The Dolphin emulator, available on Windows, macOS and Linux, was supposed to appear on Steam for several months. Its developers have decided to give it up, because of a letter from Nintendo.
Metroid Prime (GameCube) and Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) on Steam, and at the same time on the Steam Deck? Nintendo says no. The developers of Dolphin, an open source project launched in 2003, decided in May 2023 to launch a watered down version of the software on Valve’s application store, in order to introduce emulation to the general public. Very enthusiastic, the developers even had fun as an April Fool’s joke imagining what could be trophies for Dolphin, once published on Steam (like burning 1,000 calories by moving the controller).
On May 27, the developers of the application announced that they were abandoning the project. Blame it on a letter from a lawyer sent by Nintendo, which threatens to sue Dolphin for violating its intellectual property rights under the DMCA provisions. A letter that surprises the Dolphin team, which nevertheless prefers not to take any risks.
Emulation is legal
Why go after Dolphin on Steam, but not the version of Dolphin available for free download? This mystery begs the app developers, who took a long time to figure out Nintendo’s letter. They first thought they were being attacked by Nintendo, before realizing that the Japanese was threatening to attack them if the app was released on the Steam store.
Legally speaking, emulation is in no way illegal. What poses a problem is to pirate a game of which one does not have the physical copy (which is very famous with emulation, let’s face it), but Nintendo does not have the right to prevent a player who owns a Wii disc to play it on PC with Dolphin. Some imagine that Nintendo reproaches Dolphin for decrypting the discs of its consoles (AES-128), but nothing really justifies the threats on the infringement of intellectual property. Dolphin only uses what is offered by Nintendo.
On Mastodon, developer Pierre Bourdin laments the fact that Valve, the publisher of Steam, was the one who reached out to Nintendo to make sure they didn’t offend them by releasing Dolphin. “Valve could have decided to ignore Nintendo. They decided to do what they were asked to do” he adds. There is no real reason to stop the project, but Dolphin now has no possible recourse. Valve’s decision is completely arbitrary, without legal reason, which excludes any legal recourse.
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