Business Plan #3, 'Phoneboy': Resell Gameboy Games for Mobiles


I've touched on this briefly before and though I think it's a good idea, I'll be the first to say that it may not be either legal or affordable to do. However, I'm convinced there's a great opportunity there. The idea is simply to go through the 3000+ Gameboy games (not GBA), find their publishers and request permission to resell the ROMs for use on mobile phones via an emulator like GoBoy, cutting them in for a large portion of the profits. That's it.

Here's what I wrote a little while ago about this idea:

The thing that's obviously illegal about the Gameboy emulators is that the ROMs are all pirated. Or I should say, 99.9999% of them are, since maybe you're one of the people with a linker who's copied the ROMs directly from your Gameboy cartridge. What happens if you go directly to the publisher of some popular 1992 Gameboy game and say "hey, I'd like to publish your ROM on the web"? Does Nintendo have veto-rights on that or is the game publisher owner of the ROM? Having a website with re-packaged Gameboy ROMs available via easy-to-download system to your Symbian phone would rule. Why duplicate the wheel? With thousands of good games already created, it seems an obvious resource to tap.

The content rights are the key. Once you have the rights to this content, you have this great resource that you can tap in a variety of ways. In general, however, I would be in favor of doing a value-add to the games, creating a whole gaming ecosystem that telecoms could pick up as a whole package and sell to their customers. Sign up, download player, download ROMs, etc. One could even "digitally watermark" the games to discourage copying or try some other DRM tech - but only as a disincentive since we all know now DRM is perfect - especially when the original ROMs are all floating out there on the internet anyways.

At issue is that fact the GameBoy is still being sold and lots of games are still around in cartridges and Nintendo would NOT be happy if you canabalized this still lucrative market. Since Nintendo's not Sega, I doubt very much that any sort of negotiation or pricepoint would convince them this was a good thing. Just thinking about this plan you probably risk a lawsuit. ;-)

But STILL. It's SUCH a huge library of games. I bet if you totalled ALL the J2ME games and ALL the Symbian games and ALL of every other type of game (Smartphone, Morphun) it wouldn't get anywhere near the 3000 game mark. Even if you talked to every publisher and only got free-and-clear rights to resell 10 games, you're STILL way ahead of all the other companies out there that are trying to develop new games one at a time. Like I said before, even a sucky Gameboy game is better than most of the mobile games out right now. And this doesn't count in the nostalgia factor, which is what makes many of the games I've been playing on my phone lately VERY fun. Just remembering spending hours playing is as fun as fun as playing the games themselves.

The economics are pretty straight forward. Deal with each company and get the best percentage of the sell price as you can. Develop a system to enable downloading/managing the user experience and sell that to the telecoms. Sit back and hope for massive success so that the small percentage you're getting adds up to real profit.

Man, I'm telling you. Selling the original Tetris alone would generate real cash.


Later... BING! The first comment is a home run!

If you are looking for a bootstrappable business, this one is going to require a fair amount of up-front coin, and you are going to have trouble getting the rights to AAA titles.

I looked into something similar to this for PocketPC. You are going to run into tremendous problems aquiring the rights to any assets from Nintendo, or it's second party developers. Third party developers are are a mixed bag. You are better off looking to aquire the rights to PC games. The publishers are less jelous of the back catalog. It's still going to cost you a fair about of up front change. I recall meeting a guy why was getting the rights to Sierra's Police Quest for some handheld platform for $25K. The publishers are going to look to make money of both the front and back end. So money up front and a percentage at the back. THe further back in time you go, the eaiser/cheaper it will be. You may want to look at older Apple II, Atari, or early PC games. I know I'd pay to get Adventure (Atari 2600), Serpentine, David's Midnight Magic, SunDog, CrossFire, or any number of games from that era that sill have a fair amout of playability.

Posted by Jock Murphy

I think this is incredibly useful information that makes a ton of sense. Since I'm not coming up with $25k or more any time soon, I think I can scratch this plan off my list.

Thanks Jock!

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