Nintendo’s Call on Zelda Tribute to Robin Williams is the Right One

Actor Robin Williams was a well-known fan of video games, and that aspect of his personality has caused the gaming community in particular to mourn his recent death and search for ways to memorialize him.

Last week, players created a petition to ask Nintendo to add a non-player character called “Robin” to the upcoming entry into the Legend of Zelda franchise that will see release on Wii-U. The petition quickly gained serious traction, garnering more than 100,000 signatures from fans. Williams was a big fan of the franchise: He named his daughter Zelda after the titular game character, and he and Zelda Williams appeared together in several Nintendo advertisements a few years ago.

So it makes sense that players would want a Williams tribute to appear in what was clearly a well-loved franchise for the actor and comedian. Nintendo responded to the petition on Friday, however, and declined (at least) to talk about putting Williams in an upcoming Zelda game.

“We appreciate the outpouring of support from the gaming community, and hear the request of fans to honor him in a future game,” Nintendo said in statement to Polygon. “We will not be discussing what might be possible for future games during this difficult time, but we will hold our memories of Robin close.”

And while it would be nice to see a Robin Williams tribute in a Zelda game, Nintendo’s stance is, at least right now, the right call to make in the situation.

Williams’ death is still very fresh in the minds of many people in the U.S., as well as those of his fans around the world. There’s a very real consideration for Nintendo in this moment that adding Williams to an upcoming, unreleased game would be a ghoulish means of cashing in on his death.

Make no mistake: I give Nintendo the full benefit of the doubt in this situation, and probably would even if it decided to go with the petitioners’ request and add Williams to the game. But there’s definitely a viewpoint on the situation that could see that hypothetical situation as Nintendo benefitting from Williams’ celebrity and his passing. After all, the game in question is unreleased; Nintendo means to sell it for a profit; and there’s absolutely a contingent of fans of Williams who might be inclined to pick up the game in order to see Nintendo’s tribute, when they wouldn’t normally. Even if Nintendo added him to the game in good faith, in a very practical way, the company would be profiting from a tragedy.

A similar situation has cropped up with another game Williams was known to enjoy: Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Fans of that title also have requested the developers add a tribute to Williams to the game, and Blizzard has agreed, intending to bring a tribute into the game in the form of another NPC.

But I’d argue that Blizzard’s situation and Nintendo’s are qualitatively different. Yes, Blizzard sells WoW and has an upcoming expansion to stump for, but there are some key divergences between a new Zelda title and WoW. For one, WoW includes free portions. It’s perfectly possible for Blizzard to add a Williams tribute to the game in a place that’s accessible to anyone free of charge.

Second, WoW is a persistent community of which millions of players are already a part. WoW players are probably less likely to be drawn into the game, and to spend money on it, just to see the Williams tribute. It’s much more of a situation in which the tribute will be made available to the people who are already part of the WoW community, without it potentially being used, purposely or inadvertently, to profit from Williams’ death.

That’s to say nothing of other idiosyncrasies of the situation, like negotiating likeness rights. Williams’ likeness still has a great deal of value, obviously, and especially in the future, it’s something his family and estate are going to need to protect. They’ll want to be careful about how Williams’ name and his memory are used, commercially or otherwise, and that adds another layer for Nintendo to deal with. The situation is potentially a little more complex than just chucking in an NPC called Robin and calling it a day.

Regardless, Nintendo’s choice to at least let some time pass after Williams’ death is the right one. It’s intelligent — as well as respectful to Williams — for Nintendo to think carefully about the situation; a company exploiting the death of so beloved a fan, even with best intentions, is a weak way to honor him.


Phil Hornshaw is senior editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

6 Comments on Nintendo’s Call on Zelda Tribute to Robin Williams is the Right One

Dave

On August 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I agree Phil! (I’d say this on twitter BUT NOT ENOUGH CHARACTERS BOOO)

I would really like Nintendo to do a real tribute, not just name a random character Robin, but a major character in the story. I’d also like to see a portion of the sales of said game to be donated to a charity of the Williams’ families choice.

bob

On August 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm

it will be a great for when a cure for depression on such deep levels is found

rickshaw

On August 18, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Great to see, Zelda is a great game! just like robin williams is as great,

AxΣtwin

On August 19, 2014 at 12:16 am

I understand that Nintendo hasn’t directly said “no, this isn’t happening”. But, Phil, how does it make more sense for Blizzard to add the tribute and not Nintendo? Last I checked, Williams was never a spokesperson for WoW, didn’t name his daughter after a character from the game. Every reason you just listed as to why Nintendo shouldn’t be doing this are the EXACT reasons Blizzard is. Let me ask you this, who is more likely to make a public spectacle out of the unveiling of “the tribute” character, Nintendo or Blizzard?

Coinlin

On August 19, 2014 at 12:52 am

To be honest, it doesn’t make any sense for Williams to be in WoW either. It comes across as opportunism and exploitation. Williams is not an appropriate addition to either of these other-worldly fantasy properties. I appreciate that people want to see him paid tribute, but whenever someone popular or influential dies the calls for eulogy go over the top. When Seve Ballesteros died some of the players who played alongside him wanted his face on the European Tour insignia instead of Harry Vardon. It was pure nepotism on their part. Same goes for snooker player Paul Hunter, who died in his prime after a good career but people started overrating him to the point where they wanted the Masters trophy to be renamed in his honour even though he was only the joint-second most successful winner of the event along with two other people. Marco Simoncelli died in his first season in Moto GP having not won a race and had a STADIUM named after him. And let’s not even get onto Princess Diana, JFK, Kurt Cobain, and many others, all of whom saw their reputations and legacies absurdly increased after their deaths.

It’s well-intended, but it’s childish and in some cases actually perverse. I’m glad Nintendo was willing to say no in this instance instead of letting the emotional bullies scratch them into accepting their demands. Any Williams tribute in gaming should be relevant to the game in question. In the case of WoW and Zelda, it’s not. A better tribute would be, for example, re-releasing 16-bit Aladdin or making an HD remake dedicated to Williams and sending all proceeds from it to substance abuse centres and depression awareness causes.

T. Jetfuel

On August 19, 2014 at 4:07 am

Quite so.