Couple Who Ran ROM Site to Pay Nintendo $12 Million

Crackdown on ROM sites and emulators could spell an existential threat to retro gaming.
Image: Chris Kindred

Nintendo has won a lawsuit seeking to take two large retro-game ROM sites offline, on charges of copyright infringement. The judgement, made public today, ruled in Nintendo’s favour and states that the owners of the sites and, will have to pay a total settlement of $12 million to Nintendo. The complaint was originally filed by the company in an Arizona federal court in July, and has since lead to a swift purge of self-censorship by popular retro and emulator ROM sites, who have feared they may be sued by Nintendo as well.

Advertisement and were the joint property of couple Jacob and Cristian Mathias, before Nintendo sued them for what they have called “brazen and mass-scale infringement of Nintendo’s intellectual property rights.” The suit never went to court; instead, the couple sought to settle after accepting the charge of direct and indirect copyright infringement. TorrentFreak reports that a permanent injunction, prohibiting them from using, sharing, or distributing Nintendo ROMs or other materials again in the future, has been included in the settlement. Additionally all games, game files, and emulators previously on the site and in their custody must be handed over to the Japanese game developer, along with a $12.23 million settlement figure. It is unlikely, as TorrentFreak have reported, that the couple will be obligated to pay the full figure; a smaller settlement has likely been negotiated in private.

Instead, the purpose of the enormous settlement amount is to act as a warning or deterrent to other ROM and emulator sites surviving on the internet. And it’s working.

Motherboard previously reported on the way in which Nintendo’s legal crusade against retro ROM and emulator sites is swiftly eroding a large chunk of retro gaming. The impact of this campaign on video games as a whole is potentially catastrophic. Not all games have been preserved adequately by game publishers and developers. Some are locked down to specific regions and haven’t ever been widely accessible.

The accessibility of video games and the gaming industry has always been defined and limited by economic boundaries. There are a multitude of reasons why retro games can't be easily or reliably accessed by prospective players, and by wiping out ROM sites Nintendo is erasing huge chunks of gaming history. Limiting the accessibility of old retro titles to this extent will undoubtedly affect the future of video games, with classic titles that shaped modern games and gaming development being kept under lock and key by the monolithic hand of powerful game developers.

Since the filing of the suit in July EmuParadise, a haven for retro games and emulator titles, has shut down. Many other sites have followed suit.