Valve removed the Steam listing for Dolphin, a popular emulator for the GameCube and Wii, after it received a cease and desist from Nintendo, developers behind the project claim. The company behind Mario and Zelda accuses the emulator of illegally circumventing its protections, and says it’s merely protecting the “hard work and creativity of video game engineers and developers.”
A listing for Dolphin on Valve’s digital storefront first appeared back in March. “We are pleased to announce our great experiment—Dolphin is coming to Steam!” the creators wrote at the time. While the open-source project has been available online for years, interest in retro emulators has increased since the release of the Steam Deck, and an official store page would make the tool even easier to access.
On May 27, however, Dolphin’s developers announced the Steam port would be “indefinitely postponed” after Valve removed the listing following discussions with Nintendo. “It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that the Dolphin on Steam release has been indefinitely postponed,” the emulator team wrote in an update on the project’s blog. “We were notified by Valve that Nintendo has issued a cease and desist citing the DMCA against Dolphin’s Steam page, and have removed Dolphin from Steam until the matter is settled. We are currently investigating our options and will have a more in-depth response in the near future.”
According to a copy of the legal notice reviewed by PC Gamer, Nintendo accuses Dolphin of using “cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorization and decrypting the ROMs at or immediately before runtime.” While emulation is itself legal, providing users with ways to bypass protections on individual game ROMs could potentially violate Nintendo’s intellectual property rights. It’s an issue that would have to be hashed out in court, though the power imbalance between large corporations and homebrew projects like Dolphin means that rarely actually occurs.
Quoting the DMCA: “the Dolphin emulator operates by incorporating these cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorization and decrypting the ROMs at or immediately before runtime.”
…this is objectively true. I just checked, the Wii Common Key is in the emulator source code.
— Yakumono (@LuigiBlood) May 27, 2023
“Nintendo is committed to protecting the hard work and creativity of video game engineers and developers,” a spokesperson for Nintendo told Kotaku in an email. “This emulator illegally circumvents Nintendo’s protection measures and runs illegal copies of games. Using illegal emulators or illegal copies of games harms development and ultimately stifles innovation. Nintendo respects the intellectual property rights of other companies, and in turn expects others to do the same.”
While the company has rarely looked the other way when it comes to piracy of its games and the tools that could facilitate it (like mod chips sold online), Nintendo has been particularly aggressive lately in clamping down on leaks and what it believes to be illegal misuses of its games and technology. In February it subpoenaed Discord for the personal information of someone suspected of leaking the official The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom art book. In April it issued multiple copyright strikes against dozens of popular Breath of the Wild gameplay videos on YouTube that relied on modded versions of the game. And in May it seemingly had a Switch emulation tool, Lotpick, removed from GitHub after illicit copies of Tears of the Kingdom began spreading like wildfire online prior to the game’s official release.
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