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Dolphin abandons efforts to bring emulator to Steam

Dolphin's giving up on coming to Steam and taking the time to clarify the entire situation surrounding its DMCA takedown.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

July 20, 2023

2 Min Read
Logo for game emulator Dolphin.

Developer Dolphin has announced that it's given up on trying to bring its titular emulator to Steam. On its blog, the company gave an update to months long controversy that saw its emulation software delisted from Valve's storefront after a DMCA takedown. 

Dolphin was quick to clarify that Nintendo didn't file the original takedown, as initially believed. It revealed that Valve's legal team contacted Nintendo, after which a lawyer from Nintendo of America asked Valve to delist the product.

The only way to avoid delisting, according to the blog, was to come to an agreement with the Japanese developer. But Dolphin acknowledged Nintendo's often litigious view on emulation and considered "Valve's requirement for us to get approval from Nintendo for a Steam release to be impossible."

"Considering the strong legal wording at the start of the document and the citation of DMCA law, we took the letter very seriously," wrote Dolphin. It added that its original statement post-takedown was "fairly frantic" and "as we understood it at the time, which turned out to only fuel the fires of speculation."

Dolphin harbored no ill will towards either Valve or Nintendo, stating the former "[has] the right to allow or disallow anything they want on said store front for any reason." It considered Nintendo's actions reflective of its previous emulation stance, and said "this incident should [not] change anyone's view of either company."

While its emulator won't be coming to Steam, Dolphin noted that features intended for that release will continue to be developed and made available for its regular software builds. Those features, and general quality of life improvements, are said to be coming in the near future. 

What Dolphin's emulator is and isn't

In the same blog, Dolphin took the time to talk about the Wii Common Key, a major talking point around the entire situation. The Key allows Dolphin to emulate games from both the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo GameCube, due to the backwards compatibility of the former. 

The Key didn't lead to any kind of legal response, according to Dolphin, and was freely shared over a decade ago before eventually landing in the developer's hands. It said it could make a "very strong argument" in court that its software wasn't designed to circumvent technological measures protected by copyright. 

Due to a section of US Copyright Law regarding engineering exemptions, Dolphin believes its software wouldn't fall under infringement, and that it isn't in any legal danger.

"Only an incredibly tiny portion of our code is actually related to circumvention," wrote Dolphin. "[The emulator] is designed to recreate the GameCube and Wii hardware as software. [...] GameCube games aren't actually encrypted at all, and Dolphin can also play homebrew and is used in the development of game mods."

The full explanation of the exemption as it pertains to Dolphin can be read here. The blog further digs into Valve and Nintendo's relationship regarding the takedown and the Wii Common Key.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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