An Interview With
by Kevin Steele
Appearing seemingly out of nowhere in 2003, StarROMs arrived on the retrogaming scene with an enticing offer for arcade emulation fans: legal ROMs for a reasonable price. Offering a collection of licensed Atari arcade ROMs, StarROMs gave MAME its first foothold into legal legitimacy in the eyes of the amusement industry, and provided everyone with at least some small measure of arcade software that could be openly used without the murky uncertainty of ROMs obtained "from a friend of a friend."
StarROMs has been actively supportive of the emulator community in general and MAME in particular, even donating money to the board dumping cause. After the inital MAME trademark controversy with UltraCade, I became curious about how and why StarROMs had decided to get into the "ROMs licensing" business, and what their future plans for the MAME community were. I contacted Frank Leibly, co-founder of StarROMs, with my questions. It's taken a while, but I'm glad to now be able to present his answers.
What led you to start up StarROMs?
We saw a lot of interest in MAME and in
classic arcade games, and no legal way to get the ROMs. It seemed
like someone ought to step in to fill this need and we became excited
to do so. The toughest part
has definitely been obtaining the necessary rights to sell games. This
has proved to be much more of an uphill battle then we expected.
Have the major players been hesitant to license their ROMs? Any ideas why?
Atari was quick to see the opportunity, which is as much about re-kindling interest in it's brand as it is about making money and providing an alternative to piracy. Other companies we've talked to have also shown interest, but see this area as somewhat of a niche market. As a result, it's been difficult to make anything happen.
Users, as well, have been hesitant to purchase ROMs. Why?
We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from end users and this is what has really fueled our continued interest in this business. Of course, it's hard to gauge what fraction of end users are actually buying rather then stealing the ROMs we sell.
One important and growing area of our business that's worth discussing, however, is working with our partners who provide hardware products for classic gaming. By providing a legal source of games to work with their hardware, we're helping to establish and legitimize this fledgling industry.
The legal standard for selling a commercial product is that there needs to be a compelling and substantial legal use for your product. If you're trying to sell classic gaming related products for use with pirated ROMs, you have a problem. On the other hand, if you are co-marketing your system with classic Atari games from StarROMs, then this provides a compelling and substantial legal use for your product and that fact that users can potentially use the system for playing illegal games as well is not a problem so long as you are not doing anything to encourage this kind of illegal use.
So, by working
with our partners we are not only selling ROMs but we are also helping
to establish a legitimate marketplace for classic gaming related products
that would otherwise not pass this legal hurdle.
Do you forsee future enforcement efforts by the industry to crack down on illegal ROMs?
StarROM has lost the rights to certain ROMs: do you feel that the new wave of "compliations" are a threat to licensed ROMs?
No, not really. I think it's helping
to re-kindle the interest in classic games and is a positive in the long
Any thoughts of "value-added" additions to the ROMs, such as artwork, game histories, video interviews (i.e., the same things the current compliations generally offer)?
We have the rights to include a lot of
this kind of information with our current titles and we should really
be doing more along these lines. I
expect we will in the future.
What do you think about Ultracade implementing an iROMs-style licensing service?
I was surprised to hear about this. I
guess we'll have to see what happens.
Your opinions of products such as the Arcade Legends multi-game machines? Is the industry only interested in licensing games to manufacturers, or is the direct-to-consumer market considered a viable source of potential income?
I think the industry is interested in
maximizing sales. As far
as direct-to-consumers, you can look at the compilations as evidence of
interest in this area. The two markets don't really conflict with
one another so I expect there will continue to be an interest on both areas.
Any plans for StarROMs you'd care to share with RetroBlast readers?
We have a lot of great ideas and things we want to do with StarROMs. Our biggest frustration is that we haven't been able to do more. On the personal side of things, both my partner and I have young kids and other commitments and it's been difficult to put as much time into StarROMs as we'd like to. But we're going to keep on chugging and hope to continue to have a positive impact in this area.