Monetization and Crowd-Funding of Fangames

Discussion in 'Fangaming Discussion' started by Beamer the Meep, Jul 6, 2020.

  1. Billy

    Billy

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    I think you need to look at it from a legal point of view. I don't think Sonic's overall gameplay is patented, nor is a story about a mad scientist turning animals into robots. However, Sega does have patents on certain things, so you would want to tread lightly.
     
  2. Overlord

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    Then, to be blunt, you shouldn't be making that fangame. Sorry.
     
  3. Beamer the Meep

    Beamer the Meep

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    So an update on Sonic 2020. I left an admittedly a badly placed comment on BOLT's Twitter page about the situation. Here was his reply:

    [​IMG]

    Here's hoping they back down after they speak to SFGHQ. I can't find any discussion threads over there about this, so I'm guessing they might be discussing it in private.


    Story elements need to be modified first and formost. If the story is blatantly copying Sonic, then you will get striked. Same goes for copying the level design wholesale and only replacing graphical assets; a level designer in Sonic Team designed that particular stage so Sega owns rights to it so you'd have to design new stages from scratch. The only things you can borrow from Sonic would be the gameplay mechanics: momentum based gameplay, slopes, springs, item collection that doubles as health, ect. Freedom Planet and Spark both work under this principle.
     
  4. Xiao Hayes

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    Well, that's why I want to know where the thing changes, and I purposefully put the level design example but with minor alterations, to know how much would be enough. The story I wrote was different but mirrored to capitalize on the "it isn't but it is" scenario. Of course, I would never do such game unless it was some rom hack for fun, and again, I know how different FP and Spark are from Sonic games, but those don't help me understand better this question precisely because they're so different.

    This goes closer to what I was asking for, the real legal thing, but I'm using Sonic as an example, so I'm not sure if this answers my question well enough. Anyways, I'm not plotting anything, it's just that defining legal limit with stuff that has so many elements involved seems really hard, so I was curious.
     
  5. Beamer the Meep

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    Oh no, I don't think any of us thought you'd go off to make money on an illegal Sonic clone Xiao lol.

    Copyright law, at least in the US, is pretty extensive and complicated especially as it applies to video games. Specifically though the copyright office states that "Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game.” This means that an idea for a game, the title of the game, the way you play it, or any of the merchandising associated with those things can be copywritten, although some of those things you can trademark (whole other can of worms.)

    In a case involving Atari's Asteroids and a similar game called Meteors, the court ruled in the latter's favor since similarities "were inevitable given the requirements of the idea of a game involving a spaceship combating space rocks and given the technical demands of the medium of a video game." Both could exist legally without violating copyright since the idea about a game involving a spaceship shooting space rocks is potentially a common idea and prone to duplication. Because of that, copyright won't protect gameplay mechanics or concepts since similar ideas can happen independent of each other and one party may seek a court solution to drive the competition out of business.

    What does fall under copyright is stuff like specific stories, art assets, worlds, characters, levels, that sort of thing. Anything specific that someone can make can be copyrighted and infringed upon, but more general stuff that someone could come up with on their own isn't otherwise we'd have that mystery author scenario I mentioned earlier.

    This is my understanding of copyright in this situation anyways, maybe some others can clarify further if i missed something. There's also a page on this on Wikipedia you might want to look at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_and_video_games
     
  6. DigitalDuck

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    Just an addendum: the game engine itself is also copyrighted - you cannot legally mod a Sonic ROM into a different game and then sell it, unless it's modified to the point that none of the original code or assets exist anymore.
     
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  7. Xiao Hayes

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    I mentioned ROM hacks just as the only real way I would implement that idea, and only as any other ROM hack here. The engine of course would be "original", as much as Retro engine can be, for example. But, from what I've read up there, my example of level design doesn't sound that illegal despite the obvious copypasting with minor changes like someone copying someone else's homework.

    And yes, the trademark side is easy when it's about things like Sonic, Robotnik, South Island, Green Hill, Rings and Chaos Emeralds, which is why I was talking about changing all on how it looks but not too much on how it works. I also know game mechanics can rarely be copyrighted if ever at all (I learnt that with tabletop games because there's a lot of ripoffs in that market), but both general rules together leave a weird ground to find where the legal line is drawn.

    Oh, instead of saying "I'm not thinking of doing this" I should have said I'm thinking of how to control that no one does this kind if things to me, and to not do this by accident just because my fondness of a game led me to imitate it too much. Remember my mobile example from some posts ago? It has elements of HCZ2 on the background of some of its levels, and the imitation to Sonic is so obvious I can't understand how it got still legal enough to be released without further changes.
     
  8. For what it's worth, Smackdown only had a donation option on itch.io and it was pulled the second the heat turned up. Speaking with the ArcForged head, the pitch tweet was more a Hail Mary move that came off significantly worse than intended.

    In any case, as stated many times, if you're doing fan games, you should not attempt to make any sort of money, ever. It was assumed this was on on obvious, hence why it wasn't a rule prior in SAGE. Given how a lot of folks seem to forget this is SEGA's yard, they just let us play in it, we had to remind folks to knock that off.

    In regards to "hoping SEGA is smart enough to not take down the whole community:" understand that these situations are typically all or nothing. They can't play favorites and for the money and resources involved, they're going to go big or not bother. As Hez said prior, it only takes once to ruin it for everybody.
     
  9. Xiao Hayes

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    Which leads me to two more questions that came to my mind after knowing of the existence of JSRFMP (Jet Set Radio Future Multiplayer) fan game:

    1) What 's with licensed music in games in this regard? I get Sega isn't worried about using their stuff, but, when there's music belonging to other people, things could get ugly with them.

    2) JSRFMP is totally free and open (no special patreon rewards or anything like that) but the guy does have a patreon where donations go to pay server costs (it's online multiplayer). On which side of the line does this stand?
     
  10. Beamer the Meep

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    Sorry for the long bump, but I wanted to share some updates about Sonic 2020.

    It would seem that after my last post on here, the team (seemingly dubbed "Mania Team") reached out to SFGHQ to find a way to resolve the situation and claim they took down the paywall demos on their Patreon page. I cannot confirm either, but I'm willing to believe this is true personally. However, recently a raid was conducted on a their Discord server which contains 4,000 people. This raid was supposedly lead or instigated by a user known as @Tracker_TD which resulted in a loss of 3 years worth of work. The team has currently stopped production of the game until further notice.

    Relevant Posts:
    The chain continues on into a pretty lengthy argument about the legality of having “non-playable” demos on Patreon and a statement from Alex saying that issues were resolved back in July.

    Personally, it is still troubling to see the team still stands behind their position whether or not the demos were taken down, but what’s even more troubling is that we had a mob go after their Discord server. Even if you agree with their stance or not, whether it’s legal or not, you should not lead a mob to seek out your own sort of “justice” outside the courts. It’s very sad to see.

    Sorry for getting back to this so late.

    1. Music copyright is pretty tricky (See Sonic 3), but my understanding is that either the game company / record label or the composers own rights to the music depending on if you're in the US or Japan respectively. There's always a danger of the right holder getting upset about their music being used in a fangame, but fangames typically have bigger matters to worry about and I can't really recall an instance where a fangame was DMCA'd because of music. Either way, after the release of the 2012 update to Sonic Before the Sequel, Sonic fangames seem to have trended towards original soundtracks rather than reused tracks.

    2. Getting money to fund a server, if it's solely dedicated to JSRFMP, would present copyright issues. According to their own Patreon page, this would seem to be the case and more: "Any money I receive from Patreon will go toward paying for server costs and further developing the game. Such as commissioning or hiring people to help out. (JSRFMP will always be free. Donating will never be forced upon anybody.)" Whether the game is free or not, funds to pay for a server that keeps it running and pay for development costs is a violation of copyright as best I understand it. If this was only for a general purpose server that the game just happened to be on, then you could argue it's legal. The best way to pay for server costs of a private server or fangame server is out of pocket like PSO Ephinea or Toontown Rewritten.
     
  11. winterhell

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    How do you lose 3 years worth of work by someone raiding your Discord server?
     
  12. SuperSnoopy

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    I'd like to know about that as well. Seems more like they're using the tried and true "the big bad trolls bullied us online and now we can't work anymore, please feel bad for us" strategy.
    I honestly don't care much for this whole fiasco. Good riddance if they don't work on the game anymore, but if they do, I hope they'll quickly get a c&d from Sega and we can all move past this, with hopefully no lasting consequences on the fangame scene.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
  13. Sid Starkiller

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    Maybe they're hoping people will read "hacked our Discord server" and think "hacked our server".

    Hopefully this is the end of these idiots. They had a bad idea, people called them on it, so they're taking their ball and going home.
     
  14. Hez

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    How do you lose 3 years of work? I'm going to echo this. I know I have SC2 backed up on everything known to man.
     
  15. Beamer the Meep

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    So another update on the "3 years worth of work". Apparently it has to do with some sort of community, maybe the server itself? Alex isn't exactly clear on this point.

    Likewise, P3DRO replied to his tweets with this:

    Honestly, I'm inclined to believe at this point that the team was backing down on donations and even if they weren't, if the attack on their Discord server was motivated by all of this, then I think there might be some larger problems at play here. The community should gently urge fangame developers not to monetize in a polite manner, not flame them.

    I also got in touch with the JSRFMP Twitter and expressed my concerns about their Patreon and I think they seem to understand the situation there. In that instance, it seems that fans of the project talked them into starting it despite their own reservations, which seems to be another major problem arising in community. At this point it might be prudent if we started raising awareness somehow. I'm hoping that with how many lurkers Retro gets, this thread might help, but spreading the word on say, YouTube might be beneficial. you can find the Twitter chain of retweets and replies of that conversation here.
     
  16. Sid Starkiller

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    I'm not saying the hack was justified, but sometimes "gently urging in a polite manner" doesn't cut it.

    And I can tell you right now: at the very least, I'm not doing anything to raise awareness, because I'd rather Sega remain ignorant of the whole thing. To elaborate a bit:
    I've been reading Darths & Droids for over a decade. It's a webcomic that uses screengrabs from all the various Star Wars movies. One of their early strips has this in the annotation:

    This strip was published on 1 April, 2008: April Fools' Day. In the grand tradition of stupidity everywhere, and on the net in particular, we originally went to air with an alternative version of this strip. (You can also see it and do a blink comparison by mousing over the image on this page.) Here's the annotation text as it appeared:


    We regret to have to announce that we have received a cease-and-desist letter relating to our work on Darths & Droids. As a result of this correspondence and some deeply considered thought, we are discontinuing our use of screenshots from the movie.

    However, we still have scripts and story ideas to carry us a long way yet, so we are not giving up the comic altogether. We shall continue on, with just one minor change: All of the images used in the comics will be created by us.

    Of course we'd like to recreate the visuals from the movies as closely as we can, but naturally our time and budget are limited. We'll do the best we can. Hopefully this change won't be too jarring in the long run.

    We thank you in anticipation of your continued support.

    Of course, this was a complete fabrication and practical joke. We haven't received any such letter, and we are not discontinuing our use of screencaps. In fact, George Lucas is known amongst the fan community as being particularly welcoming of fan works based on Star Wars. We have no idea if he or anyone at Lucasfilm knows about Darths & Droids, but we'd bet that if he did, he'd have a good chuckle and leave us be.
    We had the idea to do this joke strip some time ago and we discussed it at length. Our fear was that some readers might not appreciate that it was a joke and get angry enough to write or otherwise contact Lucasfilm, which could have the effect of notifying some lawyers there about our previously undetected activity, leading ultimately to an actual cease-and-desist notice.


    The important part in bold. I don't want some rando yelling at Sega, thus getting their attention and deciding to cut the community off.
     
  17. Beamer the Meep

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    That's a pretty fair point and I should've thought of that earlier. Still, I wish there was a better way to contend with these Twitter mobs somehow and a way to let people know that Patreon is not a tool to profit from fan works...
     
  18. Lilly

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    It's unfortunate to see another controversy of this scale leading up to SAGE, but as with the malware case from a couple of SAGEs ago, it was swiftly taken care of by SAGE staff, and that was that. Some community members wanted to get people like Aaron Webber directly involved in shutting them down, but that was shot down for much of the same reasons you're bringing up, Sid.

    Not only is that degree of escalation unnecessary, (the problem was already resolved by staff) it could have brought down the entire fan game scene with it. As with last time, we should let SAGE staff do what they must. If a fan game has a crowd-funded budget of any capacity, they will be disqualified, just like that.

    We're not in that same position of authority on the matter, and raids certainly aren't getting the point across, either. Cornering people just encourages them to dig their heels in deeper, not reconsider what they're doing.

    Being disqualified, from such an important online event in the fandom, alone should more than communicate the issue to any problematic fan game developers. And we should hope for all of our sakes that this is the greatest consequence that will come from it.

    I can't imagine the pressure that SAGE staff members feel at this point.
     
  19. Sparks

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    Why is this even a question? The mental gymnastics to validate something so ambiguously illegal here are ridiculous. Fan games are a hobby, not a career; that's the bottom line. SEGA could absolutely curbstomp any fan games into the ground at any time if they felt like it in the way Nintendo does, and all this is doing is giving them reasons to do so.
     
  20. BlazeHedgehog

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    Then work around it. Figure out a creative solution. "Live action cutscenes"? Do it as a motion comic. Do literally anything else. Screw "authenticity." You can't do what you can't do. There is no wiggle room here. If you charge money for IP you do not own, you threaten not only destroying your own project, but negatively reflecting on everyone else.

    Fangames have fought a hard stigma of being "illegal bootlegs" and you can't just go "I want to be a big boy but I don't want to go through the proper legal channels, I can just use kickstarter to skip the line and be a king shit of fuck mountain by tomorrow afternoon"

    Fangames are in the same category as fanart and fanfiction. You do them for love. If you have big ideas, you either get people to work for free, find a way to fund it by yourself (no outside investment), or you figure out a different way to accomplish the same goals. This isn't a playground where you get to freely do whatever you want whenever you want for any whim that pops in to your head. Even if you got proper funding there will be limitations on what you can do. So just deal with the limitations you already have and don't risk screwing yourself and the rest of the community over by casting dark shadows on the harmless work of others.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020