Phil Spencer, vice president of gaming at Microsoft, wants the industry to sell more of its older games through legal emulation. There are steep legal barriers to making widespread industry emulation a reality, but it would be a boon to making older games more accessible to players.
“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,” Spencer told Axios Wednesday.
Emulation allows modern consoles to simulate older hardware to run games that ran on those platforms. Xbox currently uses this process to run older games on its Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
While many are familiar with hobbyist and illegal emulation, the method has long been used by the games industry. Still, the practice among the IP holders themselves is not as widespread as Spencer would like it to be.
One reason official emulation isn’t more prevalent is that developers and platforms don’t sell the software or game files to support it. Players’ access to older games is contingent on having an ecosystem of support and a process to check whether players have the rights to run specific games.
As for his own company’s efforts, Xbox recently released 70 emulated games from the Xbox 360 and the original Xbox to its backwards compatibility library. Several of these older titles also had their resolution and framerate enhanced on the newer consoles.
However, the Xbox website notes, “While we continue to stay focused on preserving and enhancing the art form of games, we have reached the limit of our ability to bring new games to the catalog from the past due to licensing, legal and technical constraints.”
This post was published two days before the Axios interview.
Despite the current situation, Spencer seems optimistic about the possibilities of official emulation.
“I think in the end,” Spencer described, “if we said, ‘Hey, anybody should be able to buy any game, or own any game and continue to play,’ that seems like a great North Star for us as an industry.”