For the uninitiated, RPCS3 is an open-source Sony PlayStation 3 emulator for PC. This growing and brilliant piece of code was publicly released in 2012 and since then has been under constant development thanks to a decent-sized team of programmers and other contributors.
While all emulation has its challenges, emulating a relatively recent piece of hardware such as Playstation 3 is a massive undertaking. As a result, RPCS3 needs funding. This it achieves through its Patreon page, which currently receives support from 675 patrons to the tune of $3,000 per month.
There’s little doubt that there are plenty of people out there who want the project to succeed. Yesterday, however, things took a turn for the worse when RPCS3 attracted the negative attention of Atlus, the developer behind the utterly beautiful RPG, Persona 5.
According to the RPCS3 team, Atlus filed a DMCA takedown notice with Patreon requesting the removal of the entire RPCS3 page after the team promoted the fact that Persona 5 would be compatible with the under-development emulator.
“The PS3 emulator itself is not infringing on our copyrights and trademarks; however, no version of the P5 game should be playable on this platform; and [the RPCS3] developers are infringing on our IP by making such games playable,” Atlus told Patreon.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Patreon did not storm in and remove the entire page, not least since the page itself didn’t infringe on Atlus’ IP rights. However, Atlus was not happy with the response and attempted to negotiate with the fund-raising platform, noting that in order for Persona 5 to work, the user would have to circumvent the game’s DRM protections.
The RPCS3 team, on the other hand, believe they’re on solid ground, noting that where their main developers live, it is legal to make personal copies of legally purchased games. They concede it may not be legal for everyone, but in any event, that would be irrelevant to the DMCA notice filed against their Patreon page. Indeed, trying to take down an entire fundraiser with a DMCA notice was a significant overreach under the circumstances
According to a statement from the team, ultimately a decision was taken to proceed with caution. In order to avoid a full takedown of their Patreon page, all mentions of Persona 5 were removed from both the fund-raiser and main RPSC3 site yesterday.
The RPSC3 team noted that they had no idea why Atlus targeted their project but an announcement from the developer later shone a little light on the issue.
“We believe that our fans best experience our titles (like Persona 5) on the actual platforms for which they are developed. We don’t want their first experiences to be framerate drops, or crashes, or other issues that can crop up in emulation that we have not personally overseen,” Atlus explained.
While some gamers expressed negative opinions over Atlus’ undoubtedly overbroad actions yesterday, it’s difficult to argue with the developer’s main point. Emulators can be beautiful things but there is no doubt that in many instances they don’t recreate the gaming experience perfectly. Indeed, in some cases when things don’t go to plan, the results can be pretty horrible.
That being said, for whatever reason Atlus has chosen not to release a PC version of this popular title so, as many hardcore emulator fans will tell you (this one included), that’s a bit of a red rag to a bull. The company suggests that it might remedy that situation in the future though, so maybe that’s some consolation.
In the meantime, there’s a significant backlash against Atlus and what it attempted to do to the RPCS3 project and its fund-raising efforts. Some people are threatening never to buy an Atlus game ever again, for example, and that’s their prerogative.
But really – is anyone truly surprised that Atlus reacted in the way it did?
While Persona 5 isn’t available on PC yet, this isn’t an out-of-print game from 1982 that’s about to disappear into the black hole of time because there’s no hardware to play it on. This is a game created for relatively current hardware (bang up to date if you include the PS4 version) that was released April 2017 in the United States, just a handful of months ago.
As such, none of the usual ‘moral’ motivations for emulating games on other platforms exist for Persona 5 and for that reason alone, the decision to heavily mention it in RPCS3 fund-raising efforts was bound to backfire. It doesn’t matter whether emulation or dumping of ROMs is legal in some regions, any company can be expected to wade in when someone threatens their business model.
The stark reality is that when they do, entire projects can be put at risk. In this case, Patreon stepped in to save the day but it could’ve been a lot worse. Martyring the whole project for one game would’ve been a disaster for the team and the public. All that being said, Atlus is unlikely to come out of this on top.
“Whatever people may wish, there’s no way to stop any playable game from being executed on the emulator,” the RPCS3 team note.
“Blacklisting the game? RPCS3 is open-source, any attempt would easily be reversed. Attempting to take down the project? At the time of this post, this and many other games were already playable to their full extent, and again, RPCS3 is and will always be an open-source project.”
The bottom line here is that Atlus’ actions may have left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of some gamers, but even the most hardcore emulator fan shouldn’t be surprised the company went for the throat on a game so fresh. That being said, there are lessons to be learned.
Atlus could’ve spoken quietly to RPCS3 first, but chose not to. RPCS3, on the other hand, will probably be a little bit more strategic with future game compatibility announcements, given what’s just happened. In the long term, that will help them, since it will ensure longevity for the project.
RPCS3 is needed, there’s no doubt about that, but its true value will only be felt when the PS3 has been consigned to history. At that point people will understand why it was worth all the effort – and the occasional hiccup.