Xbox head Phil Spencer calls for "legal emulation" of older games

Xbox boss Phil Spencer wants to see the games industry work towards a legal game emulation solution, in order to better preserve older software, he’s said.

Preservation has become an increasingly important topic in the games industry in recent years, as older games gradually become unavailable due to obsolete hardware or closed online services.

Speaking to Axios, Xbox exec Spencer advocated software emulation as a solution to game preservation.

Emulators, which allow modern hardware to simulate older hardware and run games, are widely used by fans and preservations, but currently there’s no universal support for them across the industry.

Xbox Series X|S runs older Xbox games using its own emulation. However, because there’s no industry-accepted standard, it still has to secure rights from game makers for each title, instead of running games directly from old discs.

And this week the company claimed that the 76 new games added to its backwards compatibility library would be the last, due to those legal and technical constraints. Presumably, an industry-wide emulator standard would solve such issues.

“I think we can learn from the history of how we got here through the creative,” Spencer said. “I love it in music. I love it in movies and TV, and there’s positive reasons for gaming to want to follow.

“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.”

He added: “I think in the end, 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.”

Compared to console rivals Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft has historically championed the importance of preservation on its consoles.

Backward compatibility has long been a key feature of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S marketing efforts, with the company promoting the consoles’ ability to play a wide range of original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games

Many games take advantage of the new consoles’ capabilities to “look and play better” than they originally did, and others support features like FPS Boost, which almost doubles the original frame rate, and Auto HDR, which adds HDR enhancements to games which only shipped with standard dynamic range.

And earlier this year , Microsoft brought backward compatible titles to Xbox cloud gaming for the first time by making a number of classic games from Rare, Bethesda and others available to mobile users with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

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