Minecraft Pokemon mod taken down after legal threats from Nintendo

It feels like it’s been a good long while since Nintendo’s ripped the life out of a fan-made Pokémon project, which is why it’s not a big surprise to see them go after a familiar face in the modded Minecraft community. Not a big surprise, but certainly unfortunate, because the most recent target of Nintendo’s cease-and-desist hatchet is Pixelmon, one of the most popular Pokémon-Minecraft mods on the internet.

Pixelmon featured over 650 catchable Pokémon and a host of other features, including player battles, legendary events, the ability to find and reanimate fossils, and one of the most active player communities in the modded Minecraft world.

Although it certainly lacked the appeal of the dedicated story you can find in other official Pokémon titles, it blended our favorite pocket monsters with the player-driven narrative that people love about Minecraft.

Without a dedicated gym system, players in active servers would build their own, allowing other players to challenge them for a chance at a gym badge or another rare reward. Trainers likewise were constantly on a quest to track down both legendary Pokémon and their favorite new additions to the Pixelmon roster as the mod continued to grow.

Everyone had an opportunity to venture out into Pixelmon’s world and forge their own Pokémon adventure.

A Fond Farewell

That adventure has now come to a close, and the developers behind Pixelmon seem to be content that they lasted as long as they did. Pixelmon released in alpha almost five years ago, and only recently released a full version of the mod, although many more patches, features, and a number of new Pokémon were still in the works.

Despite this, the team behind Pixelmon don’t seem to be upset. It’s more like they’re resigned to their fate and simply happy their mod survived as long as it did, as they wrote in a recent forum post:

"It's Been a Great Ride

With much sadness, but keeping all our fond memories, we must announce that Pixelmon is ending its development. We have had a great time making this mod and creating such a wonderful community but after a request from the Pokémon company we will be shutting our doors. I'm sorry for the disappointment this will cause but let's remember all the great times we had playing Pixelmon, discussing Pokémon, making awesome things inside this mod and everything else that we've done.

All good things come to an end eventually and now is our time. However there are always more things to do, to be a part of and to enjoy. Keep going out there to find fun projects to be a part of and other great things to invest your time and enthusiasm into."

The Pixelmon team, like most fans that receive a cease and desist order, don’t plan to fight the takedown. It's a costly legal battle that few could afford and that wouldn't likely end in their favor. So like many before them, the Pixelmon team are hanging up their hats. They’re just happy they had a chance to work on the project while they could.

Data Never Dies

Pixelmon joins a long line of Pokémon fan games and mods that have received the Nintendo DMCA hatchet, the most recent being Pokémon Uranium, a built from the ground up Pokémon game with its own brand of radioactive game mechanics.

When Uranium received their original cease and desist order, they shut down all distribution of their title, but they continued to support the game through their launcher, effectively going underground and allowing fans that already had a version of the game to continue to receive patches for the title as they continued to work on the game.

Likewise, Pokémon Uranium players continued to distribute the title through a number of file sharing services, and there’s still a thriving community surrounding the game.

Unfortunately, by all accounts the Pixelmon dev team is moving on entirely, which is likely the much more legally safe route to take. Of course, that doesn’t mean that fans and members of the community are going to similarly abandon the project. For all intents and purposes, Pixelmon was fully functional at release, which means that even if the devs take a hands-off policy, dedicated fans will still likely distribute their copies of the core mod files for those interested.

Just keep in mind that downloading anything from unofficial sources always comes with its own risks and dangers and it kind of exists in a legally grey area.

Nintendo’s Choice

As much as I disagree with Nintendo’s policy on fan games and mods in general, there’s a valid point we need to address.

Nintendo really doesn’t have a choice in whether or not they issue these takedowns. Copyright laws require that Nintendo and Gamefreak legally do everything they legally can to protect their IP or else risk losing their claim to it entirely.

It still stinks, but I’m sure there are people at Nintendo that love the passion and vigor that goes into these unofficial fan creations, but in order to keep Pokémon as we know it safe and in the right hands they have to defend their IP.

Unfortunately, this means that fan-made games like Pokémon Uranium and Pixelmon occasionally have to die. It’s a tragic fact of life and the current status of copyright laws means that there’s a legal grey area in how much wiggle room there is to be had.

There are plenty of developers (see Bethesda and Firaxis) that have managed to keep a consistently positive relationship with mod makers and fans that are working to overhaul or otherwise make something massive within their IP. But also keep in mind that any time Bethesda has had another game start to tread into a similar title to their IP, they defended it ferociously.

Both the Elder Scrolls IP and, more recently, the Prey IP have had issues with other titles walking a fine legal line between trademarking a name that’s similar to their IP, and Bethesda issued requests to see those names changed entirely.

The key point here is that, if Bethesda and Nintendo want to hang on to their trademark, then they absolutely have to legally issue these takedowns and requests or else they risk losing the trademark entirely.

Which is why the Pixelmon devs were far from surprised to see a big legal envelope from Nintendo on their doorstep. As soon as the project started to kick off, they knew it was coming, but by some grace of the Minecraft gods, Nintendo either chose to hold off on the takedown for the five years of development, or it remained blissfully under their radar until recently.

Death by 1.0?

It’s entirely possible that Pixelmon was safe because Nintendo just didn’t have a clue they existed, but considering the massive community, the hours and hours of YouTube content, and the fact that Pixelmon was on multiple popular forums and launchers for years, it seems unlikely.

Even a company as large as Nintendo would have to be pretty high on their corporate pillar to not notice a mod that the creators told Kotaku received, “50-450 thousand downloads in the time that said version was relevant.”

So, why now?

If you look back at Pokémon Uranium’s tragic rise and fall, there’s a common feature between Pixelmon and Uranium’s situation.

Both games only received a takedown once they released a full 1.0 version of their content.

Uranium rose to fame once they launched the official 1.0 release, but the game was in active development for ten years before it wowed the internet with the quality and nostalgic feel of the title.

Similarly, Pixelmon has been active for years, but only officially left the beta development cycle of their game a few weeks ago at the beginning of July. Once they were in full release, Nintendo gave them the legal hatchet.

We might be grasping at straws here, but it’s entirely possible that Nintendo’s legal radar doesn’t go off until the mod or game goes into an official release. Or maybe someone at Nintendo secretly likes a number of these fan projects and they’re giving them a certain amount of leeway until the game walks directly on their turf.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why titles like Pokémon Cobalt and Amethyst have avoided the chopping block, considering they’ve had a full version released since back in February.

That said, the admittedly grey waters of this kind of legal precedent get even greyer when you start to split hairs between a Minecraft mod and a Minecraft map. Considering Cobalt and Amethyst are technically created without modifying the vanilla Minecraft client, they might have some kind of strange backwards logic that protects them.

For now, there’s no real way to determine the specific triggers that encourage Nintendo to issue a takedown request. The only thing that’s certain is that Pixelmon no longer has developers at the helm, and that one of the biggest mods in the Minecraft community has finally seen its last patch.