March 14, 2010
By Adam Brown
Bringing an IP back to life has many hurdles to overcome
Please sir, may I have some more? When longtime fans, starving for another helping of their favorite franchise, pose this question they are frequently handed another fresh serving. Sequels have become the backbone of the current gaming industry, with a two and three appearing on nearly as many boxes as the ESRB rating. But what happens when the answer to the previous question is a resounding no? With nowhere to turn to and little to no hope of getting the proper sequel they were looking forward to, some fans will just take it upon themselves to cook up their own successors.
Unfortunately, getting a sequel in this fashion is much more difficult than simply walking into a store and paying your 60 dollars. Creating your own follow up typically requires a team of likeminded individuals, a healthy financial investment, a ton of dedication, and potentially several years of work. And what is the prospective payoff for all of this work and risk? Absolutely nothing except a sense of accomplishment and the ability to shape the sequel that never was. There is no chance of receiving any financial compensation for all the time, effort, and money they’ve sunk into the project because that’s when the properties original owner will take legal action, if they haven’t already.
Frequently, companies tend to look the other way when it comes to fan-made projects. If the fans aren’t charging money for the finished product and the game isn’t directly competing with something they’re trying to do with the property, many companies feel there’s really no need to squash the hopes and dreams of die-hard fans willing to put forth the effort. However, there have been some cases that seemingly defy explanation, where a property hasn’t been used for so long that the fans feel as though the series have been abandoned but the owners still feel the need to prevent fan-made follow-ups.
The most recent example of this kind of fan-made tyranny comes from our friends at Activision and involves the classic King’s Quest adventure series. Shortly after King’s Quest 9 was cancelled by Sierra in 2002, a group named Phoenix Online Studios started work on making the game for themselves, originally titling the project as King’s Quest IX: Every Cloak Has A Silver Lining. In 2005 Vivendi Universal, the property’s owner, sent them a cease-and-desist letter, effectively bringing an end to the fan-made project. After a massive outcry and online petition, Vivendi and Phoenix Online Studios got together and worked out a compromise. Vivendi would allow development of the project to continue and grant it a non-commercial fan license as long as the King’s Quest name was taken off of it, leaving it as just The Silver Lining.
As such, the game continued to be developed until the end of February. It was at this time that the current King’s Quest owner, Activision, decided that even though they had no current plans to make another King’s Quest title and The Silver Lining’s developers already had an arrangement with the past holder of the property, that it was time for yet another cease-and-desist order. So now the project once again sits dead, after eight years of blood, sweat, and anticipation. If you’re interested in trying to save this project or just want to see what could have been, here’s the link to an online petition started by some members of the forums on The Silver Lining’s website.
Sadly, this type of story is nothing new for the “make-it-yourself if they won’t” crowd. If you’re looking for some of the most tread on fan-made targets, then look no further than the Chrono series. With little more than a DS rerelease of the original Chrono Trigger in 2008 since the sequel Chrono Cross’s 1999 original PlayStation release, the series and its fans have really been left out to dry over the past decade. It should come as no surprise that many fans of the series have decided to take matters into their own hands and work on their own remakes and follow-ups. Of course, the property’s owner, Square Enix, hasn’t seemed to appreciate these fans’ exuberance, sending out cease-and desist-letters to some very promising looking projects over the years. Here are some links to just a few of the Chrono casualties.
It’s really a shame looking at some of these promising fan-made games, realizing all the time and work that must have gone into them just to get shut down in the end. However, not every company is as gung-ho about shutting down non-profit fan-made titles. Brief searches online can pull up all sorts of fan-made games based on big-named properties ranging from the likes of a 3D Doom-styled Mega Man deathmatch first-person shooter to an 8-bit version of Left 4 Dead. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising fan-made title I’ve found during my recent searches is entitled Shadows of Lylat and is intended to be an HD Star Fox sequel taking place between Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Adventures. No action has yet been taken by Nintendo to try to shut the project down so far so just feast your eyes on this promising trailer, but don’t get too excited just in case.
So if you’re interested in remaking a classic title or making a long awaited sequel for yourself, how are you supposed to know whether it’ll raise the ire of the company that holds the rights to it? Well, there’s really no good answer to this question, just take as many precautions as possible. Perhaps try making a spiritual successor rather than using the actual names and locations from the original title. Don’t reuse any assets from previous titles and/or modify original code. Make it abundantly clear that your remake/sequel is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the actual property holder. And most importantly, perhaps try to contact the property owner before spending countless hours and dollars making something that might just get cease and desisted a month before its intended release.