RetroArch is coming to Steam as a free download on July 30, marking what appears to be the largest non-commercial emulation launch ever on Valve’s digital download storefront. The news came on Friday via an announcement from Libretro, the open source development collective that maintains the RetroArch launcher app for a massive range of operating systems.
In an email interview with Ars Technica, Libretro’s Daniel De Matteis claimed that the software’s impending launch did not require any conversations with Steam over the storefront’s rules about emulation. However, there does appear to be a fuzzy dance going on with this launch, as Friday’s announcement includes the following curious claim: “While there is nothing particularly [sic] about RetroArch or the Libretro API that has anything to do with emulators, most do… use it for this purpose.” We’re not sure what other use case is enabled by RetroArch, honestly. Its menu system revolves around finding, downloading, updating, and booting “cores” that are dedicated to emulating classic video game consoles, and by default, it leads users to cores that advertise compatibility with games from popular consoles made by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and others.
Valve doesn’t appear to have any public-facing rules about whether emulators are allowed on Steam, and poking around Steam reveals a few limited emulator apps. A pair of announcements about rules for Steam’s discussion boards, meanwhile, make patently clear that discussions about emulators are expressly forbidden—and are classified as a “piracy” topic. Valve representatives did not immediately answer our questions about RetroArch.