GameRoom Articles
GameRoom Web Store
RetroBlast Reviews
RetroBlast Articles
Game Room Links
File Downloads
Site and Contact Information

Controlling the Classics!


The hidden menace of illegal representations of brands and licensing is a constant issue for any industry that is mildly profitable. Link to that the issues that the world wide Internet brings to monitoring, policing and procession and an annoyance becomes a financial disaster.

The music industry has been tightly locked within such a problematic struggle. The initial problem of finding those misrepresenting the products in question, found to be the very fans of the various performers, but the main harbinger proved to be a fan developed music transfer system, stripping tracks into transferable packages to be downloaded and circulated. NAPSTER became the leading portal for MP3 circulation, with billions of unclaimed music royalties going free (see coming Stinger for further amusement crossover features).

The U.S. recording industry responded with a tough lawsuit against NAPSTER and its users, all intended to shut down the illegal interchange of MP3's. This legal barrage achieved mixed results at best, and came at the cost of unappetizing news stories such as that of a nine year old girl having legal papers served to her mother regarding her music downloading. The legal 'sledgehammer to open a walnut' analogy, receiving copious airtime on the international media. However, legal transfer media would eventually be found that negated illegal action on the public's behalf, the music industry first killing then rebuilding (legally) NAPSTER for royalty based usage, and a lesson was learned.

The amusement scene has suffered its own fan-based over-exuberance. Where NAPSTER eroded ownership royalties, the classic arcade scene has suffered its own travails. Where NAPSTER represented a file sharing environment, the consumer PC scene spurned MAME. The Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME), was created as an open source arcade ROM playing PC emulator in the late Nineties (1997). The MAME Development team originally created the emulator to allow owners of broken arcade cabinets to run their machines again, and compile list of salvaged ROM code.

In principle, MAME allows users to play already downloaded ROM images of classic arcade games (their source code) and then run that code on their PC, the MAME software emulating the original arcade hardware architecture to allow the ROM to run as if on the original classic hardware. Where the emulator (MAME) was open-source 'free' software, the original classic arcade ROM images were branded arcade manufacturers' properties, illegally stripped and utilized - as if stripping music. A grey area attempted to be established with MAME supporters pointing to embedded user agreements in their code that distanced themselves from financial use of their code, or application with illegal ROM's.

A growing business was created as arcade emulators appeared on eBay and for sale in home classic arcade boxes. Infringing the patents and arcade brands, classic games were sold, with MAME used as the glue to bring cabinet, illegal ROM and player together. Where the music industry has been able to mount strong legal action, the dispersed nature of amusement factories and their clandestine activities have facilitated the illegal ROM trade and development.

Since first seen in 1997, many of the Japanese factories have treated MAME gaming as a flash in the pan, with no real application to the amusement scene. It was only when the sales of Anniversary PS2 title releases were affected by the popularity of home arcade MAME gaming that concern was raised. Some manufacturers attempted to ignore the opportunity of classic arcade for application in the changing amusement landscape. As covered in detail in the Stinger #187 feature, Japan was slow to admit popularity, and develop a package operators wanted.

A company that has worked with Stinger Report owner KWP, the largest manufacturer of licensed classic titles for amusement application, UltraCade Technologies, the operation has been leading the drive to develop 'Legacy' coin-op products, beyond their established 'UltraCade' (T4) and classic laserdisc revival product 'Dragons Lair 20th Anniversary Edition' (T4); the company has attempted to build a dedicated brand that supports the operators' hunger for past glories. Most recently specialist agreements with the core Japanese factories have been signed to create a new generation of legacy game packages.

With the development of an extended agreement with Capcom, UltraCade created the 'Street Fighter Anniversary Edition' (T5), offering the company's classic brawler dynasty in a dedicated and reliable package. This ground-breaking move by Japanese and American amusement concerns brought fully licensed and brand supported classic titles to the operators. Not to be outdone Taito, another Japanese amusement powerhouse, signed a similar agreement with UltraCade to produce the 'Taito Arcade Classic' (T5) system.

An insurgence in legacy amusement content was assisted by one of the largest factories maximizing their amusement heritage. Namco, with their 'Ms. Pac-Man Vs. Galga' (Proprietary Hardware) cabinet selling over 20,000 units, the company has previously dabbled in the Retro / classic game scene with their 'Classic Reunion', 'Namco Classic Collection Vol. I', and 'Namco Classic Collection Vol. II' products, but it is with Ms. Pac-Man / Galga and the most recent 'Mario Bros. / Donkey Kong' (Proprietary Hardware) that the classic sector has been raided.

Other manufacturers that have developed legacy catalogs are TeamPlay who originally developed the hardware for the Namco initial systems, and then built on this experience to create modern kit versions. With their Retrocade 'Centipede / Millipede / Missile Command' (Proprietary Hardware), 'Defender / Defender II' (Proprietary Hardware) and 'Joust / Robotron 2084' (Proprietary Hardware) built on the back of Midway classic content, based on Microsoft consumer legacy of titles, and allowed dead wood cabinets to live again. Separate to legal versions of classic titles there has been a growing tide of illegal coin-operated systems that rather than creating specialist hardware and software to offer the best and most reliable package to play classic games, they have rushed to illegal ROM Images using MAME.

UltraCade attempted to close the door to these illegal MAME users, undertaking to block this route by seeking legal recourse against this growing crime. Initially they attempted to contact the MAME developer forum to protect their name and prosecute illegal application of their open source emulator, it became clear that though defending their position, the fan group was not prepared to prosecute illegal use, the MAME Dev team was too scattered to support prosecution, and the MAME fan-base was immature to structured support.

UltraCade feeling strongly about the situation - having already hired legal representation to defend the time, energy, and more importantly, money that they had expounded to acquire legal rights to represent these games - turned up the heat. In a contentious move the company exploited the neglect of the MAME team copyright or licenses their name and logo, attempted to acquire the rights for themselves - hoping from this position of power to directly attack those illegal users, or just shake up MAME. Obviously this move caused a big stir of complaint and rhetoric from the MAME fan base, including in their ranks a large number of illegal users.

The Stinger Report visited many of the Internet forums representing the classic gaming fan base and saw some of the most acrimonious and vindictive comments posted by a wide selection of fans. As defensive as when the music industry attempted to close down NAPSTER, accusations against UltraCade were thrown freely. Stung into action the MAME developers bit the bullet and took hold of their responsibility, and through last-minute negotiations with UltraCade took over the control of the MAME trademark, a resulting disclaimer removed all ambiguous statements stating clearly that the open-score code can not be used for financial gain and not with illegally acquired ROM's - slamming the door in the face of the MAME based cabinets open to prosecution of illegal representation.

Having achieved their aims, UltraCade moved aside for MAME to grow-up, while at the same time continued to focus on other illegal representation, which has seen the Internet auction site eBAY suspending the posting of any MAME based amusement systems infringing the acquired licenses. The 'froth and fury' of fan postings was soon broken down to those who had hidden motives and those that had been purposely misled. The reason for a lot of the 'misdirection' regarding the reality of the use of ROM Images had a lot to do with a lucrative trade - individuals that seemed to complain the hardest regarding attempts to legalize the usage.

What Could this all Mean:

The acrimony is expected to move from attacks against UltraCade to hard fighting as the newly re-branded MAME starts to attack illegal users. A constant claim (and part of the misdirection) used by some commercial users is that classic games can be used legally as they are out of copyright, this has been proven false with regards the console and licensed amusement legacy releases. A second claim is that using MAME does not infringe amusement factories' brands, when in reality MAME is like the MP3 player, while using it with illegal ROM images with their use of the games' names and images clearly does constitute infringement.

It remains to be seen whether these illegal users will vanish under closer scrutiny, trying to hide amongst the legal and quite innocent fan base; but from the operators' point of view the availability of reliable classic cabinet products is due for some major shake-ups. With sources talking of another Japanese factory entering the international market with a legacy title cabinet configuration, and a new European system for the hospitality sector, the industry needs to address the legality of what is proving a popular market.



Editor's Note: Providing "the inside scoop on the international amusement industry," The Stinger Report "is an industry Intelligence Product, compiling material provided by a collection of individuals and various other official and unofficial sources. Collecting, sifting and rummaging for credible rumor, speculation, and insight into what is hot in video amusement and attractions."

I've provided this article as an insight into the amusement industry's perspective on the MAME situation: while it doesn't address the illegality of Ultracade's hijacking of the MAME name and copyrighted logo, it does otherwise provide an accurate account of the situation and the issues that the MAME project and the arcade industry have to address.

Return to Articles