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GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin won’t come to Steam after all

Dolphin creators cite pushback from Nintendo and an ‘impossible’ request from Valve

Link pours out a potion in a screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword running on the Dolphin emulator Image: Nintendo via Dolphin Emulator Project
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Plans for a Steam release of the Dolphin emulator, software that lets users play Nintendo GameCube and Wii games on a PC, have been scrapped, its creators say. Developers backed off a plan announced in March to bring Dolphin to Steam after discussions between Nintendo and Valve put the emulator’s creators in an “impossible” situation: getting approval from Nintendo to release their emulator through Steam.

On Thursday, the creators behind the Dolphin Emulator Project confirmed that their software has been effectively blocked by Valve, and that the Steam store listing for Dolphin has been removed. According to a post from the team behind Dolphin, Valve’s legal department reached out to Nintendo of America after the planned Steam release was announced. Nintendo is said to have requested that Valve block the emulator’s Steam release, citing — but not legally invoking — the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Nintendo’s lawyers argued in a letter to Valve that Dolphin operates by incorporating Nintendo’s “proprietary cryptographic keys” by decrypting the ROMs of GameCube and Wii software, thereby violating the DMCA. Nintendo is referring to the Wii Common Key, a decryption key built into Wii hardware that was extracted more than a decade ago by a separate group — known as Team Twiizers — and incorporated into Dolphin’s code.

The team behind Dolphin argued in their blog post about the emulator’s Steam release that “only an incredibly tiny portion of our code is actually related to circumvention,” and that using the Wii Common Key does not apply to GameCube games. That seems to matter little to Nintendo, which generally frowns on third-party emulation of its consoles and games.

“Valve [...] told us that we had to come to an agreement with Nintendo in order to release on Steam,” the Dolphin team wrote. “Considering the strong legal wording at the start of the document and the citation of DMCA law, we took the letter very seriously.”

Dolphin’s creators say they’re abandoning their efforts to release Dolphin on Steam, but that some of the features developed for that version of the emulator will still be released. Dolphin is already available to download via the project’s website, and is compatible with Android, Linux, Mac, and Windows PCs.

“Valve ultimately runs the store and can set any condition they wish for software to appear on it,” the project’s creators said. “But given Nintendo’s long-held stance on emulation, we find Valve’s requirement for us to get approval from Nintendo for a Steam release to be impossible. Unfortunately, that’s that.”

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