably against the OP's interest to assert that he is a "partner," because (a) partnerships are a legal entity; (b) partners are liable. – user23046 Jun 8 '17 at 22:55
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    Having made that earlier comment RobtA referred to, I actually completely agree with RobtA. The OP shouldn't assert anything. He shouldn't divulge any of his cards. He should consult a lawyer, preferably before the other party does. The lawyer will know what to do. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 9 '17 at 7:06

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