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Arcade emulator MAME slips under Apple radar

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The popular arcade emulator MAME is now available in the iTunes store, for free, but don't expect it to stay there for long as Apple has never tolerated this kind of thing before.

MAME emulates the hardware of old arcade consoles, only needing the requisite ROMs to be able to play thousands of games - from Centipede to Joust to Arkanoid and everything in between. But iMAME doesn't come with those games, it's just an emulator, and therein lies the problem.

Emulators are allowed on iOS these days, but only if they're bundled with the software they're intended to run: Apple has become more relaxed about the code it permits on its OS, but remains in absolute control of the distribution mechanism. A small proportion of users might jailbreak their devices, and thus be able to install unauthorised apps, but the vast majority will stick to iTunes, and paying Apple's 30 per cent on every transaction.

But that's not the only problem for iMAME. Many of the games it runs remain under copyright of their developers, and while the ROM files are tiny (by today's standards) and easily passed around the internet, they are still illegal to distribute. Some games have been released into the public domain, but the majority (and the more popular titles) remain privately owned.

In America one may take a copy of a game ROM, assuming one owns an original chip ripped from an arcade machine, under their fair use allowance, but elsewhere installing a pirate ROM is no different from copying any other software.

There's also the matter of how one installs a ROM onto an iDevice that lacks an easily addressable file system. There are legitimate tools available for such things (Gizmodo suggests using PhoneView), so any existing MAME file will work if one happened to have them lying around on an old hard drive.

Of course, if you're the kind of person who has old arcade ROMs littering your gaff, and spends his days playing 20-year-old computer games, then you've probably already jailbroken your iPhone and had iMAME running for a while now. For everyone else there's a window of opportunity which should be grabbed even if you've not got any ROMs - you never know when the need, and opportunity, to play Mr Do will strike. ®

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