Hard Project: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is… well, it’s a cautionary tale about how a bunch of disgusting fans can completely ruin a series by wildly misunderstanding a show’s appeal by trying to deny it to its target audience. But it’s also a charming, sweet, and fun show with a spectacular cast and a lot of wonderful writing. It’s the sort of thing that’s tailor-made for producing a whole lot of great video games, with some episodes seemingly demonstrating exactly what you could do with such a game (there’s a race episode that practically begs for a kart racer).
What we’ve gotten has been… well, a mobile game that does all the things you’d expect a mobile game to do. A CCG that’s pretty fun, but that’s not a video game. Here’s a show fit to burst with all sorts of great characters, tons of opportunities for a game, and yet it sits there without even a simple run-and-bop platformer made. What the heck is holding it back?
The fandom is supremely gross
There was a time when the term “Brony” wasn’t deserving of scorn – it just meant “I am an adult man who enjoys this show aimed at little girls.” That was a long time ago, it’s not what the term means now, and when someone says “Brony” at this point they mean the sort of adult man who apparently decided that the best way to enjoy a show about cartoon horses aimed at little girls was to systematically remove everything charming about the show and make it exclusively for exceedingly gross adult men.
Seriously, Friendship is Magic is a show I love, but I’m reluctant to even talk about it, because I’m a 31-year-old man, and devoid of more context it’s really easy for me to look like I’m going to be one of those people who thinks this should not be a show about cartoon horses aimed at, again, little girls.
Hasbro’s responses to the ultra-gross Brony fandom have been extraordinarily good, essentially informing the fedora-and-neckbeard crew that they can take their desire to draw X-rated artwork of these characters and shove it in a deep, dark pit. But it does make licensed products more of a thorny issue, because Hasbro at once wants to cater to the fans while staying very far from another segment of the fans. It’s not like Transformers, where the gross parts of the fandom are easily cordoned off. When it comes to Friendship is Magic, that vile cancer sits there like a pulsating mass.
Few direct antagonists
Leaving aside the skin-crawling vileness, Friendship is Magic still has a problem insofar as the series doesn’t, as a rule, have many antagonists. The few it does have are usually summarily dealt with quickly – only Sombra and Chrysalis stand out as villains who aren’t definitively gone. Even Discord wound up coming around and being less of… well… Q in a new set of clothes, but we’ll just put that to one side for the time being.
More to the point, the show isn’t about beating antagonists via anything other than cleverness and, well, friendship. It’s right there in the title. It’s rare for a direct confrontation to be a thing; more often it’s a matter of the girls learning some lesson or another, being shown that doing the right thing is valuable, and so forth. It’s one of the charms of the show. The CCG gets this idea quite handily; direct conflicts between decks are less about sending your ponies to battle and more about competing to see who can solve a problem the fastest.
The downside is that you wind up a bit limited in your game options. A simple hop-and-bop platformer seems slightly out of place, since it’s not how the show operates and doesn’t really capture the nature of the characters. You’re kind of limited to games like, again, kart racers, pitting players against one another without any trace of genuine malice. Not that this is undoable – heck, you think it’d be an easy sell to make a whole bunch of games like this, since they normally feature a strong multiplayer component. But there’s another problem there, too.
An underserved market anyway
Game developers apparently think little girls are stupid, uninterested in games, and/or don’t deserve games to call their own.
This is, of course, patently false. But developers aren’t exactly lining up and looking for a chance to develop a game based on this franchise; the closest you get are fan games, which don’t really qualify for the purposes of this discussion. This is in spite of the fact that you can get Friendship is Magic-themed everything else, from headphones to plates to (ugh) boxers. It’s almost as if the game industry still has a crazy outdated idea where women don’t make up a large segment of the gaming market and don’t think that little girls would buy a game based on a show they like.
Here’s where that first point gets really, really relevant. Because I’m willing to bet there are more developers who would make something marketed to the adult fandom and the gross portions of that market… a market that Hasbro isn’t just unwilling to market to but would prefer to actively market against. Leaving the license in a sort of limbo.
Obviously, the very premise is ridiculous. Most kids have at least one or two game consoles in their houses, never mind if you’re talking about little girls or little boys. I’m pretty sure that a My Little Pony game would sell quite well. But you’d have to convince the companies involved of that first, and considering a remarkably large number of people can’t be convinced to make a woman-led movie when films with female leads do better at the box office, I’m not exactly holding my breath.
There are, I think, a lot of really fun games that could be made from the franchise. But they’re not being made, and I can sort of understand why. There’s a really gross market in place, there’s a misconception about what the actual market would buy, and ther’es the simple nature of the show against it.
Still, though, kart-style racing with the cast? That’s money on the table. Y’all can have that one for free.