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Demade, remade: What game demakes offer to publishers

Publishers are recognising that fan-made demakes can keep communities engaged and extend the lifespan of an IP

Image credit: Above from left to right: Demakes of Absolver, Bloodborne, Furi, and Farming Simulator 2019

Fan demakes are a popular genre on platforms like itch.io. They distil the essence of a beloved IP and marry it to the limitations of older platforms to create something entirely new.

Given that can only be done by someone with deep knowledge of both the IP and older consoles these demakes are love letters from fans or the official developers of the original title.

But some love letters are unwanted by their recipients. In late January 2024, Lilith Walther, the developer behind a Bloodborne PSX demake, announced the Bloodborne name was to be scrubbed from the team's follow-up following "contact" from IP owner Sony. It was a reminder that, even when demakes are meant as a tribute, the rights to the title remain with their original holders.

At the same time other IP holders – both developers and publishers – are taking a more lenient view. Some are even commissioning demakes of their own games, recognising that they offer something to the community of fans that can confer a benefit to the publisher in turn.

Game Bakers, the team behind Furi, recently commissioned a demake of the 2016 dual-stick action game from fan developer Sylph. While it is free on Steam, the team also implemented a pay-what-you-will model on other platforms, recognising that selling demakes can generate direct revenue from consumers.

However, the company's creative director Emeric Thoa explains that there are less direct benefits to creating a demake, including extending the lifespan of the original IP.

"The main reason for doing that is that we wanted to make something cool for Furi fans. To be honest I don't like free content, but here it was really a gift for fans and for making people talk again about Furi and why they love the original game. I should also note that making that game was such a fun time that it had positive effects on me – a bit like a small side project can be a breather from your main behemoth project."

Brand marketing

In that sense demakes act as a form of brand marketing, in which publishers reinvest in increasing the visibility of an IP. That was similarly true in the case of the Devolver Bootleg, a pack of officially licensed demakes of some of the publisher's most popular titles announced during Devolver's presentation at E3 2019.

Cullen Dwyer is co-founder of Doinksoft, the developer that worked with Devolver on the pack. He says: "It was pitched mostly as a marketing stunt, announced as a bit during the Big Fancy Press Conference. We told Devolver how much money we would need to get it made and didn't really worry about whether we would make profits on sales or not.

"It was actually pretty liberating to approach a commercial game this way, being more concerned about having as much fun as possible while making it, coming up with jokes, and getting to work with great IPs. [Devolver] didn't really seem very concerned with whether or not it would make a bunch of money or bolster the IPs, they just thought it was a really funny idea and thought the fans would like it."

Publishers with the name recognition and distinctiveness of Devolver are few and far between. But as a 'gift' to fans, demakes can play a significant role in community development for the publishers that choose to commission them.

In fact, sometimes the novelty of an official demake is used as an explicit selling point. 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. In this case, the limited edition – complete with 500 real cartridges containing the game and initially revealed as an April Fool's joke – became a part of the overall marketing and revenue generation strategy for the parent IP.

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Community and engagement

Beyond revenue and marketing, demakes confer other 'soft' benefits to a developer and publisher. Thoa says that the creation of the Furi demake allowed the team to identify the core appeal of the original game, and to see to what extent it can be streamlined.

"As a designer, I love the exercise of simplifying, keeping the core of what makes something good, and demakes are good exercise for that. It's great to show players that what they love is mostly a couple of good consistent ideas, not a full package of features."

In that sense, the consideration of publishers who commission demakes are aligned with the reasons why fans choose to create them. Deafonics Studio – also known by the pseudonym Ruby – is a hobbyist developer best known for a demake of 2005 point-and-click Another Code in the style of the original Game Boy.

Furi Demake - The Chain

"I believe that demakes offer an insight into a creatively constricted world of art… showing what we treasure about these old games," they say.

"We're not demaking them because we didn't like them originally, we're making tributes and showing our love and hoping that encourages people to play the originals and show companies or [former] workers that even after decades, they're still appreciated."

Dwyer, too, highlights that demakes are a tribute not just to the IP, but to the developers and publishers who have come before.

"Demakes are a great way to celebrate not just the game that is being demade, but also the history of games that led up to that original game being made in the first place. It is humbling to recognize that the theory we have for crafting the games we make today is built on a foundation of work other people have done.

"From lock-on targeting to 3D rendering to the humble action of jumping, we have culturally created a language to describe playing in virtual worlds."

"Demakes [also celebrate] the history that led up to that original game being made in the first place. It is humbling to recognize that the theory we have for crafting the games we make today is built on a foundation of work other people have done"

In that sense, officially licensed demakes appeal to the nostalgia of fans for bygone gaming eras. Just as Capcom hearkened back to the original Megaman series when it released Megaman 9 and 10 to cater to fans of the NES classics and the SNES-styled Bloodstained companion games, official demakes extend the appeal of the original to gamers looking for a shot of nostalgia.

In some cases those developers go on to contribute to the genre of the game to which they were paying tribute with original ideas of their own. Dan Fornace, the developer of Super Smash Land – a demake of the Nintendo platform fighter series in the style of a Game Boy title – would later go on to create Rivals of Aether, another platform fighter. As a result, demakes and similar fangames can increase the popularity of a genre as a whole, contributing to the success of future instalments of the original IP.

Official demakes, then, confer direct and indirect benefits to the original IP holder. Whether they are directly sold as a product in their own right or bundled as part of a collector's edition, they can potentially recoup their development costs. As a marketing exercise, they can increase the visibility of the publisher as a whole.

And while the return on investment is less clear, they can also act as extensions of an IP that increases gamers' engagement with a franchise or brings new cohorts of players into the genre overall. Regardless of the impetus, demakes are a celebration of the games and series that fans and developers love.

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Chris Sutcliffe avatar
Chris Sutcliffe: Chris is a freelance tech and media reporter with bylines in The Guardian, TechRadar Gaming, Kotaku UK, The New European, and more. He is the co-founder and producer of Media Voices, and has been gaming since he first touched a Mega Drive controller.
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