Last Saturday, Eurogamer’s Dan Whitehead posted an opinion piece that was initially titled ’emulators are killing videogames industry’* . While a coherent read, it didn’t really clarify the rationale behind its original bold, statement of fact title. Somebody at Eurogamer clearly agrees with me, since the article has now been renamed ‘we need to talk about emulation’. I’d be questioning their editorial wisdom had they not, because it’s plain to see that emulators aren’t killing the videogame industry at all.
I agree with Dan’s opinion that older gamers in particular do sometimes demonstrate an astonishing sense of entitlement as regards bygone hits, and that this needs to be addressed in some way, shape or form. But the idea that the mainstream games industry has been brought to its knees by emulation is patently false.
Most statistics as regards how much money piracy costs various digital entertainment sectors are based on the flawed assumption that each instance of a downloaded game, film or album equates to a lost sale. This is just plain wrong. If I couldn’t download ZSNES and a ROM image of Super Mario World in about 30 seconds, would I then go out and buy a Wii U and a copy of the game from the Virtual Console, or Ebay a sunset yellow (read: fag stained) SNES and original cart? No, of course I wouldn’t.
Furthermore, if I did go for the real deal, although I’d be on the right side of the law, Nintendo still wouldn’t see a penny. Plus, there’s the added headache of getting authentic vintage games to not look and sound diabolical on a modern TV set.
The piece implies that the short shelf life of console games is somehow related to the widespread use of emulators. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Part and parcel of the new ‘gamer’ stereotype we’ve seen emerge in recent years is a rabid desire to consume and then quickly dispose of any and all major releases, treating each one as simply another link in a chain. These people want to play the next Battlefield, Call of Duty, FIFA or Assassin’s Creed, not get all misty-eyed over some Neo Geo obscurity or play through Chrono Trigger for the umpteenth time. Indeed, those to whom the latter examples appeal are at the other end of the gaming spectrum entirely; avoiding the the unholy triumvirate of DLC, preorders and GAME like the plague, and almost non-entities as far as the largest publishers are concerned.
As regards past hits for more recent formats such as the N64 and original Playstation, for example, although these are readily available digitally via the Virtual Console and Playstation Store respectively, and exist as a perfectly legitimate and fair revenue stream for the companies involved, I’d imagine they aren’t enormous earners. I’m not at all saying that justifies simply stealing such content, but rather that legacy downloads will likely only account for a tiny portion of publishers’ or hardware vendors’ businesses. Ergo, what little revenue they bring in, or don’t, is unlikely to have any real bearing on the sustainability of the companies that offer them, let alone the industry at large.
My central point is this: emulators can’t be killing the games industry, because they don’t in any way at affect the spending habits of the mainstream gamers keeping the beast alive. Again, to assume that every penny ‘stolen’ via downloaded ROMs is a penny lost to the wider industry. is at best, misguided, at worst, hopelessly naive.
Renaming the article will shift reader expectations accordingly; those picking it up from now on will expect a discussion on the complex moral and legal issues surrounding emulation. What they won’t do is assume they’re going to be enlightened as to how the practice is killing the hobby they love, only to come away none-the-wiser and more than a little unconvinced, like I was.
I don’t know whether Whitehead actually holds the opinion (which he is perfectly entitled to do, of course) that emulators are killing the videogames industry or he simply made an error in judgement as regards titling his piece. Whatever the truth, I’d disagree totally with such a sentiment for the reasons given above.
* Disclaimer: I cannot find a cached version of the piece as it was titled originally, but if you check out the comments section at the bottom of the page you’ll see lots of people referencing and taking umbridge with it.