Fan-Made Video Games: The Future of Development?

Fan-Made Video Games: The Future of Development?

Video game design became even more interesting with the advent of the Internet. Thanks to email, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and message boards, fans have far more input on a game’s creative process than they once did. We propose that other careers should similarly evolve. Brain surgeons: We want our say in what you do. Open up communication alongside those skulls.

In all seriousness though, the Internet has long allowed players to vocalize what they like and don’t like about a video game–much to the equal delight and despair of publishers and developers–and we’re even moving closer to being able to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the industry’s most respected companies.

The Mega Man Legends 3 “Devroom” project is a good example of fans not only getting a front-row seat to the process of game development, but it’s also a rare instance of fans actually being invited to contribute ideas to a highly-anticipated title. For the sake of a game history lesson, here’s a recap: Capcom’s Mega Man Legends series is a 3D adventure-based series that was spun off from the Blue Bomber’s original side-scrolling adventures. The games live primarily on the original PlayStation, and have garnered a very dedicated cult following. Mega Man Legends 3 has been one of Capcom’s most asked-for sequels, and over a decade since the release of Mega Man Legends 2, Capcom finally announced that Mega Man Legends 3 will be coming to the Nintendo 3DS–and fans of the series are invited to take part in the creation process.

Thus far, most of said creation process involves voting on the inclusion of certain characters, weapons, enemies, and designs. Fans love contributing their opinions, and as a result the Mega Man Legends 3 development community is a busy one. Earlier in the month, veteran video game journalist Colin Campbell wrote up a detailed piece for Gamasutra that outlines the benefits of using social media to include a fan-base in the development of a video game:

“Marketers talk a lot about social media ‘engagement’ and ‘transparency’ these days. In theory, this means using Facebook and Twitter to co-opt the fan base’s goodwill in order to generate cheap buzz. In practice you usually end up with some lame ‘Like Us to see a screenshot’ campaign, and crappy tweets about the company picnic.

“Capcom-Unity became an internal inspiration that led to the company opening its doors fully for the 3DS game Mega Man Legends 3. I love this stuff. For me, companies are so obsessed with secrecy, so wedded to tired marketing techniques, that they fail to realize their most precious narrative assets — their creative people, their fascinating processes and the possibilities of valuable relationships with the public. Alas, most social media campaigns cleave to the marketing techniques of the past.”

Campbell’s piece also explains how Capcom manages to balance their own ideas with fan feedback. Even the mere act of asking for input, Campbell says, helps prevent Mega Man Legends 3 from being too paint-by-numbers.

“Perhaps most interesting [event] was a vote for the main character’s suit-design,” Campbell writes. “Given three options, the public not only voted for their favorites, but offered up loads of valuable feedback on each of the options’ pros and cons, leading the designers to make some tweaks, and offer up a new vote.”

“This feels iterative, just like real design. The designers aren’t merely following a preset marketing agenda, but engaging in an actual conversation They are showing a desire to make the best game possible based on what the public is saying.”

It should be emphasized that the Mega Man Legends 3 project isn’t an example of fans taking a hammer and saw to a video game. It’s not a project based on user-generated content, which should be of some relief to skeptical gamers who have no desire to play through a shoddy ROM hack. Capcom has made it clear that it has the final word on what goes into the project and what stays out: Mega Man will not walk through the game on his hands because the fans will it to be so.

Could the Mega Man Legends 3 project be the start of a closer creative relationship between fan and developer? After all, there’s something comforting about the seeming open-door policy at the core of the project, a pleasant balance between the people who bring a property to life and the consumers who sustain said property by purchasing its games. It’s kind of like watching a commune assemble from afar: You genuinely want to see it succeed in order to prove that the human race is capable of living in harmony, and deserves to have nice things.

But we’ll have to wait until we have a finished product before we can decide that we’re living in a new age of game development. After all, the Mega Man Legends 3 devroom project hasn’t been without its problems. Mega Man series overlord Keiji Inafune left Capcom last year, which is a problem in itself: Mega Man Legends 3 was one of Inafune’s projects, and although the game’s assembly hasn’t been called off, another one of Inafune’s projects, Mega Man Universe, was canceled earlier this year. Could Inafune’s departure result in an eventual Mega-cull?

Also, Mega Man Legends 3 does not exist as a game: What Capcom is assembling is actually a “Prototype Version,” a downloadable demo that players would have been able to download on June 6, alongside Nintendo’s other eShop offerings, for 200 yen. “Would have” is the key word here: On May 20, Capcom announced that Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version has been indefinitely delayed. The game’s developers say that necessary fine-tuning is the reason, but given the fate of Mega Man Universe, fans are understandably uneasy about the development of Mega Man Legends 3.

Finally, not everyone is impressed with the idea of paying for a demo, especially since the reception of said demo is what will determine whether or not the full game will come into being. If Capcom were to pull support for a project that’s been pined for since the year 2000, well, it would be an awfully cruel turn of events. Anthony from Extra Guy has implored gamers not to buy Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version, as he believes doing so might usher an era wherein gamers are blackmailed into paying for demos if they want to see full versions become a “sure thing.”

The problems plauging the Mega Man Legends 3 development process are not necessarily related to fan input, but if the project crumbles, it’ll nevertheless be a taint on the very idea of letting fans contribute to a big-name gaming project. Ideally, Mega Man Legends 3 will see a full release, developers and gamers will live happily ever after, and invited public feedback will tailor wonderful games that please everyone. Worst case scenario, Capcom cancels the game, alienates the most dedicated portion of its fanbase, and/or other publishers will start holding games ransom by making players pay for demos on a regular basis.

Let’s hope for the former: Mega Man is a champion of justice, and it’s just too depressing to imagine the happy little guy upsetting the entire games industry.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. Those worried about “paying for a demo” should read this: http://www.themmnetwork.com/2011/06/01/nintendo-powers-legendary-preview/

    Particularly this part: “Finally, there have been concerns about Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version being nothing more than a paid demo, which many have found unacceptable. However, besides featuring most of the content discussed above, Kitabayashi notes that it “is not a demo.”

    “It features quite a few original missions as well as a lot of content that won’t be in the main game,” he continues, “and I can guarantee its value well exceeds its price. You can download the game for approximately the price of one smartphone app, so I hope that even those with concerns download it and give it a try.”

    On that note, where were all the complaints when Dead Rising 2 had the very same thing with Case 0? That proved successful, and Capcom soon after said they were going to create more downloadables like that, of which this seems to clearly be one.

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