Fortnite recently announced a collaboration with Futurama: Fry, Leela, and Bender are purchasable characters, with other stuff inspired by the show also available in the game. However, there’s one thing missing: creator Matt Groening’s signature. It’s not present in Fortnite’s announcement post, the in-game item shop, or any of the advertising posted on social media. So what’s the deal?
The exact language is not publicly known, but it appears safe to say that Groening’s signature is contractually obligated to appear on merchandise and promotional art of the properties he created, which is why you see his name everywhere. This extends to the Simpsons profile pictures on Disney+, and even the NFT of Homer choking Bart.
However, in very, very rare circumstances, Groening will remove his signature or credit to implicitly indicate his disapproval. I know of only two instances: the 1995 Simpsons episode “A Star is Burns” because he was opposed to doing a crossover with The Critic, and the 2001 video game Simpsons Wrestling. It may seem a little silly considering the ubiquity of Simpsons merchandise, but Groening appears to take his endorsement seriously. Talking to a trading card magazine in 1994, Groening criticized the quality of the 1990 Topps set and lamented that “my name was on every one of those cards.”
I searched similar video game collaborations to see if perhaps this was a trend. The promo art for a 2015 Simpsons Minecraft skin pack does have Groening’s signature, as does this Animation Domination card game featuring Futurama characters (near Bender’s hand), which makes its exclusion from Fortnite odder.
Was it a mere oversight? Did Groening decline to approve the collaboration because of the writers’ strike? Obviously it exists to promote the Hulu revival, but I’m not sure if a signature necessarily constitutes crossing the picket line. Is it a weird technicality because Fortnite is using their in-game models instead of drawn promo art? Or did the peacenik-minded Groening object to his characters being used to propagate violence in a video game? If that’s the case, I think it’s a little misguided: my understanding of Fortnite lore is that characters don’t “die,” they are bloodlessly “eliminated” and are stuck in an endless loop where they regenerate. Even Batman uses guns in the game, come on. Also, the characters in question are canonically war veterans.
Perhaps we’ll never know the real reason. In the meantime, I shotgunned Goku while playing as Bender. This, to me, is the essence of gaming.