Nintendo’s Shutdown of Emuparadise Should Concern Us All

by Maxwell N
Published: Last Updated on

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always blame them for; the video game industry is essentially a toy industry, and it makes sense to get rid of an “outdated” product to push the shinier, new thing, from a business point of view.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.

Emuparadise

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.

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11 comments

Patrick Murphy August 10, 2018 - 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.

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Maxwell N August 11, 2018 - 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.

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Patrick Murphy August 11, 2018 - 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.

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Maxwell N August 11, 2018 - 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.

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Dab August 11, 2018 - 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)

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Ricky D Fernandes August 11, 2018 - 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.

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Maxwell N August 11, 2018 - 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.

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