Take a leaf out of Sega’s policy towards user-generated content

Homemade video games created by fans are sprouting up everywhere, and Sonic the Hedgehog approves

One of many fan-made video games to appear online in recent months, Sonic Fan Game – Steam Train attracted the attention of the makers, and copyright holders, of the original game.

Under a 25-minute clip of footage from the game, posted on YouTube, Sonic the Hedgehog’s official account commented: “Brb. DMCA time. Just kidding. Keep making great stuff, Sonic fans.”

Gaming enthusiasts and fans of Sega quickly leapt upon the comment – liking it and responding enthusiastically. By invoking the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), the company endeared itself further to its audience, while lightly mocking the more hardline tendencies of its rivals. Nintendo, for example, has recently shut down a fan version of its game Metroid 2 – although not before fans had heavily shared it across the web.

But Sega has gone step further than simply not discouraging user-generated content – it has actively encouraged it.

How far is too far?

In this case, Sega has recognised the quality of the content and embraced it. The fan in question, YouTube user name SuperSonic68, responded: “I…I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I’m so happy that you’ve seen this […] My heart is racing faster than the pitter-patter of Sonic’s feet.”

The case brings up difficult questions for content marketers. User-generated content, particularly in an age when advanced technology is accessible to all, is an inevitability. But embracing too much content from users risks lowering output quality, flouting branding guidelines and undermining the talents of the content creators at your disposal.

In the move, Sega has realised that in the worlds of video and online gaming, businesses aren’t necessarily the ones in the driving seat anymore. There’s no point locking the stable doors after a full-scale stampede.

Build engagement; maintain quality

A digital world based around interactivity and feedback has changed the way we do business. But a more democratic online society has also led to an abundance of material among which your content can either become lost (if run of the mill) – or can shine (if well-crafted and of genuine use).

Google’s prioritising of high-quality, trusted content providers in search results is the clearest indication of why a ‘cream rises’ approach to content marketing remains vital.

Instead of fearing the rise of user-generated content, we must strive to raise our game. There should always be a level of expertise within your business from content marketers that ensures a head start over the other content creators.

And, depending on your audience, there is more than enough room in the marketplace for some well-chosen, smartly integrated content from users.

The fashion industry, for example, has embraced user-generated content, knowing that its audience is liable to respond well to its free-sharing, interactive nature. This is particularly true through social media, where retailers and designers encourage customers to upload photos of themselves with their branded clothes or accessories, and therefore be in with a chance of being reposted to the company’s large number of followers.

Advocacy is a powerful weapon for all content marketers, and brand loyalty can be more easily built with a little touch of interactivity.

As is so often the case, the question of ‘how much user-generated content is too much?’ boils down to a question of audience.

In the case of Sonic the Hedgehog – and video games in general – fan loyalty is a potent and valuable force.

Sega has pulled off a smart move by engaging this legion of fans. It has appeared to be an approachable, relatable organisation, avoided the bottomless pit and gathered some golden rings along the way.

It is up to you (and your trusted content marketing agency) to do the same.

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