Microsoft bans emulators on Xbox in retail mode, citing legal issues with Nintendo which it later denies

Robert Collins

Microsoft has brought an end to console emulation on Xbox Series X|S machines, at least in retail mode. However, there seems to be some confusion surrounding the reasoning behind the move to block this unofficial (and unintended) feature.

An email written by the Xbox QA team reads in part,

Hi there, Thanks for getting in touch with us about the recent ban on emulators on the Xbox store front. We appreciate your interest and concerns. To answer your questions, the primary reason for the ban is related to legal issues with Nintendo. While emulating itself is not illegal, it can be used to play games from consoles that are still under copyright protection without permission, which can create issues with Nintendo and its affiliates.”

Dolphin Emulator - Dolphin Progress Report: August 2018
Xbox Series X|S has proven to be adept at emulating older game systems such as Gamecube and PS2.

The email also went on to cite potential security issues as another reason for the emulator ban, since emulators often require “permissions beyond what is typical for an app” that can then be exploited by hackers.

However, Microsoft later released a statement explaining that,

The information currently circulating on Twitter is not accurate. Our actions are based on a long standing policy on content distributed to the Store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Polices. Per 10.13.10, Products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family.”

Dev Mode Activation app

To be clear, the ban only effects Xbox consoles used in retail mode (i.e. the average user). Emulation is still possible with Developer Mode—a paid feature available on any retail Xbox which, once activated, allows users to access the “Retail to Dev Kit conversion” app.

Via Thurrott