With the EVO Championship Series making a bang this month, it’s hard not to reflect over fighting games you love — or in my case, games you would’ve liked to love.
Earlier in the year, EVO left the coveted 8th game slot open in favor of a donation drive. Rather than pick the final game themselves, each game was given a page whereby supporters could ‘vote’ for their desired title via charity donations. The money raised went to fund breast cancer research, and the title to pull the most donations would take the final game slot. One of the games on the list quickly pulled ahead of all the others. That game was My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic.
My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic is a fan-made creation of the dev team Mane6. It originally started as a joke image, but MLP fans are known for nothing if not their extraordinary devotion. The game has been in production for the last two years, with occasional screenshots, demo videos, and playable torrents floating around the internet in that time. It’s been noteworthy for its exceptional art and animation, move sets detailed to each character’s personality, and its ingenuity in building a fighting format for quadrupeds — something yet to be experimented with in the world of gaming.
That is, of course, until Mane6 received a cease & desist order from Hasbro just weeks before the initial release.
While the contents of the C&D have never been made public, it can be presumed that Hasbro sent it because they were worried about branding, to some degree or another. It certainly wasn’t about money, since at no point did Mane6 even whisper the notion that they would charge for their game, and it wasn’t about theft, as the team never suggested that they were Hasbro’s representatives. It was, and always has been, a piece of fanwork, just like the millions of pieces of fan art, music, remixes, and even original animations swarming the internet. My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic is no different from any of the rest, so why did Hasbro shut it down?
Well, basically, because they’re morons.
If I’m Hasbro, and I have this IP that’s not only been a huge hit with my target audience, but an even bigger and unprecedented hit with a completely different audience (and one with a lot of money they like to throw at me), then it’s in my best interest to cultivate the relationship between my IP and its fanbase. If I see that my fans are so devoted that they’re making a video game about my IP that is so impeccably well done that it’s received an invitation from a national gaming championship, the wise thing to do is to EMBRACE IT.
Seriously, think about it. Suppose Hasbro approached Mane6 and offered to financially back the project, making it an officially licensed product and giving it a platform where it could really shine. Not only would it bring in new revenue from that particular project, but Mane6 could then go on to make other high-quality MLP projects to bring in even more profits. Giving the game an official release would give it an ESRB rating, which would help in case any parents were wary of the content, and it could potentially expand the audience by bringing in people who are fans of fighting games but not familiar with MLP. Most importantly, Hasbro could’ve had a hand in revolutionizing the fighting game genre, due to the nature of My Little Pony‘s characters being four-legged and lacking traditional accessories. The benefits to this union would’ve been huge, but unfortunately, Hasbro has decided to pack up their toys and go home — much to the outrage of the very fanbase they ought to be appealing to.
It’s not unheard of for a company to support a fan-created project that makes use of official assets. The web series Red vs. Blue is a prime example of this notion, which very quickly gained support from Bungie — to the extent that the RvB team was interviewed by Bungie themselves for the company’s official website. Twice. Not only is Rooster Teeth able to use Halo assets completely royalty-free, but you can download episodes of Red vs. Blue on Xbox Live — some for free, some for a fee. In fact, they’re coming out with a new box set to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the series.
As mentioned earlier, I’m sure that this ultimately comes down to branding; that is to say, a fighting game does not “fit” with the My Little Pony brand. Admittedly, I’m only guessing here, but if that’s the case, it’s downright insulting.
First of all, MLP isn’t absent of fighting; the characters face conflict all the time, which they fight back against in a variety of ways. What it doesn’t feature is combat, and even then it’s a shakey statement to make since there have been some situations which could fall under that umbrella. Combat isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive to the values of MLP. Martial arts is a sport, and like other sports, it teaches students about respect, patience, control, and discipline. It’s also been noted as helping some practitioners with concentration and comprehension. The benefits are so noteworthy that Better Homes & Gardens featured an article about the positive qualities it can have for children. As a show that’s trying to help empower young girls, why would Hasbro shy away from this?
The thing is, this is not a Hasbro standard; the company has several IPs that feature fighting and are aimed at the same age group as MLP — but they’re targeting boys, not girls. Are they really going to take the risk of saying that only boys can be physically strong and tough, and that it’s ‘inappropriate’ for girls? There’s already a bombardment of media sending messages to young girls that they need to be submissive and docile if they want to be ‘good,’ and MLP would seem to be the perfect format to take a stand against that rhetoric. Characters such as Rainbow Dash and Applejack are perfect examples of girls who are as tough as they want to be and can do anything that boys do.
Besides, it’s not as though My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic was going to take a Mortal Kombat-style approach to the graphics. Everything in the game was meant to be just as fun and cartoony as the show itself. The move sets of each character were specifically designed to be a celebration OF that character, drawing references from specific props and actions from the source material. And if parents weren’t interested in allowing their children to play even that sort of unrealistic combat, that again is where the ESRB rating would come in. That’s what the ESRB is for in the first place.
Be honest with yourself: Do you really believe that anyone would not only take this seriously, but furthermore that they’d actually try to imitate it? If anything, this game would be far more difficult to copy than any other fighting game, given that the combatants aren’t humanoid and use magic for half of their abilities.
All in all, Hasbro seems to have wasted a gigantic opportunity, and robbed the MLP fanbase of something that had a lot of passion behind it. It could’ve been a big step in the careers of the Mane6 team members, and it would’ve helped Hasbro cover more ground in the world of gaming. As it currently stands, there’s only one MLP game on the market that’s set in the Friendship is Magic canon, and it’s in a completely different genre. Fighting is Magic was meant to be a gift to the fans, from the fans. If Hasbro is going to get this upset over fan work, My Little Pony has far bigger problems than a fighting game.
If nothing else, the fiasco hasn’t completely halted the project. Mane6 has decided to keep going forward with their game, now simply titled Fighting is Magic, but with new character and set designs. The decision to push on in the face of adversity has even drawn the attention of Lauren Faust (aka the woman that created My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), who has graciously offered to collaborate with the team on the new characters during her free time on the weekends, free of charge. What’s even better about this union is, now that it’s going to be 100% original, the team will be free to make as much money on it as they want if that’s what they choose — and Hasbro will have absolutely no right to a single cent of it.