Why Is Nintendo Suing Yuzu Now? – Emulation’s Uncertain Fate

    The Switch emulator has crossed a line.

    This is probably an obvious statement to many, but Nintendo isn’t a big fan of emulation. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. Unofficial emulation is up there as one of Nintendo’s worst enemies. Despite this, they have never really taken much legal action against emulators themselves until now. Nintendo is now finally suing the team behind the Yuzu emulator, which is a piece of software used to play Nintendo Switch games on PC and mobile devices. 

    However, why is this happening now of all times? Why is Nintendo only seeking legal action against Yuzu but no other emulator? What does this mean for emulation as a whole?

    While I am no legal expert, I have a great passion for video game preservation. As such, I have done a pretty extensive amount of research on the topic of emulation and its legality. With this in mind, I believe I can provide some clear answers to these questions.

    This will likely take a while, so you may want to grab a drink or a snack. By the end, you will hopefully have a clearer understanding of the situation. Without further ado, let’s take a peek down this complicated legal rabbit hole. 

    Why Is Nintendo Going After Yuzu Now?

    The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Leads Nintendo Switch Sales

    Yuzu is far from the first piece of software to emulate a Nintendo console. In fact, Yuzu itself has been around for several years now. It began development less than a year after the launch of the Switch.

    Considering this, it may seem strange that Nintendo is taking legal action so late into the Switch’s life cycle. Nintendo’s next console is likely on its way very soon, which will inevitably end the Switch’s glory days in the market. To understand why Nintendo is suing the Yuzu team now, we need to take a look at a certain release from last year.

    You may recall a little game known as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. It’s only one of the most critically acclaimed, best-selling titles of 2023. Sarcasm aside, it turns out a lot of people sailed the high seas to play it. The title was illegally downloaded approximately one million times before its official release. 

    I don’t know about you, but if I were Nintendo, I would be very angry about this. If it weren’t for emulators like Yuzu or Ryujinx, this number would likely be far lower. However, does Nintendo even have a strong legal argument against the developers of Yuzu? To tell the truth, this is precisely why Nintendo is suing Yuzu now. 

    The Dolphin Incident

    Valve notifies Nintendo about the Dolphin emulator

    Last year, Dolphin was planning to make its way onto Valve’s famous online game store, Steam. If you are somehow unaware of what Dolphin is, it’s an emulator that allows users to play GameCube and Wii titles. Unfortunately, the decision to release the emulator on Steam landed them in a bit of hot water. 

    Truthfully, they were never in too much trouble, but Valve did notify Nintendo about the software. Unsurprisingly, Nintendo was not quite happy with the idea of this emulator releasing on a major digital storefront. A request was sent to Valve to prevent the release of the emulator on Steam, ending any chances of the planned launch going any further.

    Despite this, no legal action was taken against the Dolphin team. This is likely because Nintendo’s case against them isn’t all that strong. Without getting too much into legalese, Nintendo essentially claims that Dolphin is primarily designed to circumvent a technological measure that protects copyrighted work. 

    For those who don’t know, Wii titles are encrypted and require the use of the Wii Common Key to decrypt them. The Dolphin emulator happens to include the Wii Common Key, which it actively uses to decrypt Wii games. At first, it’s reasonable to think that Nintendo has a strong argument because of this, but the Dolphin team has some fairly strong counterarguments. 

    Why Nothing Happened

    Metroid Prime Remastered - Samus Aran Physical

    Fortunately for the Dolphin team, there are several reasons why they can argue that their software is not primarily designed to circumvent the protection of Nintendo games. First of all, GameCube games are simply not encrypted and the emulator can be used for homebrew titles. This means that the software has a significant function outside of decryption. 

    Secondly, the Wii Common Key is a short string of random letters and numbers, making it nearly impossible to copyright it under United States law. Besides this, a very small amount of Dolphin’s code is related to decryption. With all this in mind, it’s very difficult to argue that Dolphin is primarily designed to circumvent Nintendo’s copy protection. 

    Of course, we don’t know exactly how this would go down in court. There’s still a possibility that Nintendo could come out on top, even if it’s a slim chance. However, would it be worth Nintendo’s time, effort, and money to go after the Dolphin devs? Probably not. To read a more in-depth explanation about why this is the case, the Dolphin team provided a write-up on their website

    As of writing, the Dolphin emulator is basically in the clear. No one on either side wants to pursue a legal conflict with each other, and it will stay that way for now. Having said that, this obviously isn’t the case with the Yuzu emulator, and there’s a reason for that. 

    Nintendo Has a Stronger Case Against Yuzu

    At an initial glance, the situation with Yuzu may seem very similar to the one with Dolphin. Nintendo claims that both emulators are primarily designed to circumvent decryption, so you may think that Yuzu has a solid chance of survival. However, there are some key differences between these two situations that put Nintendo at a huge advantage this time around. 

    It is basically required to circumvent copy protection if you wish to dump your Nintendo Switch games. Of course, Yuzu doesn’t provide any of the files to decrypt games which must be dumped by the user. However, they do provide an in-depth guide on how to dump games by circumventing Switch copy protection on their website. 

    What this proves is that Yuzu is a barely functional piece of software without copy protection circumvention. Despite that, the developers could claim that this requirement of circumvention may fall under an exemption relating to reverse engineering. Unfortunately for them, Nintendo has one other trick up their sleeves that could prove fatal for Tropic Haze, the company behind the emulator.

    Profiting off of Piracy

    Assassin's Creed 4 Ships

    Obviously, Yuzu is not responsible for Switch games leaking online before release. This is a common occurrence with titles on the platform, and there doesn’t seem to be much Nintendo can do about it. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that Yuzu benefits from piracy more than the developers would care to admit. 

    While Tears of the Kingdom may have not been initially playable with the emulator at the time of its leak online, there was an incentive for pirates to financially support the Yuzu team. On Patreon, supporters of Yuzu can gain early access to new builds of the software. Apparently, Yuzu’s Patreon membership doubled around the same time as the game’s leak. 

    This point could prove to be devastating to the Yuzu emulator with it providing a significant piece of evidence that Yuzu is designed first and foremost for piracy. Regardless of Yuzu’s fate, there is still another high-profile Switch emulator that Nintendo isn’t going after right now. Why is that?

    Why Isn’t Nintendo Suing Ryujinx?

    The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom screenshot

    The other Switch emulator, Ryujinx, seems to be in the clear for now. What makes it different from Yuzu? I believe there is a key reason why it isn’t getting the same attention from Nintendo. 

    Like the Yuzu team, the Ryujinx developers have a Patreon as well. Once we inspect it, however, there is a key difference that probably saves them from being a target. A Ryujinx Patreon membership doesn’t give access to any early builds or new features for the emulator. 

    Basically, Ryujinx has managed to evade a key legal argument against it, making it a noticeably more difficult target for Nintendo. It also helps that Ryujinx doesn’t appear to have an equivalent guide to Yuzu’s that contributed to them getting into this extremely hot water.   

    The Yuzu team offering early access to Patreon members was likely a huge mistake on their part. If it weren’t for that, it might be possible that they wouldn’t have to deal with this lawsuit right now. While the Ryujinx team may be safe for now, that might not remain the case in the future, however. 

    Emulation as a Whole Could Be at Risk

    Retro Consoles Emulation.

    Emulation technically isn’t against the law, but it’s standing on some very unstable legal ground. It only requires one bad precedent to set off a domino effect. If one emulator goes down, it’s absolutely not guaranteed that the others will be safe.

    Whenever companies can find legal grounds to take these emulators down, they will. If Yuzu dies, Dolphin could follow soon after. Hell, we might have to say goodbye to emulators such as RPCS3 or PCSX2 if Sony believes it’s worth the trouble. 

    As someone who greatly values video game preservation, I clearly don’t want this to happen, but it could be a reality. If Nintendo succeeds in suing Yuzu, it will be a very bad day for the emulation community. This case is already a significant historic moment for the games industry, but we still have to see exactly what its impact will be.

    While I may sound quite pessimistic, there may still be a future for legal emulation. It’s not a guarantee that Nintendo will win this case, but what about the team behind Yuzu? Will the emulator still be around after this is all settled?

    Is There Any Hope for Yuzu?

    Super Mario RPG Remake

    Even if Nintendo doesn’t win in suing Yuzu, that doesn’t necessarily mean Yuzu will come out of this legal fight alive. It might not even be Nintendo’s goal to set a new legal precedent. If Tropic Haze is hit with enough legal fees, they may not be able to recover. 

    It’s entirely possible that Nintendo is seeking to simply make an example out of the Yuzu developers. If a new console is on its way soon, this could potentially deter new developers from making emulators of upcoming consoles. If Nintendo does win, it could just view it as the cherry on top. 

    There are definitely ways the Yuzu team can defend themselves, but they will have to fight hard. No matter the outcome, things look bleak for Tropic Haze. Unless the Yuzu devs give up early on and agree to settle, this is going to be an extremely intense time for them.

    What Is the Moral of the Story?

    Noah playing the flute as an offseer.

    Yuzu and Ryujinx are slightly more controversial than most emulators due to the fact that they can play new and upcoming titles. It’s nearly undeniable that this makes piracy of current Nintendo games a lot easier than if these emulators did not exist. While I am not going to share my opinion on these emulators, there is a lesson to be learned here.

    Tropic Haze has flown a little too close to the sun with their handling of the Yuzu emulator. As such, Nintendo has somewhat understandably reached a point where they can no longer tolerate the existence of this software. While it’s almost impossible to fully remove the emulator from the internet, as it is an open-source project, this is a clear warning. 

    If you are working on software like this, you must tread very carefully. Every little detail matters in legal cases such as this one. It only takes a couple of mistakes for a strong legal argument against you to open up. Even worse, you could put the legality of emulation in jeopardy. 

    As someone who cares about emulation as a form of preservation, I am somewhat frustrated to see the mistakes that Tropic Haze has made here. This isn’t the same as Nintendo taking down illegal ROM distribution websites. The exact result of Nintendo suing Yuzu has yet to be seen, but it will have a historic impact on emulation. I will definitely be keeping a close eye on this situation.

    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

    Latest articles

    Related articles