I don’t play many fan games. I don’t ever read fan fiction. I do understand why people desire to create both, however. Many fans love the stories and universes created by others so much that they wish to partake in the creation of their own small space inside those worlds. Some fans want to simply write stories about the characters of those universes. Others undertake to develop entire fully functioning games. In other media, you also see things like fan films, cover songs, and fan art. So why do fan games receive more discouragement and legal threats?
Over the past couple of months, we have seen quite a few high-profile fan games come and go. Perhaps most notably we have seen three games which are based off of Nintendo properties: Another Metroid 2 Remake, Pokemon Uranium, and No Mario’s Sky; and another based on a Sega IP: Green Hill Paradise Act 2. Player reactions to all of these games have been almost universally favorable. Players enjoyed the reimagining of old series and their fusion with different concepts. They enjoyed playing games which they believe honor and celebrate the series’ original vision, sometimes even better than new official entries. Overall, they simply enjoy well-made games which feature some of their favorite characters and gameplay ideas, no matter the creators behind them.
The reactions from the official developers of those series have not been quite as uniform. Nintendo, not keen on seeing others develop games with its characters, issued takedown requests under the DCMA to all three games related to their brands. On the other side of the spectrum, Sega released public statements encouraging Sonic fans to continue making fan games, while also barbing Nintendo about its more conservative reaction.
In all of the cases above, the games were inspired projects in which the creators wanted to pay tribute to series and games that they love. They were not trying to supplant Nintendo or Sega. They did not try to profit off of their creations. They knew that their games were non-canonical side works. Just like the authors of millions of words of Metroid, Pokemon, Mario, and Sonic fan fiction, the developers just wanted to honor the creators of the original games by trying to create something on their own inside those worlds. Their works of fan fiction just happen to be interactive.
Sega has the right idea. Fans should be encouraged to develop their own games from their favorite series. What better sign that fans are engaged with your brands than that some are willing to spend their free time and effort creating content inspired by your games? Companies shouldn’t discourage or threaten people whose creations are entire games — arguably the most inspired and involved of all fan content. Instead, Nintendo and others should celebrate that their creations have been so influential to others that some people are spurred to try making games themselves.