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COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

Jonathan Lester
Emulation, Piracy

COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

In almost* every case, videogame piracy is indefensible, inexcusable and plain wrong. Behind every angry assertion of draconian DRM or Robin Hood-style heroism lurks gamers who just want something for nothing, willing to effectively steal copyrighted code that developers worked hard to create. It may seem like a victimless crime, and it's difficult to sympathise with faceless corporations who clearly aren't short of a few bob, but when even struggling indie developers find their inexpensive wares being distributed and charity bundles end up on torrents, the whole thing becomes a farce. I can't stop you doing it, but don't try to defend it.

However, the practice of emulating older games via downloaded (or user-created) ROMs is usually lumped into same murky waters by overzealous publishers, and I'm not convinced that's entirely fair. At all. This might seem like a hypocritical double standard, but when you look closer at the scene, emulation has more in common with Kew Gardens' Millenium Seed Bank than the Jolly Roger.

COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

In a perfect world, copyright holders make their back catalogues readily-available to purchase at appropriate prices on current hardware, else classify ancient games as free-to-distribute abandonware. And in fairness, in this imperfect world, it does happen. For example, Sony provides a huge library of PSX games on the PlayStation Store for pocket money prices, while Nintendo's Virtual Console and SEGA's Mega Drive compilations are a step in the right direction. There's no excuse for downloading a Metal Gear Solid ISO when you can just buy it on the store - or an Earthbound ROM now that Nintendo have finally released it on Wii U. That's... well, that'd be stealing.

Unfortunately, for every legacy game that's managed to make it into the 21st century, dozens if not countless hundreds more are becoming an endangered species.

COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

Picking a platform at random, look at the Amiga. Okay, I admit that's not entirely random, since Commodore's outstanding system is near and dear to my heart. Its gameography is the stuff of legend, from the efforts of the Bitmap Brothers to Psygnosis and Craftgold, but beyond the multiplatform PC games and a tiny handful of re-releases (Alien Breed, The Chaos Engine, Superfrog HD and... erm... so... yeah), complex copyright issues and other concerns hold back the likes of Carthage, K240, Uridium 2, Walker, Awesome, Apidya, Globdule, Benefactor and so many more from getting another day in the sun.

Then consider even more niche systems, niche games, arcade games on obsolete bespoke PCBs and titles that only released in specific territories in limited runs. All just sitting there, in obscurity, as their hardware crumbles around them.

COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

My Amiga 600 is faded and yellowed, finally giving up the ghost this year - with replacements becoming increasingly rare and expensive to source beyond canny eBay sniping. Magnetic media has a shelf life as floppies degrade when improperly stored and cartridges lose their internal batteries, wiping save files in the process. Lasers lose alignment, gears brittle and snap. Developers can even misplace or accidentally destroy source code as the years roll on, as we saw with Panzer Dragoon Saga.

Meaning that there's a real risk of these endangered games becoming extinct, leaving future generations of gamers -- our kids and successors -- unable to enjoy or learn from them when creating the next generation of videogames.

Except that there's no danger at all. Our games are safe, protected, pristine for all eternity and readily available to all on the internet thanks to any number of dedicated emulation sites. Though motives may be murky, the end more than justifies the means in this writer's opinion. Age will not weary them. They're safe. Forever. And we should be grateful for that - both us gamers and publishers themselves.

COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

To reiterate: emulation becomes piracy when games are re-released on current platforms or PC. I bought Earthbound's Wii U version on day one, and if I happened to have a ROM, I would have deleted it immediately. Quoth Jonathan, glibly, glancing over his shoulder. I'd love to see copyright holders make an effort to make more legacy games available, or at least honestly ask themselves whether going the abandonware route would be easier for all concerned - while many emulation sites should probably clean up their act.

But better yet, I'd love to see the emulation scene treated as the conservation project that it really is, not maligned and criminalised. I yearn for an official industry-wide initiative, involving numerous publishers, developers and spearheaded the by ESA, designed to create an open-source database of classic games from countless ancient systems, free for academia, game design courses and future generations of curious gamers unless there's an earnest genuine desire to re-release them. A Millenium Seed Bank for videogames.

Until that happens, though, our games are safe. Let's hope it stays that way.

COMMENT | Emulation Is Conservation, Not Piracy

*With very specific and rare exceptions, which this article is not about.

Add a comment7 comments
googleberry  Apr. 24, 2014 at 16:26

I agree with the central thrust of this article. I just can't see the average gamer deleting old game roms should the publisher choose to make them available. It's a matter of honesty, but also of whether the person is actually playing the game (is it a backlog item, never to be played?) and awareness (are gamers going to be actively looking out for publishers telling them they now need to pay for that classic rom they've had for a few years?)

Rant time: the modern day game pirate really irritate me with their specious and dishonest arguments.

Case in point: CD Projekt Red went out of their way to address common concerns raised by pirates about exploitative practices of the EAs and Activisions of the world. They made in the Witcher 2 a high quality, DLC free game replete with added extras to encourage punters to purchase the game. Result? their game was heavily pirated.

imdurc  Apr. 24, 2014 at 16:27

It's an interesting thought. I haven't used emulation for a long time, but I also believe it's nice to know it is there - "safe."

P.s. "...treated as the conversation project... " - Conservation :)

EDIT: googleberry, ANY game will be pirated at some point. That's a no-brainer. But, I admire CD Projekt for their "no-DRM" stance. It's very refreshing and for some, a real alternative.

Last edited by imdurc, Apr. 24, 2014 at 16:29
googleberry  Apr. 24, 2014 at 16:44

ANY game will be pirated at some point. That's a no-brainer. But, I admire CD Projekt for their "no-DRM" stance.

'Tis a no brainer. But my point was mainly that if the piracy community's arguments for their actions were true, then we should have seen a cessation of piracy in the case of Witcher II. What a disingenuous lot!

JonLester  Apr. 24, 2014 at 17:14

@Googleberry: Aye, I admit that might be a little naive on my part, but the fact is that publishers should make legally buying legacy games more convenient than faffing about with ROMs, ZIPs, emulators and frameskip settings - and if they did, it'd be worth paying for so long as the price is appropriate.

RE Piracy: Yes, agreed. Like many fellow pundits, I feel that playing a game that's impossible to buy or acquire legally in your region might be a justifiable reason to consider piracy in very specific cases, but the degree of shameless hypocrisy and borderline self-delusion is astonishing. Again, I can't (no-one can?) stop people pirating and torrenting, but let's not try and glorify it with specious justifications, eh?

No wonder F2P is so attractive, especially on ecosystems like Android. 'Piracy' just becomes free client distribution!

@imdurc: Ta for that - must have clicked the wrong spellcheck option! :3

Last edited by JonLester, Apr. 24, 2014 at 17:16
Quietus  Apr. 24, 2014 at 20:51

I see a few reasons for agreeing with the article. I'll be the first to admit that I emulate regularly. Anyway...

1, It would allow players to play games that are otherwise unavailable in their region. The creators lose nothing, since the players can't buy them anyway. This goes doubly, since many fans labour over translations for games that are originally unavailable in whatever region, and these translations allow even more fans to enjoy the game.

2, It would allow the creators to ensure that only clean copies of games are available. Many, many dumps are available for some ROMs, and finding a clean copy can be very difficult. Some ROMs are even impossible to find a clean dump for, as they aren't known to exist. Rather than having all of these messy copies in circulation, they could ensure that only the intended, clean ROM is out there.

3, It allows players to enjoy their games for a lot longer. Even with rereleases on whatever machine is current, there comes a time when it is not practical to keep EVERY game, at which point emulation allows those players who still love those old games to continue playing them, long after their hardware has packed up.

4, Hacks. For the most dedicated fans, patches can be created, which can be applied to a ROM to create a whole new game. To those that are interested, this is amazing, as it allows them to relive those fond memories of when you first played your beloved game.

I've waffled enough, but I'm a firm believer in embracing emulation. I know from personal experience, and regular use, that 90% of the ROMs I use are games that I loved in my earlier years, and still have my original cartridges for. It's not about getting all ROMs just because I can, but more about offering a very tangible element to nostalgia.8)

Rubisco  Apr. 25, 2014 at 03:20

To reiterate: emulation becomes piracy when games are re-released on current platforms or PC.

Not if I own the game on the original system it doesn't.

I wasn't renting. That wasn't the deal.

MattGardner  Apr. 25, 2014 at 08:47

Just made me think of this...


And of course THIS.

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