In the wake of Nintendo’s recent lawsuits against other ROM distribution sites, major ROM repository EmuParadise has announced it will preemptively cease providing downloadable versions of copyrighted classic games.
While EmuParadise doesn’t seem to have been hit with any lawsuits yet, site founder MasJ writes in an announcement post that “it’s not worth it for us to risk potentially disastrous consequences. I cannot in good conscience risk the futures of our team members who have contributed to the site through the years. We run EmuParadise for the love of retro games and for you to be able to revisit those good times. Unfortunately, it’s not possible right now to do so in a way that makes everyone happy and keeps us out of trouble.”
EmuParadise will continue to operate as a repository for legal downloads of classic console emulators, as well as a database of information on thousands of classic games. “But you won’t be able to get your games from here for now,” as MasJ writes.
Give us other options
Since founding EmuParadise in 2000, MasJ says EmuParadise has faced threatening letters, server shutdowns, and numerous DMCA takedown requests for individual games. Through it all, he says he was encouraged by “thousands of emails from people telling us how happy they’ve been to rediscover and even share their childhood with the next generations in their families.”
Those kinds of emails highlight just how hard it can be to get legal access to vast swaths of video game history in a convenient, downloadable form. Efforts like Nintendo’s now-defunct Virtual Console and periodic re-release collections fill in some of the gaps, often for the most popular games. Still, the game industry doesn’t have anything close to the equivalent of Spotify’s deep collection of easily streamable music, or the tens of thousands of downloadable movies and TV shows available on iTunes and its ilk.
For the vast majority of early gaming history, downloading a ROM from a site like EmuParadise is often the only feasible method of accessing the game at all, short of tracking down an original cartridge and hardware. As Video Game History Foundation founder Frank Cifaldi put it in a 2016 GDC talk, “we demonized emulation and devalued our heritage. We’ve relegated a majority of our past to piracy.”
While legal threats can have a chilling effect on individual ROM sites, stopping the illicit distribution of classic gaming ROMs wholesale is likely an unwinnable game of Internet Whac-A-Mole. As it stands, Archive.org still hosts thousands of ROMs on consoles ranging from the Atari 2600 to the original PlayStation, part of the site’s effort to encourage “commentary, education, enjoyment, and memory for the history they are a part of,” as collection manager Jason Scott puts it.
Until the industry can come together to provide convenient, legal access to these emulated games, illicit ROM distribution will continue to represent the main access point for that history to a large portion of the general public. It’s high time for classic gaming’s gatekeepers to sort out the rights issues and loosen their grip on these legacy libraries in order to offer a viable alternative to piracy’s de facto monopoly on much of gaming history.