Sonic Mania opening

Sega Rep Says the Company Is (Usually) Fine With Fan Games—As Long as They Aren’t Monetized

Fan games are just another way to show love in fandom.

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In a series of tweets made by Katie Chrzanowski, the Social Media + Influencer Manager for Sonic the Hedgehog over at Sega of America, the company’s policy in regards to fan-made games was laid out.

The thread states:

Hey Sonic fans – I appreciate you all reaching out with concerns over fan games and monetization! So long as no profit is involved, there is usually* no issue with y’all using our blue boy to hone your art and dev skills.

*((for legal reasons I can’t promise all content is ok))

We can handle outliers case-by-case as we notice them, but our goal isn’t to stifle everything. Please do not use this thread to call out any specific groups or people; we’re all learning here and I appreciate how receptive everyone I’ve spoken to has been.

I’ve always felt like this is the way companies should approach fan-made works. Fandom is such a huge factor in how franchises continue to thrive, and there’s no better example of that than then Sonic the Hedgehog—and Sega clearly knows this. One of my favorite Sonic games of all time is 2017’s Sonic Mania, a clear love letter to the blue blur courtesy of Christian Whitehead. Whitehead, for those who don’t know, got his start with Sonic fan games, which led to him making an official Sonic CD port for various consoles, an official port of Sonic 1 and 2 for mobile devices, and the upcoming Freedom Planet 2 with indie developer GalaxyTrail.

I should note that the original Freedom Planet was, once upon a time, a Sonic fan game, but during development, GalaxyTrail’s founder (Sabrina DiDuro) ended up turning the Sonic characters into original creations.

This is something that I think doesn’t get talked about enough: how fans using existing IPs can lead to actually working on these IPs (as is what happened with Whitehead) or being inspired to create your own work (as is what happened with DiDuro). I think companies need to embrace their respective fandoms more, especially since it could lead to them discovering new talent, or at the very least, keeping their IP relevant when nothing is being done with it. There hasn’t been a new Sonic game since 2017 (Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces) unless you count his time at the Olympics, so why not encourage the fans who still love your character so much that they’re making new content?

Also? It’s just a cool way to practice your game development skills. A lot of folks, whether they realize it or not, start with some sort of fan recreation of something they love.

Of course, Chrzanowski’s tweet mentions that this is fine so long as no profit is involved, and there are caveats that Sega will look into if needed, but overall, Sonic fan games are a-ok with Sega.

This sort of stance may come as a surprise, to gamers as there are plenty of companies who have a history of taking down fan-made games. Nintendo, for example, has been known for having cease-and-desist letters at the ready. Two recent cases include an online Smash Bros. Melee tournament being shut down last year (more details via this Kotaku article by Ian Walker) and a major DMCA takedown of nearly 400 fan-made games this year (more details via this Screen Rant article by Zackerie Fairfax).

With the DMCA takedown, Nintendo did say it was because Game Jolt was making money via ad revenue. I imagine this would also be against Sega’s wishes … maybe? Technically, the creators of the games that were removed from Game Jolt weren’t earning revenue from them, according to that Screen Rant article, because Game Jolt is a hosting site for developers to have their games available. Meanwhile, the Smash Bros. Melee tournament (usually an in-person event) had to be online due to COVID, and the host (The Big House) wanted to use a fan-developed mod so the game of choice (Smash Bros. Melee) could run better since, well, Melee is old and needs a bit of help to be able to run optimally online

But Nintendo saw the words “fan-developed mod” and said “no.”

This, as you can imagine, led to a LOT of backlash toward Nintendo, as seen in that Kotaku article.

Honestly, it’s quite the rabbit hole you find yourself in when looking into companies that call for the removal of fan games. Just last week I found out about an amazing fan game based on the 1989 Batman movie. Why am I not showing you any video? Because Warner Bros. has taken it down and is issuing strikes against anyone who even shares reaction videos to it. You can at least read about it, and check out screenshots, via John Papadopoulos’ article for DSOGAMING. What amazes me about this takedown is that this wasn’t even a playable demo, it was a video showing what a fan (Osmany Gomez) had done with a classic IP. Ironically, according to this Game Revolution article from Chris Capel, Gomez was uncertain about releasing a demo in fear of Warner Bros. taking it down.

Gomez is, apparently, a psychic, since we can’t even look at videos of the game anymore—even if it’s someone saying how cool it looks.

I really hope Sega’s stance on fan games is something that trickles down into other companies. I hope it helps them realize that fans aren’t trying to beat them at their own game and are, instead, embracing the work they love, and in some cases, creating amazing portfolios so they can one day bring their talents to these companies they probably dream about working with. I want companies to realize that fan games are just a sign that their creation has impacted us in wildly creative ways, and there’s nothing wrong with nurturing creativity.

(Image: Christian Whitehead)

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Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)