Copyright, Trademark, abandoned properties, lawyers.
Who knows what the details are? Not me, that’s for sure.
Games that were popular in the arcades in the early 1980s were often ported to home consoles of the day, but often did not receive the best treatment at the time.
For many reasons.
Primarily hardware limitations. Home systems of the day could not be as powerful as more expensive, dedicated hardware developed to play a specific arcade game.
But also budget and time constraints. Games were a business and development costs were constrained by expected returns. It would have made no sense to spend more money making a game than it could have been expected to bring in. Games were made to deadline, and often had to cut corners to meet them.
If they were too late to market, their popularity in the arcade could have waned, resulting in poor sales, missed opportunities.
Partly, to avoid cannibalizing arcade revenue (the logic being if the home game was just as good as the arcade, players would buy the home game and stop going to arcades.
The homebrew scene which has kept old systems alive long past the date at which official support ended has no such constraints. Game development is a passion project, a hobby, and an art before it is a business. Developers take as long as they need to perfect a game, and no reason to fear undercutting arcade revenue.
And system limitations can be overcome with additional hardware inside the cartridge, and advanced programming techniques that have been discovered in the decades since the system first became available.
So homebrew ports of arcade games did something that couldn’t be done commercially, often for games that had been abandoned by their intellectual property owners.
The success of this long tail aftermarket scene has rekindled interest in classic gaming, though, and nostalgic re-boots of old brands have brought about a change in the market. These games, once small enough to fly under the radar and escape the notice of rights holders legal departments, have become legally risky ventures.
I can only presume, but this seems to be the reason why Atari Age has announced that they are going to remove many titles from their store. The last chance sale on remaining inventory will end on July 23, after which these games will no longer be available through Atari Age, likely forever.
Atari Age proprietor Albert Yarusso has stated that he will be focusing on publishing original games and games for which licensing can be procured. “It’s possible some of these can come back, but it will take some time to do the legwork. I wholeheartedly encourage developers to create new games that aren’t encumbered, or to ask me in advance regarding projects that might be derived from others’ work.”
This would seemingly put an end to my hopes for a cartridge release of the beyond amazing Pac-Man 8k project, which I’ve been watching for about a decade, and was apparently very nearly ready to publish. Beyond that, there were many other work-in-progress projects that looked amazing but will probably now only be developed as ROM files, with no cartridge release, if development continues with them at all: Xevious, 1942, Lunar Lander, Elevator Action, and others.
This is a very sad thing indeed. But lawyers gonna lawyer. Copyrights don’t expire fast enough, and Trademarks can be lost if not enforced, and that’s what happens. Hobbywork homages be damned.
I love to see the original works that homebrew developers make, maybe even more than revivals of old arcade games that never got a proper treatment on the home systems. But seeing a modern homebrew remake compared to an official release of an original game from 40 years ago, being able to see how much progress had been made in the art of programming in those intervening years, was always such a treat, and a true thrill.