Emulator scams

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As with most sought-after things on the web, emulation has also been the subject of scams and confidence tricks that pretend to offer either an emulator that doesn't exist, especially for consoles that have just been released and as such aren't documented and/or emulated yet, or a particular port of a popular video game such as Grand Theft Auto.


Variants

Variations of the scam include, but are not limited to:

  • Fake websites with the appearance of a legitimate emulation project, complete with doctored screenshots and video footage along with seemingly-convincing yet patently false claims about compatibility and/or performance, and with some setting up an equally phony Github repo again to give the illusion of legitimacy.
  • Videos from less-than-reputable sources claiming to offer an emulator or a mobile port of a console game, examples being Grand Theft Auto V for Android or iOS.
  • Scam apps on Google Play Store, which would be explained below.
  • Using "Remote Play" or screencasting to make it look like it's running on natively on a PC or mobile and claiming it's an emulator. Remote Play is a feature that let's users stream the input and visual data from their console to a different device and is available for the PS4/PS5 and Xbox One/Series X|S. With this it's entirely possible to make it look like a PS4/PS5 or Xbox game is running on a PC or a mobile device at full speed when really it's just streaming the video information from the physical console.
  • Surveys are there, and are, in essence, a trojan horse, as internet fraudsters and charlatans prey on less-savvy users who may not understand the inner workings of an emulator (or video game hardware in general), and thus profit from their gullibility whenever said users are made to fill out useless surveys. Scammers operate on a commission basis, where they are paid for each successful survey filled up or adware downloaded.

Why They Suck

  1. They are essentially malware and they can damage your computer.
  2. They are giving legitmate emulators (especially of consoles/platforms with complex architecture such as PCXS2, PPSSPP, RPSC3, Xemu, Xenia, Cemu, yuzu, Citra, Dolphin, BlueStacks, etc.) a terrible name.
  3. Due to the anarchic nature of Google's app ecosystem, it is easy for fraudsters and script kiddies to either upload an adware-laced fork of an existing open-source emulator, pass them off as their own and profit off of it, or cobble up an outright fake like those "PS2 emulators".
  4. The biggest coverage a fake emulator would get are advisories from antivirus firms advising gamers to steer clear of them, or worse, government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission stepping in and informing (United States) citizens against such scams and in worst of worst case, people who made scam emulators would get arrested.

Notable scams

  • PCSX4 - Appears to be a site hosted in France with the usual survey malarkey. It also is alleged to have been set up to steal PSIDs from legitimate PS4 consoles.
  • eMu3Ds - Uses the fake emulator shell scam. Installing the emulator leads to a fake UI which prompts users to fill up a survey for a non-existent BIOS. Site now hosts a likely infected build of Citra.

For your consideration

Of course, most people who visit this site do observe common sense and can spot a fake emulator from a mile away, but for those who don't, is what the site promises too good to be true? Do the supposed "authors" promise something ambitious even though no one else from reputable sources has vouched for it? A legitimate emulator that made a breakthrough such as NESticle or UltraHLE would've sent shock waves throughout the emulation scene and even make its way to mainstream periodicals such as Time Magazine,[1] while the biggest coverage a fake emulator would get are advisories from antivirus firms advising gamers to steer clear of them,[2] or worse, as stated above, government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission stepping in and informing (United States) citizens against such scams, or even arresting scammers.

TL;DR: If it's too good to be true, avoid it at any cost, as any YouTube videos claiming to offer them are scams!

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