Did Nintendo sell an illegal ROM?
Nintendo is incredibly heavy handed concerning emulation. They have a black and white view, to them it is absolute piracy and stealing, and they will quash any project within their remit that uses emulated assets, and they have often gone after rom distributors and hackers.
There is validity in their argument. The common rejection to Nintendo’s antics is that these gamers are old, nobody plays them anymore and they are hard to find. Nintendo would retort that they still sell a lot of these games, and are actively making money from their own intellectual property and products on their virtual console, NES Classic, and other such outlets.
This brings us to our next point. In a recent article by Eurogamer, they have uncovered evidence that shows Nintendo almost definetly downloaded a ROM from a website, then sold it back to us on the virtual console. They would of course be perfectly legally allowed to do this – it is still their product after all – but it brings up all sorts of questions on ethics.
Here’s how Eurogamer figured this out. In a homebrew Wii, it is possible to copy files between the console and a computer without them being formatted to something unreadable by a PC. They then found the game file on the system and did a little digging.
The simplest way of getting old games to work on modern systems or consoles, is for the manufacturer to dump the ROM code from a cartridge, and then create an emulator that can play this ROM code. It’s no different from copying discs back in the day. The only difference is that due to the way cartridges were made, and the dumping process itself, every single cartridge dump will be slightly different. They won’t be visible in any way through what is produced, but by exploring with a hex editor it is possible to see these differences in the way they have been translated.
It’s here were things get interesting. Due to the fact it is so incredibly unlikely to get two rom dumps that are the same, you would expect Nintendo’s version of Super Mario Bros to be different to any that are being pirated on rom websites online, considering it came out after those ones were put up for download. However they are exactly the same. The only conclusion to this is that Nintendo just downloaded the pirated version and sold it themselves. We have reached out to Nintendo UK to see if they can explain why this would be the case, but at the time of writing we haven’t heard anything back.
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