Fan games are often a grey area when it comes to legality, but there’s one factor that I think should allow the majority of them to stay up: they’re not for profit. There’s occasionally a scandal about fan projects setting up Patreon accounts, and that’s dubious, but most games I’ve seen (and worked on) have not had anything close to this. They’re labours of love by passionate fans who want to bring their own ideas to a franchise they love.
Look at the booming Sonic fan game scene. There’s been some tremendous games like Sonic: Before the Sequel and Retro Sonic Nexus, amongst others. In fact, SEGA liked what they saw so much that they employed Christian Whitehead (one of the guys behind Retro Sonic Nexus) to work on Sonic Mania, which has been the most well-received Sonic game in years. Similarly, CAPCOM released Street Fighter x Mega Man, which was initially a fan game developed by Seow Zong Hui. When companies embrace talented fan developers they can create some fantastic, innovative games, rather than crushing their spirits and potentially pushing them away from game development.
In an age where the Pokémon franchise seems to always be stumbling into some kind of controversy, many fan games have been crushed. Nintendo is notorious for stamping out fan projects, and when news of a cease and desist gets out, gamers are never happy. It’s almost seen as the fat cats trouncing on the little guy, especially when they own the most profitable media franchise of all time and are so reluctant to letting fans express their creativity. This is one case where SEGA does what Nintendon’t. Thankfully, we still have Pokémon Insurgence and Pokémon Infinite Fusion. For now.
At the end of the day, video games are an art form. As long as fan games aren’t seeking profit, it doesn’t seem right to stop them in their tracks. I’ve worked on a few before doing pixel art and it’s rarely about making money, it’s about giving something back to franchises that have brought us so much joy over the years.
As much as I would personally love to see more fan-made games in the market today, whether parodic or otherwise, the fact of the matter is that copyright laws are in place for good reason.
While this might seem like a cop-out in that I ought to have more interest in independent development of fan-made games, hear me out: laws protecting producers will in turn protect us, the consumers. That the latest game of the long-running Mario series, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, sold over 8 million copies by the end of 2020 is proof of this point – as long as there is profit to be made, we can expect a steady flow of Mario games to entertain ourselves in the future.
Although it is true that games are ultimately a form of leisure, there rarely is a self-satisficing behaviour operating behind most triple-A titles or games of considerable quality. In wanting to maintain this status quo of ensuring our entertainment, therefore, it would be necessary for strict copyright laws to exist. A lax in these regulations could equate to a loss in revenue for Nintendo developers, decreasing their motivation for innovating and creating a new Mario game of good quality.
This is in the event that an independent developer creates a fan-made game that gains significant traction – and let’s face it, out of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of fan-made games, how often would you find a real gem that could outshine an experienced, well-funded and cohesive team of developers under corporate control?
Of course, the situation is far from a simple enforcement of copyright laws and striking down every and all fan-made games on the Internet, and perhaps there is a need for separate regulation regarding the matter. After all, there have been a multitude of notable fan-made or fan-modded games including the Counter-Strike series or HD remakes of older games. Nintendo’s active suppression of most, if not all games with latent potential may be excessive, but perhaps this is the price that must be paid for a good Mario or Pokémon game.[Featured Image: @SonicLegends20 on Twitter]