Nintendo goes after fan-made games, because things never change
In a move that will likely alienate some fans but shouldn’t surprise any, Nintendo has issued a DMCA takedown of over 500 fan-made games. All of the targeted games reference Nintendo properties, some more than others, but the one thing they all share is that they fell under Nintendo’s litigious eye.
One of the properties that received a DMCA notice was AM2R, a painstaking recreation of Metroid II that took eight years to develop.
The unofficial remake was released for free and came out in time to coincide with Metroid’s 30th anniversary. Nintendo, on the other hand, did nothing to celebrate the franchise. In this case, the fan remake was arguably good for Nintendo, as it excited a nearly dormant fanbase. But Nintendo sent the DMCA notice along with more than 500 others.
It’s actually somewhat remarkable that Nintendo waited this long to bring the hammer down. Many corporations have teams dedicated to smiting upstarts that would dare to make something that touched on an existing property. On thing is for sure though, if you are a fan of a particular property your options on how to express your fandom have become somewhat limited.
It’s just the sad reality of a world where companies tend to be overly protective of their properties. Fans can spend months, even years lovingly creating something that they think honors that original work. The company that created the original can then end the fan project without a second thought. There’s no appeal, and intentions mean nothing.
From the company’s point of view, it’s just protecting itself. There is no way of knowing exactly what that fan will do with the original brand. It’s one thing to create a game with Mario going fishing, it’s another to make a game with Mario in, say, a porn or killing puppies. It could hurt the brand, even if it is unofficial. Beyond that, there is a risk that if a fan makes a game based on Mario that’s similar to the traditional Mario games, it could lure fans away that would otherwise be waiting for the next official Mario release. Why pay $60 for a new release when fans are creating similar games for a fraction of that price, if not free?
The fan is making money on a game based on the hard work of others, and that isn’t fair. Even if they aren’t charging, they are still receiving attention, which to some is worth just as much, if not more. Most fan-properties aren’t going to make a dent on profits of the original, nor are they going to embarrass the brand, but it’s easier to just treat everyone the same, as Nintendo did, and take them all down. It also sets precedent. What Nintendo hasn’t done, however, is show any regard for those fans.
it makes sense to stop unauthorized fan projects, but it’s tough to explain to the public – just ask Star Trek fans, who enjoyed several high-quality fan films, some even starring Star Trek cast members, before CBS decided it had had enough. The studio killed any future projects, and threatened any existing ones as well. Given how tight knit the Star Trek community is, to many this felt like a betrayal of everything Star Trek stood for. The fans were quick to voice their displeasure.
The backlash against CBS was swift and fierce, so much so that the studio relented and instead found a compromise. Fans are welcome to make fan films, but they have to follow the official guidelines. The guidelines are fairly restrictive, but it’s better than a lawsuit. It isn’t ideal, but it at least shows that fans looking to make their own Star Trek-related projects aren’t completely cut out.
Nintendo is showing less flexibility, but that isn’t surprising. It has a history of being controlling – sometimes overly so – of its properties. Back when the NES was king, Nintendo was notorious for its rigorous and secretive approval process. It also forced developers to pay the manufacturing costs of the cartridges, even though Nintendo was the one that manufactured them.
A subsidiary of Atari, Tengen, found a way around this and even managed to crack Nintendo’s encryption so it could produce its own cartridges without Nintendo’s approval. Nintendo sued the developer, of course, but also went to retailers and warned them that if they stocked Tengen they may find themselves without any new Nintendo shipments.
Atari eventually sued, claiming that the Nintendo’s practice of forcing developers to pay Nintendo a manufacturing fee for cartridges was an antitrust violation. Nintendo countersued, claiming patent infringement. The case went through the courts for years before Nintendo emerged the winner.
That case was years, even decades ago, but it highlights Nintendo’s nature. It sets its own guidelines and anyone that tries to step outside of them finds itself at odds with the Mario-maker. There is no discussion, no second chance. This DMCA attack is just another indication that even after all these years, Nintendo hasn’t changed.