Vice President of Games at Microsoft, Phil Spencerwants the gaming industry to work towards a common goal of keeping older games available to modern audiences through emulation, he told Axios.
Why is this important: The industry has big problems preserving its past, as older games regularly become unavailable.
- Many games remain locked to older hardware standards, including consoles that are no longer supported.
- “I think we can learn from the story of how we got here through creation,” Spencer said, of being able to look back to past artwork. “I love it in music. I love it in movies and on TV, and there are positive reasons for gaming to want to follow.
The details: Spencer pleads for an approach already used by Microsoft: software emulation.
- Emulation allows modern hardware to simulate the functions of older hardware and run game files or executables.
- “My hope (and I think I have to frame it that way from now on) is that as an industry we would work on a legal emulation that would allow modern hardware to run any executable (in reasonable limits) allowing someone to play any game,” he wrote in a direct message.
- Microsoft’s new consoles – the Xbox Series and Xbox One – run huge libraries of older Xbox 360s and original Xbox games using this technique.
The big picture: Emulators are most commonly used around the world by fans, curators, and hackers. They run games from the original Nintendo era to newer PlayStations, but they are not used consistently by the industry.
- Even more problematic, the files needed to run games in emulators usually run into copyright issues, as game makers don’t support markets for older game executables.
- An example of how this happens: an Android phone user can easily download an emulator that will run old Game Boy games, but Nintendo doesn’t sell it, or the files needed to play old Pokémon games on it.
Yes, but: Rights holders must join.
- Microsoft itself has just announced that the addition of 70 more games to its catalog of old emulated Xbox games will likely be the last, given rights and technical limitations.
- An official industry emulation approach would require long-term online support to offer game files and possibly check if the user has the right to access them.
- Spencer, whose own platform has some of these issues, still sees a way forward. “I think at the end of the day, if we were to say, ‘Hey, anybody should be able to buy any game, or own any game and still play’, that seems like a great North Star. for us as an industry.”
The bottom line: Emulation isn’t the only way to preserve the game’s past, but it may be the best.
- “Emulation is the path of least resistance for the re-release of games originally written for dead platforms,” gaming historian Frank Cifaldi told Axios. “There is simply no better way that is commercially viable.”