Video games: Xbox boss asks for legal emulation

As the Xbox celebrates its 20th anniversary, Phil Spencer advocates better preservation of video games on modern machines.

If it’s still unclear, Microsoft would like the Xbox brand to be associated with the preservation of video games. This week, the brand celebrated Xbox’s 20th anniversary and announced the addition of 70 games to its backward compatibility program. He also specified that due to technical problems, and especially rights, the backward compatibility program would come to an end.

Regular additions of backward compatible games were one way to make this topic headlines again. Now that it’s over, Xbox boss Phil Spencer would like to give it an extra layer.

Get inspired by music and movies

For Phil Spencer, the history of video games is very important as a source of lessons.

I think we can learn from the story of how we got here through creativity. About the possibility of going back to the works of the past, I love that in music. I like it for movies and TV, and there are positive reasons why games want to follow suit.

It is true that the cinema and the world of music strive to make the latest great productions and classics accessible. SVOD services like Disney + or Netflix offer movies and series that largely precede streaming.

In the field of video games, the subject is much more complex. The medium is still young and depends especially on the material with which it is executed. Basically, video games are executable software that are compatible only with a particular hardware and software ecosystem. Its preservation in playable form is therefore very complex. Another area of ​​concern is the preservation of game creation data and, in particular, the source code. Studios like Square Enix or Konami have lost access to the source code of very famous games (Final Fantasy VIII, for example).

Provide legal emulation across the industry

In his interview with the medium Axios, Phil Spencer focuses mainly on the issue of access to video games by gamers. It advocates very simply for what Xbox already offers: legal compatibility with software that allows you to regain access to games you have already purchased.

My hope (and I think I have to present it for now) is that as an industry we would be working on a legal emulation that would allow modern hardware to run any older (within reason) executable, allowing someone to play any game.

So you would like the Xbox initiative to become a broader industry initiative. Obviously, Microsoft did not invent emulation, which is already a popular practice, especially on PCs, for accessing older or newer games. It is also fairly straightforward to emulate most consoles with Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. So it’s a pretty straightforward position for the Xbox boss, but we can’t prove him wrong either. The preservation of video games is indeed a serious cause. Here Phil Spencer is primarily targeting Nintendo and Sony PlayStation for the other two giants to embrace this cause as well.

If Nintendo offers some solutions, such as the ability to play NES, SNES or Nintendo 64 games on its subscription services, the brand has also shown that its efforts were quite limited, and did not preserve excellent quality video games. For its part, Sony does not offer the ability to play PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 games on modern consoles, although the brand was known in its early days in video games for its excellent backward compatibility. PlayStation boss Jim Ryan even objected a bit to backward compatibility during an interview with Time in 2017.

When we’ve tested backward compatibility, I can say that this is one of those features that is in high demand, but rarely used. Also, I recently attended a Gran Turismo event where there were PSone, PS2, PS3, and PS4 games, and the PSone and PS2 games looked old, as if someone wanted to play this!

Sony has since released the PlayStation 5 with full compatibility with PlayStation 4 games. Above all, the console is offered with the excellent Astro’s Playroom game, which truly pays tribute to the entire history of the PlayStation brand.

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