Nintendo has always been known to keep a tight leash on their IPs ever since their failed third-party ventures with the Phillips CD-i and various poorly developed third-party Mario games. After those multiple disasters, Nintendo has strengthened their IPs and maintained their value as one of the major pillars of the company’s success (for better or worse). Everyone knows the quality and standards that come with a mainline Mario or Zelda title, even less prominent IPs like Metroid and Kirby still carry a large number of expectations when it comes to representing the quality titles that Nintendo represents. It is, in large part, what has kept Nintendo as one of the best developers of games, regardless of their hardware woes.
It is because of this high amount of value that Nintendo places on its franchises that it is equally as vehement in defending them. If consumers have a poor attitude towards Nintendo’s franchise then Nintendo is more likely to sell fewer games and other product lines related to them. We have seen this several times in recent memory with such high profile fan games such as Pokemon Uranium and AM2R both receiving cease and desist letters from Nintendo (along with a long list of other titles in the past). So it should come as no surprise that not only fan games would receive unwanted attention from Nintendo, so would ROM websites.
Just recently, Nintendo filed a lawsuit against the alleged operator of the ROM sites LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co with Nintendo stating “The sites are among the most notorious online hubs for pirated games” and face millions in damages. ROMS, for those unaware, are computer files that contain a copy of date from a read-only memory chip, such as a video game cartridge; in colloquial terms, it has come to generally mean a file for any console game that can be read by a console emulator. Unlike fan developed games, ROMS (generally) are not looking to create a new game, but rather to simply replicate an old game. After all, playing some obscure game that was only available on the NES is a feat within itself. Tracking down the cartridge, having a working NES, making sure you have a TV that can accept an NES input etc. All these items need to come together to play that obscure NES title, that is, unless it is offered on some other platform or some other way; enter Virtual Console and ROMS.
One of the prevailing complaints of the game industry and its titles is the poor effort and ability in playing games of the past. Unlike PC games which can much more easily be played on more modern software, largely due to how operating systems have developed on the platform by comparison, console titles usually require the same hardware to play them. How do you play an N64 title in today’s environment? There are only a few options and most have major caveats:
- Own an N64 (or emulator console) and the original cartridge
- Play a remade version of the game, if it exists
- Play a Virtual Console version of the title (no longer to be downloaded from the Wii eShop)
- Download a ROM to play on an emulator
Out of all the options listed, only two of those options allow you to play all the past games, and out of those, only one is reasonable in being acquired. ROMs largely exist as the main way to play past titles because all the other options fail in one aspect or another. Offering older titles on newer systems is always missing multiple titles and has no guarantee of being able to be played later, remakes only happen for a select few, and finding the original cartridge of a game can be difficult it is rare. So for Nintendo to go after ROM websites that host these files is entirely misguided as it only benefits them in the interim.
If your only Nintendo console at this point is a Nintendo Switch, but you want to play a title from the NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, Wii, or Wii U game, you simply can’t. Now it’s not impossible to play some titles, especially for the NES and SNES as they both have their respective mini consoles, but outside of those specifics titles on those specific consoles, that’s it. If Nintendo isn’t going to offer an easy alternative to play these titles, then it shouldn’t make an effort to prevent them by suing ROM websites as it simply hurts their ability to be discovered. If there is no simple way to come across and play these titles, how is interest to be generated in the first place? It can’t.
By leaving ROM websites up and available to provide these titles, it gives an opportunity that currently doesn’t exist elsewhere to play those titles. This conversation would be entirely different if these games were made available easily and widely, but the simple fact of the matter is, they aren’t. Nintendo should want people to play these classic titles in any way, shape, or form they can until they are made available to the masses. Because when those titles finally do become available, consumers will want to play them not only on a Nintendo console but also in a manner that is unique to the Switch; portable. ROM sites like these represent free marketing and interest that Nintendo simply can’t generate until it actually offers the product in a fashion that most can acquire. It doesn’t cheapen the brand by not being offered on a Nintendo console, and it doesn’t affect Nintendo negatively if there is no current way to purchase the titles in questions, all it does is build interest and makes some titles actually available to play.
So instead of trying to fight ROM websites, Nintendo, let’s focus on whats important, actually offering those titles on your current platform.