Social Question

tedd's avatar

What would be the legality of this business idea?

Asked by tedd (14013 points ) August 31st, 2012

I’m pretty sure I already know the answer, but what the heck I’ll ask anyways. Maybe someone here will know a way to make it work.

I’ve had the idea for some time of opening up a type of like restaurant/bar/chill atmosphere that has a variety of vintage video games for customers to play (old SNES, Sega, Arcade games, etc, etc). The idea kind of being you could set up like booths with an individual “system” set up at them (built into the booth) so that you and your party could play video games, have some drinks and relax, and also have an old school style arcade. The idea being to target people who grew up in my generation and around my generation, who remember the old style arcades but are grown up now.

When I first had the idea (about a year ago) I based it on actually buying old school games in their original form. This is definitely doable, but it’s expensive. The really good vintage games cost an arm and a leg, many of them are beat up and damaged, repair is expensive. Arcade games alone can cost you hundreds of dollars for even the beat up and not that popular titles, let alone the high cost of your popular games like the Simpsons or Pac Man. That cost and work basically sank the idea.

Then I built this over the course of 4 months earlier this year.

http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/685/arcadefinal.jpg/
http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/196/imag0581o.jpg/

I found basic plans for the cabinet on the internet, and tweaked them a bit (yay cup holders), and then built it from scratch. I have basically zero training in wood working, had to buy most of the tools, and did most of the work in my apartments living room…. the games, and there are thousands of them, literally any game you’ve ever wanted to play.. are off of MAME/emulator technology. This cabinet also plays console games like on the NES.

My total out of pocket cost, including 300ish dollars on tools…. probably around $800.

So the thought occurred to me, that I could bypass the cost and difficulty of finding the actual vintage games, and just make them via emulator technology. It would be far easier to install a computer and some generic controllers into restaurant booths then jimmy several game systems to the booth, or be stuck with one game system per booth. Arcade games that cost thousands of dollars could be bypassed by making several arcade cabinets that play every arcade game anyone would ever want to play.

But herein lies the problem. The games themselves are all pirated from the internet. Very few are actually open source or up for sale by their developers, even though the vast majority of the games in question here haven’t been produced by their creators in at least a decade. I’m pretty much 100% sure it’s illegal for me to charge people to play those games. But would it be illegal for me to offer them for free and just charge for drinks or maybe entry into the establishment? Basically, would the mere playing of these games be illegal based on how they were created?

What do you guys think?

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13 Answers

ninja_man's avatar

I love the idea, and would be your first customer. But, you would be begging for a lawsuit against you.

elbanditoroso's avatar

My assumption is that 99.9% of the games (their original licenses) read:

“Not for commercial use, for individual private use only.” or something like that. Copyright is a big issue, but the “private use” clause is what would kill you.

Of course, it may be incredibly difficult for you (or anyone else) to put their hands on the original licenses from 20 yeara ago.

tedd's avatar

@elbanditoroso That is my key issue at the moment, figuring out a way around that legal nonsense.

I wonder if I got successful, and the companies started coming after me, if I couldn’t just be like “hey see how well I’m doing, why don’t you just get in on this with me??” Better to ask forgiveness ya know?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@tedd – most big companies would prefer to squish you than come in and support an idea that wasn’t theirs in the first place.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Set it up your company as a LLC to protect your assets. Companies only sue if they think they can collect funds.

I am not an attorney and am not offering legal advice so ignore everything I just said.

tedd's avatar

@LuckyGuy That’s not a bad point. Would the game companies go through all the trouble to sue me/the business if there wasn’t really any money to be made in it?

Trillian's avatar

@tedd ok, point. But, would it not be better to just ask permission? There may be ways around the money aspect, like having the games go through a log in process, like free wi fi. You have to watch a commercial or something first.
You could still make money on food and drinks, charge a set rate for time in booth or something, but not actually charge for the games, or set it up so that the copyright holders get x amount per.
Or something.
So you wouldn’t get sued down the road, or whatever. Maintain and grow and branch out your business rather than waste time in court.

tedd's avatar

@Trillian I love the idea of working with the companies from the get go out of the gate. The problem is I’m Joe-Schmo off the road and they’re a multi-billion dollar industry. Why do they give a damn about my idea and working with me?

I don’t think I’d have their attention unless the idea were already implemented, and proved to be profitable.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@tedd That’s often the point of an LLC. Rarely will a big company waste it’s time and resources going after someone with no assets. Effectively, you want to make yourself sue-proof by having limited assets in the corp.

I am not an attorney and am not offering legal advice.so ignore everything I just said.
Obviously I am not a attorney – I didn’t start a billing timer. ;-)

Trillian's avatar

@tedd I think that copyright applications have a system in place so that if approached through that routs it could work. I think it’s the same when a writer needs permission to use copyrighted material in an article.
But then, I’m not a reliable source. I’ve been wrong so many times I’m basically innured to it.
For what it’s worth, I like the idea. I’d come for coffee and pinball. (I’m way older than you!)

tedd's avatar

@Trillian Haha, well I appreciate it. I’d really love to do this someday… and if it came down to it I could just track down the actual old machines. But it would be a major pain and would cost way more.

augustlan's avatar

I have no idea as to the legality of this, but it’s a fantastic idea. And I’m so impressed by what you built! Go you!

bkcunningham's avatar

@tedd, you will find this interesting. I can’t find anything that tells what happened to the restaurant though.

Your idea reminds me of an old-school Dave and Buster’s.

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