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Another look at GBA emulation

by Billy Berghammer - July 9, 2001, 10:29 am EDT
Source: IE Magazine

It's bad, and evil. Why would you want to do such a thing? Here's a couple more thoughts on the subject.

IE Mag had a pretty slick article as of late about GBA emulation. I'd like to state that we do not condone piracy in any way, shape or form. But do read this!

It is a shock to some, but old news to others. The fact of the matter is that Game Boy Advance (GBA) emulation is widely available on the Internet and has been since last year.

This isn’t the first case where an unreleased product has reached the Internet before its scheduled release. For example, I could not count the number of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon full DVD downloadable versions I found accidentally through a search for the motion picture’s music score. But GBA emulation is a unique case in the sense that the GBA is a hardware product that has been converted into a form of software. Furthermore, this emulation software is not illegal in itself. The law is broken only after a ROM is downloaded off the Internet, for use with the emulator. A ROM is memory software that allows fast access to permanently stored data but prevents addition to or modification of the data. In this case of GBA emulation, the GBA videogame ROMs are Nintendo games that have been transferred in full to the PC, but the game itself was not modified in-transit. The cartridges themselves can only be read, or transferred to another source. Following the ROM transfer, programmers are then capable of modifying the game’s information-making it compatible with an emulator.

Nintendo explains that although its videogame ROMs may be available on the Internet to those who want it, “These copies are imitations since they can only be played on the PC and do not bring the uniqueness that GBA as a handheld console brings to the gameplay, which is the ability to enjoy console quality gaming anywhere.”

Clearly there are advantages to owning a GBA over choosing GBA emulation. GBA is a portable, multiplayer device that can also substitute as a Nintendo GameCube controller. At E3 this year, Nintendo’s top videogame designer, Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that the GBA will also network with the GameCube through the GameCube /Game Boy Advance cable, making the GBA an essential peripheral for the GameCube. Yet one of the biggest advantages, or perhaps the most important deciding factor as to which to choose, is the fact that it is legal to purchase and play GBA videogames. So in case you were wondering—yes, it is illegal to download GBA videogame ROMs off the Internet. And whether it is for backup purposes or blatant piracy, there are no exceptions made in this case. Nintendo makes it very clear, “The legal side is also crucial to understand and there does seem to be confusion in this area. The simple fact is that all downloadable game ROMs of Nintendo titles are illegal, whether or not you actually own the game yourself.”

Since there are clear-cut advantages with owning a Game Boy Advance machine, why is Nintendo—the company that virtually has a monopoly on the handheld game industry (claiming 99% of the global market)—speaking out so strongly on emulation? Nintendo says, “As is the case with any business or industry, when its products become available for free, the revenue stream supporting that industry is threatened. Such emulators have the potential to significantly damage a worldwide entertainment software industry which generates over $15 billion annually, and tens of thousands of jobs.”

On the other side of the token, GBA emulation could possibly be profitable for Nintendo. Avid PC users who may never have even considered playing the newest portable machine could change their minds. Seeing that the PC emulators only offer a fraction of the true experience, they could decide to purchase the GBA just to see what the real product is all about. And in most cases, I predict that the product would never be returned because there is a difference that the gamer just cannot explain. Perhaps this is another component of the Nintendo Difference?

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