Do I need a commercial license to use games for an Internet Cafe?
Thinking of opening an Internet café/cybercafé? Be prepared to learn about the exciting world of commercial licensing! In order to legally offer a physical location where others will access content like video games (whether they pay for them or not), you must purchase commercial licenses of games.
What is a commercial license?
When you buy a digital download of a game, you are almost always actually just “licensing” it. The normal license is a personal, noncommercial license subject to the ordinary EULA. A commercial license is a license that allows you to use, in this example, a game in a public or commercial setting.
Even if you’re running a café and you don’t charge people for playing the games or if you’ve just got a normal café with a few computers available, you must offer commercial licenses of games. This applies to arcades, VR arcades, amusement/theme parks, dorms, museums, stores and more.
Developers can choose whether to offer a commercial license and what they will charge for the license. And you must receive the developer’s permission to offer a game commercially – a regular license to a game does not allow for commercial use.
How do I receive proper permission?
You’ll need a licensing agreement with a developer in order to compensate them for a commercial license and offer the game in your Internet café. This might mean doing things like talking with a lawyer to establish the licensing agreement, granting you a commercial license that you and the developer both sign.
There are simple ways and more complex ways to go about doing this. Below are a few examples – but remember, you must receive permission from the developer in order to legally offer a game in your café. Again, I repeat: you must receive the developer’s explicit permission to offer a game commercially.
Proper permission example #1: Steam’s site licensing program
The Steam Site Licensing Program, previously the Cybercafe Program, makes things extremely simple for cafés to offer games from Steam. Steam is currently the market leader in the PC digital distribution space, compared to other programs like Origin, Uplay, GOG, and WePlay.
In order to use this program, you need to sign up with a private account (for free) to view the site licensing program options. Per Steam’s words,
Commercial licenses can be found by visiting the game’s individual store page – the license will be displayed right under the regular end user price. You can also search for the commercial licenses by ticking the “Site Licenses” option under “Show selected types” or by clicking the link here. On the game’s store page, the commercial license price will be displayed right under the regular purchase option.
Note that not all developers participate in this program. You can see the list of about 600+ games available with commercial licenses on Steam here.
The big advantage here is that you don’t have to contact the developer to use their game through this platform. It’s a nice gesture to message a developer and still let them know so they know you’re using the game legally. However, you don’t have to provide your own licensing agreements or wait to settle terms with the developer as they’ve already set their price on Steam.
This program also requires that the computers must always be online. Steam does not support “offline” mode within the site licensing program. There are also some nuances to how the licenses are distributed. Here’s an overview from Steam:
When a customer visits your café they will go to the PC you assign them and login using their own personal Steam account. If they do not have a Steam account they will be able to create a Steam account while launching Steam. Once the customer is logged in they will see both the games they own and the games you are making available on their library screen. When they choose to play one of the games you are offering the Site License Server will notify the Steam backend service that a user is requesting a game license. When the user exits the game, the license will be returned to the site’s license pool for that game. Customers will be able to use site licenses for any given game until the number of licenses you own for that game are concurrently in use.
For example: Your café has 50 PCs available and you have 35 licenses of Left 4 Dead 2 in your license pool. Up to 35 customers will be able to play Left 4 Dead 2 concurrently on the PCs in your café. If a 36th customer comes into the café and wants to play Left 4 Dead 2 they will be presented with a message that there are no licenses available. If any of the 36 customers own a copy of Left 4 Dead 2 on their personal Steam account they will be able to play and that user will not pull a license from the location’s pool.
Proper permission example #2: direct licenses
For developers who aren’t offering their game through Steam or don’t currently offer a commercial license, your primary option is to contact them directly to negotiate a license. Typically, this requires a monthly payment to the developer. They may tell you that they’ll be offering a commercial license on Steam soon or that their game is unavailable for commercial use. It’s up to them as to what they want to do with the rights for their game.
This approach is a lot less efficient than Steam’s program and it can be unwieldy to manage different monthly licenses with different developers, however, it may be necessary. You’ll need a licensing agreement to solidify permission here.
Proper permission example #3: PPMPPM
A less common approach now that Steam’s program is taking off – PPMPPM stands for “Pay Per Minute Played Per Month.” This means that if you’re not getting the game through Steam (proper permission example #1) or you’re not agreeing to a monthly license (proper permission example #2), you may consider this route to track how long a title is played across your café seats in minutes then compensating the developer at a set rate per minute.
This approach can favor the arcade owner over the developer but it also means there must be tracking software in place to track all of this time. The arcade owner will typically monitor the time played and set terms in the licensing agreement.
You need a commercial license to use games for an Internet café. Allowing people to access games through personal licenses is blatantly impermissible under the license and you could be liable for copyright infringement and breach of the license agreement. If you ask a developer to offer a game and they will not offer you a commercial license or you cannot come to an agreement on the price or structure for the agreement, you can’t offer the game. It’s as simple as that.