Microsoft crackdown disables emulators downloaded to Xbox consoles
Xbox emulator makers and users can't say they weren't warned. In the "Gaming and Xbox" section of Microsoft's official Store Policies, section 10.13.10 clearly states that "products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family."
Microsoft's enforcement of this clause has historically focused on taking down emulators published as "private" UWP apps to the Xbox Store. Those apps could be distributed to whitelisted users via direct links accessed on the system's Edge browser, getting around the usual approval process for a public store listing.
Previously, users who were able to download one of these "hidden" emulator listings before Microsoft's inevitable takedown would be able to run that emulator on an unmodified retail system indefinitely. That is no longer the case; trying to launch downloaded versions of emulators like Xenia or Retrospection on an Xbox console now generates an error saying, "Unable to launch this game or app. The game or app you're trying to launch violates Microsoft Store policy and is not supported."
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a good run," wrote Twitter user gamr13, who helps distribute an Xbox version of the RetroArch emulator front end. "For the past 2 years, we've promoted legal emulation on a popular platform that people have genuinely enjoyed. It's a true shame to see Xbox crack down on emulation... This is a shot in the face."
"We continually evolve our mechanisms for reviewing and taking enforcement actions on content distributed to the Store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Policies," Microsoft said in a statement to Kotaku.
It's not clear if there's a specific reason that Microsoft decided to roll out these "evolved mechanisms" of emulator enforcement now. That said, the emulation scene recently saw an Xbox-compatible port of Xenia, a popular Xbox 360 emulator. That version lets modern Xbox consoles run a variety of Xbox 360 games that Microsoft still sells directly in its store, as well as some Xbox 360 titles that aren't supported by Microsoft's official backward-compatibility feature.
There are also some unconfirmed reports that January's beta launch of the Wii/GameCube emulator Dolphin on Xbox may have drawn the ire of Nintendo. That company has a history of taking legal action against ROM distribution sites, even if the emulators themselves are probably legally protected.
In the PC space, meanwhile, the Dolphin emulator is currently planning to launch on Steam, where it will join RetroArch's collection of emulation cores and EmuDeck's less official collection of Steam Deck-compatible emulators, among others.