People love playing classic games on PCs. Companies occasionally appeal to our collective nostalgia by re-releasing older titles, but more often than not, players need to use an emulator to enjoy them on a modern device, especially since many of these games were console-exclusive. ROM distribution sites offer emulated games to download and play on PCs, but Nintendo wants to stop that. And this week it scored another victory in its battle against ROM distributors LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co.
A quick explanation for anyone who isn't familiar with the process: PC gamers can install emulators that let their systems pretend to be old consoles, then download ROMs containing game files and then combine them so they can enjoy pretty much any game released for any console right on their computer. Note, these files aren't always ROMs per se--PlayStation games are downloaded as ISOs--but most distributors and players just refer to everything as a ROM.
TorrentFreak reported that the husband-wife duo behind LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co worked out a deal with Nintendo to avoid more serious legal issues. The parties agreed on a $12 million settlement for the couple's infringement on Nintendo trademarks, with the requirement that the couple share all of the emulators and ROMs in their possession. Of course, they also have to shut down the sites and never reopen them.
Nintendo's lawsuit against LoveROMS and LoveRETRO's operators was made public in July. A month later, a popular emulation site called Emuparadise decided to stop distributing ROMs for classic titles to avoid legal conflict. Nintendo's strategy is clear: rather than targeting individual gamers, it's looking to shut down the sources of these files to make emulation more of a hassle.
This is a complicated moral issue but a simple legal one. No matter what various people (read: commenters on online forums) may claim, downloading a ROM is illegal, even if you already own a physical copy of that same game or if the game is all but impossible to play any other way.
The Argument for Downloading ROMs
But emulation proponents argue that playing these games is a victimless crime and emulation is the only way to ensure the survival of classic titles. Eventually all of the Super Mario Bros. 3 cartridges are going to fail--what happens if Nintendo stops offering the game for purchase on modern systems? Less popular games are particularly susceptible to the risks of fading into naught if people can't back up and distribute them.
This debate, however, hasn't affected the legal conflict between Nintendo and ROM distributors. It's also kind of ineffective from a practical standpoint; so many people are sharing emulators and ROMs that Nintendo will have quite a hard time removing all of them from the internet. But it seems that hasn't stopped the company from trying, and the $12 million settlement may intimidate other distributors into backing down.