Emulation has become a double-edged sword for the gaming industry. On the one hand, it has allowed players to experience both classic and new games on different hardware systems. On the other, it has become a concern for game developers resulting in lost revenue. Game developers must find a way to protect their video games from emulation to have complete control over their content.
Let’s take a closer look at how it works and how it can negatively affect your game development business.
How does game emulation work?
Emulators serve as a tool to mimic the functions of gaming consoles, Game Boys or any other gaming platform. They allow players to run games on different systems by using digital copies of the game, also known as Read Only Memory (ROM) files.
ROMs contain the extracted program files from the original source, converted into a new file format used by emulators. The latest Nintendo Switch games for example can then be ported over onto PC, enabling the gamer to play, without owning either the game, or the console, hurting both the developer and the console maker.
How has game emulation evolved?
In recent years, selling retro (classic) games has become a profitable business for license holders. Companies like Nintendo have provided legal and licensed emulation through their Virtual Console and Switch Online subscription service, which offers access to old titles for PlayStation, Wii U, Wii and Switch at full price. These services allow players to purchase and play games for old systems on modern hardware, or in some cases play remastered versions.
How is emulation hurting the gaming industry?
Nowadays, players have the ability to access almost every game created for any system at no cost. And pirates are able to make games available for emulation as soon as they’re released! Every new game emulation hurts game developers in a number of ways. Here are some of the major downsides:
1. Lost monetization and revenue
Illegally emulating retro (classic) and new games can have a massive effect on game developers’ revenue stream. In comes piracy and illegal copies of games. And players love it! That way they do not need to pay for the licensed version of the game.
Video games prices are constantly rising, with many costing $79,99 or more when they hit the market. PlayStation, for example, offers membership plans, such as $119,99 for a 12-month subscription that provides hundreds of PS5, PS4 and classic PlayStation games. These prices make emulation an attractive option for players who are unwilling or unable to pay for the game, the hardware, software or accessories that go along with it.
2. Deteriorated players’ experience
While emulation can provide an alternate gameplay experience by allowing gamers to adjust settings such as resolution, frame rate and graphics quality (making it more enjoyable), it can also cause various problems:
- Performance issues: Emulators can cause games to run slower or with lower frame rates. This can result in lag, stuttering and other performance issues. In some cases, pirated copies of games might even include malware.
- Glitches and bugs: Emulation causes graphical issues that happen as a result of the porting/ripping from the original game. These can range from minor graphical glitches to major gameplay issues that can make the game unplayable. And unlike the original game, emulation doesn’t have patches to solve them.
- Limited playability: Emulators may be lacking in some of the features from the original console or platform, such as multiplayer game modes or the lack of playable content (DLCs, cosmetics or any other additional content). This can make the game less enjoyable to play, especially if these features are core to the gameplay experience.
3. Violation of the intellectual property
Video game developers spend countless hours and resources creating their games, and their creations are protected by intellectual property laws. Emulation allows for the distribution of copyrighted material without permission, which is not only illegal, but also undermines the hard work and creativity of game developers.
Nevertheless, when it comes to copyright law, emulation is a gray area. While the process of emulation is perfectly legal, the ripping/porting of the games in the creation of the ROMs is illegal. If game developers decide to pursue legal action against emulators or those distributing ROMs, it can result in a lengthy and costly legal battle.
Protect your video games from emulation
Game developers and players need to find a common ground for the legal practice of playing legacy games, eliminating a large source of emulation. By implementing effective protection measures, game developers can help ensure the continued success of their business.
Want to prevent unauthorized distribution of your game and ensure it can only be played on licensed hardware? Learn more about how we can protect your game and contact us today!