The Strange World of Fan Made Games
Video games create some of the most passionate fans of any entertainment media. They create fan fiction, artwork, music, and videos revolving all around their favorite games. Heck, one guy even made it so that he could control most of his house through an ocarina by playing songs from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Some fans take their love and creativity to the next level by creating a fan game. Some are very well-made and clearly are intended to look like the original game, while others are shameless re-skins of popular games on different platforms.
Here are many different scenarios that lead to the rise of fan made games, what happens when a publisher notices the game, and some of the dangers of fan made games for both consumers and the industry.
Different Reasons to Make a Fan Game
Every person who works on a fan game probably has a different reason, but many have similar types of reasons: some do it because they want to update an old game, others want to make a tribute to their favorite series, and others just want to make money.
Recreating and Updating an Older Game
Many older games don’t get the love that fans want, whether from the general public or the publisher. This might come from a dislike of modern games or a passion for a game from their childhoods. Many fans take it upon themselves to update the visuals or even mechanics in their favorite classic games so they can better enjoy them.
For example, multiple times fans have tried to recreate and improve on the Metroid series, especially the first few games. These improvements have included HD graphics, changing the art style to be more modern, or adding color to a black and white game (like Metroid 2 for the GameBoy.)
Love the Game, Creating Their Own Entry
When a game franchise has multiple releases, certain parts of the gameplay will change. Whether it’s transitioning from a 2D to 3D enviroment, not adding features wanted by fans, or making drastic changes that “ruined” the series, games evolve over time.
So, disgruntled fans often work, sometimes together as a group, to create a fan game that takes the series in a direction they want. An example of this was the Pokémon Uranium fan game. A group of fans created a game that included many of the features they liked from the series but also inserted many of their own ideas.
Cashing in on a New Trend
Sometimes, a game becomes so popular that people want to make a fan game that is highly similar to the original in hopes to make money off the trend. This is extremely popular in mobile games with copycat versions, but some are cropping up for PC games too.
An old example is all of the clones of Flappy Bird when that was a huge trend. At its peak, there were over 800 Flappy Bird clones, all trying to make a quick buck.
Similarly, Five Nights at Freddy’s is another game that has led to tons of fan games. Not only did the game create a new genre of horror games, but many have latched onto the animatronic concept also.
These cash-ins can have a negative impact on the game industry and the original developers. They can potentially pull willing customers away from the original game or mislead them, pretending to be the original. If the fan game isn’t as good, players might think the original is just like it and never give it a chance.
What Happens When a Game Company Notices a Fan Game
Fan games sit in a weird part of the gaming industry. If it’s small enough and is free, most game companies won’t bother. But, if a game starts to get any amount of attention, that is when a game company takes action.
Now, in instances like with Nintendo, they will probably send a cease-and-desist letter and try to take down any footage of the game. Other companies, like Five Nights at Freddy’s developer Scott Cawthon, is cool with fan games as long as they don’t infringe on his characters and branding. Finally, some companies like Sega are cool with people creating Sonic fan games and even somewhat encourage them.
But, the most common action is the one Nintendo takes: trying to shut them down. So, the fans behind the game have a choice: either they shut down the game, or they have to change enough of the game so it doesn’t infringe on the company’s properties.
A prime example of this was one fan creating a Legend of Zelda Maker game, similar to Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker. After receiving a cease and desist letter, he transformed his original idea to just make a top down adventure game similar to Zelda but without any of the characters or sprites.
The Dangers of Fan Games
Fan games do pose some dangers to gamers. Anytime you look at downloading one, either to your phone or computer, you are downloading a program made by a stranger. Many fan games are designed to disguise dangerous malware meant to attack smartphones. Always be cautious of downloading a game from an untrusted source, even if it’s hosted on a trusted service like the Google Play store.
In some instances, fan games could present a real financial issue to companies too. This is especially concerning in instances where a fan game, like a graphically updated Metroid, might pull sales away from the original creators. While it might be hard to feel bad for a massive corporation like Nintendo, this same type of thing could happen to small independent developers too — people who desperately need every sale they can get.
Modding and the Future of Fan Games
Modding brings a different ability to influence their favorite games. They can inject their own ideas directly into games, with some actually encouraging it. Not only can mods be used to fix problems and bugs in games, they can bring new gameplay items and drastically change cosmetic elements. One example of this is being able to inject characters from different franchises into the same game. Modding has even become so popular that it is starting to come to consoles, in a limited fashion.
As modding becomes more normal in games, smart game developers will encourage it. One great example of this is the developer of the XCOM games paying attention to what people were saying on social media about the fan made Long War mod. For their most recent game, XCOM 2, they even supported and encouraged the same people to make another mod for it. Not only does this show a developer cares about their game for the long term, but that they are connected to their fans.
Hopefully, the world of fan games can continue, as it leads to more people getting involved in game development. One great success story is Toby Fox, the creator of Undertale. One of his first experiences in game development was creating a fan ROM hack of the game Earthbound. Now, he is the holder of multiple game awards and famous in indie game development.
What are you thoughts on fan games? Do you think they pose a real problem to the industry, or should be encouraged? Let us know in the comments below!