Do emulation sites enable video game piracy? Or do they provide a vital public service - access to games that would otherwise be lost? Or perhaps they are both?
That's the debate currently in the spotlight after a popular emulation site announced it would no longer link to ROMs because it's worried about potential legal action from video game publishers.
EmuParadise, which bills itself as the biggest retro gaming website on earth, announced the move in a blog post penned by founder MasJ that suggested Nintendo's recent move against other emulation sites had changed the game for EmuParadise.
"Many of you are aware that the situation with regards to emulation sites has been changing recently," reads the post. "What you probably don't know is that we at EmuParadise have been dealing with similar issues for all 18 years of our existence.
"Through the years I've worked tirelessly with the rest of the EmuParadise team to ensure that everyone could get their fix of retro gaming. We've received thousands of emails from people telling us how happy they've been to rediscover and even share their childhood with the next generations in their families.
"We've had emails from soldiers at war saying that the only way they got through their days was to be lost in the retro games that they played from when they were children. We've got emails from brothers who have lost their siblings to cancer and were able to find solace in playing the games they once did as children. There are countless stories like these."
EmuParadise's announcement has sparked concern from some quarters who believe video game preservation is at risk.
While consoles such as Nintendo's NES and SNES mini let people play old games now, there are a huge number of video games that would simply be unplayable were they not available via an emulator. However, some counter this by saying emulator sites enable piracy and damage video game rights holders.
This is a subject Eurogamer has covered extensively. In 2014, Simon Parkin asked: "does it matter when a medium's past begins to disappear?". In 2015, Dan Whitehead wrote: "The assumption that old games have no value indulges our nostalgia but is killing the industry." And then, later that year, Whitehead wrote a feature titled: "Preserving the past: why emulation matters." In 2017, Chris Bratt reported on the curious case of Nintendo apparently downloading a Mario ROM and selling it back to us (video below). And more recently, Damien McFerran wrote a feature titled: "The retro gaming industry could be killing video game preservation."
One concerned observer is video game archivist, historian, and developer Frank Cifaldi, who took to Twitter to lament the "completely abysmal job" the video game industry has done to keep its games available to play.
"There is no alternative BUT piracy for like 99 per cent of video game history," he said.
ROM sites shutting down only feels as big as it does because of the completely abysmal job the video game industry has done keeping its games available. There is no alternative BUT piracy for like 99% of video game history.— Frank Cifaldi @ MGC Apr. 12-14 (@frankcifaldi) August 8, 2018
Whatever your take, it seems EmuParadise is determined to continue as a community hub for emulation.
"We will continue to be passionate retro gamers and will keep doing cool stuff around retro games. But you won't be able to get your games from here for now. Where we go with this is up to us and up to you," MasJ said.
"We'll still have our emulators database, the community, and everything that comes along with that."