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Nintendo’s Disregarding Fans an Unwise Move

Alex Garbus, Staff Reporter

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In the video game industry, fans show their dedication by creating projects, ranging from a simple sketch of a favorite scene to an entire game set in a favorite universe. It should seem natural that the creators of these games allow and encourage their fans to show this dedication towards their work. But for Nintendo, this isn’t the case.

The American branch of this Japan-based video game developer has adopted a trend of discouraging and removing fan projects based on its games. Nintendo’s continued removal of fan projects, such as online videos and fan-made games, is a sign of disrespect towards its fans and damages the company’s reputation.   

I’ve been a little bit discouraged to start doing stuff with that and putting it online. I don’t want countless hours of work removed.”

— game developer Matthew Hubbuch

When a fan is inspired to create something that shows their fandom, they should expect praise, not punishment. Nintendo’s fan project takedowns come off as disrespectful to those that support the company and its products.

“I think the fan creations are amazing things that fans do, and I hope that game companies and fans find ways to continue to create that content,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards, after two Nintendo fan games were removed from the 2016 show’s “Best Fan Game Category.”

Fan projects are meant to be harmless celebrations of fans’ love for their favorite games; there is no intent to do harm to the games’ creators.

The removal of fan games in particular is disrespectful to those who wish to join the gaming industry because of Nintendo. Due to lack of experience or resources, fans with game design aspirations often turn to making these fan games as a starting point.

Several fan creators have gone on to achieve huge success in the gaming industry, a notable example being Toby Fox, who used his experience from hacks of Nintendo’s “EarthBound” to create “UnderTale,” which has sold more than two million copies, according to Steam Spy.

By discouraging fan games, Nintendo discourages its fans from joining the industry. Matthew Hubbuch, an aspiring game developer currently working on Nintendo mods, agrees. “It really discourages people from getting into the industry,” he said. “I’ve been a little bit discouraged to start doing stuff with that and putting it online. I don’t want countless hours of work removed.”

While fans argue that what they’re doing is meant to show their devotion to what they love, Nintendo argues that these projects can be detrimental to sales.  Nintendo’s former president, Satoru Iwata, has acknowledged the fans’ argument — with reservations: “It would not be appropriate if we treated people who did something based on affection for Nintendo as criminals. It is true that some expressions are detrimental enough to diminish the dignity of our intellectual properties.”

While certain fan games can very well be considered detrimental, the same is not true for online videos. Because of the widespread usage of the internet, online videos have become easy, yet effective, methods of sharing information about various topics, including video games. Online gameplay videos help spread the awareness of various games to potential customers.

While Nintendo still allows videos using its games on the video-sharing site YouTube, it only allows money to be made off videos it approves: Nintendo automatically claims all revenue generated from YouTube videos that contain its content, and users must submit their videos for approval to earn a cut of the revenue.

While it can be argued that these videos are profiting off other people’s work, most of the videos claimed by Nintendo are commentaries, critiques and parodies, which are protected under US copyright laws.

Nintendo likely hoped that its YouTube policies would still allow info about its products to spread, but this wasn’t the case. Many popular YouTube content creators, including Felix Kjellberg, the most-subscribed user on the site, have refused to cover Nintendo products in protest.

“This is a slap in the face to the YouTube channels that (do) focus on Nintendo games exclusively,” Kjellberg wrote on his Tumblr page. “The people who have helped and showed passion for Nintendo’s community are the ones left in the dirt the most.”

To this day, Nintendo still hasn’t changed its policies on YouTube videos, even though games like “Minecraft,” “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” and the aforementioned “UnderTale” became hits solely because of their popularity in the site’s videos.

“People who want to look at a new game can’t really do that because nobody wants to post it,” Hubbuch said. “I feel like it really hurts Nintendo as a company.”

It is important to note that, while Nintendo’s actions are wrong from a moral and business standpoint, they are legal due to vague copyright laws. In the US, usage of other’s intellectual properties is protected by fair use, which the US Copyright Office defines as “a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.”

The majority of the fan projects Nintendo takes down could easily be defined as fair use, but the problem is that fair use can only be argued in court. Because individual fans likely don’t have the time and money to take a company to court, Nintendo is able to continue taking down perfectly legal content at their leisure.

The legalities involved are made even more complex by Nintendo being based in Japan. According to Anime News Network, in Japanese law “no special provisions are made for parody works, as they are under the laws of various other countries such as the United States.” Japan has no sort of law or doctrine that deals with the subject of fair use, which Nintendo could use as an excuse for its actions.

Because of these legalities, companies have free-range when dealing with unauthorized uses of their copyrighted material. Iwata acknowledged the legal complexity of fan works, calling it “a rather delicate issue to which no one can perhaps identify a clear-cut criterion.” Nintendo can legally deal with fan projects however it wants, but its current methods are not good ones.

Ultimately, Nintendo’s intolerance of its fans and their derivative works is detrimental to the company’s image, even if weak copyright laws allow it to do as it pleases.

Nintendo’s sales and popularity have declined in recent years, and it’s easy to see why.



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Nintendo’s Disregarding Fans an Unwise Move