Losing battle against ROMs

Rather than discussing how disappointed I’m in the Mega Man X Legacy Collections input lag, removed songs and censorship, the more interesting topic is Nintendo going after ROM sites again.

The whole thing with ROMs isn’t about an issue of legality when, that’s a clear cut thing. What isn’t concerns the relation of re-releases and ROMs. Emulators and ROMs are still popular, perhaps more than previously due to more accurate emulators being more available rather than junk like ZSNES. The increasing amount of fantranslations making games like Rudra no Hihou/ Treasure of Rudra available to the English-speaking audiences is reason enough to download whatever emulator seems to do the job and launch the game without any other considerations done. Then you have games that have changed graphics, completely overhauled game mechanics and pretty much everything under the sun you can think of. All you need to do is to patch the original ROM file and launch it in an emulator. Hell, even patching is optional, as most ROM sources simply list all known variants, patched or not, for any given title. Of course, some people just want to play Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo out of all companies probably has the most reason to dislike ROMs. Well, next to Sega. This is due to the fact how many classic titles exist on NES and SNES. As I’ve said before, any company who is releasing a title on a platform that allows the consumer to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 has high standards to live up against.

One of Wii’s most important lifelines was the Virtual Console. Titles on it outsell some of Nintendo’s big name titles, which didn’t put the Big N into right mindset. If you can’t obsolete a thirty years old game, then clearly something’s not right in the design and execution department. You may not be able to fight consumers’ nostalgia, but you can make see what makes that nostalgia ticking and tackle that. New Super Mario Bros. may have been rather mediocre after the fact, but after twenty year long drought of no 2D Mario it was a breeze of fresh air. Never went anywhere, and the New SMB titles ultimately lacked in quality.

The general consumer will drop five bucks for an old game in digital form, even more if the title’s a household name or holds some special place in his heart. The Virtual Console was a great thing, offering games across the platforms like no other. In the absence of Virtual Console, where does the consumer turn to? Without the older systems plugged in, and not too many have Wii or Wii U plugged in anymore, hardware emulation seems like the next best thing.

Nintendo of course has all the rights to protect their IPs and copyrights. Them shutting down Another Metroid 2 Remake a while back was them covering their asses and to remove competition from their own Metroid 2 remake. We can debate which one was better, but we can say for certain that AM2R was more faithful to the original and didn’t screw up the mechanics. Nintendo Switch Online is supposedly successor to the Virtual Console, but the concept and execution are a far cry from the store that Virtual Console is/was. NSO is essentially a subscription service to let you play online, with the whole thing about being able to play limited number of classic titles being a secondary element to it.

NSO is not a good replacement for the VC. VC wasn’t just about Nintendo’s own titles, but that may have been something that did rub them the wrong way. Nintendo wishes they had been as creative and innovative with their games as Sega was in their golden days, who constantly pushed the envelope with their groundbreaking arcade titles. The PC-Engine titles were a massive pull with the Japanese, with titles like The Kung Fu (known as China Warrior on the TruboGrafx-16) hitting the retro consensus there. There’s a market here that goes largely unused.

Nintendo could slap their in-house emulator for the Switch and sell every single NES game they own rights to for some three bucks. They’d probably make stupidly large amount of money off of them, probably more than what NSO could. Have all other companies that saw the success of Virtual Console hop aboard and have them re-release these title as well. Even better if you had opened this system to those who already had VC titles on the 3DS and could carry their games along just fine. This would have been beneficial and logical step for Nintendo on the long run, as it would have brought incredible amount of content to Switch from the get go.

An age-old argument against emulation from the industry has been that it damages the sales of future re-releases. VC was a massive success, PSN and XBLA’s retro titles slightly less so. Consumers will pay for what they like if its available at a decent price. Considering Nintendo is essentially ceasing its sales of older titles in order to move to Netflix styled subscription for them, the argument has less base than they want to believe.

All these companies know that they can’t stop emulation and piracy. It’s a losing battle, but all the companies have to do it. If they don’t, it’s very easy to see them fall into realm of abandonment and free for all to use. This extents to emulators being taken down as well. Only when patents expire does a company lose most control, like with the NES. When NES’ patent expired, the market saw a slight flood of clone consoles. The consoles themselves were legal, but some of them had build-in ROMs. This is often circumvented by just adding SD-card slot to the machine.

The retro game market is going to more expensive direction as the time go by, and it would be natural for the industry to take an advantage of this through re-releases and competent compilations. However, often we see budget packs with attention put to the presentation or alternative modes rather than on optimisation. Guess we’ll just have to wait and keep emulating before companies make older titles viable options again.

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