It's safe to say that 2016 has been a rocky year as fans of just about any media. The passing of so many rock legends and movie stars, not to mention the current state of political affairs... it's enough to make anyone a little depressed.
We've also witnessed the death of several notable and even highly anticipated games – at the will of those who own the very titles they bear. Ok, so perhaps it's not actually death or murder of any sort, but it does feel like it as a fan, and I can only imagine what some of these developers are going through.
When you work on a game for 6 years only to have it squashed but two days after release, it can't be anything but heart-breaking.
Don't think I'm trying to paint Nintendo and other corporate publishers as the bad guys here, however, I am quite well versed in copyright law and am well aware that using any established properties in your own work is potentially inviting legal trouble or at the very least, a cease and desist.
As we have seen several times this year, the owners of said properties do have ultimate control, and will execute it as necessary. Earlier this year, Nostalrius, otherwise known as "Vanilla WoW" was forced to close its servers by Blizzard. At the time, it had approximately one million users. Blizzard had seemingly created an atmosphere of potential cooperation leaving some hope for a resurrection, but has apparently since been unresponsive. In that time, however, in typical internet-hydra-esque fashion, two more independent servers have risen in its wake. Time will tell how long they last, but it's safe to say there is a significant user base dedicated to keeping the mission alive.
More recently, we've seen a small, but ambitious developer's honorary Star Wars: Battlefront successor denied by Electronic Arts who cited: "Their main concern was due to the possibility of Galaxy in Turmoil taking away attention from their Battlefront franchise."
No shit. A team with heart and soul willing to put years of work into a game and release it for free, compared to whatever shallow, over-hyped and overpriced production EA tries to pass for a "AAA" game. (Yeah, I didn't like the new Battlefront, at all). Thankfully, that plucky group are still moving forward, but without the Star Wars brand.
As if only to follow suit, mere days ago, Nintendo put the brakes on one man's 6 year project called AM2R, an attempt to painstakingly remake Metroid II: Return of Samus, just two days after he finished it. This is another title that hits me hard, as I have always been a big fan of the old Metroid side-scrollers. It's difficult to see some of these big publishers as anything but evil through nostalgia-laced tears, but I promise I'm not writing this piece as a hate-fueled emotional outlet.
It's their property, they can do whatever they want... but it doesn't have to be that way.
Modern intellectual property ownership is a bit tricky in the 21st century. With how easily distributed and accessible digital information is, owners are understandably defensive. With piracy and even blatant theft an ever present reality; as a large, corporate entity, it becomes an important part of your business model to combat anything which might cut into your own sales.
While we could certainly debate the ethical boundaries surrounding piracy, as well as how they're related to legal boundaries especially on a country-to-country basis. What's illegal here, isn't necessarily illegal there, etc, etc... But at the end of the day, a business isn't going to see it as anything other than a loss via theft, and stealing is bad, m'kay?
What we're talking about, however, is not exactly stealing. When a guy takes an old game, adds colour, modernizes the UI and improves upon what was already a stellar product... are we talking about theft anymore? It's leaning more towards a cover song, or remix, and we see those by the thousands on YouTube. Especially if they aren't charging for it, or claiming it as original. Even though an independent may have created it, the original owner still gets to claim royalties.
So why doesn't it get to work like that with games? They already own it, technically. If you make something, and put someone else's name/brand on it, they now own it, and can do whatever they like with it. If they made something good, would you want to throw it out? Wouldn't you want to thank them and put it up for everyone to see? You could reap the rewards from both yours and someone else's work! Not to mention, that someone else already loved your original work.
My point is, instead of killing their dreams, these companies could simply hire the developers.
They simply do not have to do anything other than that. The product is already theirs if it bears their original brand, artwork or code. Instead of sending them a cease and desist, they could ask them to charge $20, and give them $10. Now everyone's happy, and everyone gets paid.
I also realize some people have quite successfully taken the safe route with homages, as well. Stardew Valley was a wild success which could have easily been titled Harvest Moon 2016. An original title meant a successful homage without the legal woes. The developers of the crushed Galaxy in Turmoil project promise to return with an original brand, as well. Hell, Blizzard was one of the first companies to ever make a game with the intent to avoid legal similarity and I'm sure Games Workshop kicks themselves to this very day for not having licensed out the Warhammer brand.
Perhaps these companies just don't want to admit their modern products aren't as appealing anymore. Perhaps they don't want to admit how disconnected they are with the customer. Perhaps they are afraid of cannibalizing their own efforts to impress the community, but the reality is: if they are afraid of what the fans create, maybe they should pay more attention to why they are so popular instead of seeing them as competition.
They might just learn something.