Fan Games vs Rom Hacks

Both “fan game” and “ROM hack” refer to modifications or creations based on existing video games, typically created by fans. To me, rom hacks are a subset of fan games.

Although fan games and rom hacks are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences. This is especially obvious when referring to Pokemon Fan Games and Pokemon Rom Hacks.

Let’s explore the differences here:

Fan GamesRom Hacks
non official version of the gameYesYes
Requires original rom to playMaybeYes
Requires emulatorMaybeYes
Where to playPC, Mac, Phone (typically)Phone, Emulator Devices (typically)
Modification ScopeWiderNarrower

What is a Rom Hack?

Rom Hacks usually refer to games made by modifying the game data of an original video game.

Rom hack modifications can include graphics, levels, gameplay mechanics, and sometimes even the storyline. However, modifications are restricted to the underlying game machine and limitations of the platform that original game was made for.

On the other hand, fan games are more diverse.

What is a fan game?

Fan games are typically fan-made games inspired by an existing game or game series. They are usually developed using game development tools like RPGmaker, Dream Maker and many others.

Many fan games are made from scratch. With the ability to make almost any game under the sun, you’ll find that fan games tend to divert from the original plot and game mechanisms. Some even incorporate new features that only the true fans will appreciate.

The real gems are usually mind-blowing labor of love.

Are Rom Hacks Legal?

I’m not a lawyer and this topic is highly debatable. However, rom hacks exist in a grey area legally. They are often made without the explicit permission of the original game’s creators or rights holders and can be subject to copyright claims or takedown notices.

That said, rom hacks are generally created as non-commercial projects and are a form of homage or fan art. So…is fan art legal? IMO rom hacks keep the older players and long term fan engaged with the original IP

Legally, if you do not own the original rom, it is illegal to play the rom hack.

Likewise, the legality of fan games are also highly debatable.


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