One indie game of high popularity in recent years has been Five Nights at Freddy’s. This is a rather simple point and click horror game, where the player controls a night watchman with the aim of surviving numerous nights of increasing difficulty by not being killed by the animatronic machines that come ‘alive’ at night. With its use of jump scares and simple controls, this game has a very active and loyal fan following and as such there have been some fan made versions of the game.
^^ Freddy Fazbear ^^
One game in particular, Five Nights at F**kboys, may not be suited to the original game’s current audience. This version of Freddy’s involves Freddy trying to have a wild night of debauchery and partying, with many of the characters wearing inappropriate clothing and one character performing inappropriate acts whenever you see him on the surveillance cameras. It is also recommended to do a shot of alcohol before each level, so that as each level gets harder, the player also gets more intoxicated, and this supposedly makes for a far more enjoyable and entertaining experience. The crude and adult themes throughout this version are obviously not suitable for the relatively younger audiences that were drawn to the original Freddy’s game and yet they can still easily access it under the impression that it is made by the same developers.
So what can developers do?
By issuing proceedings against this type of copyright infringement, it allows developers to have control over how their work is used, especially when it comes to the audiences they are trying to protect. In this sense, control is therefore maintained by the developers and their game is protected from negative infringement. In more tactful situations however, negative imaging is exactly what the copier wished to do in the hope of tainting the reputation of the original game to such an extent as to render it unappealing to consumers.
It stands to reason that developers can not always issue proceedings against people who infringe their work: the cost alone can be substantial, and for companies and developers just starting out in the industry this cost can be crippling. However it could be argued that the main reason why the developers wouldn’t want to issue proceedings is because of the impact it would have on their overall image. If a developer does nothing but condemn those who copy their work, they are in some way dampening the appeal of their game: FNAF has bee so successful because of the massive fan base that has built around it, and this is mostly due to the ability of fans to create their own interpretations of the games which help to add story and experience to the FNAF world rather than just as one lonely game.
Most games involve some form of player communication in the form of either online multiplayer modes of gaming, or simply through the online forums that fans create in order to discuss the game, their tactics and share their own experiences of the game. These online forums create pathways through which people can gossip about the game developers and in a world as digitised as ours, news spreads very quickly: The second word gets out that there is a new upgrade, a new map or a new way of beating the game these forums are flooded with information and distributed to hundreds upon thousands of people. This clearly raises the issue of what litigation can do to a company’s public image. The main concern of any solicitor when advising a client on this issue should be ‘What would the fans make of this situation?’, since while they do not make the final decision as a legal judge would, commercially speaking the voice of the fans is the only voice that should really matter to a video game designer: If the entire fan following (or to some extent even a small majority of them) feel that the designer is ‘attacking fans’ with legal proceedings, then the entire community basis on which the game rests becomes unstable and, for the most part, will begin to falter before completely dying away. In some respects, video game fame is fleeting, since technology and software is changing so dramatically that it can almost be impossible to keep up with. As a result, it is probably better for a game developer’s brand to be left on a high rather than risking becoming labelled as ‘the company that sues its fans’.
^^ One of the faster characters, Foxy ^^
What can be done?
It is clear from simply reading the comments on gaming forums that gaming fans are a loyal and fierce breed of fans. It could also be argued that people on the internet appear to have feel more confident online and as such seem more likely to speak their mind, and most certainly will not hold back on comments or remarks if they feel justified. This in a way acts as a secondary level of enforcement without the need for expensive court procedures or solicitor fees, as the fans do the hard work for the developer when it comes to protecting a game’s image and reputation. If the fans come across work that is infringed, some may flag this with the streaming service itself for breaching without consent of the author, while others may even bully the infringer until the material is taken down. From looking at fan made games as well, it would appear that most fans are happy to state that their game is a copy (even if only to a small extent) of a game already in existence. It is perhaps this admittance of copying that makes it acceptable within the eyes of the entire fan base as it shows others that they are not infringing to make a profit or for any other malicious reason, but rather to add to the experience that the original already created in order to make it a better experience for the fan base as a whole. In this sense, copyright infringement when it comes to games could be seen as an altruistic act that is done more out of love and admiration for a developer’s work than out of mere thievery and deceit. This in turn therefore means that when a person does infringe the work but tries to claim that this is all their own original creation and that people should pay them for it, the fan base may take that as a personal assault on their own gaming subculture, and as stated at the beginning of this paragraph, decide to oust the immoral infringer themselves in order to protect their own interests in the game as a fan.
FNAF is an example of a game that is more or less defined by its fan base. The idea that fans can add to the FNAF experience means that the literal copyright infringement can be overlooked if the work in question still maintains its integrity. In this sense, perhaps copyright infringement is simply a fall back position: It is not a concrete law that must always be adhered to, as it is essentially up to the original author whether or not they see the infringement as damaging to their own brand. In the case of Freddy, and his many many renderings, impersonation really is the sincerest form of flattery.