It was a somewhat surprising event to begin with – easily the most recognisable Wii and Gamecube emulator releasing on Steam in a time where Nintendo is slinging out Cease and Desists like they’re unearned and game-ruining bonus stars at the end of a round of Mario Party.
The Dolphin emulator was announced to be getting a Steam release back in March this year. Now though, it looks like the Dolphin x Steam dream is over as Nintendo has reportedly issued a cease and desist to Valve to have the emulator’s release stopped, following a DMCA against the Dolphin Steam page a few days ago. The statement from Dolphin’s official website reads:
“It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that the Dolphin on Steam release has been indefinitely postponed. We were notified by Valve that Nintendo has issued a cease and desist citing the DMCA against Dolphin’s Steam page, and have removed Dolphin from Steam until the matter is settled. We are currently investigating our options and will have a more in-depth response in the near future.”
While emulators do already exist on Steam, including RetroArch-based emulators for older Nintendo consoles, these get by on not offering any actual copyrighted Nintendo software or any intellectual property. The difference here is that Dolphin does contain something Nintendo owns – a cryptographic key called the Wii AES-128 Common Key. This key is a specific alphanumerical sequence that’s used to decrypt Wii games, and not authorised for distribution outside of Nintendo as well as being a direct circumvention of Nintendo’s anti-piracy measures.
Quoting the DMCA: "the Dolphin emulator operates by incorporating these cryptographic keys without Nintendo’s authorization and decrypting the ROMs at or immediately before runtime."
…this is objectively true. I just checked, the Wii Common Key is in the emulator source code.
Given the context of the situation with the included keys, and the fact that Nintendo clearly knows they’re being distributed by Dolphin, it’s not only looking unlikely we’ll see the emulator make its way back to Steam but there’s a very good chance that the infamously-litigious company has seen grounds to swoop in on Dolphin’s operations everywhere else.
Updated: Kotaku has published an email response that it received from a Nintendo spokesperson, who has said, “Nintendo is committed to protecting the hard work and creativity of video game engineers and developers. 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.”