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Nintendo Switch Online recently drew scrutiny for its emulation of N64 titles (Image via Nintendo)

Why Nintendo's stance on emulation is both unreasonable and illogical

Emulation may have become a staple of retro gaming, but Nintendo remains steadfast against the process where its fans are concerned. Compared to its industry counterparts, the Japanese developer/publisher has railed heavily and aggressively against what they consider theft of intellectual property.

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While emulating current-generation titles is certainly a topic of its own, Nintendo has continued to stand against the emulation of games dating back decades.

Though the company has offered its own iterations of emulation in its consoles via virtual applications such as Switch Online and the Virtual Console and has released "classic" re-releases of their existing hardware, fans continue to emulate Nintendo titles.

However, dragging out long court battles towards its own fan base will only hurt the company in the long run, and there are a few reasons why.

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Why Nintendo's fastidious anti-emulation stance makes little sense and is considerably unreasonable

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The Retro Game Market is Too Lucrative

An original Nintendo Entertainment System (Image via Wikipedia.org)

There are no two ways about it: purchasing classic gaming hardware and software has burgeoned into a very expensive industry. Even for used consoles and games, some players see themselves spending exorbitant amounts of money to collect the games they remember fondly.

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This is especially true with consoles as well, especially in the event that players want to actually play the retro games they purchase. Particularly famous or obscure titles/consoles can cost upwards of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

In many regards, Nintendo has maintained that if players wish to experience its retro titles, they should do so by purchasing them physically. While the company's virtual emulation services have become more cost-effective in recent years, many games have been omitted from services such as Switch Online.

Considering retro games by and large do not affect the current sales numbers for the company, asking fans to spend such large amounts of money to enjoy their games in a physical context is a remarkably unreasonable request.

Put plainly, if a gamer cannot find a certain game on a virtual console service, and also cannot afford to spend hundreds or thousands on retro gaming hardware, emulation exists as one of the only remaining options on the table.

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Virtual Consoles Have Become a Cash-In

A selection of Switch Online's NES titles, which require a monthly subscription to play (Image via Nintendo)

While virtual console services are certainly a boon for many, they do not come without a cost. For example, Nintendo Switch Online's emulation services require a recurring subscription from players in order to play. While this provides a collection of NES and SNES titles, that isn't where the pricing stops for some players.

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To enjoy N64 emulation titles, the company requires players to subscribe to a Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership, which raises the base price each month even further.

This marketing strategy has ostensibly become Nintendo's way to continue generating revenue from its classic titles and consoles. Though this is completely within their rights, nickel-and-diming your own consumer base for additional console and game emulation can feel like a thumb in the eye of the player base.

Some players may be fully willing to part with their hard-earned dollars to play classic titles, but others consider it a cash grab by and large, especially when "expansion pack" subscriptions are offered just to add access to another console and small collection of games.

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Nintendo has come under scrutiny in recent months for their in-house emulation services not measuring up to third-party software. This has been particularly prominent in Switch Online's N64 titles, which have had to undergo multiple revisions to match fan-developed emulators.

Not only does the company charge to play these titles, but in some instances, their titles aren't even particularly well-emulated.


Many fans have already purchased their titles in the past

The Pokemon series is one of the most popular in the emulation community (Image via Game Freak)

Nintendo has used the allegation that emulation is theft to stand by its litigation practices. While this can be considered true in certain circumstances (emulating current Switch hardware using illegally-reproduced ROMs/ISOs of games still in circulation), why should it be considered theft if a player has already purchased the title in question?

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For example, one might say that a player purchased a physical copy of Pokemon Red many years ago, as well as a Game Boy console to enjoy it. Both the developer and the publisher received their money and sales.

If a player paid for a given game, no matter how long ago, is it considered theft for them to play it through an unconventional method? Does Nintendo really expect players to keep their aging classic consoles and cartridges in perfect condition decades after purchase?

Nintendo would likely suggest that if players do not have physical copies, they should buy a digital version through the company's various online storefronts. But why should players be cajoled into purchasing the same game multiple times, Especially if no improvements or adjustments have been made?

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While there is no doubt that plenty of emulation is conducted without players ever purchasing a physical copy of a game, there are many who do use their own physical ROM dumps to enjoy games they have already bought.

There is also the subject of abandonware titles, which are games that were produced and are now ignored and unsupported by their developers and manufacturers. These titles no longer generate revenue and have not had their IP rights renewed, so they essentially languish in obscurity.

Is it still theft if the game has been abandoned by its own creators? It does not appear as though Nintendo has many answers for these nuances, instead taking a zero tolerance policy in any third-party circumstance.


At the end of the day, certain aspects of emulation may be considered illegal when a game is still in circulation. However, Nintendo taking the hammer to its own fanbase for emulating classic and forgotten games does much more harm than good for the company.

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They do not really stand to gain much monetarily, and upsetting a fanbase by taking targeted action against them generates more PR headaches than anything affecting the bottom line.

Countless publishers and developers, while taking their own stances against emulating modern titles, are considerably lax when it comes to older games.

Sony does not levy lawsuits against every player enjoying God of War II on PCSX2, and Nintendo's litigious behavior towards those who genuinely love it has caused more than a few fans to spurn the company entirely.

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The company's suggested alternatives are considerably unreasonable for many, and the way that they conduct anti-emulation policies simply does not track logically. Perhaps Nintendo's outlook on the practice will soften in the future, but at the moment, the backlash certainly isn't worth the time and money invested to police their own fans who genuinely don't wish the company any harm.

In fact, many players emulating older titles wish to share them with others out of appreciation, and punching down on these oft-longtime fans only makes Nintendo look bad.

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Edited by
Saman
 
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