Nintendo Opens Up New Front In War On Fans: ROM Mods
from the nintendo-hates-you dept
Let it never be forgotten that Nintendo hates you, Nintendo fans. The gaming giant has a long and decorated history both of anti-consumer practices, such as attempting to poison the roster of YouTuber game reviewers, bricking consoles if gamers don't agree to its post-release EULA updates, and attacking some of its biggest and most creative fans by issuing takedowns and threats for fan-made game levels, fan-made games that have barely anything to do with its IP, and shutting down fan-made remakes of games that are decades old.
Yet Nintendo has been notably lenient in some areas in enforcing its intellectual property as well. The most prominent of these would be what's referred to as "ROM hacks", in which the original Nintendo ROMs are modded to include new and original content. These ROM hacks abound and are readily available, requiring the original game (or a pirated version) in order to be used. Now, for the first time reported, one of these ROM hacks has fallen into the sights of Nintendo's lawyers.
A fan-made Pokémon ROM hack in the works for eight years was set to launch this Sunday. But a letter sent by Nintendo's Australian law firm on Wednesday has stopped those plans in their tracks. According to Adam "Koolboyman" Vierra, developer of the fan-made Pokémon Prism project, Nintendo's Australian law firm sent him a cease-and-desist letter, which he uploaded to Google Drive with identifying information redacted. (American representatives for Nintendo were not able to confirm the letter's authenticity as of press time.) The request alleges that Koolboyman's project, which alters the source ROM of the 1999 game Pokémon Gold to create an entirely new adventure, violates multiple Australian laws.
The location of all of this requires some explanation. Vierra lives in California and Nintendo's legal team is based out of the United States, but Vierra had been planning on releasing the game via Rijon.com, which is based in Australia. It was Nintendo's Australian legal team that sent the threat letter. That team has previously taken action against downloaders of pirated Nintendo games, but not on creative fans producing these kinds of ROM hacks. As noted before, the company worldwide has generally allowed these add-on mods to exist. Not so much in this case, for reasons not currently being offered by Nintendo.
But let's all not lose sight that this is a mod on a game nearly two decades old created by a fan to incorporate brand new gameplay and story elements into the existing game and engine, and was going to be offered free of charge. It's CounterStrike, in other words, except using a Nintendo product. And there are entire sites and fan-groups built around these sorts of mods. They're a boon to gaming companies by extending the life of the demand for a game for free, as fans take on the work of adding on to it in a way that still requires the original in order to play it at all.
And this isn't even Vierra's first go at this sort of thing.
Vierra himself might have assumed Nintendo would allow a Pokémon ROM hack, because his last one, Pokémon Brown, launched in 2004 with nothing in the way of dispute from Nintendo. That hack's new "Rijon" region would have been hugely expanded upon in Pokémon Prism. It would have contained other tweaks, such as Brown's special monster types (wood, gas, wind, abnormal, and sound), a tweak to the game's "clock" system, and new music compositions. (Other Pokémon ROM hack depositories are easy to find online.)
One could say that this all reeks of a legal team in a foreign country not being on the same page as the HQ back home. Except that it can also be said that expanding IP enforcement to this new front is perfectly in line with Nintendo's general heavy-handed approach to protectionism. Because Nintendo can't help itself. Because Nintendo hates you.