Fan-made games are getting quite a bit of attention this month, thanks to two very important projects that were years in the making. In August, we ended up receiving both Another Metroid 2 Remake and Pokemon Uranium for PCs. The former was ten years in the making and is a complete remaster of the Game Boy’s Metroid 2 with new graphics, gameplay elements from Metroid: Zero Mission , new enemies, new areas, and all sorts of improvements. The latter is an original Pokemon game that took nine years to complete and has over 150 new Pokemon, online multiplayer and trading, a Mystery Gift system, new region, new story, new moves and a new typing. Both are incredible, ambitious projects that show what people will do for games they love. Both are also probably going to get shut down.
While some companies are okay with fan-made games, leaving them be or ignoring them, Nintendo is not one of them. AM2R has already begun receiving the sorts of legal notices that could stop “official” distribution. With Pokemon Uranium’ s growing popularity, it’s only a matter of time before it too receives the dreaded notice. But should companies leave fan-games like this be?
Certainly, companies like Nintendo have an obligation to protect their copyrights. Letting little projects like Pokemon Uranium or AM2R slide could build up to larger, worse things. We could see actual, official studios attempting more blatant knock-offs of major titles. And there absolutely can be an argument made that projects like this would keep someone from playing an existing game like a Metroid Virtual Console release or Pokemon Go. There is a potential for damage here, even if the creators of these fan-games tell their legions of players and followers to also buy the official products.
At the same time, we have to look at the limitations of these games. We in gaming know about them, because we love these series. Ordinary people who aren’t online or playing games for hours every day won’t be as informed about such endeavors. They don’t know about a game like AM2R or Pokemon Uranium until we start talking about it. Even then, they are more likely to note that it’s cool and move on, rather than actually play it. These are very clearly homages. Money isn’t changing hands. If anything, it’s building up more hype for official games, because these fan-made games remind us of those good times.
In a perfect world, there’d be some sort of protocol for such things. If a project was too close or too similar, using existing assets, music, or characters, maybe like AM2R does, the company holding the copyrights would send a notice before people invested years of their lives in it. There’d be some courtesy, to keep things from going so far and offering hope they’ll be able to exist. If a project is like Pokemon Uranium and original enough, with enough things that are inspired by, but not taken from, the source, then it would be allowed to go about its merry way. That would be the ideal situation.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world that allows for such ideals. There aren’t shades of grey that allow projects like AM2R and Pokemon Uranium to peacefully coexist alongside Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Pokemon Sun and Moon. Fan-made games should be able to flourish undisturbed. People should be able to make tributes to their favorite titles and share them with other fans. But, it’ll probably never happen. Which means we’ll have to quickly grab these games once they are released and savor the experiences while we can.