Fan Games: Where and How to Draw a Line?

I’ve enjoyed fan games since the days of dial-up internet. When I was in middle school, I used to get a thrill out of downloading sprites from Sonic games and making my own “fan game” in the Klik ‘n Play game creator, which usually consisted of some of the barest Sonic levels in existence, but damn if I didn’t give it my all.

Before I continue, I’d like to note that I’m simply using one example for simplicity’s sake. I love Nintendo, despite their flaws, but if I were to use examples from across the industry, this post would become a book.

These days, most of my interest is in the form of Pokemon hacks, which quickly became robust during the late 90’s. Nowadays, a dedicated and talented individual can recreate a game to make their own region(s), Pokemon roster, move list, you name it. Most recently and notably, Nintendo shut down a hack known as Pokemon Prism just before its release, which the fanbase retaliated by releasing the hack online. How they acquired it from the developer is anyone’s guess, but the results are what matter in this case.

The first question on my mind is why anyone would want to make a fan game when they could simply find an official Pokemon game to play. The developer spent 8 years working on this hack, something he had no intention to use for profit. More importantly, why would Nintendo wait until the last minute to send a C&D? Perhaps they were trying to give the creator time to quit the project before bothering with the paperwork? In any case, it appears to me that the creator wanted to create his own experience. Anyone who’s played the official series on a regular basis knows the regions inside and out. The fans want more, possibly faster than Nintendo can keep up, so the fans begin creating their own regions through ROM hacks/Game Maker/RPG Maker, etc.

I’m aware that Nintendo has the right to do what they will with IP under their ownership, but to delete the work of the fans which often spend months, if not years piecing together their own designs is a low blow. Some might argue that Nintendo is struggling with sales on the matter, but despite the fan game scene, Nintendo is still reaping in huge sale numbers with their franchise. With that being said, their strategy of shutting down developed fan games, as well as the YouTube video fiasco appear as a slap in the face. If Nintendo was facing a significant loss due to the practice, then I could understand the legal action, but do they really believe that the fans would bother creating the games if they didn’t like the official series?

Nintendo could benefit from hiring hack players by playing the games while gathering what the players enjoy, then incorporating the ideas into the main series. Yes, there would be some issues in terms of copyright in that regard, but surely an agreement could be arranged between the developer and Nintendo. For example, the new games (Gen 6 onward) are a tad… easy to me. I understand that the difficulty level is geared towards younger players, but the adults in the audience want a little more bite to our creatures again. Nintendo could easily incorporate a challenge mode similar to what BW2 had to offer. The only tradeoff for the fans would be a longer development time for beta testing.

Nintendo has their rights, but I personally see potential in reading what the fans want to create a better experience, one which would entice people to buy more of the official series. Furthermore, more leniency on their IP would give the company a better image as a whole, allowing Nintendo to be seen as “good guys”, rather than a strict nanny who whips a child if a strand of hair is out of line. Hopefully Nintendo, as well as other video game companies, can find a happy medium between protecting themselves and allowing the fans their own creations.

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