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Microsoft closes door on retro game emulators on Xbox Series S/X

Microsoft has launched a crackdown on video game system emulators running on the Xbox Series S and Series X consoles.

The new-generation consoles had a loophole that allowed gamers to easily download emulator apps through a side door, enabling them play their retro game ROMs without needing the physical console they were released for.

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There were well-functioning emulators for Wii, PS2, as well as Xbox 360, consoles, which had been easily available in the couple of years the console had been on sale. However, a crackdown appeared to begin yesterday as well-known gamers reported apps like Xenia or Retrospection were no longer launching.

They saw an error message stating: “Unable to launch this game or app. The game or app you’re trying to launch violates Microsoft Store policy and is not supported.” (via Ars Technica)

While Microsoft has turned a blind eye to the side loading via the Edge browser in the past, the crackdown enforces the Xbox Store policy rule that informs gamers “products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family.”

Emulators are totally legal and it’s considered legal to use them to play retro games provided the gamer owns that title and isn’t playing a pirated copy. However, that’s not always the case.

Gamers have reacted as you’d expect, but there is a way around it. A quite simple way in fact, which enables gamers to continue using the emulators by switching the console from Retail Mode to Dev Mode.

In theory, emulation has the support of Xbox chief Phil Spencer who considers it a way to preserve gaming history. In November 2021 he told Axios:

“My hope (and I think I have to present it that way as of now) is as an industry we’d work on legal emulation that allowed modern hardware to run any (within reason) older executable allowing someone to play any game.”

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