Not too long ago, GameSpot had an article showcasing an unlikely fighting game called My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic. I knew about this game long before GameSpot featured it, but I thought that getting exposure from a major website was a huge boon. Who would have thought that a fighting game about ponies would make it on the front page of one of the biggest video game sites in the world? In the article, there's a quote from Mane6 team member Jay Wright: "Hasbro has been very supportive of the creativity in the fan community, in all aspects. Plus, I think it helps that we're developing a game that would otherwise not exist at all."
Today, I discovered that Hasbro sent a cease & desist letter to Mane6. What happened to the support?
Let me set things straight before I continue: Hasbro is completely within their rights to stop any and all content that infringe on their IP, whether it was intentional, non-intentional, for profit, or for non-profit. I'm not writing to complain about the C&D. I'm writing to question whether a C&D is an appropriate response when there could be an opportunity to generate more interest towards a brand.
My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic.
Fan-made games getting a C&D is nothing new. Highly anticipated games get shut down all the time. Let's look at two popular fan games that got shut down, and I'll try to explain why it was a missed opportunity for the IP owners.
Streets of Rage Remake
Streets of Rage Remake is a remake of the famous Sega Genesis brawler series. The game was created by Bomber Games, a team based in Spain. SORR keeps the same basic story, where the goal is to take down Mr. X and his empire. But the remake includes remixed music, branching paths, new cutscenes, the return of Adam, and various game modes, such as volleyball (complete with the first stage music from Super Adventure Island!). The game also let you change certain mechanics; so if you prefer, say, SOR3's combo system instead of SOR2's, the option is present. You can see for yourself how much work and content went into creating SORR. Soon after Bomber Games completed the project, Sega sent their C&D letter. The only way to experience SORR now is if someone downloaded the game before it got taken down. If you know someone with the game, please check it out because the team did some amazing things with the series.
Streets of Rage Remake. An awesome game...if you can find it.
I wonder if there's anyone internally at Sega who played SORR in its entirety and thought "this is really good work!" When I learned of the C&D, I was baffled as to how a company can just shut something down without giving it a second thought. I'm no expert on law, but could Sega not have worked with Bomber Games to produce something official, instead of removing it from existence? I'm sure that Sega is aware that there are fans of their old IP; SORR is proof that, if Sega took the time, they might be able to turn interest into dollars. I would've paid for something like SORR, at least.
The termination of this game is well-known. I'm sure there are some people in a corner of the world who hate Square Enix to this day for handing out a C&D. I don't think I have to explain where Square Enix went wrong here. Oh wait...I just did.
Don't count on the current Square Enix to release a CT remake...or even a new Chrono game.
Like I said, you have to wonder if anyone not from the legal department saw what fans were making and thought, "wow, this is some good work. I wonder if we could do something with this..." I feel that handing out a C&D isn't always appropriate, even though it's entirely a company's right to do so. Thankfully, there are some companies who let things slide; there are numerous Mario games that can be found if you look hard enough. One game in particular, Super Mario Bros. Crossover, is notable for having properties from multiple NES games, wide open for anyone to see. And then there's Mega Man, where you can practically stumble on a random 8-bit fan game. Actually, I'm glad I brought up Mega Man, because Capcom deserves mention for something they did that more companies should consider before handing out a C&D: endorsing a fan game.
Street Fighter x Mega Man: An Example Of An Alternative To The C&D
It's easy for a Mega Man fan like myself to get excited for a promising MM fan game, and SFxMM was no exception. But what surprised me was Capcom's active interest in the game. Normally, Capcom just turns a blind eye to the millions of MM fan games out there (I plan to make one myself!). I'd be surprised if they sent a C&D for any of them. But here we have a fan game that was endorsed by a company who could have easily shut down this game, but instead promoted it as part of their 25th Mega Man anniversary and released it as a free downloadable game.
We know they're watching us make these games...why not leverage the interest they generate?
Now, imagine what Sega or Square Enix could have done with the games that they shut down. They could have made a similar gesture and promoted SORR and Chrono Resurrection, giving their respective brands more awareness, and possibly generate active demand for a new game. That new demand would then turn into dollars. Capcom stressed that they wanted everyone to download SFxMM directly from their site instead of downloading it once and sharing the game with friends. Can you guess why?
Your Fans Love What You Do. Why Punish Their Expressions Of Love?
Going back to the MLP situation, it's kind of hard to believe now that Hasbro is supporting fan works when they decided to shut down Fighting is Magic. A common thread among C&Ds--and what bothers me most about them--is the timing in which they're sent. Hasbro knew about this game long before GameSpot featured it, so why did they wait until now to halt the project? I doubt they're planning on making a fighting game, but it's a safe bet that Fighting is Magic at least brought brand awareness to a community who would not have looked at MLP otherwise. Reports within the community suggest that Mane6 had a hit on their hands; even some of the show's voice actors played the game and were excited. Instead of running with the excitement (or "hype," as it's called in the fighting game community), Hasbro's legal team killed it. As I said before, I'm not a law expert, so maybe there's more to the issue than what I know, but from where I'm sitting, it doesn't make sense to stamp out potential gold mines, especially when there's no malicious intent.