A MAYBE SOMEWHAT CRITICAL NOTE ON LICENSES
by Richard Karsmakers
It was a rather nice day, around the middle of December.
All of New Oxford Street was filled with people that were doing
some late Christmas shopping, carrying bags filled stuff they
hand't wanted to buy when they set out in the first place, and
wallets that were so empty even hermits would feel lonely in
In the middle of this swarming mass of people, two individuals
were walking. They hadn't got any big bags with them, yet, and
their wallets seemed to have at least some contents in them
They seemed to be a mom'n'dad, and their attention was soon
attracted by a computer shop's display window.
"Hmmm...darling," mom asks, "which game do you reckon Paddy will
want for Christmas?"
"I wouldn't know, dear," dad evaded, "I'm not into that stuff
much, I'm afraid. You know that."
He was actually speaking the truth and nothing but the truth, as
he happened to be a software company's financial director.
After a pause, mom broke the silence.
"Hey, you see that thing there?"
Mom walked into the shop, then proceeds towards a shelf and
takes off it a copy of a game called 'Batman - The Movie'.
"Isn't that off a movie Paddy went to recently, which all his
little friends liked so much?" dad asked.
"I think so,". Or was it 'Moonwalker'?" mom replied.
"Hey, they've got that here, too, you see."
Mom took a copy of "Moonwalker" off a shelf. Another game fell
to the floor, "Populous" written on its label. She put it back
where it stood, not glancing at it again. Instead, she
appreciatingly nodded at the picture of Michael Jackson on the
cover. In her mind, she could already vividly see her little
Paddy, keeping in his little grubby hands a couple of games with
such interesting names on them.
Eventually, they walked towards the counter with these two games
as well as a copy of "Ghostbusters II" - since it had such an
endearing little ghost on the cover and the name seemed to ring a
couple of bells here and there deep in their memory.
The salesman had one of those smug looks on his face as he saw
the parents approach his domain. It was the smug look of a hunter
that knows an extremely large specimen of Bengal Tiger is going
to step within his trap.
He asked this sentence as if he really believed people would,
after having taken the trouble of bringing goods all the way to
the counter, suddenly look up rather embarrassed and put all
stuff back on the shelves as though waking up from some kind of
dream they didn't want to be in.
Mom nodded automatically.
"Let's see...," the salesman said, "erm...you have selected the
right versions, have you?"
Mom looked at dad. Dad looked at mom.
"The right versions?" they said in unison.
The salesman looked at his two customers like a teacher would
look down in a rather amused way at a small child that, after a
quarter of an hour of heavy calculation, proudly tells that the
answer to 2 plus 3 happens to be 4.
"The right versions," he repeated, "for the right kind of
computer. It's for your kid, isn't it? Of course it is. Does he
have an Atari or an Amiga?"
The parents once again looked at each other, wondering.
The salesman was trained for this. He maintained a calm
expression on his face, and said: "Amiga or ST. Is it one of
those things you keep bringing back to the dealer and about which
your kid keeps on complaining because of things called 'Guru
meditation', or is it a rather nice piece of machinery with the
power supply neatly built in?"
"I think the power supply is built in," dad said.
"Though we did have to take it back to the dealer once, didn't
we?" mom added.
"Sounds like an Atari, though," the salesman concluded
nonetheless, trying to look at his customers in somewhat of a
"Then we have the right...erm...versions?" mom ventured.
The salesman looked at the packages and nodded confirmative.
"That'll be seventyfour pound ninetyseven, then," he said, "and
you'll get a free 'New Kids on the Block' T-shirt."
Dad shelled out the money, after which the salesman put the
games and the T-shirt in a neat Oxfan recyclable plastic bag.
"Hope to see you again soon," he almost chanted as he opened the
door for the couple.
Mom and dad disappeared in the crowd, confident to have made the
right decisions for their little Paddy.
After having worked close to a year as an integrated part of
Thalion, a company that seeks to supply the computer freak with
excellent quality ORIGINAL software, I have often been irritated
considerably by the phenomenon of software licenses. By writing
this article, I hope to make the consumer more aware of what he
buys, diminishing the choking effect licensed titles have on the
entire software world.
It will most likely be a totally vain goal.
If it will, then so be it.
What is a license?
Don't expect some kind of scientifically correct answer here!
A license is the right of e.g. a software company to use the
name of a movie, an arcade game, or even of a pop band or a
celebrity in their products. Everybody knows examples of this:
"Indiana Jones", "Robocop", "License to Kill", "Jack Nicklaus
Golf" and, what probably was the biggest of them all, "Batman -
Licenses are usually quite expensive, depending on what they are
of. The license Ocean bought for the "Batman - The Movie" game is
rumoured to have been in the 8-digit range (in Pound Sterling).
The money that has been invested usually gets earned back easily,
as the consumer appears to be perfectly satisfied with any game
as long as the title bears some kind of connection with something
that is well known.
Staggering examples of licensed names are "Adidas", "Iron
Maiden", "Martina Navratilova" and even "Saints & Greavsie". It's
just amazing what people are willing to pay for.
Why do licenses sell?
The answer to this question is rude and will be offensive to
many people, but it's just because of one reason: The consumers
on a whole are truly and immensely stupid. All they seem to want
is a top name on a shit game, and that sells like mad.
Mom and pop go to a computer store to buy a game for their kids,
and what will they pick?
Everybody knows the answer: Licenses.
Especially around Christmas, licenses top all software charts.
"Robocop" is told to be the best selling license of recent
times, whereas "Ghostbusters" (the old one, that appeared on 8-
bit computers in 1985) was the best selling one of all times.
A non-licensed game has to be pretty amazingly excellent and
original for it to have even the tiniest of chances against
licensed titles. Bullfrog's "Populous" is an excellent example of
this, as well as the Bitmap Brothers' "Xenon II" (congratulation,
guys - only for that fact you already deserve lotsa prizes).
Though mom'n'dad probably wouldn't buy it anyway.
Licenses destroy the market
Since licenses cost a lot of money to buy, and since the
software companies intend to make some considerable money along
the way, production costs are kept at a minimum. This means that
average programmers that don't ask much get to do the work, and
they usually have to finish the game within a couple of months.
Even more reknown license programmers, the likes of Teque and
Probe, are highly overrated and not anywhere near as good as,
say, a company that I happen to know very well.
See here the main reasons for the below-average quality of
licenses (exceptions, of course, do exist). Even perfectly good
arcade games are able to get converted into crap software.
But what the heck. As long as the arcade machine's name is on
it, it sells; why buy an excellent game like "Rick Dangerous" if
you can buy a similar game that has the name "Indiana Jones" in
it? Nobody mentions the fact that "Rick Dangerous" is actually a
whole lot more fun and immensely more playable.
There are a multitude of examples for this, which I can't
possible recite here.
It is sure that the power of a license is enormous. A totally
naff golf game can suddenly become a chart topper when it's
called "Jack Nicklaus Golf", and just imagine what the names of
Becker, Lendl or Navratilova might do to even the shittiest and
most miserable excuse for a tennis game?
The worst thing is not only the fact that the customers end up
with products below the standard that they deserve - though
reading reviews and keeping and eye and ear open at times might
help to avoid this - but that the software companies that do not
have the money to buy licenses (or that simply prefer to do
original stuff only, like the company I work for) are becoming an
endangered species. The big ones, high up somewhere with loads of
cash to play with, make sure their thrones remain solid and the
small ones need to struggle for survival - even though the
quality of the 'small stuff' is usually better. This means that
the fresh winds through software land, which e.g. gave us
"Populous", die off.
When things continue like this, the software world will probably
end up having tonsa lousy conversions of games that all have a
peculiarly similar graphics style, similar music....
High above the world where the 'small ones' are seeking ways of
keeping their head above the water level (which seems to behave
itself as if both polar caps are melting at a rather awesome
speed), the 'big ones' battle for licenses and copyright details.
It is known that Sega and Nintendo have multi-million
dollar lawsuits just over silly details like 'the blocks in your
game move the same as mine'.
If you ask my opinion, I would say that the only people to
benefit from licenses except for the software companies that have
them, are lawyers. And the bad thing is that the people who make
this incredible imperium possible, the consumers, eventually turn
out to be the losers.
They just want a name? Well...if everything goes on like this
they will eventually indeed end up with a name and nothing else
("See this? It's the latest game. Isn't it swell? It hasn't got a
disk, though, but who cares. I've got the name. I can tell my
friends about it.")
If you want to get decent software for your hard earned money,
don't go and buy license software for the sake of the license. Go
and read a couple of magazine review sections, taking into
consideration that usually licenses are a bit too highly rated,
too (not that there is any bribery involved here, but journalists
tend to, subconsciously, favour people that offer them lunches,
free hotel nights, complementary lunches, short trips abroad...).
Change the world and start with yourself. Don't buy a game
because "Batman is such a popular character" or "Saints &
Greavsie are such nice chummies", or whatever reason. Buy them
only when they're good. Especially some of the arcade machine
licenses are pretty good (need I mention "Bubble Bobble" and
Do yourself a favour and go to the computer shop tomorrow.
Be sure to check which system you have before you leave (should
be Atari ST, otherwise you're incredibly crap anyway and I'd
prefer you to choke on licenses).
If you're below sixteen years of age, buy "Xenon II". If you're
above that, buy "Populous".
If you forgot your age, buy both.
Don't let the businessmen play with you. It is a well known fact
that, if possible at all, they seek the easy to way to make
possibly astronomously ginormous amounts of money. And the easy
way usually includes the purchases of licenses.
Software business men are usually quite smart and very rich.
Don't let them outsmart you!
Stand up and be counted!
Go and kill a businessman (or better even, a whole office full
(I guess that's enough for now, ED.)
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.