The Gameboy Emulator is a black horse, nobody really knows if they’re allowed to download it, if it’s legal or if they can use it when they have a legit copy of the game already. We’ve been confused for a very long time, a wide number of sources say different things, so we went to Nintendo themselves to clear it all up for us retro gamers.
You have your best gameboy games lined up, you have your new Bittboy Pocket Go in hand and you’re ready to start downloading ROM’s to play your most loved retro games on the go. Stop. You can’t. This market for retro handhelds is a dodgy one, and one Nintendo can’t be bothered to tackle, so us customers get lined up quite easily to do something illegal, when it’s so easy to just go with the flow and download ROM’s. So let’s get this straight.
Can I download a Gameboy Emulator legally?
Yes. The emulator itself is completely legal to download. For those new to emulators and are doing a bit of research on emulators, here is what they technically are. A Gameboy emulator, and any Nintendo emulator for that matter is a software program created by Nintendo and other third parties that is designed to allow game play on a platform that it was not created for. This allowed developers to work on a game from a PC, but it soon got moved to other devices such as tablets, smartphones and some of the best retro handhelds we know to date.
So yes, you can download emulators, and there’s a tonne out there for you to download. Some are perfect, some are copycats that skip frames, poor emulation and some even screw up the sound, so finding a good one might be tricky. Be sure to read reviews before doing so. A lot of companies are making their own emulators, emulators that can emulate a wide multitude of games. For example the LDK Horiztonal can emulate up to 10 different games, all in one piece of emulation software that was probably built for developers, but they use it themselves to help sell their device. But you can download a Gameboy emulator that just plays Gameboy games, it’s just most new retro handhelds like to have multi-emulation, this is pointless for a PC or smartphone for example.
Can I download ROMS legally?
No, downloading ROMS is 100% ILLEGAL. So feel free to download the emulator, but downloading ROMS is not allowed. We know… and this is why we get slightly annoyed with Nintendo because, emulators and ROMS are so easy to download. It’s equivalent to an under 16 year old having an empty bottle of vodka in their hands, but it’s illegal when there’s something inside of it. It just doesn’t make sense!
A Nintendo ROM (“Read Only Memory”) is the type of chip used in Nintendo’s video game cartridge which contains the game software. However, this term is commonly used on many gaming sites on the Internet and refers to game data that was copied from an authentic Nintendo video game cartridge.
But you might be thinking “why do lots of companies sell retro handhelds with ROMS built in?”. Again, very illegal, but what they’re meant to do is not provide the ROMS. Selling a retro handheld with an emulator inside is LEGAL, but it’s once the companies start adding them with ROMS is when it gets illegal. They’re basically giving you an empty gun, and then putting up their hands and being like “we don’t know what they plan to do with it, it’s not our problem”. It feels like a straight forward market, but in reality it’s 100% illegal to download ROMS.
We once thought that downloading ROMS was legal if you had a physical copy of the game, but that’s not true, Nintendo states this:
There is a good deal of misinformation on the Internet regarding the backup/archival copy exception. It is not a “second copy” rule and is often mistakenly cited for the proposition that if you have one lawful copy of a copyrighted work, you are entitled to have a second copy of the copyrighted work even if that second copy is an infringing copy. The backup/archival copy exception is a very narrow limitation relating to a copy being made by the rightful owner of an authentic game to ensure he or she has one in the event of damage or destruction of the authentic. Therefore, whether you have an authentic game or not, or whether you have possession of a Nintendo ROM for a limited amount of time, i.e. 24 hours, it is illegal to download and play a Nintendo ROM from the Internet.– Nintendo
This is basically Nintendo saying “HELL NO”. Rumours were that you could use it as a “back up”, but that’s not true and it was obvious gamers would use this “back up” to play emulators whenever and wherever they please. Nintendo was asked about their thoughts on emulators and ROMS and they had a pretty boring response:
Distribution of an emulator developed to play illegally copied Nintendo software hurts Nintendo’s goodwill, the millions of dollars invested in research & development and marketing by Nintendo and its licensees. Substantial damages are caused to Nintendo and its licensees. It is irrelevant whether or not someone profits from the distribution of an emulator. The emulator promotes the play of illegal ROMs , NOT authentic games. Thus, not only does it not lead to more sales, it has the opposite effect and purpose.– Nintendo
We absolutely respect what Nintendo are saying here, but what we don’t appreciate is them basically telling us to buy it again. If you’re like us we’ve spent thousands of dollars on Nintendo products, and we’d like to be able to play our retro games on the go on a new handheld. But no, to play it we must buy it on one of their new handhelds, and we do this anyway! We have Pokemon Red on Gameboy, we purchased it on the 3DS and we purchased the new Let’s Go on Switch, so why not allow us to play it on a Pocket Sprite if we’ve already purchased it in the past?
But ah well, we can vent, but it all comes down to if it’s legal or not, and unfortunately downloading ROMS is illegal, and there’s no way around it. Even if every YouTuber and website tells you it’s fine and creates content like it’s not a problem, and we are one of them. But to be seriously in trouble with Nintendo you’d have to be a distributor of the ROMS, don’t do it. Don’t share ROMS, don’t sell them, don’t send them to friends, nothing. Keep your ROM for you, and you only and Nintendo might just give you a slapped wrist instead of fining you.
For more official information from Nintendo about the Gameboy emulator and ROMS click here.
A 29 year old fella that’s had a Gameboy addiction ever since he was a child. Brandon is the founder of RetroDodo and created a YouTube channel with 240,000 subscribers dedicated to retro gaming products. He now wants to create the No.1 site to showcase the latest retro products from around the globe.