Emutalk

Nintendo isn’t losing to the OUYA’s high-quality emulation of classic games, it’s losing to itself

Nintendo isn’t losing to the OUYA’s high-quality emulation of classic games, it’s losing to itself

The OUYA is filled with emulators. Filled with them. If you’re a fan of a classic system, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to play games from that system on the $100 Android-based console. You’ll have to supply the ROMS yourself, of course, but some of the programs helpfully supply links directly to the contraband games. If you’ve ever used a computer, you can find download links to all the ROMs you’ll ever need.

“I went online to see how easy it would be,” another reporter told me when we discussed this. “It would be very easy.” A single download can get you every game ever released for the NES, in both Japan and the United States. The folder takes just a few moments to download. The legality of this isn’t really open to interpretation, this is piracy, but it’s the sort of piracy that’s so easy it’s hard to believe it’s not wider spread.

Piracy, as a service, is better than Nintendo's official offerings

The games will play on your OUYA, with support from your favorite current-generation controller, complete with cheat codes, save states, and graphical options to make everything look just so.

I turned on my Wii U to see what the official selection from Nintendo looked like. After waiting to connect to the online store, and then going through the painful menu system I found 27 classic games for sale. That is the total amount of classic Nintendo content I can purchase through official channels. Nintendo isn’t losing sales to the OUYA and other consoles that make emulation an easy, free option. They’re losing to themselves.

I can’t buy Mario 64 on the virtual console of the Wii U, but I can start the virtual Wii that’s inside my Wii U, and then I can go into that storefront and buy a copy of Mario 64 that won’t work with the tablet-style controller. In fact, I have to connect a Wiimote and a sensor bar to even access this version of the store, an option that’s not appealing. My Wii U is actually on my bedside table, not attached to a television at all. The other option is just to download the game for free online and play it through my OUYA. 

One of these methods is legal, and one is not. Nintendo, after a fashion, has made Mario 64 available to Wii U owners, but they have also made buying the game and supporting Nintendo a much more time consuming and, frankly, confusing option. If I asked my wife to figure out how to buy Mario 64 through the Wii U, she would likely not find the store within the system within the system. It’s a mess.

It should not be this difficult to support the companies you love, especially when a high-quality, free alternative is so readily available.

“We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem,” Valve’s Gabe Newell once said. “If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable.”

That’s the real danger of the OUYA to companies like Nintendo. The legal issue is barely worth talking about; when an inexpensive system is released that unlocks the entirety of gaming’s history for free and that content is widely available to anyone with an online connection, it’s important than companies like Nintendo at least try to provide a competitive service where it’s easy for customers to pay for the content they want to play.

The OUYA’s message when it comes to emulation is simple: Playing the games you grew up with is easy, fun, and free. Nintendo's counter-message: Buying these games is annoying on our systems, if they're available at all. Price isn't the only concern here, as emulators often win due to the fact that the games you want are available at all through illegal means, while Nintendo keeps most of its back catalog under lock and key.

Nintendo hasn't just lost the fight against emulation, they’re not even showing up for it. The pirates win by default; it’s hard to fight an enemy that’s providing a much better service, with better options, and not asking for money to do so. Nintendo drools out a thin supply of classic games, but the pace is glacial, and many of your favorite games are still impossible to buy through an official service. Even if the game is available through the legal channels, the fan-made emulators often provide a better, more open experience.

Emulation is a service problem, not a legal problem, and companies who want to profit from their back catalog need to start fighting on those terms. Nintendo released one game for the Wii U virtual console this week, and that game is Vegas Stakes. If you want Wave Race? Well, the pirates will take care of you, and the game is going to look amazing. Nintendo just isn't interested.

The image for this story was taken from this thread.