Microsoft Bans Emulators on Xbox and Windows 10 Platforms: What’s The State of the War Between Emulators And Developers?

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If you’re a video game enthusiast then emulation is something you’ve heard quite a lot about over the years.

For those who aren’t familiar with this topic, Emulation is when one device (computer) behaves like another. In reference to video gaming, it’s when a video game console emulator (a software that allows the host computer to behave like another) is used to let a computing device match (imitate) a video game console’s hardware and run (play) its games on the emulating platform.

For many years now, emulation has been part of the video game industry, but it has been a dirty word.

Most game developers have continued to regard it as nothing more than a prohibited, piracy-fueling technology that signifies an existential threat to the gaming business.

Today, I woke up to the news of what seems to be Microsoft’s ban on all emulators on Xbox and Windows 10 download apps, if  ars Techinica’s piece is something to go by.

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According to them, the ban is bad news to those who thought Microsoft would soon change its stand about emulators on its Xbox and Windows systems. The ban comes with a massive update of the Windows Store’s rules, among other policies meant to encourage users to download and install the Creators Edition Patch.

“Microsoft has officially begun encouraging Windows 10 users to download and install the Creators Edition patch, and that has been met with an update to the Windows Store’s rules. Among other policy changes is one that went into effect almost immediately: a ban on emulators.

This list of general Windows Store rules, written for developers, received a massive update to its “Gaming and Xbox” requirements; these used to contain only one sentence, and it referred hopeful Windows Store game developers to the ID@Xbox program

To ascertain if the ban reports is something to go by, ars Techinica talked about a developer whose product, Universal Emulator was delisted from the Windows Store without any formal notification.

“An affected developer was notified of the change on Tuesday when its product, Universal Emulator, was delisted from the Windows Store. While no proof of a letter or notice from Microsoft was published, the developers at NESBox linked to relevant changes in the Windows Store application rules, dated March 29, which now include this line: “Apps that emulate a game system are not allowed on any device family.”

So unfortunate for cross-platform play.

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As per the updates, games in the Microsoft new systems will be approved in a more stringent manner, given the rules go so hard to prohibit the path of consoles emulation.

This is bad news for cross-platform indies who may need to quickly publish multiplayer game via the Xbox Live Creators Program.

“The new rules also had bad news for anybody who wants to quickly publish an online multiplayer game via the Xbox Live Creators Program. Doing so will not be enough to enable cross-platform play. If you want your gamers on both Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs to play with or against each other, you’ll have to submit your game to the ID@Xbox program and go through its own hoops and costs.

So, what’s the gaming industry’s take on emulation?

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For many years, there has been several discussions concerning emulation in the video game industry. Actually, there are two school of thoughts concerning its place in the video game industry with one camp thinking of it as a step that values video gaming heritage, while the other group sees it as piracy-fuelling technology.

Something techdirt clarifies by taking a look at two games to explain how we should agree on the drive to preserve games and still understand the form of copyright breach on tampering with them.

“The moment we agree that games like this are a form of art, we must also agree on the impetus to preserve that art. And once that’s done, we can only conclude that these efforts to digitize the history of gaming in this manner have to be more important than any legal hurdles that exist in the form of copyright infringement or DMCA prohibitions on tinkering with them.”

Similar to many policies in the intellectual property world, it’s easy to understand the gaming industry’s worry and its place as a true art-form.

I think it’s a bit confusing to understand the gaming industry’s take on emulation. Let’s just break this down further, shall we?

Who are in support of emulation?

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To really understand emulation argument, we should first know about the people behind the whole process, the group that keeps supporting their activities, and what they all think about the technology.

Wes Fenlon of PCGAMER recently talked to people who make and work on emulators to get their perspective on the ethics of emulation today. He focused on the relationship between emulation and piracy, open source vs closed source development, and the big question that revolves around money.

As per his findings, the emulators agree that piracy is indeed part of the system. According to them, their main intention it to just preserve games, but pirates pounce on their products.

“The eternal ethical dilemma for emulator developers is simple: if they build it, the pirates will come. The emulation experts I spoke with all considered this a negative, but didn’t see piracy as a reason to stop developing emulators.”

During last year’s (2016) Game Developers Conference, Frank Cifaldi, head of restoration at Digital Ecclipse, took to the stage to defend emulators approach in game preservation.

Cifaldi compared the film industry and video game industry to make sure everyone understood his stand in the industry’s longest fight between developers and emulators.

As reported by Polygon, Cifaldi explained how more than half of films made before 1950 have vanished and are nowhere to be found.

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This meant that film industry has no proper mechanism to preserve movies, something that terrifies him if he thinks of the gaming industry too.

“That terrified me. I wasn’t particularly a film buff, but the idea of these works just disappearing forever and never being recoverable scared the crap out of me. So I started wondering is anyone doing this for games. Is anyone making sure that video games aren’t doing the same stupid shit that film did to make their heritage disappear?

“And yeah, there were people doing this. We didn’t call them archivists. We didn’t call them digital archeologists or anything. We called them software pirates.”

 

Maketakeeasier once discussed the benefits and downsides of emulation, where they explained how emulation may be important when it comes to improving gaming experience.

According to them:

“Video game emulation allows users to increase in-game resolution, add post-processing effects, play with different controllers, and do all kinds of new things with their games that they previously couldn’t.”

From this point, anyone can understand why emulators are fighting to have their place recognized in the gaming industry.

But why are video game companies against the whole idea of emulation?

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From a copyright viewpoint, video game developers such as Nintendo have a valid point.

For many years now, video games have struggled to affirm their place as a legit art form, one deserving of the kind of respect granted to literature, music, movies and television.

If you really do understand the cost of development and what a powerful storytelling device video games symbolize, you’ll definitely understand why video game developers feel frustrated with emulation.

Allow me take you to back to 1999 when the fight between video game developers and emulators began.

According to an article titled ‘Use of Game Over: Emulation and the Video Game Industry, A White Paper’, as reported by Factory Sealed , the author explained how the emulation scene changed when an emulator known as UltraHLE affected Nintendo sales in the middle of the N6A’s life cycle.

“Nintendo had realized approximately half of the total US$5.6 billion in software sales for the N64 prior to UltraHLE’s introduction.45 Given that game console sales typically slow in the fourth year of a video game system’s lifecycle due to market saturation and anticipation of the release of a next generation product, there are no data to prove the extent to which UltraHLE cannibalized the N64 market. Regardless, Nintendo deemed the threat significant enough to pursue legal action.46 Following a letter from Nintendo threatening legal action, MegaMan announced it would no longer support UltraHLE or develop emulators.”

From this case it became evident that video games companies were against emulation because it represents a serious financial threat, promoted copyright, trade dress and trademark infringement, and affects the honesty of gaming experience and brand integrity.

So, what’s the solution?

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For many years, game developers seemed to be losing the fight to emulators, especially when Sony lost two cases after suing the developers of two emulators, Virtual Game Station and Bleem!

As reported by PCGAMER:

“In the first case, Sony v. Connectix, a district court initially found that Virtual Game Station tarnished Sony’s brand and violated its copyright. A circuit court reversed those rulings and kicked the case back down to the district court, which dismissed most of Sony’s charges, including violation of trade secrets and unfair competition.”

The outcome of these cases changed the understanding of the legality of emulation to present day.

“As long as an emulator does not reuse code and is the product of reverse-engineering, we assume it falls under fair use, which protects the unlicensed use of copyrighted work in very specific circumstances.”

That’s why as of today many game developers have resulted to offering backward compatibility to a certain extent.

For example, the PS4 has PS for PS3 games and gave emulated some PS2 games; Wii U still playing Wii games and the Xbox One playing Xbox 360 games.

Conclusion

Is the backward compatibility offered by game developers the solution to their fight against emulators?

Personally, to a certain level, I would say yes, because it helps solves the sales problem – money has always been the problem.

On the hand, with the latest ban of emulators on Xbox and Windows 10 platforms, I think the industry has not found a solution because the competition between emulators and video games developers seems to be getting stiff.

Bonus Video:

Simply Austin’s list top PC game emulators