I’ll be honest with you; I hadn’t heard much about the debate on emulation until Nathan (his YouTube channel is at the end of the article) told me about it this week. I knew emulation was controversial, but I had no idea it went so far as to involve lawsuits and government action. So, in this article, I’ll share with you my opinion on the legality and acceptability of emulation.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ll try to describe emulation in the simplest terms. It’s basically giving your computer (or nowadays, cell phones as well) the ability to play console games by copying the data and files from the games and making them readable to computers. Think of an emulator as a program that works as a translator to allow you to translate games from old discs and cartridges into a playable game on your computer. Sounds cool, right?
Well, it sort of is, but at the same time, it’s not always legal. For example, if the emulator is an exact copy of the program used to originally read the content on the console, it’s illegal because you basically stole the creator’s program to use for your own purposes. If you download a game file (known as a ROM) from the internet for a game that you don’t already own, it is illegal. The line between emulators being legal or illegal is very blurry; everyone seems to have their own take on things.
On one side, emulation can hurt the company that made the game originally, and it also encourages piracy, say the “anti-emulationists.” By downloading the game illegally to your computer, you bypass the need to buy a console to play it on or to buy the game at all. Allowing everyday people to distribute technology that the developers and producers spent lots of money and time to create is wrong.
On the other side, emulation can also help the game companies, and it allows for old games to be enhanced with high defenition, de-bugging, and control fixes. By allowing gamers to play titles that can be extremely hard to find, expensive, or old, gamers may find that they want to buy the newest game by the company, (i.e. a player downloads an original Zelda title that might be hard to find; gets excited to buy Wind Waker HD from Nintendo) thus increasing sales.
There are lots of other points to be made for both sides of the issue encompassing the legality, ethics, and morals of the situation, but until a firm law is passed stating the final verdict on the situation, it’s kind of up to us as gamers to do what we feel is right.
Personally, I think it’s a pretty slippery slope. I think that emulation should ONLY be used to provide easily accessible copies of older games and to provide digital computer versions of games you already own. By “older games,” I mean games that you cannot find in stores anymore. This means that games from the original Xbox, PS1, and N64 should be made publicly available for free, along with all older games from past systems. Why? Here’s my reasoning:
If I go to Walmart, it’s still possible to find PS2 systems on the shelf. I can go to Gamestop and still find PS2 games for sale. So, since PS2 consoles and games are still easy enough to find, we should purchase them legally, as a company is still profiting from these games. When we can only find these games and consoles at yard sales, pawn shops, and on the internet, then it’s time to make the games available to the public. In this way, there is no chance that we could possibly be cutting into the sales of the company that produced the games or systems, or retailers who sell the games; no company is profiting from them any longer.
If a company is not profiting from the game, then why shouldn’t we get it for free anyway? At that point, the only other way to obtain a copy of the game is to spend gobs of money on one.
Take, for example, Pokemon Yellow. This game came out in the 90’s, and now it’s considered a sort of collector’s item. You can’t buy this title on eBay without spending almost as much as you would on Pokemon X or Y (I sold a copy recently for $30). Nintendo is no longer producing the game, so they obviously don’t care about making any more money off it. No retailer is still selling the game in large numbers, so they aren’t making money off it either. Why should they care if we get it for free, then? By allowing us access to Nintendo’s old library, we can learn about their new titles and it is a sort of free advertising.
But wait; there is something I’m missing. What about when a company re-releases a game as a bundle pack, an HD remake, or a digital download? In sticking with the Pokemon theme, let’s say they decide to remake Yellow for the 3DS. Then, a game that (by my opinion) should be available for free by emulation is now being sold by the company once more for a profit. They make money off those remakes; is emulation of those games still legal? For instance, Yellow 3DS releases on October 9th, are free downloads of the original Yellow legal on the 8th, but then at midnight, the game releases, and it becomes illegal? That could obviously create some issues.
In this situation, either a game is released on a disk or digitally. Obviously, an emulated version of the original cannot compare to having the physical copy of the high-definition remakes that often come with exclusive artwork, box art, in game extras, and other features. Anyone who wants to buy the remake would definitely buy it and not simply emulate it for free, as it’s not the same product. (The same can be said for classics; you can emulate the game, but it can’t compare to actually owning the original disc or cartridge). Ifa game is re-released digitally, the company should improve the game somehow to make buying it digitally worth my money as opposed to downloading it for free. As with all purchases, the company has to prove to me that the purchase is worth my money. Otherwise, if it’s just a straight port, it should still be free.
For the final question, what if a game is released on multiple platforms; if I buy Skyrim for the 360, should I be able to emulate it for free on the computer since I already bought it for your Xbox? In a case like that, I think the company should just give a free digital computer download with every purchase of the console version of a game, if it’s available for both. I mean, I already paid $60 for your game; I’m not going to buy it again. If that means I can’t play it on my computer as well, that’s fine. But you’re not getting me to buy another copy, so you may as well just give me a download for it. Nowadays, there has to be some way to ensure that the game is being downloaded to my computer only; the company can ensure I’m not giving my free copy to a friend so he doesn’t have to buy it. (Also, many gamers couldn’t download Skyrim to their computer if they tried because it would probably explode from the effort of running it, like mine, so they wouldn’t be giving out a copy for every console sale).
So there it is; those are my thoughts on emulation. Like I said before, it’s a very tricky subject; there’s not really a right or wrong answer. It comes down to your ethics and morals as a person, mostly. If I’ve forgotten any important points, let me know in the comments. I want to know your opinion on this as well. If you’ve enjoyed this post or previous ones, consider following the blog for future updates, please!
Here’s the link to Nathan’s YouTube channel; he does gaming commentary and is starting a new series soon: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUeVaU-Jd5YlAZjG7jedHfg/videos