As time and technology progresses, it becomes increasingly more difficult to play older video games. Maybe your original console stopped working or you lost the cartridge in a move. In some cases, you might not have a TV that works with the console anymore. If you really want to play the SNES version of Pirates of Dark Water again, emulation is your best option.
The key to emulating your favorite classic games is to find a reliable ROM site, and that can be tricky as not all ROM sites are legal. Some sites allow users to download stolen ROM files. In many instances, downloading a ROM violates various copyright laws.
Under no circumstances should you pirate a game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ROMs for download that don’t break any laws.
Get Homebrew Titles At RomHacking & NESWorld
Cracking a ROM is illegal, as it means you’re breaking the copyright management protections in order to access the game. On the other hand, homebrew titles are free to download.
Sites like NESWorld and RomHacking have entire sections dedicated to homebrew titles, which are just games that developers and enthusiasts have created over the years and distributed for free to anyone that wants them. This is a great way to find unofficial titles that few other people have played.
If you want to find homebrew titles for other systems, just do a quick Google search for what you want. There are avid homebrewing communities for nearly every platform in existence – it just might take a bit of searching to find them. After all, the folks developing new titles for the Atari 2600 are few and far between.
Look For Public Domain ROMS
Public domain ROMs are similar to homebrew titles in that they are not copyrighted and anyone that wants can download and play them.
PDRoms is one of the largest public domain sites on the web with thousands of ROMs for dozens of consoles. You can find titles for everything from the 3DO to the Watara Supervision here.
Look For Abandonware – But Know The Risks
Abandonware is a grey area in terms of legality. While technically still under copyright, abandonware is defined as content that is no longer distributed or supported by the original creator. In many cases, the creator has gone out of business, so the rights to a title are in limbo.
When this happens, it is often classified as abandonware and thought of as free for the taking. However, abandonware can still fall under copyright, which makes downloading a ROM of it illegal.
Despite this, many people see abandonware as fair use, as an out-of-business developer isn’t likely to pursue a lawsuit over copyright infringement. It’s possible that someone might file a DMCA takedown or pursue legal action, but it is also highly unlikely.
Back Up Games You Already Own
If abandonware is a grey area, then downloading ROMs of games you already own is a light-grey area. Under US copyright law, you have the right to back up and archive software you have already purchased.
It isn’t possible to back up the source code of cartridge-based software (without a lot of additional effort and technical know-how, anyway), but you can download a ROM of a game you already own.
For instance, you could search for an NES ROM of StarTropics and download it to preserve the integrity of the software. Provided you are not distributing the software to others, you aren’t violating any laws as long as you personally own a copy of the title.
The emulation community is active and thriving and represents a fantastic way for retro gaming enthusiasts to experience their favorite titles all over again. Just take care to only download ROMs from legal sources.
If you aren’t sure whether a site is legal or not, do your due diligence to find out. After all, violating copyright law can not only land you in hot water with the developers, but it hurts the industry as a whole.