Ben Kuchera

OUYA CEO talks emulators, and I almost pirate a ROM from my hotel room

OUYA CEO talks emulators, and I almost pirate a ROM from my hotel room

There was some discussion about the OUYA console launching with emulators available in the official store, and I asked about this bit of news during a meeting with company CEO Julie Uhrman. I told her that I had read that emulators would be available at launch.

“I read that too!” She responded. Not exactly the answer I was looking for.

“If someone uploads content that meets our content guidelines, it will be available. If someone uploads content that has content that infringes on someone else’s rights, it will not be approved and will be taken down,” Uhrman said when I pressed the issue.

So where does the legality of this begin and end? She was blunt. “You can’t infringe on anyone else’s rights,” I was told. 

Still, I wanted a straight yes or no answer: Will emulators be available at launch?  “If someone uploads an emulator and again, it meets the content guidelines, and there’s no content in there that infringes on anyone’s rights, then yes.” Uhrman said. Another OUYA representative then said that the sticking point was the distribution of ROMS. The company can't allow that to happen.

“And we won't,” Uhrman continued.

The moment where I get my hands on an OUYA

This is where things get interesting. I wanted to play with a system, but I didn't Kickstart the project and we may or may not be able to get on the list for a review sample. I jumped onto Twitter and said that if anyone had a unit they weren't interested in, I would pay cash for it. I received a positive response, took a quick trip into the San Francisco night after hitting an ATM, and bought a sealed developer kit in what had to look like the weirdest drug deal my hotel had ever seen.

I was curious about the state of the system's software, but to my surprise I was able to get online in my hotel room, download the latest firmware update, and download and play the games I had seen in my private meeting with the company. I was overjoyed, and had fun playing a few rounds of Canabalt HD, but I was also surprised to see what seemed to be a working SNES emulator called Super GNES already up in the store. I gave it a quick download to see how it worked.

It stated that it was scanning “SD Cards” for ROMS when I opened the program, but the OUYA doesn't have an SD card slot. The system wasn't able to find any ROMS on the system, but I was able to use a built-in browser in the emulator to search for ROMS online. I hooked up a USB keyboard, typed in “Super Mario World,” and the app brought me to a list of Mario games I could ostensibly download and play on the hardware.

This is where I stopped, because I was in a hotel, I wasn't quite sure of the legality of downloading ROMs in this manner, and I became uncomfortable with the whole thing. It was made clear to me that the company is comfortable with emulators, but the distribution of ROMs was a big no-no. But what does that mean for emulators that allow you to search for and download ROMs? At what point is the hardware manufacturer responsible for what content is put on it?

It's an odd situation, but remember that I'm using a dev kit that is running firmware that will likely be updated and changed before the official launch of the system. The emulator was in the “Sandbox” portion of the store, which means it hasn't been sorted into an actual genre and not many people have used it. It's very possible it will be removed before launch.

Still, OUYA seems to be willing to follow the letter of the law when it comes to emulators and ROMs, but that could still grab the attention of Nintendo, a company that doesn't mind litigating to protect its interests. I'm looking forward to seeing what other emulators will be available for the system's launch on June 4.