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Question about changing games/licensing


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#1 AAA177 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:08 PM

When I hit the front page of AtariAge today, the Did You Know? feature mentioned that the game Taz was changed to become Asterix, presumably for licensing reasons. 

 

I was curious if this could be done for other licensed games so they could be released for the Flashback units. Could E.T., for instance, have a redesign of the characters and some other elements and be distributed without incurring any penalties? What about Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Ghostbusters? I'm curious if either side were savvy enough to either prevent/allow that in the written contracts. Also, I wonder at what point does the game have to be changed to allow a rerelease...is changing the E.T. character enough? In Raiders, is the entire premise/sequences of the game still too close, even if one took away the hat on the character? I almost was about to say the whip would have to be taken away, but there really was no bullwhip...it was just missile-pixels. 


Edited by AAA177, Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:08 PM.


#2 jhd OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:25 PM

There is no simple answer to this question; there have been many lawsuits about video game design since the early-1980s. There were multiple actions considering various Pac-Man clones, for example -- some were successful, others were not. The guidelines are far from being clear.



#3 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 3:50 PM

All of those were so abstract, it seems to me they could be rebranded easily enough.

#4 Eltigro ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 3:53 PM

Yeah, I'd say most probably not, also.  I don't know what was behind the reasoning for the Taz/Asterix change, but I would assume that the company changing the game was the one that owned the rights and therefore had the right to do that change.

 

The games are not just the characters.  They are also the design and program... look at board games.  If I make a Monopoly clone where all I do is change the name to My Money or something and change the game pieces to different shapes, Parker Bros (or whoever owns it) would still sue and send a cease and desist.  And they would win.

 

A Pac Man clone with a Blue Square character instead of a Yellow Circle character would face the same fate.  If there is some significant change to the gameplay to make it a different playing game (like Lock n Chase) then it might be okay.  But at that point, it's no longer the same game.

 

No, legally, I don't think taking Indy's hat off is enough.



#5 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 4:31 PM

Funny you should mention Monopoly. I had that game as a kid (as did we all), but we also had a game called Finance, which was either a clone or a predecessor.

https://boardgamegee...me/2635/finance

Superman? Change the colors and he's a generic hero guy.

Raiders? That's so freaking abstract it's hard to tell what it is.

ET? Okay, the character is recognizable. Change the main sprite and the theme song and no one would care.

See also: Krull, Buck Rogers, GI Joe Cobra Strike, Empire Strikes Back, 007 ...

#6 pacman000 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 4:40 PM

Telegames renamed all the Tron games, & Chuck Norris Superkicks, then rereleased them. Sold them for ~20yrs w/o trouble. AFAIK.

#7 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 5:15 PM

Really?

#8 Zwackery OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:03 PM

 

When I hit the front page of AtariAge today, the Did You Know? feature mentioned that the game Taz was changed to become Asterix, presumably for licensing reasons. 

 

 

My understanding was that it was not about licensing but the fact that Asterix is a much better known cartoon character in Europe, where the PAL cart was being sold, than Taz, and since Asterix was released, as a real rarity, in NTSC format, licensing really isn't the issue here.  (Yes, the characters still had to be licensed from their respective property owners, but that's about it.)



#9 pacman000 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 10:03 PM

"Realy?"

Looks like it:

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=764

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=269

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=123

Company was started in the 80's, sold classic games till the early 00's. I can only find one game in this old listing https://web.archive....com:80/2600.htmPerhaps they'd already ran out of the others.

Doesn't prove it would be OK, just that it's been done.

#10 KaeruYojimbo OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:01 PM

Depends on how interwoven the game scenario is with the property. They were able to include the D&D games on the Inty flashback just by removing the words "Dungeons & Dragons" from the title screen because the games themselves are just generic fantasy games with nothing specifically Dungeons & Dragons-y about them. It'd be hard to say Ghostbusters was anything other than Ghostbusters no matter how much you changed the graphics.

Edited by KaeruYojimbo, Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:06 PM.


#11 Stephen Moss OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 2:29 AM

 

When I hit the front page of AtariAge today, the Did You Know? feature mentioned that the game Taz was changed to become Asterix, presumably for licensing reasons. 

 

I was curious if this could be done for other licensed games so they could be released for the Flashback units. Could E.T., for instance, have a redesign of the characters and some other elements and be distributed without incurring any penalties? What about Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Ghostbusters? I'm curious if either side were savvy enough to either prevent/allow that in the written contracts. Also, I wonder at what point does the game have to be changed to allow a rerelease...is changing the E.T. character enough? In Raiders, is the entire premise/sequences of the game still too close, even if one took away the hat on the character? I almost was about to say the whip would have to be taken away, but there really was no bullwhip...it was just missile-pixels. 

 

 

I believe that for something to be copyrightable it work must be original — that is, independently created by the author. It doesn’t matter if an author’s creation is similar to existing works, or even if it is arguably lacking in quality, ingenuity or aesthetic merit. So long as the author toils without copying from someone else, the results are protected by copyright.
However, copyright does not protect ideas, for example, copyright may protect a particular song, novel or computer game about a romance in space, but it cannot protect the underlying idea of having a love affair among the stars. Allowing authors to monopolize their ideas would thwart the underlying purpose of copyright law, which is to encourage people to create new work. If copyright protected ideas then the first person to create a maze, platform or 1st person shooter type game could claim breach of copyright for any other maze, platform or 1st person shooter created which would result in a very small number of games made.

 

Therefore you may produce a game similar to say Pac-Man (a player character collecting items in a maze type environment while avoiding enemies, i.e. Crystal Castles) if it is all your own work, it is not enough to just change the sprites of a copyrighted work and use a verbatim copy of some or all of the original code, or to use the original sprits and write your own code as that would be a copyright infringement, it all has to be original. There is still the risk you could be sued but how successful that is will depend on the conditions.

Most companies are concerned about loss of income and reputation so if you produce something that looks, plays, and has a similar name to Pac-Man, enough to cause confusion in the marketplace between the two, resulting in purchase your version in error rather than the original you will likely be sued for damages.

For VCS games that are no longer in production just changing the character graphics/Title screen is not enough to avoid copyright infringement as you are still otherwise using copyrighted material, consequently you could be sued for it, however as the copyright holders is unlikely to have produced, sold and made money from any new VCS carts for a long time I personally would think that if they took any action at all it would more likely be in the form of a cease and desist than being sued for damages if you just wanted to make VCS carts.

However, when it comes to the new retro gaming scene fuelled by playing old games on new/newer systems on such as the flashback the copyright holder still has the potential to make money from their titles by licencing them for use on such system, so you may well be sued for damages if found to have hacked copyrighted material for play on such a system in an effort to subvert copyright issues.  

 

"Realy?"

Looks like it:

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=764

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=269

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=123

Company was started in the 80's, sold classic games till the early 00's. I can only find one game in this old listing https://web.archive....com:80/2600.htmPerhaps they'd already ran out of the others.

Doesn't prove it would be OK, just that it's been done.

 

Just because it may appear that way does not necessarily mean Telegames did anything wrong. It is possible the original produces of the games may have seen no value in them after the original licencing expired as renewal was to expensive or perhaps they just got out of the 2600. market. They then found value in selling them to Telegames who may have seen the opportunity to add those types of games to their stable without having to develop them beyond a simple change of name to avoid the licencing issues.



#12 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 7:05 AM

Something that always confused me: there are [at least] two parts to these things, the audiovisual/package/game and the licensed character. 

 

c_Superman_Picture_front.jpg

 

Superman the character obviously belongs to DC Comics, now part of Warner (which used to own Atari, but never mind that)

The label (very "Atari Force"), the program, and the audiovisual obviously belong to Atari Inc. 

 

So what would have to happen to bring this back? A mutual agreement between Warner and Atari SA? Seems like it, right? And that either side by itself is necessary but not sufficient?

 

But we've seen other licensed works show up elsewhere, like Super Star Wars (programmed by JVC for SNES) released by Disney on Sony Playstation 4, or Dig-Dug (programmed by Atari for VCS) released on AtGames Atari Flashback Portable with other Namco games. 



#13 frankodragon OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 7:18 AM

Of course, if you have those famiclone multi-carts, you came across some hilarious graphic changes such as Mario's head being on Jackie Chan's body and other games.  And copyright info blacked out or replaced with generic text.



#14 pacman000 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 7:33 AM

Something that always confused me: there are [at least] two parts to these things, the audiovisual/package/game and the licensed character. 

 

c_Superman_Picture_front.jpg

 

Superman the character obviously belongs to DC Comics, now part of Warner (which used to own Atari, but never mind that)

The label (very "Atari Force"), the program, and the audiovisual obviously belong to Atari Inc. 

 

So what would have to happen to bring this back? A mutual agreement between Warner and Atari SA? Seems like it, right? And that either side by itself is necessary but not sufficient?

 

But we've seen other licensed works show up elsewhere, like Super Star Wars (programmed by JVC for SNES) released by Disney on Sony Playstation 4, or Dig-Dug (programmed by Atari for VCS) released on AtGames Atari Flashback Portable with other Namco games. 

Depends on the contract. Ever see an old Dell comic book? Disney didn't write stories for Dell to use; Dell hired their own artists & writers, but by contract Disney owned the stories. I imagine it's the same deal with Super Star Wars. JVC developed the game, but signed their rights over to LucasFilm.

 

Atari DigDug is a bit different; AtGames probably had to get a license from both Namco and Atari SA.



#15 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 7:45 AM

"Realy?"

Looks like it:

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=764

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=269

http://atariage.com/...wareLabelID=123

Company was started in the 80's, sold classic games till the early 00's. I can only find one game in this old listing https://web.archive....com:80/2600.htmPerhaps they'd already ran out of the others.

Doesn't prove it would be OK, just that it's been done.

 

That's cool, I didn't know that was happening. I found the games listed in their UK store in the wayback ...

 

https://web.archive....:80/frames.html

 

"Adventure GX12," "Deadly Disc-Tron," and "Kung-Fu Superkicks" were £9.99 each as recently as the year 2000.

 

These prices always astound me! That would be fifteen bucks in USD in the year 2000, which is over $22 each in 2018 bucks. 



#16 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:24 AM

The Taz vs Asterix story reminds of me the Baby T-Rex vs Bamse story on the Nintendo Gameboy, another example of when an existing game was modified by the publisher to incorporate a different licensed character than it originally was planned to be about. Actually Baby T-Rex was reskinned into not just one, but three different games beyond itself.


Edited by carlsson, Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:29 AM.


#17 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:59 AM

The Taz vs Asterix story reminds of me the Baby T-Rex vs Bamse story on the Nintendo Gameboy, another example of when an existing game was modified by the publisher to incorporate a different licensed character than it originally was planned to be about. Actually Baby T-Rex was reskinned into not just one, but three different games beyond itself.

 

Or Elevator Action EX, which was reskinned with American cartoon Dexter's Laboratory

https://en.wikipedia...:_Robot_Rampage

 

or all the extra characters in different versions of Tekken and Soul Calibur

 

or all the blank or modified billboards in so many driving games, from Pole Position to Burnout Paradise and likely beyond

 

or the Kawasaki logo removed from Nintendo's Wave Race



#18 KaeruYojimbo OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 10:01 AM

Superman the character obviously belongs to DC Comics, now part of Warner (which used to own Atari, but never mind that)

The label (very "Atari Force"), the program, and the audiovisual obviously belong to Atari Inc. 

 

So what would have to happen to bring this back? A mutual agreement between Warner and Atari SA? Seems like it, right? And that either side by itself is necessary but not sufficient?

 

Pretty much, yeah. The deal between ATGames and Atari to make the flashbacks presumably includes anything Atari still owns, but they would need to get a separate license from DC to use the Superman name and likeness. ATGames tried to get the Tron license to include those games, but Disney wanted too much for it and the games couldn't be de-Troned enough to appease the lawyers, so even though the deal between ATGames and Intellivision Productions gave them the rights to use the game program, the name and characters were off-limits so they weren't on the Flashbacks.

 

There are a lot of examples of stuff like this on the Intellivision side. Mattel used tons of licenses for their games (D&D, Electric Company, pretty much every pro sports league), but when they got out of video games and sold the rights to INTV, INTV was able to repackage and sell the games under new names because the licenses weren't integrated into the gameplay. Electric Company Word Fun became Learning Fun, Major League Baseball became Big League Baseball, etc.

 

Oh, and DC was already part of Warner when they acquired Atari, which is why there was all the DC-Atari cross promotion.


Edited by KaeruYojimbo, Wed Apr 18, 2018 10:07 AM.


#19 AAA177 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 1:09 PM

​Thanks for all these replies. It seems as if it is a legal gray area. I can see both sides of the arguments embedded in the replies. 

 

I wonder -- if a program is initiated because of a license, would the licensor then believe that the program itself, and the resulting output, would not exist without the licensing event, and therefore be directly caused by the licensed IP, thus the belief would be enough to initiate a lawsuit? I don't know the answer, but it would seem to me that this would be the best way to add value to future Flashback releases -- i.e., release some rare games by getting around the licensing issue.

 

Of course, I still believe that approaching some of these media companies and offering some promotional value in lieu of a big license fee would work as well...you just have to ask. Why, for instance, would Disney/Spielberg/Lucas not accept a small fee (I don't know what's small to AT, let's pretend it's $50,000) to allow Raiders to be included in a device so long as every device was packaged with an insert that advertised the next sequel to be released in 2020 and it was scheduled to be released at that time? What if, before the game is played, a commercial for Disney parks is played? Granted, this example isn't the best, because I think Spielberg probably is wary of allowing something like this (probably Lucas too); and it's too bad it can't be done on a royalty-no-advance basis, because then it would be no problem. It's the advance that is the problem, I think. 


Edited by AAA177, Wed Apr 18, 2018 2:04 PM.


#20 Flojomojo ONLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 1:30 PM

That's an interesting idea. I wonder what it cost (and who paid who?) to get the Atari coin-op games into Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike on the Gamecube, including a demo disk that had the 1983 Atari Star Wars game on it. 



#21 KaeruYojimbo OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 5:14 PM

 

​Thanks for all these replies. It seems as if it is a legal gray area. I can see both sides of the arguments embedded in the replies. 

 

I wonder -- if a program is initiated because of a license, would the licensor then believe that the program itself, and the resulting output, would not exist without the licensing event, and therefore be directly caused by the licensed IP, thus the belief would be enough to initiate a lawsuit? I don't know the answer, but it would seem to me that this would be the best way to add value to future Flashback releases -- i.e., release some rare games by getting around the licensing issue.

 

It would be tricky to prove a game wouldn't have existed without the license. There are plenty of cases where a licensor pulled out in the middle of development (or development was started assuming there'd be a license only to have the deal fall through) but the game was re-tooled and finished anyway, or where a license was added to an already in-development game. And most licensed games aren't very original anyway. Could Disney realistically argue that Capcom wouldn't have made a platform game for the NES without the DuckTales license at a time when the video game market was almost entirely NES platform games? Probably not.

 

 

 

Of course, I still believe that approaching some of these media companies and offering some promotional value in lieu of a big license fee would work as well...you just have to ask. Why, for instance, would Disney/Spielberg/Lucas not accept a small fee (I don't know what's small to AT, let's pretend it's $50,000) to allow Raiders to be included in a device so long as every device was packaged with an insert that advertised the next sequel to be released in 2020 and it was scheduled to be released at that time? What if, before the game is played, a commercial for Disney parks is played? Granted, this example isn't the best, because I think Spielberg probably is wary of allowing something like this (probably Lucas too); and it's too bad it can't be done on a royalty-no-advance basis, because then it would be no problem. It's the advance that is the problem, I think. 

 

 

I can't remember the specifics of the Tron deal, but I'm pretty sure it was a per-unit-sold royalty and the per-unit amount was too high for it to be feasible for ATGames.


Edited by KaeruYojimbo, Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:04 PM.


#22 The Usotsuki OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:27 PM

For what it's worth I think all the rights to Super Star Wars were in one company (Lucasfilm), the game being produced through their LucasArts division (although outsourced to Sculptured Software and distributed by, initially, JVC, and later directly by Nintendo).



#23 KaeruYojimbo OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 18, 2018 7:20 PM

 

​Thanks for all these replies. It seems as if it is a legal gray area. I can see both sides of the arguments embedded in the replies. 

 

Too late to edit my last post and add this thought, so here it is: I don't think this is a legal gray area with different sides so much as a matter where each game has to be considered individually.






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