The owners of LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co have agreed to pay Nintendo $12 million in damages for providing PC versions of old Nintendo games.
ROMs, also known as a ROM Image or ROM file, have been around almost as long as game consoles have existed. For those either unable or unwilling to purchase a current gaming console, a frugal gamer could download an emulator program to simulate that console on their PC and then just pirate the game’s files.
Technically this whole process is hella illegal, but gave developers didn’t come down on it because it was never worth their time to do so. PC emulators were only able to run super old games that were no longer even in print, so anyone cheap enough to wait that long to play games for free probably didn’t have any money to get awarded in a lawsuit either.
But times have changed. First, PCs and game consoles are virtually identical technologically speaking, so modern PCs can emulate more modern consoles. On top of that, big developers like Nintendo have discovered they can make money reselling old games on current consoles, or they can just remake miniature versions of old consoles and sell them with a boat-load of old games (see the Nintendo Classic mini-system).
Which might explain why Nintendo decided to sue the owners of two ROM websites last summer.
Nintendo of America filed suit against Jacob Mathias, owner and operator of ROM distribution sites LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co, last July for copyright and trademark infringement. Fearing a huge lawsuit, Mathias immediately took down his two sites, but Nintendo was looking to make a statement. They flexed their legal muscle until Mathias agreed to a settlement for $12 million in damages, according to TorrentFreak.
Owning and operating a ROM distribution site isn’t exactly a get rich quick scheme. Other ROM sites have since taken note of that massive number and have shut down in response.
Mathias very likely doesn’t have that kind of scratch just lying around, so it seems likely that some behind the scenes wheeling and dealing will bring the real number down to a reasonable amount for a single person to bare.
But the damage is done: the age of being able to download an old game to a PC emulator for some retro gaming is gone, for better or worse.