I'm a game developer, and I've always used my own characters and environments in my games. I'm impressed with the tremendous effort that ROM Hack makers go through to make their games, but I'm a little confused as to why they wouldn't put that effort into making their own games with their own characters. I'm making a distinction between ROM Hacks and Mods in this post, where the former refers to creating mods or original games using characters of other, more popular games, and the latter refers to incrementally updating an existing game with custom levels and other content for the purpose of expanding the game content. ROM Hacks are like fan fiction, and mods are like user-made expansions and DLC.
I've seen a lot of Mario hacks recently, usually in the style of Super Mario World and with a focus on memes or trolls, and I must ask whether these games would be fun if they didn't feature a character from another game. There isn't a whole lot that needs to be done to make it a completely non-Mario game, and if enough of these ROM Hacks started being made as reskins of Super Mario World, it would spawn a new subgenre of 2D platformer.
The mere existence of ROM Hacks is a testament to the immense popularity of the games they are based on. I also understand that using existing IP of household name tier is easier than coming up with new and interesting characters from scratch; existing characters are also much easier for advertising the games. But I know from experience that creating your own characters is much more rewarding than reusing something that someone else created. There is joy to be had in bringing life to something from your imagination, no matter how simple.
In summary, I have nothing but respect for the ROM hack creators and their efforts. I would, however, advise them to turn their talent toward bringing life to characters and games of their own creation.
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