History of Video Game Emulators

The video game emulator has come a long way since gamers wanted to play old NES games on the PC. Let's take a look how emulator use has been fairing till today. History of Video Game Emulators    large

Video games have become so popular through the years to the point of practically becoming part of everyday life. Nowadays, aside from the usual PC games, video games are being played on a wide variety of computing devices from smartphones, to tablets, netbooks, laptops, handheld game consoles to the desktop computers themselves. Because of this, it is common to see games or applications ported over between two or several devices to widen the scope of users that can be reached.

The problem, however, comes to light when there are games or apps that have been released quite a number of years back (say during the 1980s and '90s) that are no longer being sold or available since the device or OS they were created for is no longer available as well. This, of course, includes those classic (old but gold) games that were written for the venerable console video game platforms like the SEGA Genesis and others like it. This also includes the old micro-computers of the day like the Commodore 64, the Apple, and others. Believe it or not but there are a lot of present-day gamers who enjoy and love to play old video games.

The solution then is the emulator. What an emulator basically does is to mimic a targeted game console or an outdated computer OS to be able to run and use the programs on a current computing device the said emulator was developed for. A present-day example would be BlueStacks. This is an emulator application developed for current day PC and Mac platforms to mimic the Android operating system. With BlueStacks, a computer user can play or run Android games or apps on his or her machine. Because games are the most popular programs being used, emulators have been commonly labeled as video game emulators.

Prior to using emulators, developers would port the applications to another platform but this was a time consuming and at times difficult endeavor as the program had to be re-written for the CPU of the intended device. However, if we will look back in time, most of the developers or programming teams who created those old and gold games are either no longer in business or (in some cases) even around. Copies of the game cartridges and disks still exist but then the need to be able to read, run and use the code in them presents itself as an actual problem. The solution is the emulator.

An emulator is a very useful app as it is able to bring dead and forgotten games back to life. In today's setting, an emulator has become a more viable solution to run programs among several different platforms instead of individually porting the games and apps. With an emulator like BlueStacks, most games written for Android will be able to run on laptop and desktop computers.


The history of video game emulators, however, is quite murky or sketchy at best. This is due to the legal issues that have surfaced with its use. While it is not illegal to use emulators or even have cartridge ROM code or disc image copies, some game companies are quite paranoid when it comes to their IP rights. The most known and targeted for the emulator market was, of course, Nintendo, the company that practically started the home game console industry.

Although preceded by companies like Atari and Coleco in selling video game consoles to connect to their TV sets, it was Nintendo and that little guy Mario that exploded the home video game market into a worldwide phenomenon. Even yours truly had a Nintendo Family Computer back in the day (Talk about Legend of Zelda or Ninja Gaiden). Then, other game consoles started coming out like the NES, SNES, the SEGA Genesis and MegaDrive, the Neo Geo, the PlayStation, and others. This was within the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s, the pinnacle of consumer-available video games that one could play at home with a hand controller.

The need at the time was to be able to archive the games and play them on the PC as well. By the 1990s the game emulators started to come out for the PCs. The grey area however involving the legal issues placed emulators in a different light as compared to regularly released software apps. Emulators were considered as hacks at the time and released mostly by programmers with hacker status. The earlier ones that came out for the NES were either free, shareware or required a small registration fee. Big developers usually did not take kindly to these so the programmers would rather use an alias and release their emulators to users and later online quickly and quietly without much fuss or an official release date. Many started out as beta builds with a lot of quirks to iron out and improve as more gamers started using them and gave the developer feedback to improve their work.

With this created unstable grey situation, it would be difficult if not impossible to specifically create an accurate chronology of the historical development of the so-called video game emulators suffice to say however that this was popularized by the mid-1990s to be able to run NES games on a desktop PC. Even up to today, the practice was carried on to the Android to PC market where many current emulators do not have an official launch date. Also, a majority was created by individuals or loose groups rather than registered companies like BlueStacks being an exception and having an official launch date.


When it comes to video games, emulator developers are quite wary as some companies (like Sony) do take legal action against them for possible copyright infringement issues. The older the game, however, the less the possibility of something like this happening. Most of the time, the emulator developers win the case but going to court and the blah blah blah that comes with it is still quite a hassle. It is therefore common for an emulator to pop-up like a mushroom that by the time it gets to be known, a lot of people are already using it to play the old, gold and market gone classic video games.

Today, the emulator market is quickly becoming a very legal and stable one as the focus is mostly on the Android OS. Even Android itself was developed in secret by Google and the Open Handset Alliance as a means to compete with the dominion of Apple's IOS. As an OS, Android was officially released in September of 2008. Android itself came with its own separate PC emulator and SDK for developers so that programmers could create Android-based apps and games and test them on their PC's in the course of development.

From that initial OS release to date, a list of emulators has piled up through the years for the different upgrade versions of Android OS for the mobile market. This has made life a lot easier for gamers and users alike to run apps and games on their mobile devices on their PC's without the need for developer porting. It has become a practical mode of use for the benefit of all with emulators like of course BlueStacks (the most popular and legal to date) and others like MEmu, Windroye, LDPlayer, and Genymotion among others. Also, the majority of them are free to use or have a free to use option.

In today’s ever-changing world and the need for platform compatibility, the emergence of emulator apps for the Android OS to run on PC's or in itself will no doubt push the ongoing history of emulator software development into new and hopefully productive computing environments of sharing and accessibility of resources.