Why is Nintendo only paying attention to retro ROM websites ahead of the launch of Nintendo Switch Online?
Nintendo Switch isn't getting Virtual Console, we've understood that fact for a while now. Back in May Nintendo stated that "there are currently no plans to bring classic games together under the Virtual Console banner as has been done on other Nintendo systems."
However Nintendo seems to be on a banning spree, clamping down on retro emulation websites hosting Nintendo console ROMs online – suggesting that Nintendo is actually up to something. Sites such as EmuParadise, which has been running for 18 years hosting retro game ROMs from, have found themselves shutting down following legal pressure from Nintendo against two similar online resources. A Nintendo that had, previously, left them all well alone.
According to the BBC, Nintendo was seeking $US150,000 for each Nintendo game made available through each portal and up to $US2 million for each trademark infringement.
In Nintendo's legal letter to LoveRetro and LoveRom – two retro game portals owned by Mathias Designs – the Japanese company accused the sites as "built almost entirely on the brazen and mass-scale infringement of Nintendo's intellectual property rights". It made accusations of both sites "trafficking in pirate copies" of games and trademarks without authorisation.
As Torrent Freak point out, "obtaining ROMs, in order to play retro games, does no harm. The titles themselves are often decades old, run on obsolete hardware, and have already covered their costs 1,000 times over.
"With all that in mind and considering many gamers are currently buying new games, [gamers] will be wondering what the hell the problem is."
So just what is Nintendo up to? Why is it only acting upon these websites now, rather than years ago? We already know that the Nintendo Switch is more than powerful enough to emulate past Nintendo consoles – including the GameCube and, possibly, the Wii.
With Nintendo Switch Online launching in a month's time, it's possible Nintendo has changed tack on its Virtual Console plans. Nintendo claims that it won’t be bringing “classic games together under the Virtual Console banner”, but it doesn’t state that it won’t be bringing classic games to the Switch at all. The Nintendo Switch Online NES games are just one sign that classic games will be on the switch, albeit with revamped features and online multiplayer.
Going forward, it’s likely Nintendo will be bringing revamped or remastered titles to Switch instead of offering up a straight emulation. Virtual Console was incredibly popular, but it was also terribly fragmented, with some Virtual Console games only available on certain systems. By moving away from the VC template, Nintendo can publish what it likes without any expectations to suddenly drop a huge number of NES, SNES and N64 games. It’s also likely we’ll see Nintendo bring collections of games to market too, similar to how Sega is bringing its Mega Drive collection of titles to Switch with Sega Ages and the regular ACA NeoGeo games that come to the eShop.
Nintendo isn’t stupid though. Both its NES and SNES Classic Mini consoles have proven immensely popular, showing the company that there’s definitely an appetite for Nintendo’s retro games. Nintendo is also rumoured to release a Nintendo 64 Classic Mini console later this year, and a Nintendo GameCube Classic Mini console has been spotted online with a 2019 window too.