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Nintendo’s Shutdown of Emuparadise Should Concern Us All

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The death of Emuparadise, one of the last major sites part of the video game emulation community, via threats by Nintendo, sends a chill down my spine.

On the surface, it’s a good thing. The vast availability of older games via collection packs from major game companies like SEGA, Capcom and Namco have helped scratch a lot of people’s retro gaming itch, and on PC, companies such as GOG have made amazing strides in resurrecting old computer games. So, hey, more money to the developers and publishers putting in the effort to make these games available again.

But, at its very core, piracy of retro games has never really been about, well, piracy. Preservation of ROM files from bygone eras is pretty different in principle than straight-forward piracy and conflating the two shows short-sightedness.

Emuparadise

You’re legally required to use an image from Mega64’s “Deus Ex” video whenever you talk about hacking on a gaming site.

Technically, sure, they’re one in the same thing, but one would have to be pretty naive to not realize the value of archiving that is at the root of the emulation community. Writing about Emuparadise’s demise for Techcrunch, Devin Coldewey’s assertion that, “What was practical in 2002 no longer makes sense”, that ROM sites are obsolete in their need now, does not sync with reality.

You have to understand why people want to “pirate” these games to begin with.

Video game companies, by and large, have done a horrible job at preserving their own games (at times losing data for critical titles), which I don’t always blame them for; the video game industry is essentially a toy industry, and it makes sense to get rid of an “outdated” product to push the shinier, new thing, from a business point of view.

It’s at this point, however, undeniable that video games, as both documents and works of art, are thriving, solidified products that exist within the ether of media as not just produce, but meaningful pieces of electronic history.

Emuparadise

Retro-inspired games like Shovel Knight are a great example of how the ROM-based revival of older titles influenced the entire market

The ROM piracy boom of the early 2000s was born partially out of the unavailability of older games, but mostly because a lot of people had been too young or hadn’t had opportunities to play the games in the past. It informed not only audiences, but future game developers who went to make retro-inspired modern classics like Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight, and the rest of the pixel-based stuff that overflows within that part of the gaming world.

If it weren’t for these formative years of the internet, you can bet that the landscape of retro-inspired indie gaming would be pretty different today, if it at all existed.

Piracy of this kind permeates still, because it’s simply not affordable or viable to not only preserve hardware with a finite mortality, but also because it costs a whole lot more than it probably should on eBay – unless you really want me to shell out $160 for a used copy of fucking Team Buddies for the PS1, or other such games not popular enough to salvage by some big-time publisher.

emuparadise

I wasn’t kidding

As physical media crawls into a niche, the world of digital downloads brings scary prospects: an environment where games can be patched into something else, or in the infamous cases of games such as Scott Pilgrim and PT, made wholly unavailable; vanished out of reach, with the only recourse for any kind of preservation being hacking and piracy.

Then you have the realm of “ROM hacking”, which has not only lead to the creation of amazing fan games, but on a more prosperous note, has given rise to a whole another league of backwards-engineering game design, allowing for fan translations of games unavailable or poorly-released outside of Japan, like Policenauts or Ace Attorney Investigations 2.

While some companies like SEGA have readily encouraged this kind of ingenuity, considering that Sonic Mania is basically a product of ROM-hackers, companies like Nintendo remain steadfastly stubborn on this matter, all while reaping the rewards of the same culture they pursue to destroy, with games like NES Remix and Mario Maker.

I wonder where Nintendo got this idea from?

No company has pushed harder than Nintendo in running down sites like Emuparadise, and that’s not all that surprising. With the high profits of their lackluster “classic” console releases, Nintendo’s aim is set to destroy anything in their unethical path, now that their extremely consumer unfriendly,  bad emulation riddled, Virtual Console scheme has expired.

Emuparadise owner, MasJ, plans to continue running Emuparadise as a database and forum. And that’s just it: it’s an adoration for this medium that has brought so many people together and has many of them dedicated to saving itself from this ouroboros-like industry.

This is a sign of things to come, and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next; what should concern us is that taking down Emuparadise is a “victory” rewarding Nintendo’s bad behavior.

The road ahead looks tough, and I raise my glass to all the folks everywhere, hoarding ROMs and ISOs like doomsday preppers.

Most of all, I raise my glass to the good hackers and pirates, without whose thankless, tireless work, Frankenstein-ing old tech and keeping long-forgotten obscurities of the past alive, I wouldn’t be here, deeply interested in this industry, and writing this very article.

Here’s to you.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Patrick Murphy

    August 10, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    I think you’ve romanticized the noble hacker a bit here. It’s one thing to archive; it’s another to disseminate. I agree that game studios have done a terrible job preserving their history, but it’s their history. Perhaps they don’t consider their work art. Anyway, there are copyright laws in place that will see these properties (at least those published in the US) eventually become public domain. To me that’s fair enough.

    I share your frustration that the games industry has taken few steps to preserve and make the past available for sale, but I could not disagree with you more strongly about your stance on the practices of these emulation communities. Nintendo has the moral right to go after them if they so choose; we are not entitled to their creations.

    • Maxwell N

      August 11, 2018 at 2:52 am

      Nintendo’s legal right to protect their property is beside the point with the topic at hand. It’s obvious, and not the issue.

      The biggest reason the black market for ROMs and such exists is because there has been traditionally a void in the legal market for such things; sure, some people pirate because they’d rather not pay, but again, that’s not the topic at hand.

      And as far as people making unavailable or hard to find things available goes, I couldn’t romanticize “hackers” enough.

      I grew up with a lot of varied interests in film, music and games, most of which were on the obscure side and simply not accessible for legal acquisition. You also have to understand that people exist outside of the US and do not have the privileges available to acess these things. A whole lot of these amazing pirates and hackers put together amazing blogs and sites where they curated and shared such things that deeply informed me on very fundamental levels.

      So many once obscure things in media are now recognized because of this adoration of people who kept the lights on when nobody else was around. Still, so many things in media literally only exist in “pirated” ways, their source material long gone.

      So, when you talk about preservation, these realities need to be understood. Public domain isn’t a good way.out, because it’s not a finely defined thing right now and hurts all sides, so that’s beside the point.

      • Patrick Murphy

        August 11, 2018 at 3:33 pm

        Nothing wrong with believing what you believe, but nothing you’ve said “needs” to be understood. There’s no fundamental truth in what you say – only an opinion based on your particular experiences. I get your point just fine; I just completely disagree with all of your premises, and rebuttals. Just because you don’t consider something a good way out because it doesn’t fit your ideal outcome doesn’t mean it’s beside the point. I believe in the control of intellectual property for creators 100% over the feelings of those who would wish to experience the creation. If you don’t understand that point of view, then we don’t really need to argue about this as we’ll never see eye to eye. I only posted a comment to have another side represented in this. I appreciate your passion; my own just happens to be strongly against it.

        • Maxwell N

          August 11, 2018 at 4:05 pm

          Well, I just think you’re missing the point of the argument and not understanding the premise, since it’s not denying intellectual property rights or copyright or anything of that sort – that’s what I mean by “beside the point”. If you can’t see that, then I can’t help you. Your stated point of view, which you want me to understand, is already understood to begin with, and not part of what’s being talked about. It’s apples and oranges.

    • Dab

      August 11, 2018 at 11:14 am

      For somebody who isn’t a judge, lawyer, or a hacker…you sure have alot to say about nothing you even know here.
      Maybe you romanticized your opinion.
      You speak like you are in a place of authority, but little do you know Nintendo has a secret something called developers who make games for their system.
      Nintendo doesn’t own the rights for a game made by a completely different developer.
      They are just doing this so they can squeeze out some more dollars from their Switch kids before they abandon that system like many of their past unsupported systems (N64, Gamecube, Wiiu)

  2. Ricky D Fernandes

    August 11, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Hey Max. I don’t know much about the website that was taken down but isn’t the issue that the site wasn’t just archiving games but that they had ten ads popping up on every page, and given that they had millions in traffic, they were making a sweet profit?

    I could be wrong, but I heard that this was the biggest issue.

    • Maxwell N

      August 11, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      I can’t say if they were making a “sweet profit”, or one that would even come close to a fraction of lost revenue for Nintendo, though it should be noted that Emuparadise was known for being a clean site, with clean ads.

      I don’t believe for a moment that’s what made Nintendo go after these sites (Emuparadise wasn’t the only one targeted), which they’ve been doing for the past 18 years in varying degrees. I think they only recently got aggressive about it because it’s perceived as competition to their mini consoles.

      And, I want to reiterate that I think Nintendo is in the “right” for doing it. I just think it compromises the bigger picture, something that is a whole lot bigger than just Nintendo itself. Nintendo could be replaced by several other companies both within gaming and outside of it whose approach to this stuff is pretty short-sighted. It’s not about just “Emuparadise”, it’s an on going thing and Emuparadise is a good case study.

      Also, the point is more of a “consumer protection” one.

  3. Anon

    August 11, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Should it though? Cause you know what’s gonna happen now right?
    Tell people not to do one thing, they will only double down on it. Good.
    Nintendo is pure bullshit when it comes to policies. They don’t believe in fair use, their online services are shit, they intentionally under deliver products (amiibo and NES mini) and they have the balls to flag video’s talking about their games unless you pay them a fee on top of everything else you lose it to.

    Nintendo brought this to themselves. They have 1000s of awesome games and don’t do ANYTHING with them. Yes we wanna archive these games but ofcourse we wanna play them!

    And even if all those games were sold through the Virtual Console (which sucks so hard it isn’t even worth it), that still leaves the problem of convenience. Netflix, Hulu, Spotify have all shown people will pay for convenience, something Nintendo doesn’t know about. If the free “illegal” way of doing it is faster, easier, more versatile, offers more options etc then why would i pay for a shittier less version?

  4. Michael

    August 12, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Emuparadise wasn’t shut down, they willingly removed all ROMs to avoid any possible lawsuits

    • Maxwell N

      August 12, 2018 at 5:39 pm

      In the face of reality, and threats, you and I have very different definitions of “willingly”. You can find resources in the article itself that tell you that, beyond arguing semantics.

  5. DillieBird

    August 17, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    It’s quiet clear that these game companies are engaging in a process known as “biting the hand that feeds you”. The only ones who are going to have any interest and are playing these type of games, are people who LIKE gaming and or into gaming themselves. You won’t get atheletes, sports-folks and the like interested in these type of games.

    Secondly, these 8-bit retro games are seriously old. Their so outdated that any technology available from current games out-weighs those games created back in the early 80’s and late 90’s.

    What these companies are doing, however, is helping delete a part of gaming HISTORY due to their insecurities about copyright infringement. Tites that are so old and technically have very little to no value ($1) do NOT cost the “thousands of dollars lost” spin that they want people to think of. Many if not any of these games are on cartridges, and cartridges are not valuable (with the exception of a few titles).

    Now, a great site that I grew up with as a kid back in the 2000ish for 18 YEARS is now on the push of KO. Nintendo has done this to fan-titles that were completely using even their own assets from scratch because it had the name “POKEMON” on it (Pokemon Uranium anyone?).

    Nintendo is no longer the kid-friendly gaming console it was. It’s actually an over-aggressive copyright infringement nimcompoop and as an adult and indie developer, I can certainly see that. I will not be supporting a game industry that is so zealous in it’s copyright infringment and censorship that it’s biting the hands of the consumers that help create it to what it is now today.

    Infact, non of my kids or myself will be playing any nintendo-titles except the very far and few. I may discontinue buying anything related to the hardware as nintendo has proven time and time again that it’s willing to disrespect the fans in order to hoard over some old outdated IP titles that people have barely even heard of or are so old their insignificant.

    It was because of EMUPARADISE I was able to emulate and play titles in another language that didn’t make it over to the U.S.A. A lot of these titles had content in it that would make parents hurl back in the day (Mortal Kombat controversy, anyone?) and probably still today even now.

    Just a shame such a wonderful site had to cave in because of stupid nintendone.

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