from the merch-for-all dept
The manner in which content producers generally, and video game publishers specifically, handle art and content created by their biggest fans varies wildly. There’s the Nintendo’s of the world, where strict control over all things IP is favored over allowing fans to do much of anything with its properties. Other gaming companies at least allow fans to do some things with their properties, such as making let’s play videos and that sort of thing. Still other gaming companies like Square have managed to let fans do some large and amazing projects with its IP.
And then there is Chinese gaming studio miHoYo, makers of the hit title Genshin Impact, where the studio doesn’t just allow fans to make their own art and merchandise… but also flatout tells them that they can go sell it, too.
On May 21, miHoYo released its Genshin Impact Overseas Fan-Made Merchandising Guide, which explicitly permits the commercial sale of fan-made items up to 200 units. There are only a few restrictions and artists do not have to contact the studio for small batches under the limit.
The legal environment for fan art is so strained that conventions like NekoCon have limited the sale of non-official merch. Entertainment companies like FUNimation have explicitly stated in the past that creators at artist alleys, which are exhibition spaces at fan conventions where independent artists can sell unofficial merchandise, are “infringing Funimation’s copyright rights.” And it’s generally understood among artists that properties owned by companies like Disney are completely off-limits.
With some rules in place over the quantities being sold, this means that when it comes to miHoYo properties, fans don’t get sued over making merch. They don’t get sued over selling that merch. Hell, fans don’t even have to ask for permission to sell the merch. Instead, it’s a refreshingly open policy.
And because of that, as should be a shock to absolutely nobody save all the game publishers that want to go the lawsuit and DMCA route, Genshin Impact has an insanely active and vibrant fan community that keeps the game’s name at the top of everyone’s mind.
The studio’s open policy has made it possible for Genshin Impact fans to make more varied products than the prints, keychains, and charms that are typically sold at artist alleys. At the time of writing, a quick search on Kickstarter shows unofficial earrings, sweaters, bookbags, plush toys, and berets. And fans were willing to put money towards their enthusiasm. At the time of writing, there were 28 Genshin Impact Kickstarters with at least $10,000 in funding.
There are also numerous independent artists who advertise their fan-made items on Twitter. Olivinearc sells Genshin Impact merchandise in her online store, and despite only opening twice a year, she receives a couple hundred orders each time she opens. She uses the revenue to fund the development of her visual novel game, and she cites the revenue from unofficial Genshin Impact products as the reason she was able to expand its soundtrack.
This sort of symbiotic relationship that passionate Genshin Impact fans have for the game could be had by lots of other gaming companies, were they to only give up a bit of control over their properties to their biggest fans. It seems miHoYo understands this, rather than taking umbrage or offense at some fan out there making some amount of money from its properties. By treating these passionate fans in a manner that’s real and human, the company instead reaps the reward of all that free advertising that merely solidifies the fandom it has worked to build.
The only real mystery here is why more game companies don’t follow this path.