Microsoft has finally addressed a hole in the Xbox Store that allowed emulators to be downloaded and used on Xbox consoles to play older games, including many unavailable on Xbox consoles. And while rumors circulate about the impetus for the sudden change, Microsoft points to a fairly simple, long-standing official store policy as the reason.
Emulator users and creators first flagged up the change earlier this week. Previously, emulators on the Xbox Store could be accessed via direct links in an Xbox’s Edge browser, and once downloaded, these emulators could run indefinitely, even if the app download itself was found and removed. However, numerous users have reported that popular emulators like Xenia no longer launch on consoles even if they were previously downloaded – instead, an error message is displayed.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was a good run.
But now we have no choice @xbox @XboxP3 #LetUsEmulate pic.twitter.com/K9KO1p655K
— 🇮🇪 gamr13 🇮🇪 (@gamr12) April 6, 2023
As a result, the emulation community has expressed frustration and anger, particularly from users who claim to have promoted legal emulation to play games they already own on older Xbox consoles but are not available on current Xbox hardware . However, there are numerous games available through emulators that have either also been for sale on the Xbox store or have never been available on Xbox at all, such as Wii and GameCube games. In particular, emulation on Xbox consoles is still possible in the console’s developer mode, which costs $20.
In the wake of this change, speculation has surfaced as to why Microsoft is now cracking down on emulators after allowing the loophole for so long. A popular rumor suggested that the culprit wasn’t Xbox, but Nintendo, which was allegedly demanding action over its copyrighted games being played on Xbox consoles without permission. But in a statement to IGN, Microsoft says that’s not the case.
“The information currently circulating on Twitter is incorrect,” Microsoft said in a statement. “Our actions are based on a longstanding policy on content distributed to the Store to ensure compliance with our Microsoft Store policies. As of 10.13.10, products that emulate a gaming system or gaming platform are not allowed on any device family.”
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The policy the team is pointing out was historically in effect, so it remains unclear what prompted Microsoft to allow the vulnerability to exist for so long or to address it right now. In a statement to Kotaku, Microsoft said it is “continuously developing our mechanisms for reviewing and taking enforcement action on content distributed to the Store to ensure compliance with our Microsoft Store policies,” possibly indicating that the company may have been looking for a solution to the emulator workaround for some time and may have only just found it now.
Previously, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has advocated legal emulation as a solution to game preservation, although such an endeavor is difficult to allow without also allowing illegal emulation.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.