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Nintendo takes legal aim at Switch emulators following Zelda leak

After the recent leak of the upcoming Zelda game, Nintendo's going after developers of Nintendo Switch emulators that have been used to play the game before its official release.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

May 8, 2023

2 Min Read
Box art for Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, showing Link on a floating platform.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was leaked last week, and Nintendo has set its sights on emulators that are being used to play it. According to a May 4 tweet from programmer Simon Aarons, the Japanese developer started issuing DMCA takedowns against emulator developers once playable versions of Tears began spreading online before its May 12 release. 

Aarons' claims were further expanded upon in a recent Kotaku report that shows how far Nintendo will go to punish those it finds to violate its copyrights. He wrote that Nintendo "has just issued multiple DMCA takedown requests to GitHub, including for Lockpick."

Lockpick is a years-old tool used to emulate Nintendo Switch games by letting users put their Switch's unique encryption keys onto their PCs for emulators (such as Yuzu) to run. In a notice posted on Twitter by a Github user, Nintendo claims Lockpick "allows users to bypass Nintendo’s Technological Measures for video games." 

"Lockpick...facilitate[s] copyright infringement by permitting users to play pirated versions of Nintendo’s copyright-protected game software on systems without Nintendo’s Console [Trusted Platform Models] or systems on which Nintendo’s Console TPMs have been disabled.”

Nintendo hits the emulation industry harder than ever

Emulation is often heralded as an important tool for preserving game history. But when a new game leaks ahead of its intended release, emulators can be used as an alternative to try the game ahead of time. For a company heavily against leaks like Nintendo, products like that can't be allowed to exist. 

in April, Microsoft abruptly killed support for third-party emulators for the Xbox Series X|S that could run PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube titles. An emulator for the GameCube and Nintendo Wii is believed to be reason for Microsoft's sudden end against unofficial emulators. 

Presently, Github still has source code for Lockpick and other Switch emulators on its website. But the damage already appears to be done, as Kotaku's report revealed development on a Switch emulator for Android devices dubbed Skyline has ceased. 

The Skyline developers explicitly cite Nintendo's DMCA focus on emulators (and Lockpick specifically) as reason for development ending. "We find ourselves in a position where we are potentially violating their copyright by continuing to develop our project, Skyline, by dumping keys from our own Switches," they wrote. 

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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