Spiritual Successors and Reclaiming Dormant IP

Non-Fungible Taylor Swift by Ben Thompson for Stratechery

Ben Thompson had a great free weekly article about Taylor Swift reclaiming her music by using her fans.

It’s not just Fearless, it’s Fearless (Taylor’s Version); which version do you think that Swift fans will choose to stream (which, after all, is where most of the residual value of Fearless lies)? That’s the part that Logan forgot: when it comes to a world of abundance the power that matters is demand, and demand is driven by fans of Swift, not lawyers for Big Machine or Scooter Braun or anyone else.

It’s easy to see how this plays out going forward: Swift probably doesn’t even have to remake another album; she has demonstrated the willingness and capability to remake her old records, and her fans will do the rest. It will behoove Shamrock Capital, the current owner of Swift’s masters, to buy-out Braun’s share of future upside and make a deal with Swift, because Swift, granted the power to go direct to fans and make her case, can in fact “change history, facts, and re-frame any story [she] want[s] to fit with any narrative [she] wish[es].”

I’ve never even listened to Fearless outside of its hit singles, but I already am anticipating Spark’s Fly (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version), if those ever see the light of day.

Thompson’s analysis of Swift and Dave Chappelle taking back their work got me thinking about video games. Has gaming already had its reclamation boom? Can developers take back their original games when the publisher / rights holder seemingly does nothing with the IP? It seems far more convoluted for say Hideo Kojima to just retake Metal Gear Solid. Games often take a proverbial village to “raise.” While Kojima and Metal Gear Solid go hand-in-hand, legally, commercially, and in their development, Kojima is just one person from a team. Compared to music or comedy or stories, games have to be far more difficult to reclaim like Swift and Chappelle have done.

In light of the legal and developmental hurdles, devs have turned to Kickstarter and the like. There is a cry for a new Castlevania game and Konami seemingly won’t deliver one. So Koji Igarashi, the man who put the “vania” in Metroidvania launches a Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, earning $5+ million. Same for Mega Man through Mighty No. 9 and Banjo and Kazooie through Yooka-Laylee. These developers take fans of games and genres, reunite the team of old, and make a new game to satisfy fan demand and their own creative desires. The spiritual successor has become the means for reclaiming art/design/gameplay/characters for developers.