Microsoft’s Phil Spencer advocates for game preservation through emulators

    
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You have probably noticed by now that we here at Massively OP are proponents of game emulators for MMOs that have been decommissioned. Rogue servers such as Star Wars Galaxies Legends and Return of Reckoning help to keep games alive that would otherwise fade into distant history.

And while support for emulation grows in the gaming community, there’s at least one studio exec who is advocating for it as well. Microsoft Vice President of Gaming Phil Spencer would love to see emulators brought into a fully supported and legal state, though of course he’s talking about games in general, not necessarily MMOs.

“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 said. “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.”

More articles on game preservation from the last few years:

Source: Axios
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Dankey Kang

*Nintendo disliked this post*

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Darkedone02

I will forever and always support emulation of retro games and even rogue servers that developers no longer work on. I wish to see that one day that it’s legal to launch private servers of games that are either free to play already or has been shutdown for quite a while. It’s thanks to these rogue servers that I get to play City of Heroes again, free, with no restrictions or premium services attached.

Even in retro games, the market has become expansive to find older and rarer titles out there. I’ve support emulations due to the lack of a good market near me that allows me to purchase cheap and decent retro games. It makes me wish I live in japan where the retro market is alive and active in these electronic stores (as I witness it in so many livestreams that shown this).

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Arktouros

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a case where people just get carte blanche to emulate whatever old system and play whatever game. Like the closest we’ve ever heard about it with MMOs was COH I believe where they were in talks or something like that. In most other cases people are left in legal limbo where what they’re doing is technically not allowed but that isn’t being enforced either. Very similar to how if you read most agreements people aren’t allowed to stream most games but that’s almost never enforced.

What Phil seems to largely be talking about is Microsoft’s efforts to bring back as much as their old libraries as they can through legal emulation of the games through their systems. Nintendo does this as well with their subscription service and allowing you to play older NES or SNES games through that emulator. They’ve been very open and consistent with this not only in words but through actions and there’s a ton of the older Xbox libraries on modern consoles like the Xbox Series X.

For me this is a big reason why I went Xbox Series X and bought a console despite hating all the exclusivity stuff that everyone seems to partake in. Between cross play, shared progression (same saves), and a lot of titles being available both on Xbox and PC and seeming commitment to access to them now or in the future I like the way they’re running things these days.

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Schmidt.Capela

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a case where people just get carte blanche to emulate whatever old system and play whatever game.

Depends on your local laws, how the emulator is built (i.e., if it uses binary blobs copied from the console or reimplements everything), and whether or not you have a legal copy of the game you are playing. Where I live, for example, as long as I have a legal copy of the game (and of the binary blob for emulators that use that, for example by purchasing a broken console that nevertheless contains it) then I’m allowed to emulate the game as much as I want, on whichever device I want.

Which, incidentally, means I have a large library of games I can legally emulate, as I have been gaming since the days of Pong. Anything I can produce a legal cartridge or CD for I can legally emulate even if the console maker and the copyright owner are dead set against it.

The emulators themselves are perfectly legal as long as they don’t incorpore said copyrighted binary blobs. It’s why companies famously aggressive about copyright enforcement, like Nintendo, can’t do much to stop emulator development, even for emulators of their current systems and even when the developers derive monetary benefit from it. Heck, Retroarch is available on Steam, providing emulation of consoles from Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, SNK, etc.

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Arktouros

That’s a very specific scenario in your response to something where I was speaking very broadly. “Carte blanche to emulate whatever old system and play whatever game” certainly is not limited to ones you previously or currently own.

When talking about “legal emulation” the emulator themselves are rarely the problem, even if a company would claim it so. It’s kind of like BitTorrent clients in that they aren’t inherently illegal themselves but ohhhh boy do they facilitate a lot of activity that isn’t allowed. While I’m sure everyone here at MassivelyOP are fine upstanding citizens that absolutely purchased and own a copy of all the software they utilize it’s pretty disingenuous to argue that the scenario is universal.

However this raises questions even if you did want to legally purchase one of those games how do you go about purchasing a game from over a decade ago? While certainly there’s some used copies and various websites it’s a far cry from the digital stores we now have access to. Is a company likely to reprint a bunch of old 360 CDs due to sudden demand or work with a larger corp like Microsoft to enable digital copies/sales?

It’s also a bit of shade at PlayStation/Sony because Microsoft is in a unique position to emulate older consoles via cloud computing and run this kind of software then stream that to modern consoles. It’s a huge advantage Microsoft has from investing billions into Azure. Sony doesn’t really have access to that kind of investment/technology.

Even then none of this really touches on scenarios where you’re unlikely to ever have permission to emulate, such as live service style game servers such as MMOs regardless if you bought the game client CD or not (hence why they’re all called “rogue servers”).

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Danny Smith

suspiciously based.

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Dug From The Earth

Ill be happy when game preservation through rogue servers becomes legit for mmorpgs.

Robert
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Robert

I agree that emulation is a good thing and I definitely support it. I’ve got an emulator myself for old arcade games and love it!

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Rndomuser

He may say whatever he wants, his words are worthless. Corporations will still continue doing what they think that is more profitable to them, regardless if that may prevent some people from enjoying their products. Including Microsoft, who recently released Halo Infinite for PC and Xbox but not for Playstation. Same will be true for emulators – Microsoft will never write one for any of their consoles. And they will never do something like allowing custom servers for ESO now that they own ZeniMax.

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Arktouros

Except Microsoft is kinda leading the charge on bringing back old games and making them playable on modern hardware. It’s not just words as this latest back of 70 old Xbox 360 games were made to work on modern consoles. He’s also not alone, as Nintendo Switch is doing the same with it’s subscription service offering older titles from NES or SNES and such.

To be super clear what Phil is talking about here is legal emulation, namely the people who originally ran the program/platform to sell you access those titles. The article talks how Microsoft has written one and does allow it on their consoles but again they are in control of it rather than allow people to just load whatever old ROM they want onto the emulator and play it.

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Schmidt.Capela

Microsoft deserves praise; they are making it so if you ever purchased those games in the past, you get to play them in their newest consoles, with enhancements even, free of charge, as well as making them available for purchase again.

Nintendo, not so much. Nintendo makes you re-purchase the game on every Nintendo console you want to play it (assuming it’s even available on that console), and for the Switch decided to stop selling those old games altogether, offering them only as part of a subscription service, with poor enough emulation that it’s getting lots of player complaints. That despite having the tech — and the copyright ownership — to allow playing every Nintendo-made N64 game or older on the WiiU and the Switch.

On that front, I would rather hail SEGA as an example to follow; their SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics is a great value, allows for modding (in other words, you can legally and easily use romhacks on those games), and the emulator is far better than what Nintendo uses.

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Arktouros

While I agree I prefer Microsoft’s business model the greater point I was intending by bringing up Nintendo is they offer a means of legal emulation (for some of their game library) which is what Phil was talking about primarily.

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Schmidt.Capela

Nevertheless, I still find Nintendo a bad example, due to how they tie most of their emulated offerings to a subscription service and even remove emulated titles from their catalog (as happened with Super Mario 3D All-Stars). In that sense I find a number of other companies do a better job of using emulation to keep old, but meaningful, games available, including Activision, Capcom, Konami, SNK, Sega, and even LucasArts/Disney.

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Rndomuser

Except Microsoft is kinda leading the charge on bringing back old games and making them playable on modern hardware.

Except this is false. Call me back when I can insert a disk of Fable 2 (which I legally own) into DVD drive on my PC (which can read all data on disk perfectly) and start playing it at an acceptable performance, without any “Cloud streaming gaming through Game Pass Ultimate” BS, using Microsoft’s own emulator.

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Arktouros

I mean it’s a literal list of 70+ games from the 360 you can play on the latest consoles without having to go find a disc and the hardware to run said disc to play that game. So while it’s not doing things the way you want it, it is still factually making older games accessible on modern hardware through legal emulation. If you choose to set the criteria where things have to be done only in the way you want them to be done in order for you to recognize any effort as legitimate you’re gonna be waiting a long time for that call while I’m going to go play some Fable 2 :)

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Schmidt.Capela

The fact official XBox 360 emulation is only available on XBox consoles, and not on PC, is the reason I never bothered with it; there’s a number of XBox 360 games that I would purchase in a heartbeat if they were offered for PC without streaming, including Fable 2.

This doesn’t detract from the fact you can play a large number of emulated XBox 360 games on an XBox Series X/S, and will likely be still able to play them (without having to purchase them again) in whichever console succeeds the Series X/S.

(BTW, I believe the total number of XBox 360 games you can play on the Series X/S is above 600; 70+ were just those added in the most recent update. And the limitation on which games you can emulate isn’t based on tech — Microsoft seems to be able to emulate perfectly almost every XBox 360 game ever released — but rather on Microsoft securing a license to resume distributing the games for newer consoles.)

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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Schmidt.Capela

You should have used Leisure Suit Larry 4, that one would be worth an archeological dig ;-)

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

This is some of your best work, friend.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Al Lowe is an underappreciated genius and not just for smutty LSL games. Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist was a great game with a similar sense of humor but with a decidedly PG flavor.

it really does make me sad to think back to all the truly artful games from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that have already disappeared and how many more we’ll lose.

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IronSalamander8 .

I just want video games preserved as our old consoles are more and more scarce and it’s harder to find cartridges and other software that works as people lose, damage, and throw them away.

Maybe younger gamers won’t love playing old games like Donkey Kong on the Atari 2600, and it is a weak port compared to the Colecovision and Commodore 64 versions, but these old games still deserve to be playable and remembered; whether the arcade version, or just an earlier version of Windows or even rare handhelds.

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kody

So his quote tells me he is talking about people being able to play games not designed to be compatible with the current major operating systems through software emulation. That’s a very different kind of emulator than reverse engineering a game client and creating unofficial servers for people to play on. I’m not sure rogue servers is what Phil had in mind with that quote.

Now that said, I am a proponent of keeping abandoned MMOs alive as well if there is an audience for it. Even existing MMOs on maintenance mode, or servers that think they can do things better but different. I did quest, zone and raid design for Shards of Dalaya, and while it was using the EQ client it was (and still is) a different game.