Microsoft has recently made a move that has sent shockwaves through the gaming community, shutting down classic game emulation on the Xbox Series X/S as of April 6. While this move may seem trivial to some, it has left a small but passionate community of retro enthusiasts, preservationists, and homebrew devs up in arms, calling on Microsoft to reverse course and make legal emulation easy again, even if it means potentially antagonising competitors like Sony and Nintendo.
One of the Xbox Series X/S’s unique features was its ability to easily emulate older games, allowing users to install emulators that could play classic PlayStation 2 and GameCube games on it. However, Microsoft has now locked down this feature in standard retail mode. Previously, users were able to download and run emulators for dozens of old consoles, but they’re now greeted with an error code telling them such programs violate Microsoft Store policy.
Emulation has played a crucial role in the gaming industry’s history, enabling players to relive classic games that are no longer available on modern consoles. Despite some considering emulation as piracy, it’s worth noting that it can be legal and is essential for gaming preservation. Emulation apps like RetroArch, PPSPP, and DuckStation were available through the console’s Microsoft store, but as Microsoft began to take notice, it began to remove emulation apps from the store more and more quickly.
Microsoft Risks Alienating The Community
The crackdown on emulation apps and frontends on the Microsoft Store began with the tech giant removing these apps from the store more and more quickly. As a result, users like gamr13, who helped distribute the Xbox retail version of the RetroArch emulator frontend, began to find ways to get the emulators to last longer on Microsoft’s store. However, as Microsoft began to crack down on these uploads, the emulators would last only a few days before being taken down.
Running emulators in the consoles’ developer mode remains an option, but access to that feature requires a $20 fee and isn’t always available to owners in regions where online payment systems are harder to access. The timing of the crackdown also has many wondering why Microsoft decided to change its stance toward the emulation community. Emulating other platforms’ games has always been technically against the store’s terms of service, but up until now, Xbox emulation enthusiasts felt like the company was content to mostly look the other way.
The move has raised suspicions about whether outside pressure may be forcing Microsoft to get more aggressive. Nintendo has historically been extremely anti-emulation, and while a version of the Dolphin emulator for GameCube and Wii has been available on Xbox Series X/S for a while, a special port specifically for the console went into beta only a few months ago.
It’s unclear what the future holds for classic game emulation on the Xbox Series X/S, but for now, it seems that the passionate community will have to find alternative ways to enjoy their favourite classic games on Microsoft’s console.