Pushing the boundaries of fan engagement: what brands can learn from the demakes phenomenon

Opinion

For a long time gaming has mostly been about playing, but that is no longer the case. Nowadays, creation has also become an integral part of the gaming world. Fans are craving tools and features that help them put their creations in games. And if those options aren’t available, they’ll still find ways to alter and even create new games. Let’s take a look at this more “unofficial” part of the creator economy, and which valuables lesson it hides for brands.

To be clear, today we are not talking about games that allow players to create and share their creations with other gamers. Like Roblox, Fortnite and GTA. Using the tools and marketplace within these games is completely legal and is even encouraged. It's probably even one of the best aspects of these games. However, the creativity of the creator economy is not limited to such in-game creations. They seek a deeper challenge, for example: creating a demake.

Why gamers love demakes

A demake is best described as a simplified version of a game. A recreation or reinterpretation of an existing game. This may sound like a remake, but there is a significant difference. Instead of modernizing or enhancing a game, a demake intentionally limits technical capabilities to mimic the constraints of retro gaming hardware or software. What you end up with is a simple and nostalgic ode to the original.

The problem? They are often developed and distributed by fans without the permission of the original rights holders. On Itch.io, a platform where independent developers can offer their games, demakes are incredibly popular. From a heavily simplified version of Sonic to a retro ode to Super Mario Odyssey.

Acknowledging the passion of fans

You can look at this as a potential intellectual property nightmare, but also as a golden opportunity. The form and intention behind demakes are inherently linked to nostalgia and passion. By embracing demakes, developers can tap into gamers' nostalgic feelings while strengthening their brand identity. Embracing and even supporting demakes allows brands to communicate and show to their fans that they listen to their audience and share their passion for gaming. The opposite is also true: taking legal action against the passion labor of random individuals can result in a PR nightmare.

There are many great examples of how you can deal with demakes. For example, the team behind a game called Furi, Game Bakers. They commissioned a demake of their game from a fan developer. By doing so, Game Bakers created new content for their community, but also strengthened their bond with their fans and increased the visibility of their brand. Devolver Digital did a similar thing by deciding to offer fans a bundle of officially licensed demakes in the form of Devolver Bootleg. A marketing stunt, which also created a lot of goodwill among the fans.

Another great example of leveraging demakes is when Farming Simulator 2019 was first released. Publisher Giants Software bundled a Commodore 64-styled demake along with it as part of a special edition. Not only a great way to promote the new game but also to acknowledge the rich history of gaming, and thus indirectly the nostalgia of gamers. Or, as we put it, putting players radically first.

How demakes can benefit your brand

If you are already fantasizing about using a demake for your brand, it might be best to take your foot off the pedal. Although developers have adopted a more open approach to fans using their IPs, they might not be this lenient when it comes to brands. The possibilities are definitely there, but you need a specialist who can guide you through this maze.

A more important take-away of this story is that it shows how the creator economy works and the relationship between developers and gamers. There is a mutual relationship that benefits both parties. Understanding each other and working together is greatly beneficial for both. If you want to add your brand to this equation, you need to keep this in mind. There’s room to be a part of this relationship, but you need to speak the language and radically put players first. Get in touch to learn how.

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