EmulationStation Desktop Edition, or ES-DE, is a popular user interface for organizing, launching and playing video games designed for consoles. It’s not an emulator itself, but it makes it easy to manage emulators for a console-like experience on devices like handheld gaming PCs or computers plugged into a big-screen TV.

Earlier this month the developer behind ES-DE also launched an Android app with most of the core functionality of the Windows, Mac, and Linux versions. At the time it was only available from the Amazon Appstore, where customers could buy ES-DE for Android for $5.39. But Amazon has kicked it out of the Appstore, so the developer is now making it available for download to Patreon subscribers who pledge $5.50.

While Patreon is designed to let folks make monthly donations to people or groups whose work they want to support, developer Leon Styhre notes that anyone who wants to just pay $5.50 for the Android app can sign up and then cancel their recurring payment. He will still send any future updates to users who pay once.

ES-DE for Windows, Mac, and Linux continues to be available for download as a free and open source application, but the Android app includes some closed source components and Styhre currently has no plans to release a free version of the app.

Styhre has been working on ES-DE for the past four years and says he’s never made any money from it, so he’s positioning the Android version as a commercial app that customers can buy to help support development of the software.

He’s also suggesting anyone who purchased the app from Amazon request a refund, as he doesn’t expect the company to issue a payment after receiving a message from the company indicating that “the app facilitates emulating and pirating of games from third-party sources without explicit authorization from those sources.”

Google had already declined to allow the ES-DE Android app to be distributed through the Google Play Store.

Emulators have long lived in a sort of grey area of copyright law. Courts have ruled that reverse engineering game consoles and other systems to create compatibility software that can run games and other software designed for those platforms is not itself illegal. And Emulation-Station DE is a frontend for existing emulators – it does not ship with any games or emulators. You need to supply those on your own.

But it is kind of hard to make the case that this software is for anything other than playing pirated games. Yes, some users can claim to be playing games that they’ve already purchased for other platforms… but even that’s not actually legal in the US.

And the legal grey area could turn a little more black and white soon. This week Nintendo filed a lawsuit against the developers of Nintendo Switch emulator Yuzu, making the case that even if the app doesn’t include any Nintendo code, the sole purpose of the app is to run pirated copies of Nintendo games on non-Nintendo hardware. If Nintendo wins this case, it could chill development of other emulation software.

It’s much more likely though, that the threat of the lawsuit could be enough to prompt Yuzu developers to pull the plug on their project, given the fact that Nintendo can probably afford a long, protracted legal battle better than a group of independent developers.

And if that happens, then maybe the grey area will remain grey… but that doesn’t mean Google, Amazon, or any other app store operators will be required to let developers distribute them.

via /r/emulation and ES-DE Frontend (Discord)

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  1. There are plenty of emulators on Google Play and have been for years, how is this any different?

  2. What silly reasoning!
    This is like arguing that gun racks should be illegal because their only purpose is to hold guns, and the only purpose of guns is to murder people. 🤦

    Surely they can come up with a better argument than that.

    1. If I’m reading their gitlab page right, it looks like you can select Android as one of your available systems, which I’d expect just launches games you got from the play store anyway (and if it doesn’t, they really should do that to try and make themselves look a little better, and closer to the analogy of racks that could also hold brooms or something, even though “let’s be reasonable” isn’t really an argument that works anymore).

  3. Yes, some users can claim to be playing games that they’ve already purchased for other platforms… but even that’s not actually legal in the US.

    It is legal in the US for older platforms where you do not have to circumvent encryption. DMCA concerns itself with encryption circumvention.

  4. I’ve heard that the reason for this lawsuit is that Discord snitched to Nintendo that people were sharing product keys for DRM on their services, which is why you really shouldn’t be using Discord for things like that. Among other reasons.
    I also read that Yuzu doesn’t even let you run decrypted ROMs and instead uploaded a guide on how to get all the keys you’d need so you have to defeat the DRM.
    Not that I think either of these things should be considered immoral, just that it wasn’t the best of plans under the circumstances.
    And I read that they used copyrighted materials from Nintendo on their websites.