There are a lot of reasons why people buy Steam Decks, Valve’s new portable gaming PC. It lets them take beloved Steam games on the go. Others use it to get the most out of Xbox Game Pass on PC. And some people use it to run a Nintendo Switch emulator called Yuzu. Valve admitted as much in a recent YouTube video showing off the handheld’s very Switch-like HDMI dock.
You had to be pretty eagle-eyed to spot the reference in the less than three-minute YouTube clip, but Twitter gaming insider Nibel did, and pointed it out in a tweet that immediately blew up. The Yuzu thumbnail on the home screen is only visible for a split second, but it’s absolutely there, and presumably was downloaded by whoever at Valve assisted in making the YouTube video.
Before the end of the day, Valve removed the video and swapped it with a new one in which the Yuzu thumbnail has been replaced by art for Portal 2. But the damage was done: One of the biggest gaming companies in the world had officially broached the taboo subject of video game emulation. “Streisand effect is strong with this one,” wrote one commenter. “I will definitely be emulating Switch on the Steam Deck.”
As an emulator, Yuzu lets people play Switch games on devices that aren’t the Switch. Traditionally that’s meant PCs, but because of Valve, and the flood of other portable gaming PCs hitting the market, there are other options now too. While some people likely pirate whatever Switch games they use the emulator for, it’s also possible to legally buy a Switch game, dump the ROM on a PC, and then use Yuzu or another emulator to run it, often at higher resolutions and framerates than is possible on Nintendo’s device. (More often people who wish to support a game’s developers will pay for the game and then download the ROM separately, which isn’t strictly legal, but considered a wash in many people’s minds.)
The Mario maker has historically taken a very hard line against any form of emulation, however. Once the DS and 3DS were hacked, they became notorious hotbeds for piracy, not just of decades old and out-of-circulation games, but of new ones as well. Earlier this year, anti-piracy company Denuvo announced a new suite of products aimed specifically at developers with games on Switch, promising to safeguard them against attempts to play them anywhere else by way of a new type of proprietary DRM.
The Steam Deck, meanwhile, has become a hotspot for all types of other emulation besides the Switch, including the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, and PS2. If you’ve ever heard anyone espouse the virtues of Valve’s new Switch competitor, its capable emulation abilities have likely been listed among its main perks. Normally Valve doesn’t make that explicit, however. I can only imagine how quickly founder Gabe Newell started getting phone calls from Nintendo’s lawyers, though of course we don’t currently have any evidence the latter was involved in getting the video taken down.
Valve and Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.