Many gamers have a dirty secret. Want to know what it is? Okay. At one point in their lives, they probably played a rom. That is, they downloaded an emulation program to their computer or tablet that allowed them to illegally play a copy of a probably retro video game they did not own. Don’t look so shocked. Lots of people have done it. But now, thanks to recent moves in the industry, it might not be happening anymore. While there are ways in which this is good, as it means games aren’t being stolen while their creators do not get the proper dues, there are many ways in which this is a horrible blow. Especially since Emuparadise, one of the larger and more reputable sites, is now gone.
This cavalcade of collapsing rom sites came as a result of Nintendo. The company targeted two larger sites and brought them to their knees. Their path continued, tearing down other places people could go for retro roms. With Emuparadise, the company decided to get ahead of the game. While it was always known for complying with takedown requests and handling things reasonably, Nintendo’s actions have left the site scared. As a result, every game it offered is now gone. All you can download from there now are emulators, which are not illegal in any way. All a gamer can do when they visit is head to the community section to chat or post on forums. One of the safest repositories is gone.
Why is this such a big deal? Especially if someone considers people who download roms a dirty thief? Because Emuparadise was a haven for games from some of the most obscure games and systems. Do you know what Bandai’s Playdia was? Have you ever heard of a Wonderswan? Did you ever keep track of what was released on the PocketStation or N-Gage? There were even ZX Spectrum games! It curated a lot of titles you could not find anywhere else. It was easy to see screenshots for the games. You could use one game listing as a branching off point, to find similar titles, and see what others thought about it. It was a comprehensive resource. Looking at it was like browsing a museum. While you can still look at the images and insights (for now), a major resource that was preserving games 90% of people don’t care about is now gone.
Sites like Emuparadise provide a sense of discovery. While it seems it will live on in another form, one has to wonder how many will care with the incentive removed. How many people will visit to talk about 3DO games, now that there is no way to easily see and experience them. Like seriously, open a separate browser window and look up 3DO. It is incredibly difficult to not only find a working system, but also get the games. (Especially ones that were multi-disc affairs!) It is like a piece of our past is being erased.
There is also the sense of unease that comes from places that were the “good” guys in this illegal and dubious land. Some emulation sites require people to download their downloader, in order to get the games. Which means you are very likely downloading things like malware, viruses, keyloggers, and maybe bitcoin miners. Granted, you never know what you are opening yourself up to on the shadier site of the internet. But at least with some of the rom sites that once existed, there were community elements and some degree of trust. Hell, you could even use them as a resource to get screenshots or even just learn about the games, even if you weren’t downloading them illegally.
The effect may not be seen for years to come, but losing all of these rom sites will damage the community. Yes, piracy is illegal. But in many cases, these were the only way to see and access games lost to time. As large, safe, and reputable sites like Emuparadise close down, people will have no way to see how things once were. Defunct companies and platforms with brief lives could be completely forgotten. Given how companies like Nintendo treat their old games, we may even see NES and SNES games disappear from history. The niche communities that made up these sites’ userbases will disappear, and soon gaming as a whole will be impacted by the inability to preserve these relics.