Emulation on Steam Deck. Emudeck 2 vs RetroDeck

There is a huge hype around emulation on Steam Deck, and with full right – Steam Deck is perfect emulation machine. Let’s see what are our options for emulation on Steam Deck.

Let’s go quickly through few questions about emulation on Steam Deck.

First of all – this article cannot be considered as legal advice – it is here just to make you think and create awareness about controversy in emulation world.

Let’s open with the first question – legality

What are terms and component of emulators?

I will try to explain it simplest way I can –

Emulator is program that simulates console – ROMs are actual games you will run on the emulator/console.

So, you could through software (emulator) like Emudeck or RetroDeck play games (ROMs) let’s say – from Sega consoles, PS1, old Nintendo systems like NES or SNES…

You can play these games on your Steam Deck – through installing emulator software.

Sometimes – depending on what you want to emulate – you will need BIOS for the console you are trying to emulate. You will copy BIOS files to emulator software, and then install ROMs on everything. It is same as BIOS in your PC or Steam Deck.

BIOS is not part of emulation software because it is often proprietary, and a ground for legal dispute.

By installing EmuDeck we will have a shell of a console – to start and boot that console (of our choice) we need BIOS for that console and to play games we need to have game ROMs for the particular console we wish to emulate.

Is it legal to emulate games on Steam Deck?

First of, all – you should be aware of the laws in your country – many countries have different stance on the topic – so I cannot speak in general – because emulation is treated different in many countries.

Emulators like Emudeck 2 or RetroDeck are not illegal – these are regular pieces of software – again, you should check your local laws – maybe it is different where you live.

Also, companies whose games are being emulated usually don’t look on the whole topic of emulation with sympathies.

Usual comments I see on the internet are:

I already own a game – it should be legal for me to use it on which device I want and how I want it.

Some of the consoles or companies are not even alive (or don’t care) so emulation is a way to preserve the games we loved to play as kids (80s, 90s…)

I do agree on both takes, however, real life is often different and reality is harsh.

How companies look on the topic…

Since Nintendo is one of the gaming companies people love to emulate – I will use it as an example – here is Nintendo’s stance on emulation – https://www.nintendo.com.au/legal/information . It is for Australia, but we can safely assume that what is written there applies to whole world if you ask them.

Below is interesting piece from the link above – although you own a game – if you change original format of the game – and usually you need to transfer game to some other format if you wish to emulate – “format shifting” is considered illegal if you ask Nintendo.

I do not know gaming company that supports emulators, and are not fighting them. (Please let me know if you do).

Nintendo as an example is working actively to bing to life it’s old games and console, and one such example is here – https://www.nintendo.com/store/products/super-nintendo-entertainment-system-nintendo-switch-online-switch/

To sum up – you should ask for a legal advice on the topic – and if possible use original systems to play your games. I’m lucky enough that I do have all I need without the need for emulators – although emulators are very convenient – i have to say – having everything in one place is nice – especially as old hardware from 80s and 90s can have various issues, and parts are hard to come by. Also, you will sometimes need soldering skills to repair old consoles.

Depicted is just small part of my collection, with original Gameboy I played on as a kid. I have another Switch, NES, and few PS consoles…

In the end – while we are at the topic of legality – sharing of your own games/ROMs via internet is not legal – on that I’m 100% sure. You should not share your games via internet. I shouldn’t also advise downloading from internet – but more on that on the question below.

I won’t also provide any info or sources with ROMs anywhere on this site.

Is it safe to Emulate games?

I’m not saying that EmuDeck or RetroDeck are not safe – but you should ALWAYS be careful on what you are installing and where you download from – I would not advise downloading ROMs from shady places on the internet – every piece of software can be malware infected.

Steam Deck is a PC – most likely attached to your home network – so, by downloading something malicious you could infect your Steam Deck, and also other devices in your home network.

Loss of data, information stealing (your Steam account, credit cards…) and many other horror scenarios are possible this way.

In short – if you plan to use emulation – be very careful about your ROM and software sources.

What emulating solutions are available for Steam Deck?

EmuDeck – is a script that downloads various emulators from their sources and installs them onto your system. EmuDeck is not an app. In general EmuDeck is safe – it also does not use root (admin) rights, but anyway – you should be careful and watch what is going on in sources from which EmuDeck is downloading.

RetroDeck – I like RetroDeck because it is installable as an app, and all the emulators are contained within the apo – let’s say it works as a sandbox and all is contained in one place.

Batocera – separate bootable OS to which you can boot – you can install everything on separate MicroSD and then boot from it into separate OS in which you will play

Emulation Station – it is frontend – user interface for browsing and launching games – it is implemented into RetroDeck.

If you are looking for individual emulator for only one solution – you can find it and install it separately – you don’t need any of the apps mentioned above.

Emudeck 2 vs RetroDeck

For a start, here are links to both sources where you can check on both solutions and read in more depth.

EmuDeck 2 FAQ

RetroDeck FAQ

There are two main differences I see in these solutions – how the operate and what is included.

First one is that you should check what emulator you need – maybe it is not available on EmuDeck or RetroDeck – so be aware of that. RetroDeck supports fewer platforms out of the box.

Second difference is significant one:

EmuDeck is a script which will installs all over your SteamOS (or MicroSD card) and cannot be elegantly removed – there is always a small chance that there will be some system conflict somewhere or that you will forgot to remove something.

RetroDeck – it is an application, and everything is in one place – I like that better, because I like things nice and organized with a sense of control 🙂

Below I have screenshot from RetroDECK FAQ – so you can read in details…

Screenshot from RetroDeck FAQ