Emulation: Adaptation vs. Regulation

Video Game Emulator for Windows Phone

Hardly anyone who knows a thing or two about retro gaming and computing can honestly deny they’ve never played in the world of emulation. People clamoring to get their paws on titles popular in the days of yore often seek this route to play classic games without having to scour used video game stores, eBay, or risk getting killed on craigslist. It’s also hard to argue that emulation in its current form isn’t a form of piracy. So here’s my question: If you can’t beat them, why not embrace the technology and adapt to it?

Not embracing the world of emulation by the big game developers and platform manufactures seems like a giant waste. There is a huge base of revenue that could be made, simply by releasing many 8 and 16-bit titles as $0.99 apps on Apple’s App Store or Google Stores, and even be made available for purchase on your PC. Think of the buckets of money Nintendo could stand to make by releasing the GBA versions of Pokemon as emulated roms for your iPhone or Android device. How many of you would say no to having the chance to play Killer Instinct on the go on your tablet? Emulation, and an extension piracy, exists because there is a consumer desire that no company is meeting. There is a desire to play older games, especially on Android and Apple tablets.

There’s truckloads of cash left on the table by companies in their failure to adapt to this. What is the alternative to these companies? Clearly, Nintendo doesn’t see a single cent for every old cartridge sold at local used game stores. Sega doesn’t get anything for every copy of Sonic the Hedgehog sold on eBay. Why not continue to make a profit on your old catalog that is so beloved by many?

Obviously, the ability to produce these roms cannot be that difficult either. Consumers looking for these roms and emulators can simply perform a Google search where they are greeted with a myriad of websites offering these; most of them are coded by fellow gamers. The technology and ability to do this exists, as have been shown time and time again. I’m sure someone you know, or perhaps even yourself, has some sort of emulator on some device you own, whether it be your PC/MAC, old Xbox, Dreamcast, or on your phone/tablet.

Having Nintendo release their own games for tablets solves many problems.  It solves the issue of roms not always properly working with emulators. Many times, people wanting to play a rom may have to try 3 or 4 different emulators before the desired rom will function properly. Usually a compatibility issue, having one person or company develope the games will help curb this problem. Companies are also constantly worried about licensing and piracy. Embracing emulation and actually producing it for availability on tablets and other devices also helps this problem out slightly, as no one should have any misconceptions that piracy will ever be 100% solved.

As a tablet owner, I’ve often pined over missed opportunities to bring over some sweet older titles onto my lovely Nexus 7. The 7” touch screen is more than optimal to play some of my favorite games like Pac-Man, Dragon Warrior, F-Zero, Mutant League Hockey, Super Mario 3 and a whole mess of other hits. There are certainly rip offs of these games that exist on the Apple Store, or on Google Play, but hardly ever the real thing.  Sure, there is GTA 3, Madden, Prince of Persia and a couple other select titles floating out there on the tablet markets, but I’ll be damned to see a Final Fantasy 2 or anything like that on there. EA, for as popular as it is to hate on them, have been surprisingly good at releasing some of their games onto mobile devices, such as Madden, FIFA and Need for Speed. But it still feels like something is missing. I’d be even happier for some Donkey Kong Country or Rad Racer on my tablet.

Top Video Game Roms

Above is the screenshot from a popular ROM site, showing the most popular ROMs downloaded from this site. As you can see just from the votes themselves, all of these ROMs have received over 1,000 votes, with some receiving 10,000+ votes. Consider for a moment each of those “votes” is a download, at the rate of $0.99 or $1.99? That is a considerable amount of money these companies aren’t able to collect for their own. Rather, they send considerable manpower, money and time “fighting” the piracy. Piracy, mind you, that occurs because of a lack of product that as you can clearly see, is in consumer demand.

Retro gaming is all the rage now days. I know many people who would almost be happier popping in a copy of Dragon Warrior over playing Mass Effect, or even playing a round of NBA Jam on the SNES than trying to learn the complex controls in some modern sports games. Whatever their reason may be, there is a clear demand for this product. Perhaps some of you will remember an incident earlier this year, where a fake Pokemon Yellow app was made available on the Apple Store marketplace. Black eye for Apple and Nintendo aside, the game reached #2 on Apple’s App Store charts in its very brief, but successful life. This clearly shows that there is a strong desire in the consumer base for these kind of retro games, especially on mobile devices.

Now, without seeing the numbers from the Wii’s Virtual Console, its hard for me to paint a picture of how popular, in terms of numbers and dollars, but it feels obvious enough the demand is there for them to even put out all of these games for play on the Wii. Couple that with the fact that anything with Mario, Link or Metroid on it will sell like hot cakes, should be all the proof you need that the love for nostalgic gaming is alive and well.

Video Game Emulator for PlayStation

Obviously, Nintendo isn’t the only company guilty of this failure to embrace the world of emulation. Many other systems are popular on ROM sites as well. People want to play those older games ranging anywhere from PlayStation 1 games to Colecovision. Even the other day, just to age myself, I was even wishing for old, old, old QBasic based text-based RPGs. Regardless of one’s age, gaming interests or gaming background, there is no denying that everyone has some sort of love with retro gaming.

So what is it that’s preventing Contra from appearing on your iPad? Why can’t we have Mutant League Football on the Nexus 7? We clearly know it can’t be an issue of programming them, as a quick google search will show you all about the world of rom development (Also, it’s pretty obvious as ROMs exist in droves for 8 and 16 bit games). It could very well be a licensing issues, though all that does is prevent companies from making more money. We’ve heard story after story about how Nintendo refuses to allow its products in the Apple marketplace. Perhaps it might be high time for a changing of the guard to adapt to new technology beyond magic wands and sensor bars. Nintendo, Sega, both of your companies are getting killed in the wallet. Your sales are down and your popularity is waning. Get with the times and give the people what they want.

[This editorial was written by guest contributor Mike Deneen of Brutal Gamer.]