The Lesson Game Companies Should Learn from Sonic Mania
Jonathan Anson / Jan 25th, 2018 No Comments
With the growing availability of digital tools, it has become more popular for video game fans to show their appreciation by making new content based on their favorite classic games. It’s hard not to come across some kind of unofficially sanctioned game projects involving characters such as Sonic, Samus and others.
Yet, some major game developers don’t seem to appreciate these fan projects. In many cases, they have minimized, regulated and shut down unsanctioned projects involving their characters. Is it time to end the persecution?
Now You’re Playing with Copyright Law
Nintendo has an ongoing crusade against those who do not comply with strict copyright laws. The gaming giant has shut down high-profile non-profit fan games such as AM2R and Pokémon Uranium and made many DMCA claims to remove videos from Youtube featuring Nintendo properties.
The company does not seem to be concerned that its strict policies could be polarizing some gamers, especially the ones who are spending hours of time meticulously creating odes to Nintendo’s work.
It’s not just Nintendo. Blizzard Entertainment and Electronic Arts have also earned scorn for shutting down fan-run servers that allowed players to connect in older versions of World of Warcraft and Battlefront.
Of course, game makers have a right to claim the property they own, but one company recently did something unique that should serve as a model for the industry. This company actually rewarded its fans for their appreciation.
Sega Does What Nintendon’t
Rather than requiring fans to take down unofficial projects that sometimes took years to make, Sega let its fans make a new Sonic the Hedgehog title for the franchise’s 25th anniversary.
Sonic Mania, an officially licensed Sonic game released in 2017, was an homage to the franchise that was essentially created by members of the Sonic fan game and ROM hacking community. Sega began working with Sonic fans to port classic games before development began on Sonic Mania in 2015.
While it’d be easy to think that entrusting such a major project to a group of unproven game designers would result in a lackluster Sonic title, the total opposite happened. Sonic Mania broke a 15-year curse of critical to mixed reviews plaguing the Sonic franchise. The game was a stellar return to form for a franchise whose popularity had been battered by years of bad decisions and underwhelming games.
Sonic Mania also proved to be a major financial success for Sega. A financial report released by the company at the end of September 2017 showed Sonic Mania had sold almost double the amount of packaged titles the company sold in the third quarter of 2016. That ironically saw Sega net a huge boost in cash flow during the third quarter of 2017.
This success was all due to Sega rewarding a passionate, technically savvy group of Sonic fans for their support for the franchise. Tp paraphrase a famous old marketing jingle, “Sega does what Nintendon’t.”
Sega shouldn’t be the only company embracing its most passionate fans. Successes like Sonic Mania show that there is truly untapped potential for games and content that can be harnessed by supporting the imaginations and fervor of fans. There are ways that big companies could benefit from such support.
Sadly, this probably will not become the norm anytime soon. Big name gaming companies continue to wage war against those who freely use their copyright. While companies like Nintendo may see a fan game or film depriving the company of money, others see it as harmless free promotion. Such non-harmful appreciation should be repaid with tolerance.
Not only that, the passion and skill fan game makers show could be harnessed by game companies to revitalize its beloved franchises. Why not grant the most talented and skilled creators an opportunity to help? Sonic Mania’s success alone should stand as a testament to how that strategy could bring gamers and game companies together.
tags: AM2R , nintendo , opinion , Pokémon Uranium , sega , Sonic Mania