Virtual Worlds Weekly #11

I think I forgot last week’s assignment. I need to go back and post that at some point because I felt it was a fairly good response. This week’s response focuses on fan fiction and corporations and I also thought it turned out fairly well too. Enjoy.

In both texts, “Literacy in Virtual Worlds” by Black & Steinkuehler and “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?” by Jenkins, I thought there was an interesting dichotomy between the creators of fan fiction and the creators of the original work’s corporation. In both there seem to be issues where the corporation doesn’t want this fan fiction to be around, and oftentimes actively works to squash any such fan fiction. This, despite the fact that such fan fiction offers free advertising for their product, and very rarely does anyone confuse a work of fan fiction with that of standard cannon of the fiction being written on. In fact, this constant fight between the corporation and the individual’s rights to both property and thought has gotten to the point where the fight itself is what is ruining the reputation of not only the property itself, but now the owners of the property such as LucasArts in the case of the Star Wars property.

In reality, these companies should embrace fan fiction, I think especially in this day and age after having fought to have the right to write and distribute one’s own thoughts has been going on for so long. Any company that allows fan fiction is likely to be looked upon more kindly in general because it is allowing something that should have been allowed in the first place. Therefore, the property itself is no longer the only thing getting free advertising and reputation, but also the company itself.

The fact that companies are so against the free advertising itself is mind-boggling as companies have been scraping the barrel for ways to get word to the public over the last few years. Yet here is a way that is free and already out there, and instead of embracing it they are trying to shut it down. A good example of what can be done is of a podcast called “The Signal” which is dedicated to the Firefly/Serenity universe and was started about a year before the movie “Serenity” was launched. The podcast not only shares news and in depth analysis of the series, it also shares fan created fiction in the form of short stories and poetry. This podcast was one of the top podcasts in the early podcasting history and has been responsible for informing hundreds of people of the series and converting them to fans. Yet it is entirely possible that this format may not have lasted long if it were being done for Star Wars, the instant that it became popular, Lucas Arts may very well have pounced claiming that it is their property and only they should be able to make podcasts, or license podcasts, for said property. And yet, many in the company wonder why there seems to be a genuine hatred for the company and even a growing discontent with the product, not even related to a few bad movies.

In fact, the companies who embrace the fan fiction do end up with more customer loyalty than those who don’t. Wizards of the Coast is a company that embraces fan fiction to some extent. They have published a number fan created fiction for their Dungeons & Dragons property in both collections as well as in their magazine “Dragon.” They don’t go around actively trying to force web sites out of business for fan fiction posts, even those with sexually related themes such as the popular internet D&D accessory “The Complete Guide to AD&D Sex.” In fact, when they have discontinued products, they often go to popular fan sites and claim them as the “official” source, allowing a third party to continue to build upon a series that has died and therefore extend a product. This is what happened with one of the old franchises “Dark Sun” which, nearly 10 years after being canceled, still has an official site with new rules, adventures, and stories being published. And because of this, Wizards has been able to capitalize and publish special “Dark Sun” issues of “Dragon,” therefore actually monetizing on a property that has long past. In part because of these examples, there is a genuine closeness between the AD&D community and Wizards of the Coast, its owner, that is unparalleled in most other industries.

Not surprising, MMOs tend to copy what D&D has started. At the time of this writing, you can go to “World of Warcraft’s” website and see a number of ways they support the fan fictions with comic contests, video contests, and fan art. Sony Online Entertainment, publishers of Everquest 1 & 2 and Star Wars Galaxies, has a yearly Fan Festival in which one common event is to have player readings of poetry and fiction for their game that they created. With these small acts given to their consumers, the companies are rewarded with loyalty which directly translates into money that those consumers give back to the company in the form of renewed subscriptions and purchase of expansions for years. It isn’t perfect, and it may not be much, but it helps the whole corporate strategy for these companies.