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When emulators were legit

Steve Jobs went to bat for emulators at Macworld 1999

Macworld 1999 had two absolutely doomed gaming announcements. The first was that the infamously-Xbox-exclusive Halo would launch on the Mac, too. It did get ported, but not till years later. Steve Jobs also had a new killer app, one that would instantaneously transform the Mac into a powerful gaming machine.

Connectix’s Virtual Game Station emulated Playstation discs for Mac hardware — and it was high quality software. Very few emulators existed for current-generation consoles at that time, and they were mostly fan projects. More than anything, they were a grey market — nobody was really sure if they were legal, or if they counted as piracy.

So it was surprising to see Steve Jobs up on stage, bragging about how this software would play a couple hundred Playstation games — without the need to pay for a Playstation.

My first instinct upon seeing this Macworld clip is that the VGS actually represented how little Jobs cared about Mac gaming. An emulator was the easiest, cheapest way to increase the Mac’s game library: You don’t have to woo publishers or make your platform enticing to developers.

Apple’s user base was tiny in the late ’90s, and game makers didn’t want to waste the effort of porting their games for such a small audience. Retailers didn’t want to waste shelf space for this niche little company. So an emulator was actually a pretty brilliant strategy to expand Apple’s game repertoire.

But there was no way Sony could allow that to happen — and not because it would lose sales on the Playstation itself.

Watch the video above to learn more about Sony’s response, which was inevitable, and the outcome of their efforts, which were wholly unpredictable.