If I am not going to name the character and I use my own original art that very closely resembles a well-known video game character that appears in my game for a very brief moment, is it legal to add a cameo appearance of the character in my game? In an indie game and meant as a tribute to the original game, but I doubt that makes any difference.

Example 1: A scrolling 2D platformer with Super Mario in one level performing a single action and dissapearing afterwards. Not naming the character at all.

Example 2: A video game poster inside the game with Sonic The Hedgehog with or without naming the character, with or without Sega logo.

  • Fair use doesn't apply here, as I won't be using the art verbatim.
  • The game might make some money
  • I don't need to use names, since it is not really necessary, but there is no problem attributing the character trademark holder
  • I am not going to hold anyone responsible for their answers, you don't need to say "I am not a lawyer" I know a lawyer will probably give me the best answer, but so will probably do indie game developers who used something similar in their game. This is what I am looking for.
  • The examples given are not real. Just analogy.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even if it was legal (which is not to say it is or not), it smells bad. I for one would think the team had no own ideas. Legal issues aside, using others work feels lame to me and not worth playing, then I'm better off playing the original. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 7:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ You probably misunderstood my question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 7:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Intentionally or not, there is an SEO smell thats hard to get rid off. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 7:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting related question: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/712/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 14:25

4 Answers 4


Legal issues

It depends, there are elements that are copyrighted and there are elements that are not.

In case they are - it's illegal. Well, not illegal, but you may run into legal issues.

Then, there is this parody law. I'm not a US resident, nor I know about it here - hence no link.
For one of my projects, I had a discussion with related people, and they said that if you use something for / in parody, you will not run into legal issues. (Yeah, yeah, he said, she said, they said, they heard, we heard, you heard).
Probably someone with law background will be able to provide more information about this.

Easter eggs (eeggs)

In video games, these parodies may fall under specific feats, named Easter Eggs.

One of the best examples is World of Warcraft. The game is full of eeggs, some cameo appearances (though, official - Mr. T, Ozzy Osbourne) and such.

Speaking of WoW's eeggs, the one that has left the best memories in my mind is this guy with a little quest chain. He's called Harrison Jones - Harrison Ford + Indiana Jones.

Here is a list of some of the eeggs found in WoW. And, here is a list of pop-culture and other jokes found throughout the game.


Actually, Blizzard puts a load of eeggs in their titles. Not always they are parodies, but they have some from time to time.

There are probably other companies out there that put such eeggs in games. I just don't know about them, am more of a competitive gamer, sticking to one game, not playing everything.

Why did I brought eeggs up?

Well, for your Mario example, go on, copy the sprites over, maybe change the scene, like, making the Mario eat a banana in the background. Also, change his name to Wario.

The idea is that people do not need the real Mario in your game - he has his own ones, -and they are the best.
What the eegs serve for, is the reference. People will always get it if they know about it, and will have much greater laugh about it than if you had actual Mario in there.

As for the sonic... Name him the other way around - "Cinos", make him roll backwards, make him pink. Instead of jumping, make him dig beneath the ground. Instead of rings, make him eat tendrils that form a shape of a ring.

Use your imagination, and let the people find out what have you referred to there. They will still see it as a tribute. I doubt you'd bother that much for a Sonic if you didn't like it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Specifically naming him Wario might not be such a good idea. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 7:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hehe, my bad, not familiar with Mario's Multiverse. Is it also the reason for downvote? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Well, for your Mario example, go on, copy the sprites over[...]" Note that a game art DOES fall under copyright. Using copyrighted art is copyright infringement. If you parody a character, make sure that you redraw/remodel him yourself. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 3:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it okay to create a character for the game, nearly identical but not too much? Also, is it better if the quotes has to be original other than used from the original author of it? (e.g. Steve Jobs - "Stay hungry, stay foolish.") \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 10:13

To answer the wording of the question: You will never go to prison or have to pay a fine for including a video character from another universe in your game. In that sense, it's not illegal.

You might however be liable to claims of the copyright owner for licenses or damages. What's worse, the copyright owner can file charges against you even if there's no legal footing for their claim, simply to make things expensive for you. Some rights holders are very protective and will ask you for money even if the legal framework doesn't require you to pay them, and they will at least threaten to take you to court if you don't pay up.

Consider asking the rights holder for permission first. If you don't want to risk them saying no, consider asking another developer who used a character belonging to the same rights holder how it turned out for them.


Note: I'm not a lawyer, which is really who you should be talking to about this.

U.S. law provides certain protections for parodies and the like. Ultimately, though, whether or not you get in trouble depends on just how close your art and usage are to the original and what your intent is for including it.

From your explanation, it sounds to me (remember, not a lawyer, here) like you should be okay. It doesn't sound like something that the original rights holder would bother with.


To answer your question straight out.... YES, it's illegal, because your placing a copyrighted character in your own game for profit. But, if you where using a copyrighted character for your own personal use to mod a game or create personal artwork to show off to friends etc. without profit or to give away for free then it's not illegal.
The same goes for copyrighted ideas unless you get legal permission from the copyrighted owners.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "copyrighted ideas"? I don't think there is such a thing. Also, I don't think Disney would be too happy if you were to put a copyrighted image of Mickey Mouse in a scene they'd disagree with, print it and give it away for free. I don't think I would suggest anyone that it's okay to use copyrighted material in their game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vaillancourt
    Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 3:19

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