Xbox Cracks Down On PS2, Wii, And Other Emulators

Xbox Cracks Down On PS2, Wii, And Other Emulators

Microsoft has discontinued classic game emulation on the Xbox series X/S April 6th and a small but passionate community of retro enthusiasts, curators, and homebrew developers are up in arms. They’re asking the console maker to backtrack and make legal emulation easy again, even if it means potentially upsetting competitors like Sony and Nintendo.

The Xbox Series X/S is unparalleled among consoles in allowing users to easily emulate older games. When launched in 2020, new owners discovered the ability to install emulators capable of playing classic PlayStation 2 and GameCube games above. It’s still possible with paid access to the console’s developer mode, but Microsoft has now locked that feature into standard retail mode. Where users could previously download and run emulators for dozens of older consoles, they are now greeted with an error code telling them that these programs violate Microsoft Store policy.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it was a good race,” tweeted gamr13, which helps distribute the Xbox retail version of the RetroArch emulator interface, which includes emulator cores for everything from the NES to the Wii. They said they had no choice but to tag Phil Spencer, CEO of Xbox and Microsoft Gaming, on Twitter with a hashtag #LetUsEmulate.

Although emulation is often associated with piracy, it’s also a legal way to play copies of games you already own on newer hardware with modern conveniences.

In early consoles, Xbox Series X/S owners could install various emulators and emulator interfaces, like RetroArch, PPSPP, and DuckStation, using links on gamr13’s Github page to install Windows platform versions universal (UWP) of these applications via the consoles ‘ Microsoft store. But as the tech giant began to take notice, it began to remove emulator apps from the store faster and faster.

“Essentially Microsoft would clamp down on my downloads where they were months, weeks, days, until now,” gamr13 told Kotaku. “So I was just re-downloading the apps every time they were deleted, to get newcomers and everyone else up and running again.”

Xbox Series X/S was ‘like the Steam Deck’ for emulation

One way to make emulators last longer on Microsoft’s store was to mark them as private and then “whitelist” specific users to download them. A Patreon helped coordinate and fund this activity.

“The crackdown started to escalate towards the end of the summer until the fall, where we had to deal with daily takedowns for a while, so the day after they came up, they would be taken down,” said gamr13. “We’ve managed to find a way to make them last up to three days since then by not naming them ‘RetroArch’ and instead [using] random names.

As long as you had already downloaded the emulators, everything was fine. So far. Some users on Twitter shared stories of losing access to collections of hundreds and hundreds of classic games that they could no longer play on the Xbox Series X/S as a result of the change.

Running emulators in consoles’ developer mode is still an option, but accessing this feature requires a $20 fee and is not always available to owners in regions where online payment systems are available. more difficult to access. The timing of the crackdown also has many people wondering why Microsoft decided to change its stance towards the emulation community. Emulating games from other platforms has always been technically against the store’s terms of service, homebrew developers say, but until now Xbox emulation enthusiasts felt the company was content with look on the other side.

The timing raised suspicions about whether outside pressure could force Microsoft to become more aggressive. Nintendo has always 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 some time, a special port specifically for the console went into beta only a few months ago. Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to Kotaku, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “We are continually evolving our mechanisms for reviewing and taking enforcement action on content distributed to the store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft store policies. Per 10.13.10, products that emulate a gaming system or gaming platform are not permitted on any device family.

Unfortunately, it looks like Microsoft’s new level of policy enforcement will leave a fair number of Xbox owners who loved emulating their old games on Microsoft’s consoles out in the cold. Dev Mode is still an option, but adds another layer of complexity and doesn’t always work well with console updates released early by those enrolled in the Microsoft Xbox Insider Preview Program.

“[Emulation] was the only reason me and many others bought an Xbox,” gamr13 said. “The PlayStation and Nintendo platforms require some modifications to run this stuff, but Xbox has so far been a really open and welcoming platform for everyone, whether they’re indie developers. [or] game curators. It was like the Steam Deck of consoles.

Correction 04/06/2023 7:12 PM ET: Clarified gamr13’s role as a distributor of the Xbox Series S/X RetroArch app.


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