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This Wii And GameCube Emulator Is Coming To Steam

The practice of emulating old video games has been around for a while, but in the last decade or so emulation software has steadily become more accessible and popular than ever before. Game studios have taken to emulating classic titles in recent years, too, like the highly praised Nintendo Switch emulators for online subscribers. But for decades, dedicated fans have developed third-party emulators to keep older consoles and games alive — like PCXSE for PlayStation games or VirtualBoy for the Game Boy. 

The Dolphin Emulator project began in 2003, and in the two decades since, it made enormous strides in emulating Nintendo's GameCube and Wii consoles. Until now, almost all emulators had to be downloaded via third-party sites — and often required complex setup steps to get them working. But later in 2023, Dolphin will be the first emulator to become listed on Steam in what will surely be an enormous boost to its usage.

Being available on Steam is no small feat, especially for an emulator for Nintendo consoles — Nintendo has a bit of a shady history when it comes to litigation and copyright, and has a long history of dealing with emulators. Perhaps that's why the Dolphin Emulator's description on Steam is so carefully written, like calling Nintendo the "big N." 

As is standard for many emulators nowadays, the Dolphin Emulator's description reminds players that they need to own a legal copy of games they want to emulate. This is not strictly true, but the debate over whether it's OK to download ROMS online instead of extracting files yourself is an old one.

The Dolphin Emulator coming to Steam is a bold step, but it raises several questions

The Dolphin Emulator is undoubtedly the most widely recognized GameCube and Wii emulator, but to get listed on Steam, it may have had to change some of its presentation. For one, the listing images show two homebrewed Wii games, "Newo Escape" and "Newo Zero," rather than more widely recognized Nintendo games like "Super Mario Sunshine" or "Super Smash Bros. Melee." For another, the description not only refers to Nintendo as "the big N" rather than by name, but it also describes the GameCube as its "cube-shaped" console and the Wii as its "motion-controlled" console. 

In a post from dev MayImilae, who regularly posts progress reports to the developer blog, the Dolphin Emulator's addition to Steam was described as a great experiment. "We're pleased to finally tell the world of our experiment," writes MayImilae. "This has been the product of many months of work, and we look forward to getting it into users' hands soon." 

Aside from the possibility of Nintendo getting involved, this raises another question: that of the Dolphin Emulator's compatibility with the Steam Deck. Technically, it's already possible to use emulators on the Steam Deck, but it's a whole process. The Dolphin Emulator's inclusion on Steam as a native app could simplify this and make GameCube and Wii — ahem, cube-shaped and motion controlled — games more accessible on the Steam Deck. When the Dolphin Emulator launches on Steam sometime in Q2, 2023, the team behind Dolphin will release a full feature report that goes in-depth on how it all will work.