Games can languish in legal limbo for years, says Sony’s PSN team.

The ability to pick up classic PSOne titles digitally is incredibly convenient, not to mention a great way to fill in holes in your collection. But as Sony’s Ross McGrath explains, actually getting the games onto the PSP and PS3 can sometimes be a long and convoluted process.

The first hurdle a game has to clear is a legal one. If the developers licensed anything from a third party – and it can be anything from a piece of music or clothing, to a character on loan from another game – then Sony has to check to make sure that license also covers a digital release. Often, these licenses were only designed to cover the original game’s life, and any re-releases requires additional negotiation. Not only that, not every license applies in every territory. A game might be cleared for sale in North America, but can’t come out in Europe, for example.

In some cases, McGrath said, a game’s original publisher didn’t exist anymore, and it could get rather confusing trying to figure out who actually owned the rights. He said that Sony will often try to come to an agreement with the rights holders – whether they hold publishing rights or licensing rights – over re-issuing games, but that sometimes it could become prohibitively expensive. Even if cost isn’t a factor, it can take a long time to get rights issues cleared up. McGrath said that some games have been waiting for the legal green light since 2007.

Once Sony has cleared up any potential legal problems it gets down to the business of actually playing the game to make sure it works. The team looks for game-breaking bugs, and McGrath gave examples such as upside down menu text, or games getting slower and slower the longer someone plays them. These errors are often fixed with new versions of the emulator that the PSP and PS3 use to play the games, however, so games that have previously failed are periodically rechecked with new software. McGrath said that there was a list of “must-have” titles that users had created over the years that the team was slowly working its way through, doing its best to clear up legal problems or just get the games to actually work.

Obviously, McGrath’s focus is on Sony games, but it’s reasonable to assume that anyone publishing older games digitally will experience the same hardships. Providers like GOG or Steam, which reach further back than the likes of PSN or XBL, must run into the problem of publishers not being around anymore with alarming regularity.

Source: PlayStation Blog

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