Nintendo shuts down Steam launch of Dolphin Emulator

The Steam launch of Dolphin Emulator has been canned following legal action by Nintendo.
dolphin emulator steam nintendo controversy

Nintendo has stepped in to cancel the upcoming launch of Dolphin Emulator on Steam, citing a need to protect its developers and its intellectual property from exploitation. While Dolphin is already available as a standalone product, a release on Steam was planned to provide broader access, particularly for those using the Steam Deck.

As Nintendo claims, the existence of the emulator and its potential legitimisation via Steam would ultimately ‘harm development’ and ‘stifle innovation’ in the games industry.

‘Nintendo is committed to protecting the hard work and creativity of video game engineers and developers,’ a Nintendo spokesperson told Kotaku of the decision to hand a cease and desist order to the creators of Dolphin. ‘This emulator illegally circumvents Nintendo’s protection measures and runs illegal copies of games.’

‘Using illegal emulators or illegal copies of games harms development and ultimately stifles innovation. Nintendo respects the intellectual property rights of other companies, and in turn expects others to do the same.’

Read: Xbox boss Phil Spencer says emulation is key to game preservation

The use of ‘illegal emulators’ is key in the company’s wording – as while many emulators skirt the bounds of legality by providing only a basic framework for game emulation (and requiring players to source their own legal games and console BIOS), Nintendo has alleged Dolphin uses ‘cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorisation and [decrypts] the ROMs at or immediately before runtime.’

These keys allegedly allow the emulator to run Nintendo Wii and Nintendo GameCube games illegally – which would directly violate Nintendo‘s intellectual property rights.

For now, the outcome of this DMCA is unclear, as is the potential for Nintendo to pursue the creators behind Dolphin Emulator with further lawsuits. While the team has announced it is ‘currently investigating [its] options‘, a path forward is uncertain.

Removing the alleged keys containing proprietary Nintendo decryption software may push Dolphin into the legal grey area where many other console emulators can be found – but whether its creators are willing to re-develop software for this outcome remains to be seen.

The Dolphin team has promised updates and a more in-depth response in the near future.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.