Big-name companies and fan projects have a complex history. We have seen many come up with their own interpretations of popular properties, only to be hit with a cease and desist letter soon after they release it into the wild. Publishers and owners react to these projects as a threat to their brand.
I, for one, am a fan of fan projects (what a mouthful) – especially when it comes to video games. And often, this kind of censorship feels like a smack in the face to the community who loves a particular company’s work. Fan games need to be encouraged, not destroyed, and when are so protective of your work, you alienate the very people who appreciate your creations.
You Have Nothing to Fear
Nintendo is one the most overprotective company’s when it comes to their properties. They have been relentless in taking down fan projects like Pokemon Uranium and Metroid AM2R within a matter of days. Unfortunately, it is an attitude within the company that will not change anytime soon. What makes things worse is that they ultimately have nothing to fear.
Now, I know that owners have every right to take down copycats and other companies using their properties. However, that doesn’t mean they should. Instead of reaching for the closest DMCA notice, video game companies need to look at each project on a case by case basis. Games like Pokemon Uranium and Metroid AM2R are harmless. Yes, they use Nintendo’s IPs but they are non-profit love letters to the age-old company’s legacy.
Some could argue that the existence of these games threatens the value of their franchises, or that the fan developers are using their properties to gain notoriety. I say, if it comes to that point, then hire them. If fan developers are good enough to make popular interpretations of your franchises, then bring them on board and profit from their skills.
What has me more worried about the shutdown of fan games is the fact that big companies are discouraging future game developers. So many well-known developers got their start making their own versions of their favorite games. Today, mods and fan games are met with so much hostility, that I fear these young developers will lose any inspiration they had for creating their own original work.
Not everything is bad, though. Some companies embrace their fandom. Look at Sega’s attitude towards fan games. They support their community’s creations. I have recently had the pleasure of playing Sonic Utopia, a fan game created by The Great Lange, Murasaki Fox, Tpot, and PixandPixels. While rough around the edges, it presents a unique level design, unlike anything I’ve seen in a Sonic game. Sega might even take inspiration from them.
Honestly, it is time for companies to stop being so afraid, and change the rules by which their community uses their licenses.