Update: Microsoft has since addressed the blocking of emulators on their consoles. In a quote reported on by IGN Microsoft states the following:
Our actions are based on a long standing policy on content distributed to the store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Polices. Per 10.13.10, Products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family.
There was a speculation as to why Microsoft chose this moment to block emulators when it had been known these emulators were getting onto their systems in retail mode. The most likely cause was the recent developments in the Xenia emulator, a Xbox 360 emulator, running on the Xbox Series consoles. This then poses a direct financial threat to Microsoft it consumers can buy 360 games second hand and run through Xenia, instead of buying some of these titles off the Microsoft Store.
I still wouldn't put it pass Doug Boswer to have privately call up Phil Spencer to say it'd be a real shame if their Call of Duty on Nintendo consoles were to fall through. That however does not have any material proof as of writing and is speculation on my part. I'm sorry if I've misrepresented the story, I was correlating Nintendo's recent action on the emulating scene, however that does not mean causation in this case.
Original article follows:
In Nintendo's zealous crusade against emulation, they’ve now forced Microsoft to remove emulators off the Xbox store. For those unaware, when the Xbox Series consoles launched players discovered the consoles were fantastic emulation machines.
For a small fee ($20) anyone can launch their Xbox One/Series console into developer mode which allows for installation of 3rd party apps like RetroArch. While this in of itself is pretty cool, dev mode can’t take full advantage of the hardware due to restrictions Microsoft put into place. This then drove developers to find a way to get their emulators onto the app store so the emulators can run in standard retail mode. While they succeeded in getting their emulators onto the Microsoft Store, downloading those apps to the console was a little hacky solution.
That was the case until Alyanna McKenna, a Microsoft Azure developer, tweeted out a transcript of an email confirming Microsoft had pulled and banned emulators from the Microsoft Store.
The silver lining to this is Microsoft has no intention of pulling the ability to install and run emulators through dev mode, but again it is a more limited experience compared to retail mode. What’s interesting is in the email it is stated Microsoft is working with “legitimate emulator developers” to bring back emulators to the store legally in accordance with copyright laws.
I’m not sure who counts as a legitimate emulator developer, and I’m also unsure what they would change to comply with copyright laws because emulators are legal. Period. While Nintendo would have you believe otherwise, they themselves use emulation for their Nintendo Switch Online subscription.
Nintendo assumes any use of emulators they don't directly profit from on a monthly basis is piracy. In reality I–like many people–emulate Nintendo games because it is simply a better experience than what Nintendo offers.
The conversation around game preservation and emulation has been debated recently as Nintendo has officially closed the Wii U/3DS eShops. With that closure, Nintendo has made acquiring digital only games legally for those consoles impossible. While we’re seeing some games from older Nintendo systems get re-releases like The World Ends With You and Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Nintendo has shown no signs they are interested in making these lost games accessible. Unless you spent upwards of $20,000 to buy every Wii U and 3DS game on the eShop like Jirard the Completionist did, you have very few options to play Nintendo’s more recent legacy games.
Now it’s most likely Nintendo threatened not to work with Microsoft instead of attempting to take Microsoft to court as that would cost both companies millions. When we ask the question of, “Will Nintendo come after Steam for hosting emulators” I’d say probably not. Valve is not working with Nintendo (that we know of) outside of releasing the Portal Collection for Switch.
The only thing Nintendo could do is threaten legal action against Valve, but I don’t see any outcome that actually benefits Nintendo. Especially given legal precedent on the matter.
However, what this does threaten is accessible video game preservation and it’s frustrating as a fan of Nintendo’s games. We can at least take solace in the fact it doesn’t look like emulation in dev mode or EmuDeck are going anywhere anytime soon.
So what do you think? Do you emulate games, or are you on Nintendo’s side? What games do you want brought back? Do you still play your 3DS? Let us know in the comments below!