Veteran PC gamers have been begging for the re-release of Monolith’s classic spy-spoofing FPS No One Lives Forever for years. Activision wants to give it to them, but there’s just one problem: no one knows who owns the rights to the game.
Somewhat unfairly, retro re-releases have acquired a reputation of simply being “cash-ins”; most gamers assume that publishers simply upload an old ROM onto XBLA, PSN, GOG.com, or one of Nintendo’s e-shops and then charge $5-10 for it. Obviously, things aren’t quite that simple: old games often need to be reprogrammed to work on newer hardware, emulators have to be optimized for each specific title, and in the case of some games, messy legal issues need to be worked out with the people or companies who own the rights to a game.
Take No One Lives Forever, for instance. The classic FPS was originally released for PC on November 2000, and while the game wasn’t a huge hit at retail, it did receive nearly unanimous acclaim from critics and was successful enough to get a sequel. The game has maintained a small cult following ever since then, and it’s been one of the most requested games over at GOG.com, a retro download service for PC.
Here’s where the problems arise: No One Lives Forever was originally published by Fox Interactive, a company which was bought up and absorbed into Vivendi Universal Games in 2003. In 2007, Vivendi Universal merged with Activision.
Fans assumed that Activision owned the rights to No One Lives Forever, so they began to ask representatives from the company if they had any plans to re-release or remake the game. Activision’s community manager, Dan Amrich, decided to research the topic himself, and he came upon an interesting discovery: as far as anyone at Activision knows, the company doesn’t own the rights to No One Lives Forever. Amrich even contacted the game’s original developer, Monolith, to see if they owned the rights to the game, and apparently they don’t own the rights to the game either. So basically, the two companies that should own the rights to the game don’t, and they don’t know who does. Until they figure out who actually owns the IP rights to the game, no one can legally re-release No One Lives Forever or its sequels.