On Fan Made Videogames
During the past 20-odd years, fans of videogames have engaged in various attempts to re-create or expand on the works that they love so much. I still recall with some fondness when, at the age of 12, I decided to “write a book about Shining Force”. Of course this “book” turned out to be nothing more than a poorly written retelling of the first two chapters of the original game, but the concept that fans could “do something” to offer tribute was there.
This is by no means unique to videogames. Anime fans constantly create their own amateur mangas with original stories with characters from their favorite titles, and writers of fanfic take characters from novels and series and follow them through potential pasts or futures. With the decreasing cost of technology and increased accessibility of high quality media, even fan films are a common trend.
Now, while fan fiction and fan films are a gray area when freely distributed and completely illegal when distributed for money, most authors, producers, and publishers recognize fanfic as a product created by their customers. By and large, they acknowledge that these fan productions are a show of appreciation for the brand – a sign of loyalty, so to speak – and as long as they are not being distributed for profit, or the production doesn’t show the characters doing something uncalled for, they tend to turn a blind eye (notable exceptions being Disney and JK Rowlings). When it comes to videogames, however, publishers tend to spam jargon in the form of “hey stop it” letters to the fans who want to do nothing more than give tribute to the franchise they love so much.
While the most notable case is that of Chrono Ressurrection, other notable cases include several My Little Pony games, a few King’s Quest fan titles, a Crash Bandicoot title (although to be fair this one was cancelled due to lack of manpower), and even a Megaman title. Making fan movies of videogames is somehow ok, but the instant someone tries to make a fan game and it comes to light, there is a cancellation (with Nintendo being a notable and most excellent exception).
This approach, I think, damages the industry by causing irreparable damage to the goodwill of fans. Not only are fans not allowed to share their love for the franchise, but they are also feel threatened and attacked.
It is with pleasure, then, that I read that Capcom – the same guys who have lost fan goodwill by mistreating Megaman during his birthday – decided to endorse a fan project this time around. If you head over to Capcom’s Unity page, you will see that Megaman vs. Street Fighter, a fan made game, will be released on December 17th. Capcom, seeing that the product was of good quality, decided to offer it officially for free.
Given that there is a relatively small number of fan productions in videogames, specially when compared to fanfiction and fan films, I think that it is in the companies’ best interest to adopt these fan productions as official. The fans who make the production get to share their production with the gaming community and have a game title under their belt when they go job hunting, videogame companies have a new title for distribution that did not cost anything to produce and which could be monetized through donations, ads, or X-Box Live / PSN Marketplaces (although I would strongly encourage free distribution for PC, as Capcom is doing with this title), companies get to protect their IP without coming across as bullies (which earns them the goodwill of fans), and fans get a new game in the series they love.
Now, I’m not saying that companies should endorse every single fan production. I have played some fan games that were less than stellar, to say the least. However, if they want to make their consumer base happy, it is in their best interest to endorse and adopt the better fan productions (My Little Ponies: Fighting is Magic comes to mind as a candidate) while telling authors of the less impressive titles to include a fair use disclaimer that their title is not affiliated and unendorsed. If companies do this, they will earn a lot of respect from gamers and the gaming community will be all the better for it.