Dolphin Emulator Devs Explain Steam Ban, Insist Nintendo Never Sent A Takedown Notice

Dophin emulator
It wasn't long ago that things were looking up for fans of classic game emulation. The developers of Dolphin, the iconic Wii and GameCube emulator, were working toward an official Steam release, but that is no longer on the table. After postponing the release, the Dolphin team has confirmed that Valve has pulled the listing after consulting with Nintendo.

Dolphin was released 20 years ago with rudimentary support for GameCube titles. The emulator eventually became open source and gained support for the Nintendo Wii, making it a popular way to play Nintendo's exclusive titles on other systems. The software does not come with any games, which has allowed it to skirt the law like other emulators. The Dolphin team thus believed they would be able to release the software on Steam, but it was not to be.

Initially, Dolphin was supposed to launch in the second quarter of this year, but the developers announced in May that the release was postponed due to legal questions. While the developers say they've never been accosted by Nintendo's legal team, Valve was unsure of the legality of hosting Dolphin, which does include Nintendo's Wii Common Key to launch Wii games. Valve contacted Nintendo, and one of the company's lawyers asked Valve to pull Dolphin under the DMCA. As a result, the team says it's giving up on Steam.

Dolphin Steam Archive
The Dolphin Steam page as it appeared before being removed

Valve informed the developers they'd have to get Nintendo's approval to release Dolphin on Steam, but the team knows Nintendo well enough to see where things were headed. Nintendo's freewheeling, fun demeanor does not extend much beyond its games. In the legal arena, Nintendo shows no mercy when it believes its copyrights have been violated, suing ROM hosts into oblivion and sending mod chip-makers to jail.

Nintendo has not communicated with the Dolphin team directly on the Steam issue, and it sounds like the developers are happy to keep it that way. They know Nintendo won't budge, so negotiating only serves to put Dolphin on Nintendo's radar. For what it's worth, the developers believe Dolphin is on the right side of the law. The blog post announcing the end of the Steam version notes that Dolphin is not primarily designed to bypass copyright protections, and that makes it legal. At a time when some Wii and GameCube titles are no longer available for purchase, it's sad to see Dolphin still operating in the shadows. Still, it's ready to emulate your Nintendo games if you know which shadow to look in.