Nintendo & EarthBound: What If?
Just before we released the MOTHER 3 translation patch back in 2008 – like the night before or something like that – a mysterious e-mail was sent to the address I list on my online resume but don’t use for anything else. I haven’t posted this anywhere before, but Reid’s talked about it on camera a few times (such as here). So here it is, for your reading glory.
Subject: Appeal from a member of the game industry
I know you’re having a pretty busy (and significant!) week with the Mother 3 patch’s release right around the corner. As a member of the game industry, I have to say I’m REALLY impressed with the results. It looks every bit as good as some professional localizations, and way better than most. Congratulations on all your hard work!
The reason I’m writing, though, is to appeal to your professionalism and ask that you don’t release it. I’m a little scared of all the Furies of the Internet this will unleash, but this might be my last chance to express an unpopular opinion.
It’s true that no company has ever brought legal action against a fan translation–and I think so far, that’s been the right decision, since fan translations in the past generally haven’t posed any threat to an IP. This project sets a new precedent, though: never has there been a fan translation this good, and never has there been one this public. This time it doesn’t feel like a fan translation; you’ve taken your work to a professional level, and for that reason you’re suddenly stepping on people’s toes.
Yes, Nintendo of America has chosen not to bring Mother 3 to the US. Yes, lately they seem to be pretending the entire series doesn’t exist. But why are you putting an expiration date on their right to do so? Series like Kid Icarus and Punch Out!! were ignored for decades, and now they are coming back. The first installment of Fire Emblem is being released next year in English after 19 years in the vault. It was always possible that Mother would make a return. But if your patch comes out, there go all its chances.
A lot of fans on the Internet will be very happy because they’ll get their Mother 3 (and a superior translation of it, at that), but you will effectively be dealing a fatal blow to the IP’s future. Why would the publisher give Mother another thought when their largest target audience for the series would rather bombard their office with phone calls or tacitly condone what basically amounts to mass piracy than wait patiently for them to find a way to release the game in a way that’s profitable (part of those profits go back to the Mother creators and future development of the IP, by the way) whether they do it next year or 10 years down the line?
If you love the series as much as you say, why would you be a driving force behind killing it off for good?
I know you don’t see it that way. I know you mean well and that you adore the series, and that this patch is a labor of love. I also realize that among the people who download it, a very (very!) small percentage have actually bought the Japanese game legally and would otherwise never dream of downloading a ROM. These people deserve to get Mother 3 in English, as does the general public who have never heard about the title’s troubled history, or starmen.net, or your patch. I hope the publisher decides to deliver, and I believe that eventually they will…but that’s their call.
So please–be proud of the work you’ve put into the patch. Be proud of the fact that you have such a significant sway over the future of one of the best game series out there. But please, please, please, as a fellow professional who wants to see these games survive in the long run, I ask you: please don’t release the patch.
Anonymous Localization Producer
(Who Knows He Will Not Be Popular For Writing This)
(Note that all the italics were that way in the original e-mail)
We did indeed have a policy of, “If Nintendo announces anything or even just asks us, we’ll halt the project immediately.” This e-mail came from an anonymous source from what was clearly a throwaway Yahoo e-mail account, so even though I suspect someone at Nintendo sent it, it could very well have been any random person. The fact that they chose to send it right before the patch’s release (rather than the two years or so they had to say something) also made me a little doubtful.
Anyway, there are some excellent points in here, so I’m curious to know what other readers think. Some of them are debatable, like the fact that fan translations = dead IP; I released a Star Ocean translation in 2002/2003 yet an official release of the first game still happened years later on the PSP. Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Final Fantasy V, and Tales of Phantasia are other examples I can name off the top of my head. Still, the guy does make a good point.
So, what do you think? Was releasing the patch good, bad, both, neither, or something else?
Update: I forgot to mention, we checked the mail header info and it seemed to have originated from Japan, but that’s all we could figure out.
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106 Comments to The MOTHER 3 E-mail
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